Friday, June 03, 2011

Knut Hamsun: The tears well up in my eyes

The thought of God began to occupy me. It seemed to me in the highest degree indefensible of Him to interfere every time I sought for a place, and to upset the whole thing, while all the time I was but imploring enough for a daily meal.

I had remarked so plainly that, whenever I had been hungry for any length of time, it was just as if my brains ran quite gently out of my head and left me with a vacuum--my head grew light and far off, I no longer felt its weight on my shoulders, and I had a consciousness that my eyes stared far too widely open when I looked at anything.

I sat there on the seat and pondered over all this, and grew more and more bitter against God for His prolonged inflictions. If He meant to draw me nearer to Him, and make me better by exhausting me and placing obstacle after obstacle in my way, I could assure Him He made a slight mistake. And, almost crying with defiance, I looked up towards Heaven and told Him so mentally, once and for all.

Fragments of the teachings of my childhood ran through my memory. The rhythmical sound of Biblical language sang in my ears, and I talked quite softly to myself, and held my head sneeringly askew. Wherefore should I sorrow for what I eat, for what I drink, or for what I may array this miserable food for worms called my earthy body? Hath not my Heavenly Father provided for me, even as for the sparrow on the housetop, and hath He not in His graciousness pointed towards His lowly servitor? The Lord stuck His finger in the net of my nerves gently--yea, verily, in desultory fashion--and brought slight disorder among the threads. And then the Lord withdrew His finger, and there were fibres and delicate root-like filaments adhering to the finger, and they were the nerve-threads of the filaments. And there was a gaping hole after the finger, which was God's finger, and a wound in my brain in the track of His finger. But when God had touched me with His finger, He let me be, and touched me no more, and let no evil befall me; but let me depart in peace, and let me depart with the gaping hole. And no evil hath befallen me from the God who is the Lord God of all Eternity.

The sound of music was borne up on the wind to me from the Students' Allée. It was therefore past two o'clock. I took out my writing materials to try to write something, and at the same time my book of shaving-tickets [Footnote: Issued by the barbers at cheaper rates, as few men in Norway shave themselves.] fell out of my pocket. I opened it, and counted the tickets; there were six. "The Lord be praised," I exclaimed involuntarily; "I can still get shaved for a couple of weeks, and look a little decent"; and I immediately fell into a better frame of mind on account of this little property which still remained to me. I smoothed the leaves out carefully, and put the book safely into my pocket.

But write I could not. After a few lines nothing seemed to occur to me; my thought ran in other directions, and I could not pull myself together enough for any special exertion.

Everything influenced and distracted me; everything I saw made a fresh impression on me. Flies and tiny mosquitoes stick fast to the paper and disturb me. I blow at them to get rid of them--blow harder and harder; to no purpose, the little pests throw themselves on their backs, make themselves heavy, and fight against me until their slender legs bend. They are not to be moved from the spot; they find something to hook on to, set their heels against a comma or an unevenness in the paper, or stand immovably still until they themselves think fit to go their way.

These insects continued to busy me for a long time, and I crossed my legs to observe them at leisure. All at once a couple of high clarinet notes waved up to me from the bandstand, and gave my thoughts a new impulse. 

Despondent at not being able to put my article together, I replaced the paper in my pocket, and leant back in the seat. At this instant my head is so clear that I can follow the most delicate train of thought without tiring. As I lie in this position, and let my eyes glide down my breast and along my legs, I notice the jerking movement my foot makes each time my pulse beats. I half rise and look down at my feet, and I experience at this moment a fantastic and singular feeling that I have never felt before--a delicate, wonderful shock through my nerves,as if sparks of cold light quivered through them--it was as if catching sight of my shoes I had met with a kind old acquaintance, or got back a part of myself that had been riven loose. A feeling of recognition trembles through my senses; the tears well up in my eyes, and I have a feeling as if my shoes are a soft, murmuring strain rising towards me. "Weakness!" I cried harshly to myself, and I clenched my fists and I repeated "Weakness!" I laughed at myself, for this ridiculous feeling, made fun of myself, with a perfect consciousness of doing so, talked very severely and sensibly, and closed my eyes very tightly to get rid of the tears.

Knut Hamsun, Hunger, 1890

No comments: