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NELLIE BLY: TEN DAYS IN A MAD-HOUSE (CHAPTER III: IN THE TEMPORARY HOME)

bly_madhouse14Ten Days in a Mad-House
(Chapter III: In the temporary home)
by Nellie Bly

I was left to begin my career as Nellie Brown, the insane girl. As I walked down the avenue I tried to assume the look which maidens wear in pictures entitled “Dreaming.” “Far-away” expressions have a crazy air. I passed through the little paved yard to the entrance of the Home. I pulled the bell, which sounded loud enough for a church chime, and nervously awaited the opening of the door to the Home, which I intended should ere long cast me forth and out upon the charity of the police. The door was thrown back with a vengeance, and a short, yellow-haired girl of some thirteen summers stood before me.

“Is the matron in?” I asked, faintly.

“Yes, she’s in; she’s busy. Go to the back parlor,” answered the girl, in a loud voice, without one change in her peculiarly matured face.

At the temporary home for women.

I followed these not overkind or polite instructions and found myself in a dark, uncomfortable back-parlor. There I awaited the arrival of my hostess. I had been seated some twenty minutes at the least, when a slender woman, clad in a plain, dark dress entered and, stopping before me, ejaculated inquiringly, “Well?”

“Are you the matron?” I asked.

“No,” she replied, “the matron is sick; I am her assistant. What do you want?”

“I want to stay here for a few days, if you can accommodate me.”

“Well, I have no single rooms, we are so crowded; but if you will occupy a room with another girl, I shall do that much for you.”

“I shall be glad of that,” I answered. “How much do you charge?” I had brought only about seventy cents along with me, knowing full well that the sooner my funds were exhausted the sooner I should be put out, and to be put out was what I was working for.

“We charge thirty cents a night,” was her reply to my question, and with that I paid her for one night’s lodging, and she left me on the plea of having something else to look after. Left to amuse myself as best I could, I took a survey of my surroundings.

They were not cheerful, to say the least. A wardrobe, desk, book-case, organ, and several chairs completed the furnishment of the room, into which the daylight barely came.

By the time I had become familiar with my quarters a bell, which rivaled the door-bell in its loudness, began clanging in the basement, and simultaneously
women went trooping down-stairs from all parts of the house. I imagined, from the obvious signs, that dinner was served, but as no one had said anything to me I made no effort to follow in the hungry train. Yet I did wish that some one would invite me down. It always produces such a lonely, homesick feeling to know others are eating, and we haven’t a chance, even if we are not hungry. I was glad when the assistant matron came up and asked me if I did not want something to eat. I replied that I did, and then I asked her what her name was. Mrs. Stanard, she said, and I immediately wrote it down in a notebook I had taken with me for the purpose of making memoranda, and in which I had written several pages of utter nonsense for inquisitive scientists.

Thus equipped I awaited developments. But my dinner–well, I followed Mrs. Stanard down the uncarpeted stairs into the basement; where a large number of women were eating. She found room for me at a table with three other women. The short-haired slavey who had opened the door now put in an appearance as waiter. Placing her arms akimbo and staring me out of countenance she said:

“Boiled mutton, boiled beef, beans, potatoes, coffee or tea?”

“Beef, potatoes, coffee and bread,” I responded.

“Bread goes in,” she explained, as she made her way to the kitchen, which was in the rear. It was not very long before she returned with what I had ordered on a large, badly battered tray, which she banged down before me. I began my simple meal. It was not very enticing, so while making a feint of eating I watched the others.

bly_madhouse17I have often moralized on the repulsive form charity always assumes! Here was a home for deserving women and yet what a mockery the name was. The floor was bare, and the little wooden tables were sublimely ignorant of such modern beautifiers as varnish, polish and table-covers. It is useless to talk about the cheapness of linen and its effect on civilization. Yet these honest workers, the most deserving of women, are asked to call this spot of bareness–home.

When the meal was finished each woman went to the desk in the corner, where Mrs. Stanard sat, and paid her bill. I was given a much-used, and abused, red check, by the original piece of humanity in shape of my waitress. My bill was about thirty cents.

After dinner I went up-stairs and resumed my former place in the back parlor. I was quite cold and uncomfortable, and had fully made up my mind that I could not endure that sort of business long, so the sooner I assumed my insane points the sooner I would be released from enforced idleness. Ah! that was indeed the longest day I had ever lived. I listlessly watched the women in the front parlor, where all sat except myself.

One did nothing but read and scratch her head and occasionally call out mildly, “Georgie,” without lifting her eyes from her book. “Georgie” was her over-frisky boy, who had more noise in him than any child I ever saw before. He did everything that was rude and unmannerly, I thought, and the mother never said a word unless she heard some one else yell at him. Another woman always kept going to sleep and waking herself up with her own snoring. I really felt wickedly thankful it was only herself she awakened. The majority of the women sat there doing nothing, but there were a few who made lace and knitted unceasingly. The enormous door-bell seemed to be going all the time, and so did the short-haired girl. The latter was, besides, one of those girls who sing all the time snatches of all the songs and hymns that have been composed for the last fifty years. There is such a thing as martyrdom in these days. The ringing of the bell brought more people who wanted shelter for the night. Excepting one woman, who was from the country on a day’s shopping expedition, they were working women, some of them with children.

As it drew toward evening Mrs. Stanard came to me and said:

“What is wrong with you? Have you some sorrow or trouble?”

“No,” I said, almost stunned at the suggestion. “Why?”

“Oh, because,” she said, womanlike, “I can see it in your face. It tells the story of a great trouble.”

“Yes, everything is so sad,” I said, in a haphazard way, which I had intended to reflect my craziness.

“But you must not allow that to worry you. We all have our troubles, but we get over them in good time. What kind of work are you trying to get?”

“I do not know; it’s all so sad,” I replied.

“Would you like to be a nurse for children and wear a nice white cap and apron?” she asked.

I put my handkerchief up to my face to hide a smile, and replied in a muffled tone, “I never worked; I don’t know how.”

“But you must learn,” she urged; “all these women here work.”

“Do they?” I said, in a low, thrilling whisper. “Why, they look horrible to me; just like crazy women. I am so afraid of them.”

“They don’t look very nice,” she answered, assentingly, “but they are good, honest working women. We do not keep crazy people here.”

I again used my handkerchief to hide a smile, as I thought that before morning she would at least think she had one crazy person among her flock.

“They all look crazy,” I asserted again, “and I am afraid of them. There are so many crazy people about, and one can never tell what they will do. Then there
are so many murders committed, and the police never catch the murderers,” and I finished with a sob that would have broken up an audience of blase critics. She gave a sudden and convulsive start, and I knew my first stroke had gone home. It was amusing to see what a remarkably short time it took her to get up from her chair and to whisper hurriedly: “I’ll come back to talk with you after a while.” I knew she would not come back and she did not.

When the supper-bell rang I went along with the others to the basement and partook of the evening meal, which was similar to dinner, except that there was
a smaller bill of fare and more people, the women who are employed outside during the day having returned. After the evening meal we all adjourned to the parlors, where all sat, or stood, as there were not chairs enough to go round.

It was a wretchedly lonely evening, and the light which fell from the solitary gas jet in the parlor, and oil-lamp the hall, helped to envelop us in a dusky
hue and dye our spirits navy blue. I felt it would not require many inundations of this atmosphere to make me a fit subject for the place I was striving to
reach.

