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Over the ruins of his life


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Who read by night above the Rhine the cloudscript of the drifting mists? It was the Steppenwolf. And who over the ruins of his life pursued its fleeting, fluttering, significance, while he suffered its seeming meaninglessness and lived its seeming madness, and who hoped in secret at the last turn of the labyrinth of Chaos for revelation and God's presence?

I held my hand over my glass when the landlady wanted to fill it once more, and got up. I needed no more wine. The golden trail was blazed and I was reminded of the eternal, and of Mozart, and the stars. For an hour I could breathe once more and live and face existence, without the need to suffer torment, fear, or shame.
- Hesse, Steppenwolf

The Enchanting Prison. The beautiful prison cell. The key you are half in love with, waiting out the hours of the day for the chime of its arrival, the insertion and release. Knowing you are being broken down, the interior discipline of self and soul being replaced by the external structures of the prison. You attempt to forge elaborate rituals in the brief intervals allowed for your internal life. However these are worn away by the exhaustion of hope. When will you be freed? The hope filled fuel of the future is quickly diluted  by the laborious trivialities of the immediate moment. There is not enough... energy, you think and then remind yourself that you once used the word, spirit. Even the language is being hollowed out. Soon there is only a dreamless sleep and a tired waking to another day of life within the prison. You try to remind yourself but more and more, the world outside seems less real.

You do well here. You have certain talents for getting along with others. You acquire status and prestige. You are well liked. Many of the inmates are intelligent and interesting people. No different from those outside. In fact, many have a focus of concentration and purpose that would be absent without the constraints of the prison. You consider this and try to shake off an occasional discouragement by allowing the walls to set the limits. But this saddle never sits well upon you. Outside of your cell, you know that you could find a happiness here. In the night however, alone in the increasingly restless sleep, you reluctantly explore and map out the most intimate features of a growing cavern of despair.

Like a half-remembered dream, it forms and fades in your mind, tantalizing your memory, until the day that it dawns within you fully formed: Escape. It must have been lurking down in the depths, working out every facet of itself like a diamond, until it emerged in the center of your consciousness with an undeniable presence. A fire now burns within. Hope returns. In every waking thought. Re-invigorating thought and language. Yet you are careful to conceal this from the other inmates, nonchalantly carrying it around in a dingy bag with you as if it were nothing, knowing that it is the very Skull of God.

You must escape. You begin to practice the old rituals. You begin to harden yourself through mental and physical exercise. You begin to allow hope to inform your language again. You have no doubt that this will be one of the most difficult experiences of your life. You also have not doubt that to stay here, within the prison, would be easy and lead to what would most likely be a long and happy life with the other inmates. But a life predicated upon a turning away from the cloudscripts over the Rhine, Mozart, the stars, and the Great Golden Braid of the Eternal... such a life is, for you, what can only be called suicide.

Then spoke the thunder

DA

Datta: what have we given? My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms

DA

Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus

DA

Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands

I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?

- Eliot, The Waste Land


10/16/11