Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hamsun: Wandering and starving in Kristiania

It was during the time I wandered about and starved in Christiania*:
Christiania, this singular city, from which no man departs without
carrying away the traces of his sojourn there.

* * * * *

I was lying awake in my attic and I heard a clock below strike six. It
was already broad daylight, and people had begun to go up and down the
stairs. By the door where the wall of the room was papered with old
numbers of the _Morgenbladet_, I could distinguish clearly a notice
from the Director of Lighthouses, and a little to the left of that an
inflated advertisement of Fabian Olsens' new-baked bread.

The instant I opened my eyes I began, from sheer force of habit, to
think if I had anything to rejoice over that day. I had been somewhat
hard-up lately, and one after the other of my belongings had been taken
to my "Uncle." I had grown nervous and irritable. A few times I had
kept my bed for the day with vertigo. Now and then, when luck had
favoured me, I had managed to get five shillings for a feuilleton from
some newspaper or other.

It grew lighter and lighter, and I took to reading the advertisements
near the door. I could even make out the grinning lean letters of
"winding-sheets to be had at Miss Andersen's" on the right of it. That
occupied me for a long while. I heard the clock below strike eight as I
got up and put on my clothes.

I opened the window and looked out. From where I was standing I had a
view of a clothes, line and an open field. Farther away lay the ruins
of a burnt-out smithy, which some labourers were busy clearing away. I
leant with my elbows resting on the window-frame and gazed into open
space. It promised to be a clear day--autumn, that tender, cool time of
the year, when all things change their colour, and die, had come to us.
The ever-increasing noise in the streets lured me out. The bare room,
the floor of which rocked up and down with every step I took across it,
seemed like a gasping, sinister coffin. There was no proper fastening
to the door, either, and no stove. I used to lie on my socks at night
to dry them a little by the morning. The only thing I had to divert
myself with was a little red rocking-chair, in which I used to sit in
the evenings and doze and muse on all manner of things. When it blew
hard, and the door below stood open, all kinds of eerie sounds moaned
up through the floor and from out the walls, and the _Morgenbladet_
near the door was rent in strips a span long.

I stood up and searched through a bundle in the corner by the bed for a
bite for breakfast, but finding nothing, went back to the window.

God knows, thought I, if looking for employment will ever again avail
me aught. The frequent repulses, half-promises, and curt noes, the
cherished, deluded hopes, and fresh endeavours that always resulted in
nothing had done my courage to death. As a last resource, I had applied
for a place as debt collector, but I was too late, and, besides, I
could not have found the fifty shillings demanded as security. There
was always something or another in my way. I had even offered to enlist
in the Fire Brigade. There we stood and waited in the vestibule, some
half-hundred men, thrusting our chests out to give an idea of strength
and bravery, whilst an inspector walked up and down and scanned the
applicants, felt their arms, and put one question or another to them.
Me, he passed by, merely shaking his head, saying I was rejected on
account of my sight. I applied again without my glasses, stood there
with knitted brows, and made my eyes as sharp as needles, but the man
passed me by again with a smile; he had recognized me. And, worse than
all, I could no longer apply for a situation in the garb of a
respectable man.

How regularly and steadily things had gone downhill with me for a long
time, till, in the end, I was so curiously bared of every conceivable
thing. I had not even a comb left, not even a book to read, when things
grew all too sad with me. All through the summer, up in the churchyards
or parks, where I used to sit and write my articles for the newspapers,
I had thought out column after column on the most miscellaneous
subjects. Strange ideas, quaint fancies, conceits of my restless brain;
in despair I had often chosen the most remote themes, that cost me long
hours of intense effort, and never were accepted. When one piece was
finished I set to work at another. I was not often discouraged by the
editors' "no." I used to tell myself constantly that some day I was
bound to succeed; and really occasionally when I was in luck's way, and
made a hit with something, I could get five shillings for an
afternoon's work.

Once again I raised myself from the window, went over to the
washing-stand, and sprinkled some water on the shiny knees of my
trousers to dull them a little and make them look a trifle newer.
Having done this, I pocketed paper and pencil as usual and went out. I
stole very quietly down the stairs in order not to attract my
landlady's attention (a few days had elapsed since my rent had fallen
due, and I had no longer anything wherewith to raise it).