I watched two women, who seemed of all the crowd to be the most sociable, and I selected them as the ones to work out my salvation, or, more properly speaking, my condemnation and conviction. Excusing myself and saying that I felt lonely, I asked if I might join their company. They graciously consented, so with my hat and gloves on, which no one had asked me to lay aside, I sat down and listened to the rather wearisome conversation, in which I took no part, merely keeping up my sad look, saying “Yes,” or “No,” or “I can’t say,” to their observations. Several times I told them I thought everybody in the house looked crazy, but they were slow to catch on to my very original remark. One said her name was Mrs. King and that she was a Southern woman. Then she said that I had a Southern accent. She asked me bluntly if I did not really come from the South. I said “Yes.” The other woman got to talking about the Boston boats and asked me if I knew at what time they left.

For a moment I forgot my role of assumed insanity, and told her the correct hour of departure. She then asked me what work I was going to do, or if I had ever done any. I replied that I thought it very sad that there were so many working people in the world. She said in reply that she had been unfortunate and had come to New York, where she had worked at correcting proofs on a medical dictionary for some time, but that her health had given way under the task, and that she was now going to Boston again. When the maid came to tell us to go to bed I remarked that I was afraid, and again ventured the assertion that all the women in the house seemed to be crazy. The nurse insisted on my going to bed. I asked if I could not sit on the stairs, but she said, decisively: “No; for every one in the house would think you were crazy.” Finally I allowed them to take me to a room.

Here I must introduce a new personage by name into my narrative. It is the woman who had been a proofreader, and was about to return to Boston. She was a Mrs. Caine, who was as courageous as she was good-hearted. She came into my room, and sat and talked with me a long time, taking down my hair with gentle ways. She tried to persuade me to undress and go to bed, but I stubbornly refused to do so. During this time a number of the inmates of the house had gathered around us. They expressed themselves in various ways. “Poor loon!” they said. “Why, she’s crazy enough!” “I am afraid to stay with such a crazy being in house.” “She will murder us all before morning.” One woman was for sending for a policeman to take me at once. They were all in a terrible and real state of fright.

No one wanted to be responsible for me, and the woman who was to occupy the room with me declared that she would not stay with that “crazy woman” for all the money of the Vanderbilts. It was then that Mrs. Caine said she would stay with me. I told her I would like to have her do so. So she was left with me. She didn’t undress, but lay down on the bed, watchful of my movements. She tried to induce me to lie down, but I was afraid to do this. I knew that if I once gave way I should fall asleep and dream as pleasantly and peacefully as a child. I should, to use a slang expression, be liable to “give myself dead away.” So I insisted on sitting on the side of the bed and staring blankly at vacancy. My poor companion was put into a wretched state of unhappiness. Every few moments she would rise up to look at me. She told me that my eyes shone terribly brightly and then began to question me, asking me where I had lived, how long I had been in New York, what I had been doing, and many things besides. To all her questionings I had but one response–I told her that I had forgotten everything, that ever since my headache had come on I could not remember.

Poor soul! How cruelly I tortured her, and what a kind heart she had! But how I tortured all of them! One of them dreamed of me–as a nightmare. After I had been in the room an hour or so, I was myself startled by hearing a woman screaming in the next room. I began to imagine that I was really in an insane asylum.

bly_madhouse21Mrs. Caine woke up, looked around, frightened, and listened. She then went out and into the next room, and I heard her asking another woman some questions. When she came back she told me that the woman had had a hideous nightmare. She had been dreaming of me. She had seen me, she said, rushing at her with a knife in my hand, with the intention of killing her. In trying to escape me she had fortunately been able to scream, and so to awaken herself and scare off her nightmare. Then Mrs. Caine got into bed again, considerably agitated, but very sleepy.

I was weary, too, but I had braced myself up to the work, and was determined to keep awake all night so as to carry on my work of impersonation to a successful end in the morning. I heard midnight. I had yet six hours to wait for daylight. The time passed with excruciating slowness. Minutes appeared hours. The noises in the house and on the avenue ceased.

Fearing that sleep would coax me into its grasp, I commenced to review my life. How strange it all seems! One incident, if never so trifling, is but a link more to chain us to our unchangeable fate. I began at the beginning, and lived again the story of my life. Old friends were recalled with a pleasurable thrill; old enmities, old heartaches, old joys were once again present. The turned-down pages of my life were turned up, and the past was present.

When it was completed, I turned my thoughts bravely to the future, wondering, first, what the next day would bring forth, then making plans for the carrying out of my project. I wondered if I should be able to pass over the river to the goal of my strange ambition, to become eventually an inmate of the halls inhabited by my mentally wrecked sisters. And then, once in, what would be my experience? And after? How to get out? Bah! I said, they will get me out.

That was the greatest night of my existence. For a few hours I stood face to face with “self!”

I looked out toward the window and hailed with joy the slight shimmer of dawn. The light grew strong and gray, but the silence was strikingly still. My
companion slept. I had still an hour or two to pass over. Fortunately I found some employment for my mental activity. Robert Bruce in his captivity had won confidence in the future, and passed his time as pleasantly as possible under the circumstances, by watching the celebrated spider building his web. I had less noble vermin to interest me. Yet I believe I made some valuable discoveries in natural history. I was about to drop off to sleep in spite of myself when I was suddenly startled to wakefulness. I thought I heard something crawl and fall down upon the counterpane with an almost inaudible thud.

I had the opportunity of studying these interesting animals very thoroughly. They had evidently come for breakfast, and were not a little disappointed to
find that their principal plat was not there. They scampered up and down the pillow, came together, seemed to hold interesting converse, and acted in every way as if they were puzzled by the absence of an appetizing breakfast. After one consultation of some length they finally disappeared, seeking victims elsewhere, and leaving me to pass the long minutes by giving my attention to cockroaches, whose size and agility were something of a surprise to me.

My room companion had been sound asleep for a long time, but she now woke up, and expressed surprise at seeing me still awake and apparently as lively as a cricket. She was as sympathetic as ever. She came to me and took my hands and tried her best to console me, and asked me if I did not want to go home. She kept me up-stairs until nearly everybody was out of the house, and then took me down to the basement for coffee and a bun. After that, partaken in silence, I went back to my room, where I sat down, moping. Mrs. Caine grew more and more anxious. “What is to be done?” she kept exclaiming. “Where are your friends?” “No,” I answered, “I have no friends, but I have some trunks. Where are they? I want them.” The good woman tried to pacify me, saying that they would be found in good time. She believed that I was insane.

Yet I forgive her. It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes how little sympathy and kindness there are in the world. The women in the Home who
were not afraid of me had wanted to have some amusement at my expense, and so they had bothered me with questions and remarks that had I been insane would have been cruel and inhumane. Only this one woman among the crowd, pretty and delicate Mrs. Caine, displayed true womanly feeling. She compelled the others to cease teasing me and took the bed of the woman who refused to sleep near me. She protested against the suggestion to leave me alone and to have me locked up for the night so that I could harm no one. She insisted on remaining with me in order to administer aid should I need it. She smoothed my hair and bathed my brow and talked as soothingly to me as a mother would do to an ailing child. By every means she tried to have me go to bed and rest, and when it drew toward morning she got up and wrapped a blanket around me for fear I might get cold; then she kissed me on the brow and whispered, compassionately:

“Poor child, poor child!”

