Sometimes I am brought to recall those quiet days which to me trace a wondrous, happy, wayward life, one which I can taste, unquestionably, like a gift granted by benign, anonymous hands. And the little town of Talesgrund is replaced by the one in my memory with its bright main street run through by an avenue of lindens, with its angular sidestreets filled with the lives of small home-occupied shops and artisans; and with city’s old fountain in the centre of the square plashing dreamily in the sunshine, where, of an evening, whispers of love cling to its rushing waters. But the town seems to be dreaming of a life it once had.
And gentle rolling hills, covered with solemn, silent firtree forests, close off the valley from the outside world. The peaks nestle softly against the distant, light sky, and this contact between sky and earth appears to offer a resting place for a portion of the universe. People’s forms come to me in the sense of this, their lives passing before me with all the minor sufferings and pleasures with which they spare no hesitation on shedding on each other. I lived for eight weeks in this wilderness; these eight weeks were for me like a separate, single unit of my life a life all of its own filled with an unspoken, youthful joy, filled with strong longing for distant, beautiful things. Here, for the first time, my boyhood’s spirit found the impressions of profound experience.
I see myself once more as a schoolboy in a small house fronted with a small garden, which, somewhat remote from the town, sits concealed behind shrubs and trees. It is there that I lived, in an attic room decorated with wonderful old, faded pictures and, many an evening I dreamed in the stillness, and the stillness, with a kind solicitude, absorbed my highblown, silly-happy boyhood dreams, accepted them, and me, and later, often enough returned me to myself during the solitary twilight hours. In the evening I also often went to see my old uncle below, who spent the day by the side of his daughter, Maria. There we would sit silently together for three hours. The lowering evening wind issued in from the window carrying a variety of confused noises to our ears, casting a vague, dreamy image. And the air was replete with the strong, intoxicating odour of the roses blooming by the garden fence. Slowly, the night crept into the room, and then I rose, bid good night and made for my room above in order to spend another hour by the window dreaming into the night.
At first I felt oppressively anxious near the sick girl, whose response to the noises mounted from a cowed timidity, to sinister, paralysed suffering. When I saw her in this state I was overcome with a dark feeling that she must die soon. And then I quailed from looking at her.
When, by day, I wandered the woods, feeling so free in the solitude and stillness; when I tired and stretched out on the moss, and lay blinking for hours into the bright, sparkling sky, enabling me to see deeply inwards; when intoxicated with the strange deep feeling of joy, then befell me suddenly the thought of the sick Maria and I stood up, perplexed, overcome by indeterminate thoughts ambling about without direction, and felt a dull constriction in my head and heart which made me want to cry.
And when often in the evening I went down to the dusty main street filled with blossoming lindens, and saw couples standing whispering in the shade of the tress; when I saw two people, nestled closely against one another, slowly merging as if but one, into the fountains plashing faintly in the moonshine, a hot and ominous shudder overtook me, for there the sick Maria sprung to my mind; then a slight feeling closed in on me, a longing for something undisclosed; and suddenly I saw myself walking gleefully with her arm in arm under the fragrant linden trees. Maria’s large dark eyes shone with a strange glimmer, and the moon left her little thin face looking paler still, and more translucent. Then I escaped to my attic room, leaned against the window-ledge, looked up into the dark blue sky whose stars splintered until they extinguished, suspending confusions and unfathomable dreams on them for hours until overtaken by sleep.