It was nine o'clock. The roll of vehicles and hum of voices filled the
air, a mighty morning-choir mingled with the footsteps of the
pedestrians, and the crack of the hack-drivers' whips. The clamorous
traffic everywhere exhilarated me at once, and I began to feel more and
more contented. Nothing was farther from my intention than to merely
take a morning walk in the open air. What had the air to do with my
lungs? I was strong as a giant; could stop a dray with my shoulders. A
sweet, unwonted mood, a feeling of lightsome happy-go-luckiness took
possession of me. I fell to observing the people I met and who passed
me, to reading the placards on the wall, noted even the impression of a
glance thrown at me from a passing tram-car, let each bagatelle, each
trifling incident that crossed or vanished from my path impress me.

*Oslo was at that time called Kristiania

Knut Hamsun, Hunger, translated from
the Norwegian by George Egerton

About Knut Hamsun

Since the death of Ibsen and Strindberg, Hamsun is undoubtedly the
foremost creative writer of the Scandinavian countries. Those
approaching most nearly to his position are probably Selma Lagerlöf in
Sweden and Henrik Pontoppidan in Denmark. Both these, however, seem to
have less than he of that width of outlook, validity of interpretation
and authority of tone that made the greater masters what they were.

His reputation is not confined to his own country or the two
Scandinavian sister nations. It spread long ago over the rest of Europe,
taking deepest roots in Russia, where several editions of his collected
works have already appeared, and where he is spoken of as the equal of
Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. The enthusiasm of this approval is a
characteristic symptom that throws interesting light on Russia as well
as on Hamsun.

Hearing of it, one might expect him to prove a man of the masses, full
of keen social consciousness. Instead, he must be classed as an
individualistic romanticist and a highly subjective aristocrat, whose
foremost passion in life is violent, defiant deviation from everything
average and ordinary. He fears and flouts the dominance of the many, and
his heroes, who are nothing but slightly varied images of himself, are
invariably marked by an originality of speech and action that brings
them close to, if not across, the borderline of the eccentric.

In all the literature known to me, there is no writer who appears more
ruthlessly and fearlessly himself, and the self thus presented to us is
as paradoxical and rebellious as it is poetic and picturesque. 



Saturday, October 23, 2010

It was all over now...

And I put on my uniform for the first time, and went down to Sirilund. My heart was beating. I remembered everything from the day when Edwarda had come hurrying to me and embraced me before them all. Now she had thrown me hither and thither for many months, and made my hair turn grey. My own fault? Yes, my star had led me astray. I thought: How she would chuckle if I were to throw myself at her feet and tell her the secret of my heart to-day! She would offer me a chair and have wine brought in, and just as she was raising the glass to her lips to drink with me, she would say: "Lieutenant, I thank you for the time we have been together. I shall never forget it!" But when I grew glad and felt a little hope, she'd pretend to drink, and set down the glass untouched. And she wouldn't hide from me that she'd only been pretending to drink; she'd be careful to let me see it. That was her way. Good--it was nearing the last hour now. And as I walked down the road I thought further: My uniform will impress her; the trappings are new and handsome. The sword will rattle against the floor. A nervous joy thrilled me, and I whispered to myself: Who knows what may happen yet? I raised my head and threw out a hand. No more humility now--a man's honour and pride! Whatever came of it, I would make no more advances now. Pardon me, my fair one, for not asking your hand... Herr Mack met me in the courtyard, greyer still, more hollow-eyed. "Going away? So? I suppose you've not been very comfortable lately, eh? Your hut burned down..." And Herr Mack smiled. In a moment it seemed as if the wisest man in the world stood before my eyes. "Go indoors, Lieutenant; Edwarda is there. Well, I will say good-bye. See you on the quay, I suppose, when the vessel sails." He walked off, with head bowed in thought, whistling. Edwarda was sitting indoors, reading. At the instant of my entering, she started at my uniform; she looked at me sideways like a bird, and even blushed. She opened her mouth. "I have come to say good-bye," I managed to get out at last. She rose quickly to her feet, and I saw that my words had had some effect. "Glahn, are you going away? Now?" "As soon as the boat comes." I grasped her hand--both her hands--a senseless delight took possession of me--I burst out, "Edwarda!" and stared at her. And in a moment she was cold--cold and defiant. Her whole being resisted me; she drew herself up. I found myself standing like a beggar before her. I loosed her hand and let her go. I remember that from that moment I stood repeating mechanically: "Edwarda, Edwarda!" again and again without thinking, and when she asked: "Yes? What were you going to say?" I explained nothing. "To think you are going already," she said again. "Who will come next year, I wonder?" "Another," I answered. "The hut will be built up again, no doubt." Pause. She was already reaching for her book. "I am sorry my father is not in," she said. "But I will tell him you were here." I made no answer to this. I stepped forward, took her hand once more, and said: _"Farvel,_ Edwarda." _"Farvel,"_ she answered. I opened the door as if to go. Already she was sitting with the book in her hand, reading--actually reading and turning the page. Nothing affected, not the least in the world affected by my saying good-bye. I coughed. She turned and said in surprise: "Oh, are you not gone? I thought you were." Heaven alone knows, but it struck me that her surprise was too great; that she was not careful, that she overdid it. And it came into my head that perhaps she had known all the time that I was standing behind her. "I am going now," I said. Then she rose and came over to me. "I should like to have something to remember you by when you go," she said. "I thought of asking you for something, but perhaps it is too much. Will you give me Æsop?" I did not hesitate. I answered "Yes." "Then, perhaps, you would come and bring him to-morrow," she said. I went. I looked up at the window. No one there. It was all over now...

From PAN by Knut Hamsun, translated by W. W. Worst

Friday, October 22, 2010

What a day!

I wrote her a letter. It had been raining here for a week or so and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I told her that she had no right to be upset with me just because I kept saying in my letters that I love her. You love your husband and that’s okay with me, but if you don’t acknowledge that you also love me I will not write to you anymore. 

We met a long time ago at the Vieux Port, we were both living in Marseille, and I didn’t have sex with anyone else afterward as I had it with her. I don’t know what sex is about. I know however that sex is a very private thing: nobody in bed resembles anybody else. I loved it with her, loved it very much, and I cannot forget the way her eyes stared at me when I was fucking her. But I already said that, didn’t I?

I hate to think that fucking happens because we are animals and animals enjoy fucking. I have the pretension of being the owner of a soul. Love for me is always a spiritual discovery or it is not worth the effort.

She says: you are a very difficult person, no wonder you live alone. And she adds: I am not so sure anymore that we two would get along so well.  I think: fuck you, baby, just accept that you miss me as much as I miss you, stop digressing from what is important.

She is happy with her life, she loves her husband and she has a beautiful house in a beautiful town. Is that enough? I asked her and she said yes, it is enough, I don’t even know why I am writing to you, it doesn’t make sense. Sure, said I, keep complaining about me, you may even stop writing to me, fuck you.

In fact I didn’t say anything of what’s mentioned above, the words just crossed my mind but I didn’t say any of it. What for? I love her anyway.

I really believe everything she says. I believe that she loves her husband. But I also believe that she loves me and that she would like to make love to me again as in the old days. Once I asked her: do you remember that afternoon at my apartment, you had an exam and we wanted each other so much that I started to kiss you and we made love in a hurry before I drove you to your class? She said: yes, I remember it.

Only she is afraid of admitting that in one way or another – the mystery surrounding our feelings is awesome - she still loves me. She would do it, she would fuck me again, she would deeply enjoy my tenderness…  and she would be devastated as soon as she’d think about herself as an adulterous woman. What can I do about it? Such is the power of certain words that good people fear them as they would fear the devil. And they forget to live their lives. It’s their problem. But in this particular case it ends up being my problem too. We will die sooner or later and the love we didn't make is lost forever.

How can we be responsible for what we feel and think if thoughts and feelings keep coming to our mind and body without asking us for permission? But she is a good woman and when those thoughts dare to invade her so well organized and happy life, her educated mind, she is terrified. She would never hurt anybody. Her husband is a great guy. He loves her, true? He has been taking care of her for so many years. And she has been taking care of his laundry, of his meals and of his sexual needs, isn’t it true that she is a good wife? How could she love another man, do that to him? No, impossible.

I know all that and I keep writing to her everyday. Before I go to bed I sit at my computer desk and I send her a message: sleep well, my love. What does she feel when she reads my words in the morning? I will never know. She will never say what she feels because she is a respectable woman. She is married, true? She would never allow herself to behave as a dreadful bitch. I will never be for her more than an inoffensive dream, an innocent sin. Our relationship allows her to feel that her life is not finished yet, that she could change it completely if she wanted. If she doesn’t it’s because she is very happy with her life as it is.  