How much I admired that little woman’s courage and kindness. How I longed to reassure her and whisper that I was not insane, and how I hoped that, if any poor girl should ever be so unfortunate as to be what I was pretending to be, she might meet with one who possessed the same spirit of human kindness possessed by Mrs. Ruth Caine.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
(Chapter III: In the temporary home)
by Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922)

fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive A-B, Bly, Nellie, Nellie Bly, Psychiatric hospitals


NELLIE BLY: TEN DAYS IN A MAD-HOUSE (CHAPTER II: PREPARING FOR THE ORDEAL)

bly_madhouse14Ten Days in a Mad-House
(Chapter II: Preparing for the ordeal)
by Nellie Bly

BUT to return to my work and my mission. After receiving my instructions I returned to my boarding-house, and when evening came I began to practice the role in which I was to make my debut on the morrow. What a difficult task, I thought, to appear before a crowd of people and convince them that I was insane. I had never been near insane persons before in my life, and had not the faintest idea of what their actions were like. And then to be examined by a number of learned physicians who make insanity a specialty, and who daily come in contact with insane people! How could I hope to pass these doctors and convince them that I was crazy? I feared that they could not be deceived. I began to think my task a hopeless one; but it had to be done. So I flew to the mirror and examined my face. I remembered all I had read of the doings of crazy people, how first of all they have staring eyes, and so I opened mine as wide as possible and stared unblinkingly at my own reflection. I assure you the sight was not reassuring, even to myself, especially in the dead of night. I tried to turn the gas up higher in hopes that it would raise my courage. I succeeded only partially, but I consoled myself with the thought that in a few nights more I would not be there, but locked up in a cell with a lot of lunatics.

The weather was not cold; but, nevertheless, when I thought of what was to come, wintery chills ran races up and down my back in very mockery of the perspiration which was slowly but surely taking the curl out of my bangs. Between times, practicing before the mirror and picturing my future as a lunatic, I read snatches of improbable and impossible ghost stories, so that when the dawn came to chase away the night, I felt that I was in a fit mood for my mission, yet hungry enough to feel keenly that I wanted my breakfast. Slowly and sadly I took my morning bath and quietly bade farewell to a few of the most precious articles known to modern civilization. Tenderly I put my tooth-brush aside, and, when taking a final rub of the soap, I murmured, “It may be for days, and it may be–for longer.” Then I donned the old clothing I had selected for the occasion.
I was in the mood to look at everything through very serious glasses. It’s just as well to take a last “fond look,” I mused, for who could tell but that the strain of playing crazy, and being shut up with a crowd of mad people, might turn my own brain, and I would never get back. But not once did I think of shirking my mission. Calmly, outwardly at least, I went out to my crazy business.

I first thought it best to go to a boarding-house, and, after securing lodging, confidentially tell the landlady, or lord, whichever it might chance to be, that I was seeking work, and, in a few days after, apparently go insane. When I reconsidered the idea, I feared it would take too long to mature. Suddenly I thought how much easier it would be to go to a boarding-home for working women. I knew, if once I made a houseful of women believe me crazy, that they would never rest until I was out of their reach and in secure quarters.

From a directory I selected the Temporary Home for Females, No. 84 Second Avenue. As I walked down the avenue, I determined that, once inside the Home, I should do the best I could to get started on my journey to Blackwell’s Island and the Insane Asylum.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
(Chapter II: Preparing for the ordeal)
by Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922)

fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive A-B, Bly, Nellie, Nellie Bly, Psychiatric hospitals


NELLIE BLY: TEN DAYS IN A MAD-HOUSE (CHAPTER 1: A DELICATE MISSION)

bly_madhouse18NEW YORK: IAN L. MUNRO, PUBLISHER,  24 AND 26 VANDEWATER STREET

WHY ARE THE MADAME MORA’S CORSETS A MARVEL OF COMFORT AND ELEGANCE!?!

Try them and you will Find

WHY they need no breaking in, but feel easy at once.
WHY they are liked by Ladies of full figure.
WHY they do not break down over the hips, and
WHY the celebrated French curved band prevents any wrinkling or stretching at the sides.
WHY dressmakers delight in fitting dresses over them.
WHY merchants say they give better satisfaction than any others.
WHY they take pains to recommend them.

Their popularity has induced many imitations, which are frauds, high at any price. Buy only the genuine, stamped Madame Mora’s. Sold by all leading dealers with this GUARANTEE: that if not perfectly satisfactory upon trial the money will be refunded.
L. KRAUS & CO., Manufacturers, Birmingham, Conn.

 

bly_madhouse13

INTRODUCTION

SINCE my experiences in Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum were published in the World I have received hundreds of letters in regard to it. The edition containing my story long since ran out, and I have been prevailed upon to allow it to be published in book form, to satisfy the hundreds who are yet asking for copies.

I am happy to be able to state as a result of my visit to the asylum and the exposures consequent thereon, that the City of New York has appropriated $1,000,000 more per annum than ever before for the care of the insane. So I have at least the satisfaction of knowing that the poor unfortunates will be the better cared for because of my work.

 

Ten Days in a Mad-House
(Chapter 1: A delicate mission)
by Nellie Bly

On the 22d of September I was asked by the World if I could have myself committed to one of the asylums for the insane in New York, with a view to writing a plain and unvarnished narrative of the treatment of the patients therein and the methods of management, etc. Did I think I had the courage to go through such an ordeal as the mission would demand? Could I assume the characteristics of insanity to such a degree that I could pass the doctors, live for a week among the insane without the authorities there finding out that I was only a “chiel amang ’em takin’ notes?” I said I believed I could. I had some faith in my own ability as an actress and thought I could assume insanity long enough to accomplish any mission intrusted to me. Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island? I said I could and I would. And I did.

bly_madhouse14My instructions were simply to go on with my work as soon as I felt that I was ready. I was to chronicle faithfully the experiences I underwent, and when once within the walls of the asylum to find out and describe its inside workings, which are always, so effectually hidden by white-capped nurses, as well as by bolts and bars, from the knowledge of the public. “We do not ask you to go there for the purpose of making sensational revelations. Write up things as you find them, good or bad; give praise or blame as you think best, and the truth all the time. But I am afraid of that chronic smile of yours,” said the editor. “I will smile no more,” I said, and I went away to execute my delicate and, as I found out, difficult mission.

If I did get into the asylum, which I hardly hoped to do, I had no idea that my experiences would contain aught else than a simple tale of life in an asylum.
That such an institution could be mismanaged, and that cruelties could exist ‘neath its roof, I did not deem possible. I always had a desire to know asylum
life more thoroughly–a desire to be convinced that the most helpless of God’s creatures, the insane, were cared for kindly and properly. The many stories I
had read of abuses in such institutions I had regarded as wildly exaggerated or else romances, yet there was a latent desire to know positively.

I shuddered to think how completely the insane were in the power of their keepers, and how one could weep and plead for release, and all of no avail, if
the keepers were so minded. Eagerly I accepted the mission to learn the inside workings of the Blackwell Island Insane Asylum.

“How will you get me out,” I asked my editor, “after I once get in?”

“I do not know,” he replied, “but we will get you out if we have to tell who you are, and for what purpose you feigned insanity–only get in.”

I had little belief in my ability to deceive the insanity experts, and I think my editor had less.

