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Posts Tagged ‘parable’

THE TRIPLE WARNING –ARTHUR SCHNITZLER

 

IN the morning mist, shot through with the blue of the heavens, a

youth was making his way toward the beckoning mountains. His heart

thrilled to the rhythmical beat of all the world. Without a care or worry

he went on for hours over the level country when, on reaching the

edge of a forest, a voice rang out, sounding at once near at hand and

far-off, and very mysterious:

“Go not through this forest, youth, unless thou wouldst commit

murder.”

The youth stood still in astonishment, looked in every direction, and

seeing nowhere any sign of a living being, concluded that it was a spirit

that had addressed him. But his innate courage would not permit him

to heed the strange call, and reducing his gait only a little, he proceeded

on his way without misgiving, his senses keenly alert, in order that

he might be prepared for a meeting with the unknown enemy that had

warned him. But he met no one, nor heard any suspicious sound as, un-

challenged, he emerged out of the deep shadows of the trees into the

open. Under the last wide boughs he sank down for a short rest, allowing

his eyes to wander out across a wide meadow toward the mountains, from

among which one peak rose aloft, naked and sharply outlined. This was

his ultimate goal.

 

But scarcely had he arisen again when for the second time the myste-

rious voice was heard, sounding at once near at hand and far-off,

mysteriously, but more earnestly than before:

“Go not through this meadow, youth, unless thou wouldst bring ruin

to thy Fatherland.”

 

The youth’s pride this time forbade his taking heed; he even smiled

at the rigmarole, which was delivered with the air as of one concealing

something very important, and hurried on, not knowing whether im-

patience or unrest hastened his steps. The damp mist of evening descended

upon the plain as he at last stood facing the rocky wall below his goal.

Hardly had he set foot upon the bare surface of the stone, when the

voice rang out again, near at hand and far-off, mysteriously, but more

threateningly than before:

“No farther, youth, else wilt thou suffer death.”

 

The youth laughed loudly and, without haste or hesitation, went on

his way. And the less clear the ascending path became, the more did his

chest expand, and finally on the bravely conquered peak his head was

illumined by the last light of day.

 

“Here I am!” he called out in a tone of triumph. “If this was a

test, O good or evil spirit, then have I won! No murder weighs on

my conscience, unharmed slumbers my Fatherland below, and I still live.

Whosoever thou art, I am stronger than thou, for I did not believe thee,

and I did right.”

 

Whereupon came a great sound as of thunder from the mountain

sides, and at the same time exceeding close at hand:

“Youth, thou errest!” And the overpowering weight of the words

felled the wanderer.

He stretched himself out on the edge of rock as

though he intended to rest there, and with an ironical curl of the lips

he said half to himself:

“So it appears that I have committed murder without knowing it!”

“Thy careless foot has crushed a worm,” the answer thundered back.

And the youth answered with indifference:

 

“I see: neither a good nor an evil spirit spoke to me, but a spirit with

a sense of humor. I was not aware that such hovered about among us

mortals.” And again the voice resounded in the fading twilight of the heights:

“Art thou then no longer the same youth whose heart only this morn-

ing thrilled to the rhythmical beat of all the world? Is thy soul so dead

that thou art untouched by the happiness and sorrow of even a worm?”

“Is that thy meaning?” replied the youth, wrinkling his forehead.

“In that event am I a hundred a thousand times guilty, like other

mortals, whose careless steps have innocently destroyed tiny creatures

without number.”

“Against this particular thing wast thou warned. Dost thou know to

what purpose this worm was destined in the eternal scheme of things?”

 

With sunken head the youth made answer:

“Since I neither knew nor could know that, thou must humbly confess

that in my wandering through the forest I have committed precisely

the one of many possible murders that it was thy will to prevent. But

how I have contrived in my way over the fields to bring ruin to my

Fatherland, I am really most curious to learn.”

“Sawest thou, youth, the bright-colored butterfly,” came the whispered

answer, “that fluttered once to the right of thee?”