No, love is not just about fucking. It’s about having a house or a home, it’s about security, it’s about feeling protected, maybe about feeling admired or respected. I don’t know. It’s about having someone with whom to spend a wonderful evening at the restaurant, maybe. It’s about escaping the misery of life, the cold and dark nights in winter.

What a day. I am tired now. It has been raining for a week or so here and I have been too sensitive, in a kind of bad mood. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A little flush rose to her cheeks

Then one night the snow came, and it began to be cold in my hut. There was a fireplace where I cooked my food, but the wood burned poorly and it was very draughty, though I had caulked the walls as well as I could.
The autumn was past, and the days were growing shorter. The first snow was still melting under the rays of the sun. Presently the ground was bare again, but the nights were cold, and the water froze. And all the grass and all the insects died.

A secret stillness fell upon people; they pondered and were silent;their eyes awaited the winter. No more calling from the drying grounds:the harbour lay quiet. Everything was moving towards the eternal winter of the northern lights, when the sun sleeps in the sea. Dull came the sound of the oars from a lonely boat.

A girl came rowing.

"Where have you been, my girl?"


"Nowhere? Look, I recognize you: I met you last summer."

She brought the boat in, stepped ashore, made fast.

"You were herding goats. You stopped to fasten your stocking. I met you one night."

A little flush rose to her cheeks, and she laughed shyly.

"Little goat-girl, come into the hut and let me look at you. I knew your name, too--it is Henriette."

But she walked past me without speaking. The autumn, the winter, had laid hold of her too; her senses drowsed.

Already the sun had gone to sea.
From PAN by Knut Hamsun, translated
by W. W. Worst

Rammstein: Feuer und Wasser

I did nothing awkward or wrong... as far as I am aware...

All the evening I had a bitter feeling that I should not have come to
that party. My coming was hardly noticed at all, they were all so
occupied with one another; Edwarda hardly bade me welcome. I began
drinking hard because I knew I was unwelcome; and yet I did not go away.

Herr Mack smiled a great deal and put on his most amiable expression; he
was in evening dress, and looked well. He was now here, now there,
mingling with his half a hundred guests, dancing one dance now and then,
joking and laughing. There were secrets lurking in his eyes.

A whirl of music and voices sounded through the house. Five of the rooms
were occupied by the guests, besides the big room where they were
dancing. Supper was over when I arrived. Busy maids were running to and
fro with glasses and wines, brightly polished coffee-pots, cigars and
pipes, cakes and fruit. There was no sparing of anything. The
chandeliers in the rooms were filled with extra-thick candles that had
been made for the occasion; the new oil lamps were lit as well. Eva was
helping in the kitchen; I caught a glimpse of her. To think that Eva
should be here too!

The Baron received a great deal of attention, though he was quiet and
modest and did not put himself forward. He, too, was in evening dress;
the tails of his coat were miserably crushed from the packing. He talked
a good deal with Edwarda, followed her with his eyes, drank with her,
and called her Fröken, as he did the daughters of the Dean and of the
district surgeon. I felt the same dislike of him as before, and could
hardly look at him without turning my eyes away with a wretched silly
grimace. When he spoke to me, I answered shortly and pressed my lips
together after.

I happen to remember one detail of that evening. I stood talking to a
young lady, a fair-haired girl; and I said something or told some story
that made her laugh. It can hardly have been anything remarkable, but
perhaps, in my excited state, I told it more amusingly than I remember
now--at any rate, I have forgotten it. But when I turned round, there
was Edwarda standing behind me. She gave me a glance of recognition.

Afterwards I noticed that she drew the fair girl aside to find out what
I had said. I cannot say how that look of Edwarda's cheered me, after I
had been going about from room to room like a sort of outcast all the
evening; I felt better at once, and spoke to several people, and was
entertaining. As far as I am aware, I did nothing awkward or wrong... 
From PAN by Knut Hamsun, translated
by W. W. Worst

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Aix revisited


It was autumn. The summer was gone. It passed as quickly as it had come;
ah, how quickly it was gone! The days were cold now. I went out shooting
and fishing--sang songs in the woods. And there were days with a thick
mist that came floating in from the sea, damming up everything behind a
wall of murk.

One such day something happened. I lost my way, blundered through into
the woods of the annexe, and came to the Doctor's house. There were
visitors there--the young ladies I had met before--young people dancing,
just like madcap foals.

A carriage came rolling up and stopped outside the gate; Edwarda was in
it. She started at sight of me. "Good-bye," I said quietly. But the
Doctor held me back. Edwarda was troubled by my presence at first, and
looked down when I spoke; afterwards, she bore with me, and even went so
far as to ask me a question about something or other. She was strikingly
pale; the mist lay grey and cold upon her face. She did not get out of
the carriage.

"I have come on an errand," she said. "I come from the parish church,
and none of you were there to-day; they said you were here. I have been
driving for hours to find you. We are having a little party
to-morrow--the Baron is going away next week--and I have been told to
invite you all. There will be dancing too. To-morrow evening."

They all bowed and thanked her.

To me, she went on:

"Now, don't stay away, will you? Don't send a note at the last minute
making some excuse." She did not say that to any of the others. A little
after she drove away.

I was so moved by this unexpected meeting that for a little while I was
secretly mad with joy. Then I took leave of the Doctor and his guests
and set off for home. How gracious she was to me, how gracious she was
to me! What could I do for her in return? My hands felt helpless; a
sweet cold went through my wrists. _Herregud!_ I thought to myself, here
am I with my limbs hanging helpless for joy; I cannot even clench my
hands; I can only find tears in my eyes for my own helplessness. What is
to be done about it?

It was late in the evening when I reached home. I went round by the quay
and asked a fisherman if the post-packet would not be in by to-morrow
evening. Alas, no, the post-packet would not be in till some time next
week. I hurried up to the hut and began looking over my best suit. I
cleaned it up and made it look decent; there were holes in it here and
there, and I wept and darned them.

When I had finished, I lay down on the bed. This rest lasted only a
moment. Then a thought struck me, and I sprang up and stood in the
middle of the floor, dazed. The whole thing was just another trick! I
should not have been invited if I had not happened to be there when the
others were asked. And, moreover, she had given me the plainest possible
hint to stay away--to send a note at the last moment, making some
From PAN by Knut Hamsun, translated
by W. W. Worster 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

She said "Yes, I understand.... "

I had some talk with Edwarda.
"We shall have rain before long," I said.
"What time is it?" she asked.
I looked at the sun and answered:
"About five."
She asked:
"Can you tell so nearly by the sun?"
"Yes," I answered; "I can."
"But when you can't see the sun, how do you tell the time then?"
"Then I can tell by other things. There's high tide and low tide, and the grass that lies over at certain hours, and the song of the birds that changes; some birds begin to sing when others leave off. Then, I can tell the time by flowers that close in the afternoon, and leaves that are bright green at some times and dull green at others—and then, besides, I can feel it."
"I see."
Now I was expecting rain, and for Edwarda's sake I would not keep her there any longer on the road; I raised my cap. But she stopped me suddenly with a new question, and I stayed. She blushed, and asked me why I had come to the place at all? Why I went out shooting, and why this and why that? For I never shot more than I needed for food, and left my dog idle...
She looked flushed and humble. I understood that someone had been talking about me, and she had heard it; she was not speaking for herself. And something about her called up a feeling of tenderness in me; she looked so helpless, I remembered that she had no mother; her thin arms gave her an ill-cared-for appearance. I could not help feeling it so.
Well, I did not go out shooting just to murder things, but to live. I had need of one grouse to-day, and so I did not shoot two, but would shoot the other to-morrow. Why kill more? I lived in the woods, as a son of the woods. And from the first of June it was closed time for hare and ptarmigan; there was but little left for me to shoot at all now. Well and good: then I could go fishing, and live on fish. I would borrow her father's boat and row out in that. No, indeed, I did no go out shooting for the lust of killing things, but only to live in the woods. It was a good place for me; I could lie down on the ground at meals, instead of sitting upright on a chair; I did not upset my glass there. In the woods I could do as I pleased; I could lie down flat on my back and close my eyes if I pleased, and I could say whatever I liked to say. Often one might feel a wish to say something, to speak aloud, and in the woods it sounded like speech from the very heart...
When I asked her if she understood all this, she said, "Yes."
And I went on, and told her more, because her eyes were on me. "If you only knew all that I see out in the wilds!" I said. "In winter, I come walking along, and see, perhaps, the tracks of ptarmigan in the snow. Suddenly the track disappears; the bird has taken wing. But from the marks of the wings I can see which way the game has flown, and before long I have tracked it down again. There is always a touch of newness in that for me. In autumn, many a time there are shooting stars to watch. Then I think to myself, being all alone, What was that? A world seized with convulsions all of a sudden? A world going all to pieces before my eyes? To think that I—that I should be granted the sight of shooting stars in my life! And when summer comes, then perhaps there may be a little living creature on every leaf; I can see that some of them have no wings; they can make no great way in the world, but must live and die on that one little leaf where they came into the world.
"Then sometimes I see the blue flies. But it all seems such a little thing to talk about—I don't know if you understand?"
"Yes, yes, I understand."
"Good. Well, then sometimes I look at the grass, and perhaps the grass is looking at me again—who can say? I look at a single blade of grass; it quivers a little, maybe, and thinks me something. And I think to myself: Here is a little blade of grass all a-quivering. Or if it happens to be a fir tree I look at, then maybe the tree has one branch that makes me think of it a little, too. And sometimes I meet people up on the moors; it happens at times."
I looked at her; she stood bending forward, listening. I hardly knew her. So lost in attention she was that she took no heed of herself, but was ugly, foolish looking; her underlip hung far down.
"Yes, yes," she said, and drew herself up.
The first drops of rain began to fall.
"It is raining," said I.
"Oh! Yes, it is raining," she said, and went away on the instant.
I did not see her home; she went on her way alone; I hurried up to the hut. A few minutes passed. It began to rain heavily. Suddenly I heard someone running after me. I stopped short, and there was Edwarda.
"I forgot," she said breathlessly. "We were going over to the islands—the drying grounds, you know. The Doctor is coming to-morrow; will you have time then?"
"To-morrow? Yes, indeed. I shall have time enough."
"I forgot it," she said again, and smiled.
As she went, I noticed her thin, pretty calves; they were wet far above the ankle. Her shoes were worn through.