All the preliminary preparations for my ordeal were left to be planned by myself. Only one thing was decided upon, namely, that I should pass under the pseudonym of Nellie Brown, the initials of which would agree with my own name and my linen, so that there would be no difficulty in keeping track of my
movements and assisting me out of any difficulties or dangers I might get into.
There were ways of getting into the insane ward, but I did not know them. I might adopt one of two courses. Either I could feign insanity at the house of friends, and get myself committed on the decision of two competent physicians, or I could go to my goal by way of the police courts.

Nellie practices insanity at home

On reflection I thought it wiser not to inflict myself upon my friends or to get any good-natured doctors to assist me in my purpose. Besides, to get to Blackwell’s Island my friends would have had to feign poverty, and, unfortunately for the end I had in view, my acquaintance with the struggling poor, except my own self, was only very superficial. So I determined upon the plan which led me to the successful accomplishment of my mission. I succeeded in getting committed to the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island, where I spent ten days and nights and had an experience which I shall never forget. I took upon myself to enact the part of a poor, unfortunate crazy girl, and felt it my duty not to shirk any of the disagreeable results that should follow. I became one of the city’s insane wards for that length of time, experienced much, and saw and heard more of the treatment accorded to this helpless class of our population, and when I had seen and heard enough, my release was promptly secured. I left the insane ward with pleasure and regret–pleasure that I was once more able to enjoy the free breath of heaven; regret that I could not have brought with me some of the unfortunate women who lived and suffered with me, and who, I am convinced, are just as sane as I was and am now myself.

But here let me say one thing: From the moment I entered the insane ward on the Island, I made no attempt to keep up the assumed role of insanity. I talked and acted just as I do in ordinary life. Yet strange to say, the more sanely I talked and acted the crazier I was thought to be by all except one physician, whose kindness and gentle ways I shall not soon forget.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
(Chapter 1: A delicate mission)
by Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922)

fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive A-B, Bly, Nellie, Nellie Bly, Psychiatric hospitals


KATHERINE LEE BATES: THE GREAT TWIN BRETHREN

Katharine Lee Bates 113

Katharine Lee Bates
(1859-1929)

The Great Twin Brethren

The battle will not cease
Till once again on those white steeds ye ride,
O heaven-descended Twins,
Before humanity’s bewildered host.
Our javelins
Fly wide,
And idle is our cannon’s boast.
Lead us, triumphant Brethren, Love and Peace.
A fairer Golden Fleece
Our more adventurous Argo fain would seek,
But save, O Sons of Jove,
Your blended light go with us, vain employ
It were to rove
This bleak,
Blind waste. To unimagined joy
Guide us, immortal Brethren, Love and Peace.

Katharine Lee Bates poetry
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INGRID JONKER – ANDRÉ BRINK: VLAM IN DE SNEEUW

brink_jonkerIngrid Jonker – André Brink
Vlam in de sneeuw

Van de jonggestorven, iconische dichter Ingrid Jonker is bekend dat ze mannen het hoofd op hol wist te brengen. Een van hen was de onlangs gestorven schrijver André Brink. Tot kort voor Ingrids zelfgekozen dood, op haar eenendertigste, was hij haar vurige minnaar. Op geografische afstand, wat voor de literatuurgeschiedenis nu een zegen blijkt. Want het noodde hen tot een jarenlange, ongekend intense liefdescorrespondentie. Vlam in de sneeuw biedt allereerst een intieme blik op de jonge levens van twee veelbelovende schrijvers die, nog zoekende naar hun plek in de wereld, tot over hun oren verliefd op elkaar worden. Maar ze delen niet alleen hun liefde voor elkaar, ook delen ze hun twijfels over hun schrijverschap en hun diepste overtuigingen over geloof, literatuur en politiek. Het is met grote trots dat wij deze tot vurige woorden gestolde passie, kort na verschijning in Zuid-Afrika, nu voor de Nederlandse lezer mogen ontsluiten.

brink-jonker

512 pagina’s
omslag: Studio Ron van Roon
ISBN: 978 90 5759 775 6
Nur: 320
originele titel: Vlam in die sneeu
vertaler: Karina van Santen, Rob van der Veer en Martine Vosmaer
€ 34,90
uitgeverij Podium

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More in: - Book News, André Brink, Archive A-B, Archive I-J, Archive S.A. literature, Ingrid Jonker, Ingrid Jonker


DE APPEL MET TONEELBEWERKING VAN DE DECAMERONE VAN GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO

DECAMARONE112In juni en juli 2016 speelt Toneelgroep De Appel de Decamerone (1353) van Giovanni Boccaccio. De Decamerone is een verzameling van honderd verhalen over liefde, list, lust en bedrog. In 2013 bracht Arie de Mol een aantal van deze prachtige verhalen tot leven in een Limburgse kasteelhoeve. Erik-Ward Geerlings schreef voor deze succesvoorstelling een eigen speelse bewerking van Boccaccio’s meesterwerk. Dit voorjaar zet Arie de Mol, nu samen met de spelers van De Appel, zijn tanden opnieuw in deze tekst.

In de Decamerone ontvluchten tien vrouwen en mannen de stad Florence vanwege een pestepidemie. Tien dagen lang verblijven ze met elkaar in een villa in de heuvels en doden de tijd met eten, drinken, dansen en het vertellen van verhalen. Alle tien vertellen ze iedere dag één verhaal, waarmee ze de dagelijkse ellende proberen te bezweren. Na tien dagen zijn al improviserend honderd verhalen ontstaan. Verhalen over de liefde, het verstand, geluk, leugen en bedrog, de dood, seks en religie. Afhankelijk van wie vertelt zijn de verhalen ondeugend van toon, soms grof en gewelddadig, dan weer hoffelijk en elegant. Ze variëren van alledaagse anekdotes tot merkwaardige en wonderbaarlijke gebeurtenissen. Centrale leidraad in dit liefdeslabyrint is de ongelooflijke vindingrijkheid van de mens om uiteindelijk zijn zin te krijgen. List en leugen spelen een cruciale rol, zowel in de strijd om te overleven als in het spel van de liefde.

Samen met schrijver Erik-Ward Geerlings en dramaturg Mart-Jan Zegers maakte Arie de Mol een eigen toneelbewerking van Boccaccio’s meesterwerk, waarin een selectie uit de honderd verhalen tot leven komt. Het publiek wordt uitgenodigd de drukte van de stad achter zich te laten en zich in het Appeltheater een avond lang te laven aan eten, drinken en prachtige verhalen. Er zijn verschillende routes die u door het theater kunt volgen, elk met verrassende plekken waar u kunt genieten van steeds weer een ander mooi verhaal.

Giovanni Boccaccio was een Italiaans dichter en geleerde die in 1313 werd geboren in Florence. Decamerone betekent letterlijk: ‘het boek der tien dagen’. Boccaccio schreef deze verhalen in een periode waarin Italië werd geteisterd door oorlogen, hongersnood en epidemieën. De Decamerone gaat zowel over het leven van de aristocratie die zich probeerde af te sluiten voor al deze narigheid, als over het gewone volk dat dat harde bestaan zo goed mogelijk moest zien door te komen.

Op weg naar Decamerone op vrijdag 13 mei wordt een verrassend programma waarbij we alvast een tipje van de sluier oplichten over de nieuwe voorstelling Decamerone. Presentator Michiel van Zuijlen gaat in gesprek met regisseur Arie de Mol, toneelschrijver/bewerker Erik-Ward Geerlings en gast René van Stipriaan.