“Many butterflies did I see, as well as the one thou mentionest.”

“Many butterflies! Ah, many did the breath from thy lips drive far

from their way; but the one I speak of was driven off to the east, wing-

ing its way far and wide until it flew over the golden fence that encloses

the royal park. From that butterfly will be born the caterpillar

which next year, one hot summer afternoon, will crawl over the white

neck of the young queen, awakening her so suddenly from her sleep

that her heart will stand still in her breast, and the fruit of her womb

languish and die. Thus the king’s brother will inherit the kingdom in-

stead of the rightful heir, whom thou wilt have cheated of his life;

vicious, malicious, and cruel, he will so rule as to bring his people to

despair, madness, and finally, in a frantic effort to save himself, he will

plunge his country into a terrible war, and thus bring thy dear Fatherland

to ruin. And on no one but thou rests the blame for all this, thou whose

breath drove the colored butterfly eastwards across the meadow until

it flew over the golden fence of the king’s park.”

The youth shrugged his shoulders: “How, O invisible spirit, can I deny that all this that thou prophesiest will come to pass, since on earth one thing always follows from another, and often the most terrible events are caused by the most trivial things,

and the most trivial events by the most terrible things? And why should I

believe this particular prophecy, since the other, threatening me with

death should I mount these steps, has not come to pass?”

“He who mounts those steps,” rang out the terrible voice, “must turn

back and descend them, if he wishes to mix with mankind again. Hast

thou pondered that?”

 

The youth stopped suddenly and for a moment it seemed as though

he would take the safe path downwards, but fearing the impene-

trable night that encircled him, he clearly perceived that for so hazardous

an enterprise he would require the light of day, and in order to make

sure that he would have all his wits at his command on the morrow, he

lay down again on the narrow ledge, longing ardently for the sleep

that strengthens. As he lay there motionless, his thoughts keeping him

awake, he opened his tired eyelids, while anxious shudders ran through

his heart and veins. The dizzy precipice was ever before his eyes: that

way lay the only road back to life. He who until then had been always

sure of his path, now felt in his soul a doubt he had never before ex-

perienced, that deepened and caused him ever greater agony, until he

could no longer bear it. He therefore decided rather to attempt forthwith

what could not be avoided than to await the light in a torment of in-

certitude. Again he arose, ready for the venture without the blessed light

of day, to conquer with faltering steps the dangerous path. But hardly

had he set foot into the darkness when he realized as though condemned

by an irrevocable judgment, that his fate was to be fulfilled without

delay. He called out into the emptiness in anger and sorrow:

“O Invisible Spirit, who hast three times warned me and whom I

have thrice refused to believe, O Spirit to whom I now bow down as

to one stronger than I, tell me, ere thou destroyest me, who thou art?”

Again the voice rang out, stiflingly dose at hand and immeasurably

far away:

“No mortal hath yet known me. Many names have I: the superstitious

call me Destiny, fools call me Luck, and the pious call me God. To

those who deem themselves wise I am that Power which was in the Be-

ginning and continues without end through all Eternity.”

“Then I curse thee in this my last moment,” shouted the youth with

die bitterness of death in his heart. “If thou art indeed the Power that

was in the Beginning and continues without end through all Eternity,

then was it fated that all should happen as it did that I should go

through the forest and commit murder, that I should cross the meadow

and bring ruin upon my Fatherland, that I should climb this rock and

here find death all this despite thy warning. But why was I condemned

to hear thee speak to me thrice, if thy warning was not to help me? And

why, oh, irony of ironies! must I in this my last moment whimper my

feeble question to thee?”

An answer was made to the youth, stern and terrible, in a peal of

mysterious laughter that echoed to the utmost confines of the invisible

heavens. As he tried to catch the words the earth moved and sank from

under his feet. He fell, deeper than a million bottomless pits, amid all the

lurking nights of time, that have been and will be, from the Beginning

to the End of all things.

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