From PAN by Knut Hamsun, translated by W. W. Worster

Sunday, October 03, 2010

She had never seen such a thing!

I waited on the shore to see which boat Edwarda chose, and made up my
mind to go in the other one myself. Suddenly she called me. I looked at
her in surprise; her face was flushed. Then she came up to me, held out
her hand, and said tenderly:

"Thank you for the feathers. You will come in the boat with me, won't

"If you wish it," I said.

We got into the boat, and she sat down beside me on the same seat, her
knee touching mine. I looked at her, and she glanced at me for a moment
in return. I began to feel myself repaid for that bitter day, and was
growing happy again, when she suddenly changed her position, turned her
back to me, and began talking to the Doctor, who was sitting at the

For a full quarter of an hour I did not exist for her. Then I did
something I repent of, and have not yet forgotten. Her shoe fell off: I
snatched it up and flung it far out into the water, for pure joy that
she was near, or from some impulse to make myself remarked, to remind
her of my existence--I do not know. It all happened so suddenly I did
not think, only felt that impulse.

The ladies set up a cry. I myself was as if paralyzed by what I had
done, but what was the good of that? It was done. The Doctor came to my
help; he cried "Row," and steered towards the shoe. And the next moment
the boatman had caught hold of the shoe just as it had filled with water
and was sinking; the man's arm was wet up to the elbow. Then there was a
shout of "Hurra" from many in the boats, because the shoe was saved.

I was deeply ashamed, and felt that my face changed color and winced, as
I wiped the shoe with my handkerchief. Edwarda took it without a word.
Not till a little while after did she say:

"I never saw such a thing!"

"No, did you ever?" I said. And I smiled and pulled myself together,
making as if I had played that trick for some particular reason--as if
there were something behind it. But what could there be? The Doctor
looked at me, for the first time, contemptuously. 
From PAN by Knut Hamsun, translated
by W. W. Worster  

Saturday, October 02, 2010

What have you done?

A few days passed as best they could; my only friend was the forest and
the great loneliness. Dear God! I had never before known what it was to
be so alone as on the first of those days. It was full spring now; I had
found wintergreen and milfoil already, and the chaffinches had come (I
knew all the birds). Now and again I took a couple of coins from my
pocket and rattled them, to break the loneliness. I thought to myself:
"What if Diderik and Iselin were to appear!"

Night was coming on again; the sun just dipped into the sea and rose
again, red, refreshed, as if it had been down to drink. I could feel
more strangely on those nights than anyone would believe. Was Pan
himself there, sitting in a tree, watching me to see what I might do?
Was his belly open, and he sitting there bent over as if drinking from
his own belly? But all that he did only that he might look up under his
brows and watch me; and the whole tree shook with his silent laughter
when he saw how all my thoughts were running away with me. There was a
rustling everywhere in the woods, beasts sniffing, birds calling one to
another; their signals filled the air. And it was flying year for the
Maybug; its humming mingled with the buzz of the night moths, sounded
like a whispering here and a whispering there, all about in the woods.
So much there was to hear! For three nights I did not sleep; I thought
of Diderik and Iselin.

"See now," I thought, "they might come." And Iselin would lead Diderik
away to a tree and say:

"Stand here, Diderik, and keep guard; keep watch; I will let this
huntsman tie my shoestring."

And the huntsman is myself, and she will give me a glance of her eyes
that I may understand. And when she comes, my heart knows all, and no
longer beats like a heart, but rings as a bell. I lay my hand on her.

"Tie my shoe-string," she says, with flushed cheeks. ...

The sun dips down into the sea and rises again, red and refreshed, as if
it had been to drink. And the air is full of whisperings.

An hour after, she speaks, close to my mouth:

"Now I must leave you."

And she turns and waves her hand to me as she goes, and her face is
flushed still; her face is tender and full of delight. And again she
turns and waves to me.

But Diderik steps out from under the tree and says:

"Iselin, what have you done? I saw you."

She answers:

"Diderik, what did you see? I have done nothing."

"Iselin, I saw what you did," he says again; "I saw you."

And then her rich, glad laughter rings through the wood, and she goes
off with him, full of rejoicing from top to toe. And whither does she
go? To the next mortal man; to a huntsman in the woods. 
From PAN by Knut Hamsun, translated
by W. W. Worster  
W. W. Worster writes this about Knut Hamsun:
Pan (1894) is probably Hamsun’s best-known work. It is a love-story, but of an extraordinary type, and is, moreover, important from the fact that we are here introduced to some of the characters and types that are destined to reappear again and again in his later works.
Nagel, the exasperating irresponsible of Mysterier, is at his maddest in his behaviour towards the woman he loves. It is natural that this should be so. When a man is intoxicated his essential qualities are emphasized. If he have wit, he will be witty; if a brutal nature, he will be a brute; if he be of a melancholy temper, he will be disposed to sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.
We see this in Pan. The love-making of the hero is characterized by the same irrational impulses, the same extravagant actions, as in Sult and Mysterier. But they are now less frequent and less involved. 

The book as a whole is toned down, so to speak, from the bewildering tangle of unrestraint in the first two. There is quite sufficient of the erratic and unusual in the character of Glahn, the hero, but the tone is more subdued. The madcap youth of genius has realized that the world looks frigidly at its vagaries, and the secretly proud “au moins je suis autre” — more a boast than a confession — gives place to a wistful, apologetic admission of the difference as a fault. Here already we have something of that resignation which comes later to its fulness in the story of the Wanderer with the Mute.

Friday, October 01, 2010

If you fudge a little...

I upset my glass, and felt ashamed, and stood up.

"There--I have upset my glass," I said.

Edwarda burst out laughing, and answered:

"Well, we can see that."

Everyone assured me laughingly that it did not matter. They gave me a
towel to wipe myself with, and we went on with the game. Soon it was
eleven o'clock.

I felt a vague displeasure at Edwarda's laugh. I looked at her, and
found that her face had become insignificant, hardly even pretty. At
last Herr Mack broke off the game, saying that his assistants must go to
bed; then he leaned back on the sofa and began talking about putting up
a sign in front of his place. He asked my advice about it. What colour
did I think would be best? I was not interested, and answered "black,"
without thinking at all. And Herr Mack at once agreed:

"Black, yes--exactly what I had been thinking myself. 'Salt and barrels'
in heavy black letters--that ought to look as nice as anything...
Edwarda, isn't it time you were going to bed?"

Edwarda rose, shook hands with us both, said good-night, and left the
room. We sat on. We talked of the railway that had been finished last
year, and of the first telegraph line. "Wonder when we shall have the
telegraph up here."


"It's like this," said Herr Mack. "Time goes on, and here am I,
six-and-forty, and hair and beard gone grey. You might see me in the
daytime and say I was a young man, but when the evening comes along, and
I'm all alone, I feel it a good deal. I sit here mostly playing
patience. It works out all right as a rule, if you fudge a little.

"If you fudge a little?" I asked.

From PAN by Knut Hamsun, translated
by W. W. Worster