René van Stipriaan is literair-historicus en met name deskundig op het gebied van de Italiaanse Renaissance en in het bijzonder van het boek Decamerone. Verder lezen of spelen de acteurs scènes uit de voorstelling Decamerone.

Tijdens de speelperiode van Decamerone organiseert De Appel een uitgebreid programma met o.a. elke zaterdagmiddag een workshop, elke vrijdagavond Italiaanse Nacht (drank, dans en muziek) na afloop van de voorstelling. Dinsdag 21 juni organiseert De Appel Decamerone Nu, een avond waar migranten mooie verhalen uit hun land van herkomst vertellen. Alle informatie over deze programma’s leest u binnenkort op deze website.

Eten in het Appeltheater: Voorafgaand aan Decamerone kunt u geheel in de stijl van de voorstelling om 18.00 uur aan lange tafels een Italiaanse maaltijd gebruiken (niet op zondag). Het Appeltheater serveert een voorgerecht, hoofdgerecht en een nagerecht voor € 20,- per persoon. Er is ook een vegetarische variant. Het is niet mogelijk om een aparte tafel voor uw gezelschap te reserveren. Het eten is te bestellen via deze website of via de Appelkassa (tel. 070 3502200, dinsdag t/m vrijdag van 13.00 tot 17.00 uur).

DECAMARONE111Decamerone van Giovanni Boccaccio
bewerking Erik-Ward Geerlings
regie Arie de Mol
spel Marguerite de Brauw, Isabella Chapel, Lore Dijkman, David Geysen, Geert de Jong, Judith Linssen, Hugo Maerten, Bob Schwarze, Martijn van der Veen, Sjoerd Vrins, Iwan Walhain en Jessie Wilms
speelperiode woensdag 1 juni t/m zondag 3 juli 2016
aanvang 19.30 uur en zondag 14.30 uur, Appeltheater

Toneelgroep De Appel staat o.a. voor bijzondere en groot gemonteerde theaterproducties. Het gezelschap is wat betreft artistieke uitstraling en publieksbereik niet weg te denken uit het Nederlandse theaterlandschap.
De meeste voorstellingen worden gespeeld in het eigen Appeltheater. Een uniek gebouw waar het publiek steeds wordt verrast en zich in een andere omgeving waant.  Het hart van het gezelschap wordt gevormd door het spelersensemble, onder leiding van Arie de Mol, waarin alle generaties zijn vertegenwoordigd.
Binnen het Nederlands toneel is een hecht ensemble een zeldzaam verschijnsel geworden. Voor De Appel is het ensemble essentieel. Dat betekent dat ook in de repertoirekeuze rekening wordt gehouden met een optimale bezetting vanuit het eigen ensemble. Natuurlijk worden er bij vrijwel iedere productie ook gastacteurs aangetrokken.

Toneelgroep De Appel/Appeltheater
Duinstraat 6 2584 AZ Den Haag tel. 070 3523344 (kantoor) tel. 0703502200 (kassa) algemeen@toneelgroepdeappel.nl

# Meer info voorstellingen, speellijst en kaartverkoop via website TONEELGROEPDEAPPEL

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More in: Archive A-B, Art & Literature News, Giovanni Boccaccio, THEATRE


HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: ‘BEAUTIFUL’

Hans Christian Andersen: ‘Beautiful’

Alfred the sculptor – yes, you know him, don’t you? We all know him; he was awarded the gold medal, traveled to Italy, and came home again. He was young then; in fact, he is still young, though he is ten years older than he was at that time.

After he returned home, he visited one of the little provincial towns on the island of Zealand. The whole village knew who the stranger was, and in his honor one of the richest families gave a party. Everyone of any importance or owning any property was invited. It was quite an event, and all the village knew about it without its being announced by the town crier. Apprentice boys and the children of poor people, and even some of their parents, stood outside the house, looking at the lighted windows with their drawn curtains; and the watchman could imagine that he was giving the party, there were so many people in his street. There was an air of festivity everywhere, and inside the house, too, for Mr. Alfred the sculptor was there.

He talked and told stories, and everybody listened to him with pleasure and enthusiasm, but none more so than the elderly widow of a state official. As far as Mr. Alfred was concerned, she was like a blank sheet of gray blotting paper, absorbing everything that was said and demanding more. She was highly susceptible and unbelievably ignorant-a sort of female Kaspar Hauser.

“I should love to see Rome!” she said. “It must be a wonderful city, with all the many strangers continually arriving there. Now, do tell us what Rome is like. How does the city look when you come in by the gate?”

“It is not easy to describe it,” said the young sculptor. “There’s a great open place, and in the middle of it there is an obelisk that is four thousand years old.”

“An organist!” cried the lady, who had never heard the word “obelisk.”

Some of the guests could hardly keep from laughing, among them the sculptor, but the smile that rose to his lips quickly faded away, for he saw, close by the lady, a pair of dark-blue eyes; they belonged to the daughter of the lady who had been talking, and anyone with such a daughter could not really be silly! The mother was like a fountain of questions, and the daughter, who listened silently, might pass for the naiad of the fountain. How beautiful she was! She was something for a sculptor to look at, but not to speak with, for indeed she talked but very little.

“Has the Pope a large family?” asked the lady.

And the young man answered considerately, as if the question had been put differently, “No, he doesn’t come of a very great family.”

“That’s not what I mean,” said the lady. “I mean, does he have a wife and children?”

“The Pope isn’t allowed to marry,” he replied.

“I don’t approve of that,” said the lady.

She might well have talked and questioned him more intelligently, but if she hadn’t said and asked what she did, would her daughter have leaned so gracefully on her shoulder, looking straight before her with an almost melancholy smile on her lips?

And Mr. Alfred told them of the glorious colors of Italy, the purple of the mountains, the blue of the Mediterranean, the blue of the southern skies, a beauty that could only be surpassed in the North by the deep-blue eyes of a maiden. This he said with peculiar meaning, but she who should have understood it looked quite unconscious, and that, too, was charming!

“Ah, Italy!” sighed some of the guests.

“Traveling!” sighed others.

“Charming, charming!”

“Well,” said the widow, “if I win fifty thousand dollars in the lottery, we’ll travel! My daughter and I. You Mr. Alfred, must be our guide. We’ll all three go, with just one or two good friends with us.” Then she smiled in such a friendly manner at the company that each of them could imagine he was the person who would accompany them to Italy. “Yes, we’ll go to Italy! But not to the parts where the robbers are; we’ll stay in Rome and only travel by the great highways where we’ll be safe.”

And the daughter sighed very gently. And how much may lie in one little sigh or be read into it! The young man read a great deal into it. Those two blue eyes, bright that evening in his honor, must conceal treasures of heart and mind rarer than all the glories of Rome! When he left the party, he had lost his heart-lost it completely-to the young lady.

Now, the widow’s house was where Mr. Alfred the sculptor could most frequently be found. It was understood that his calls were not for the lady herself, though he and she did all the talking; he really came for the sake of the daughter. They called her Kala. Her real name was Karen Malene, but the two names had been contracted into the single name Kala. She was extremely, but some people said she was rather dull and probably slept late in the mornings.

“She has been accustomed to that since childhood,” said her mother. “She is as beautiful as Venus, and a beauty always tires easily. She does sleep rather late, but that’s what makes her eyes so bright.”

What a power there was in these clear eyes, these deep blue eyes! “Still waters run deep.” The young man felt the truth of that proverb, and his heart sank into the depths. He spoke of his adventures, and Mamma always asked the same naïve and pertinent questions she had asked at their first meeting.

It was a delight to hear Mr. Alfred speak. He told them of Naples, of trips to Mount Vesuvius, and showed them colored prints of some of the eruptions. The widow had never heard of such things before, much less taken time to think about them.

“Mercy save us!” she said. “So that’s a burning mountain! But isn’t it dangerous for the people who live there?”

“Entire cities have been destroyed,” he answered. “For example, Pompeii and Herculaneum.”

“Oh, the poor people! And you saw all that yourself?”

“Well, no, I didn’t see any of the eruptions shown in these pictures, but I’ll show you a drawing I made of an eruption I did see.”

He laid a pencil sketch on the table, and when Mamma, who had been studying the highly colored prints, glanced at the black-and-white drawing, she cried in amazement, “When you saw it did it throw up white fire?”

For a moment Alfred’s respect for Kala’s mamma nearly vanished; but then, dazzled by the light from Kala, he decided it was natural for the old lady to have no eye for color. After all, it didn’t matter, for Kala’s mamma had the most wonderful thing of all-she had Kala herself.

And Alfred and Kala were engaged, which was inevitable, and the engagement was announced in the town newspaper. Mamma brought thirty copies of the paper, so she could cut out the announcement and send it to her friends. The betrothed couple were happy, and the mamma-in-law-to-be was happy, too; she said it seemed like being related to Thorvaldsen himself.

“At any rate, you are his successor,” she told Alfred.

And it seemed to Alfred that Mamma had this time really said something clever. Kala said nothing, but her eyes sparkled; her every gesture was graceful. Yes, she was beautiful; that cannot be repeated too often.

Alfred made busts of Kala and his future mamma-in-law; they sat for him and watched how he molded and smoothed the soft clay between his fingers.

“I suppose it’s only for us that you do this common work,” said Mamma-in-law-to-be, “and don’t have your servant do all that dabbing together.”

“No, I have to mold the clay myself,” he explained.

“Oh, yes, you’re always so exceedingly polite,” said Mamma, while Kala silently pressed his hand, still soiled by the clay.

Then he unfolded to both of them the loveliness of nature in creation, explaining how the living stood higher in the scale than the dead, how the plant was above the mineral, the animal above the plant, and man above the animal, how mind and beauty are united in outward form, and how it was the task of the sculptor to seize that beauty and imprison it in his works.

Kala sat silent and nodded approval of the thought, while Mamma-in-law confessed, “It’s hard to follow all that. But my thoughts manage to hobble slowly along after you; they whirl around, but I try to hold them fast.”

And the power of Kala’s beauty held Alfred fast, seizing him and mastering him and filling his whole soul. There was beauty in Kala’s every feature; it sparkled in her eyes, lurked in the corners of her mouth and even in each movement of her fingers. The sculptor saw this; he spoke only of her, thought only of her, until the two became one. Thus it might be said that she also spoke often, for he was always talking of her, and they two were one.

Such was the betrothal; and now came the wedding day, with bridesmaids and presents, all duly mentioned in the wedding speech.

Mamma-in-law had set up a bust of Thorvaldsen, attired in a dressing gown, at one end of the table, for it was her whim that he was to be a guest. There were songs and toasts, for it was a gay wedding and they were a handsome pair. “Pygmalion gets his Galatea,” one of the songs said.

“That is something from mythology!” said Mamma-in-law.

Next day the young couple left for Copenhagen, where they were to live. Mamma-in-law went with them, “to give them a helping hand,” she explained-which meant to take charge of the house. Kala was to live in a doll’s house. Everything was so bright, new, and fine. There the three of them sat, and as for Alfred, to use a proverb that describes his circumstances, he sat like the bishop in the goose yard.

The magic of form had fascinated him. He had regarded the case and had no interest in learning what the case contained, and that is unfortunate, very unfortunate, in married life! If the case breaks and the gilding rubs off, the purchaser may repent of his bargain. It is very embarrassing to discover in a large party that one’s suspender buttons are coming off and that one has no belt to fall back on; but it is still worse to realize at a great party that one’s wife and mother-in-law are talking nonsense and that one cannot think of a clever piece of wit to cover up the stupidity of it.

The young couple often sat hand in hand, he speaking and she letting drop a word now and then-with always the same melody, like a clock striking the same two or three notes constantly. It was really a mental relief when one of her friends, Sophie, came to visit them.

Sophie wasn’t pretty. To be sure, she was not deformed; Kala always said she was a little crooked, but no one but a female friend would have noticed that. She was a very levelheaded girl and had no idea that she might ever become dangerous here. Her visits brought a fresh breath of air into the doll’s house, air that they all agreed was certainly needed there. But they felt they needed more airing, so they came out into the air, and Mamma-in-law and the young couple traveled to Italy.

“Thank heaven we are back in our own home again!” said both mother and daughter when they and Alfred returned home a year later.

“Traveling is no fun,” said Mamma-in-law. “On the contrary, it’s very tiring; pardon me for saying so. I found the time dragged, even though I had my children with me; and it is expensive, very expensive, to travel. All those galleries you have to see, and all the things you have to look at! You must do it for self-protection, because when you get back people are sure to ask you about them; and then they’re sure to tell you that you’ve missed the most worth-while things. I got so tired at last of those everlasting Madonnas; I thought I would turn into a Madonna myself!”

“And the food one gets!” said Kala.

“Yes,” agreed Mamma. “Not even a dish of honest meat soup! It is awful the way they cook!”

And Kala had become tired from traveling; she was always tired; that was the trouble. Sophie came to live with them, and her presence was a real help.

Mamma-in-law had to admit that Sophie understood both housekeeping and art, though you would hardly have expected a knowledge of the last from a person of her modest background. Moreover, she was honest and loyal; she showed that clearly when Kala lay sick, fading away.

If the case is everything, that case should be strong, or it is all over. And it was all over with the case-Kala died.

“She was so beautiful,” said Mamma. “She was very different from the antiques, because they’re all so damaged. Kala was completely perfect, just as a beauty should be.”

Alfred wept and the Mother wept, and both went into mourning. The black dresses became Mamma very well, so she wore her mourning the longer. Moreover, she soon experienced another grief, when she saw Alfred marry again. And he married Sophie, who had no looks at all!

“He has gone from one extreme to the other!” said Mamma-in-law. “Gone from the most beautiful to the ugliest! How could he forget his first wife! Men have no constancy. Now, my husband was entirely different, and he died before I did.”

“Pygmalion got his Galatea,” said Alfred. “Yes, that’s what the wedding song said. I really fell in love with a beautiful statue, which came to life in my arms, but the soul mate that heaven sends down to us, one of its angels who can comfort and sympathize with and uplift us, I have not found or won till now. You came to me, Sophie, not in the glory of superficial beauty – but fair enough, prettier than was necessary. The most important thing is still the most important. You came to teach a sculptor that his work is only clay and dust, only the outward form in a fabric that passes away, and that we must seek the spirit within. Poor Kala! Ours was but a wayfarer’s life. In the next world, where we shall come together through sympathy, we shall probably be half strangers to each other.

“That was not spoken kindly,” said Sophie, ” not like a true Christian. In the next world, where there is no marriage, but where, as you say, souls find each other through sympathy, where everything beautiful is developed and elevated, her soul may attain such completeness that it may resound far more melodiously than mine. Then you will again utter the first exciting cry of your love, ‘Beautiful, beautiful!'”

END

Hans Christian Andersen (1805—1875)  fairy tales and stories

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MENNO TER BRAAK: DE GEDACHTE

 Menno ter BraakTERBRAAKMENNO22
1902-1940

De gedachte

Het dorp hing tussen de brandende korenvelden als een dwaas en machteloos punt; een eigengereide en onverdedigbare uitzondering op de regel, dat dit land gebukt ging onder het graan. Het sloeg een uitgezakt gat in de algemeenheid, die in deze streken tarwe heette. En ook had dit gat abnormaliteiten, die weer braken in het dogma, dat een gat een onafwendbare noodzakelijkheid is. Bultige straten liepen stompzinnig dood in doorgroefde landwegen, die onder het koren te niet gingen. Vierkante huizen, ordeloos langs de dorpszoom gestrooid, verkondigden de leer der vervloeiing; want het dorp weigerde plotseling en zonder overgang te wijken voor het land, waarop het een uitzondering was.

Dit dorp was een onuitgewerkte gedachte. Zoals het zich stelde als een niet geheel doorpeinsd punt, behoefde het een nadere verklaring, waarom het juist dáár neergedoken zat. Hierover had het door de eeuwen heen stof tot denken gehad, maar het probleem was gebleven. Dagelijks spiegelde het zich in een zonderling water, dat restte van een gekanaliseerde beek, die tot zuiverder lijn ingekeerd was. Alleen dit irreële en riekende water was in de waan gebleven, dat het dorp in eindeloze spiegeling tenslotte een oplossing zou vinden; daarom was het trouw geweest en niet meegetrokken naar het land, dat van de aanvang der geheelheid was en geen verklaring van node had. Ieder jaar schrompelde het een el ineen, moeizaam, slijmige vezels achterlatend.

Maar het dorp kon zich nog steeds spiegelen en zich afvragen, waarom het in deze windstreken moest geschapen zijn en een willoze en verborgen cirkel snijden in de golvende vlakte.

Bevreemdend is het, dat dit dorp, nog slechts gedeeltelijk gedacht en begrepen en steeds gedwongen zich op te lossen, een bevolking had zonder buitengewone denkkracht. Velen van deze mensen waren zich zelf niet bewust, dat zij van een ander ras waren dan de stugge boeren, die als gewillige knechten het tarweland dienden met hun dorre lichamen. Dezen behoefden te denken noch te vragen, want zonder hen waren de velden onredelijk geweest; doch een andere taak hadden de dorpelingen. Zij scholen saâm in een plaats, die hun dienst niet vergde als een noodzaak. Hun dorp was tussen het land, waaraan géén twijfelt, een onverstaanbare gril. Maar zij beseften het niet. De bakkers werden er grauw en wezenloos onder hun arbeid, de slagers glansden er van vet, een dominee sprak er iedere zondagmorgen gewijde woorden, als waren er geen grote vraagstukken. Allen scholen binnen deze groteske beperking van de ongerepte horizon en dromden bijeen zonder protest, zonder klacht, zonder twijfel.

Toch waren er tekenen, uitwijzend, dat de onvoldragen gedachte, die het dorp was, steeds naar vervulling hunkerde.

Er is geen gedachte, die zich tevreden stelt met lege algemeenheid; elk zoekt vleeswording, begerend tot de mensen te komen…

Zo ook stootte dit dorp iedere halve eeuw een zonderling uit. Hij leefde plotseling op en stierf even onverwacht. Eerst na zijn dood begreep men, dat hij weer voor allen de zware last der gedachte op zich had genomen. Dan werden legenden over zijn rondwandeling op aarde gehoord; in de jeugd der tijden slopen zij als gefluisterde sproken rond door de woningen en later schreven de couranten over hem onder opzienbarende hoofden. Want omdat hij de moed had te denken, was hij vaak eenzelvig, afstotend, dwaas voor de menigte, die het leven doordribbelt.

Deze zonderlingen werden in verschillende standen geboren. Voor de eerste, die de historie boekte, zei men, dat hij als flagellant boetend voor bedreven zonden rondtrok door Europa; een tweede stierf op een ketterbrandstapel; een derde was verdwenen in de stroom der grote omwenteling. De één stamde uit een oud, lang bekend geslacht, de ander uit een krot, neerhurkend aan de toren.

Maar allen hadden als kinderen het redeloze dorp gekend en zich eerst, in vage aandrift van het instinct, afgevraagd, wat het daar deed temidden van de aanstromende tarwe, zonder uitweg. Zij waren mannen geworden, rijker aan gedachten dan de overige dorpelingen. Als eenzamen hadden zij gestaan, waar anderen grepen, wat aan deze wereld begeerlijk schijnt. In de nachten stortte de hemel over hun wanhopige hoofden in. Zij duizelden voor de sterren.

Het kruis van de gedachte hadden zij opgenomen. Zij vluchtten weg voor de beelden, die zij schiepen. En vergingen. In het dorp bleef de geleidelijkheid; de beek alleen werd in een plotselinge vlaag van energie gekanaliseerd en slechts het riekende water bleef, een steeds schrompelende spiegel.

De laatste, van wie men tot op deze dagen getuigd heeft, dat hij de raadselachtige roeping volgde, was een wijsgeer. Van hem staan geen grote dingen geschreven. In een aanmatigend en zeer troosteloos huis, zoals een vorige eeuw ze in scharen deed verrijzen, sleet hij zijn leven. Hij droeg een naam, die hij van zijn vader met het huis had overgenomen en was ambteloos burger. In zijn tuin bloeiden steeds dezelfde bloemen in krullende en kronkelende perkjes, wisselend met de jaargetijden. Een oude tuinman verzorgde ze, zoals een oude vrouw het huis en zijn eigenaar. De wijsgeer zag hen zelden en sprak met hen alleen over het loon. Met het dorp onderhield hij geen gemeenschap. Hij was geen lid van verenigingen, die liefdadigheid of godsdienst beoefenden en dus meende men hem met recht als gierig en afkerig van goddelijke zaken te kunnen beschouwen. Immers slechts een enkele begon te doorzien, dat hij tot de groten behoorde, die voor het dorp lijden moesten en de last der gedachte dragen. Zij spraken er aarzelend over, maar anderen lachten en wierpen het vermoeden neer door hun lach. Zo was het gegaan met allen…

Aan dit bestaan knoopten zich geen romantische jeugdherinneringen, geen lieve verhalen van een verkwijnde jonge vrouw of verklonken muziek. Wat zelfs een oud en vermoeid gezicht aan de jeugd verbindt, was voor deze mens een te rijke gave. Geen had hem anders gekend dan mager, gebogen en in zichzelf besloten. Evenmin kende men van hem een vreemd gerucht. Altijd had hij verborgen geleefd zonder zich te verbergen. Hij zwierf van zijn boeken naar het korenland en het krimpende water, maar zijn kleren waren niet ongewoon; dit gaf derhalve geen aanstoot.

Van zijn lijden wist men niet.

En ook deze is de kruisdood gestorven.

Eens toen de nacht gevorderd was, ging hij ten laatste male door de ontvolkte straat, tot waar de tarwe het dorp naderde. Bezijden lag het zonderlinge water achter de duisternis. En ten laatste male heeft hij het gevraagd, de gepijnigde, aan allen, die horen wilden, dat is géén. Waarom in de algemeenheid de uitzondering moet zijn, waarom aan de redeloosheid de Rede moet gekend worden, waarom de mens de meest verhevene en de meest beperkte is.

Noch het land, noch het dorp antwoordden… En hij keerde. Voor hem geen boetende gesel, geen brandstapel, geen dood op de barricaden. Hij was slechts een ambteloos burger, die het kruis van de gedachte op zich had genomen; daarom slikte hij vergift, bij een apotheker bemachtigd.

De hemel brak. Een ster werd tot een lichtfontein. En hij verging.

Na hem zullen anderen vergaan, omdat zij denken.

Menno ter Braak
17 mei 1924

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HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: THE NIGHTINGALE

Hans Christian Andersen

(1805—1875)

The nightingale

In China, you know, the emperor is a Chinese, and all those about him are Chinamen also. The story I am going t tell you happened a great many years ago, so it is well to hear it now before it is forgotten. The emperor’s palac was the most beautiful in the world. It was built entirely of porcelain, and very costly, but so delicate and brittle tha whoever touched it was obliged to be careful. In the garden could be seen the most singular flowers, with prett silver bells tied to them, which tinkled so that every one who passed could not help noticing the flowers.

Indeed everything in the emperor’s garden was remarkable, and it extended so far that the gardener himself did not kno where it ended. Those who travelled beyond its limits knew that there was a noble forest, with lofty trees, slopin down to the deep blue sea, and the great ships sailed under the shadow of its branches. In one of these trees live a nightingale, who sang so beautifully that even the poor fishermen, who had so many other things to do, woul stop and listen. Sometimes, when they went at night to spread their nets, they would hear her sing, and say, “Oh, i not that beautiful?” But when they returned to their fishing, they forgot the bird until the next night. Then they woul hear it again, and exclaim “Oh, how beautiful is the nightingale’s song!

Travellers from every country in the world came to the city of the emperor, which they admired very much, as well as the palace and gardens; but when they heard the nightingale, they all declared it to be the best of all.

And the travellers, on their return home, related what they had seen; and learned men wrote books, containing descriptions of the town, the palace, and the gardens; but they did not forget the nightingale, which was really the greatest wonder. And those who could write poetry composed beautiful verses about the nightingale, who lived in a forest near the deep sea.

The books travelled all over the world, and some of them came into the hands of the emperor; and he sat in his golden chair, and, as he read, he nodded his approval every moment, for it pleased him to find such a beautiful description of his city, his palace, and his gardens. But when he came to the words, “the nightingale is the most beautiful of all,” he exclaimed:

“What is this? I know nothing of any nightingale. Is there such a bird in my empire? and even in my garden? I have never heard of it. Something, it appears, may be learnt from books.”

Then he called one of his lords-in-waiting, who was so high-bred, that when any in an inferior rank to himself spoke to him, or asked him a question, he would answer, “Pooh,” which means nothing.

“There is a very wonderful bird mentioned here, called a nightingale,” said the emperor; “they say it is the best thing in my large kingdom. Why have I not been told of it?”

“I have never heard the name,” replied the cavalier; “she has not been presented at court.”

“It is my pleasure that she shall appear this evening.” said the emperor; “the whole world knows what I possess better than I do myself.”

“I have never heard of her,” said the cavalier; “yet I will endeavor to find her.”

But where was the nightingale to be found? The nobleman went up stairs and down, through halls and passages; yet none of those whom he met had heard of the bird. So he returned to the emperor, and said that it must be a fable, invented by those who had written the book. “Your imperial majesty,” said he, “cannot believe everything contained in books; sometimes they are only fiction, or what is called the black art.”

“But the book in which I have read this account,” said the emperor, “was sent to me by the great and mighty emperor of Japan, and therefore it cannot contain a falsehood. I will hear the nightingale, she must be here this evening; she has my highest favor; and if she does not come, the whole court shall be trampled upon after supper is ended.”

“Tsing-pe!” cried the lord-in-waiting, and again he ran up and down stairs, through all the halls and corridors; and half the court ran with him, for they did not like the idea of being trampled upon. There was a great inquiry about this wonderful nightingale, whom all the world knew, but who was unknown to the court.

At last they met with a poor little girl in the kitchen, who said, “Oh, yes, I know the nightingale quite well; indeed, she can sing. Every evening I have permission to take home to my poor sick mother the scraps from the table; she lives down by the sea-shore, and as I come back I feel tired, and I sit down in the wood to rest, and listen to the nightingale’s song. Then the tears come into my eyes, and it is just as if my mother kissed me.”

“Little maiden,” said the lord-in-waiting, “I will obtain for you constant employment in the kitchen, and you shall have permission to see the emperor dine, if you will lead us to the nightingale; for she is invited for this evening to the palace.”

So she went into the wood where the nightingale sang, and half the court followed her. As they went along, a cow began lowing.

“Oh,” said a young courtier, “now we have found her; what wonderful power for such a small creature; I have certainly heard it before.”

“No, that is only a cow lowing,” said the little girl; “we are a long way from the place yet.”

Then some frogs began to croak in the marsh.

“Beautiful,” said the young courtier again. “Now I hear it, tinkling like little church bells.”

“No, those are frogs,” said the little maiden; “but I think we shall soon hear her now:”

And presently the nightingale began to sing.

“Hark, hark! there she is,” said the girl, “and there she sits,” she added, pointing to a little gray bird who was perched on a bough.

“Is it possible?” said the lord-in-waiting, “I never imagined it would be a little, plain, simple thing like that. She has certainly changed color at seeing so many grand people around her.”

“Little nightingale,” cried the girl, raising her voice, “our most gracious emperor wishes you to sing before him.”

“With the greatest pleasure,” said the nightingale, and began to sing most delightfully.

“It sounds like tiny glass bells,” said the lord-in-waiting, “and see how her little throat works. It is surprising that we have never heard this before; she will be a great success at court.”

“Shall I sing once more before the emperor?” asked the nightingale, who thought he was present.

“My excellent little nightingale,” said the courtier, “I have the great pleasure of inviting you to a court festival this evening, where you will gain imperial favor by your charming song.”

“My song sounds best in the green wood,” said the bird; but still she came willingly when she heard the emperor’s wish.

The palace was elegantly decorated for the occasion. The walls and floors of porcelain glittered in the light of a thousand lamps. Beautiful flowers, round which little bells were tied, stood in the corridors: what with the running to and fro and the draught, these bells tinkled so loudly that no one could speak to be heard.

In the centre of the great hall, a golden perch had been fixed for the nightingale to sit on. The whole court was present, and the little kitchen-maid had received permission to stand by the door. She was not installed as a real court cook. All were in full dress, and every eye was turned to the little gray bird when the emperor nodded to her to begin.

The nightingale sang so sweetly that the tears came into the emperor’s eyes, and then rolled down his cheeks, as her song became still more touching and went to every one’s heart. The emperor was so delighted that he declared the nightingale should have his gold slipper to wear round her neck, but she declined the honor with thanks: she had been sufficiently rewarded already.

“I have seen tears in an emperor’s eyes,” she said, “that is my richest reward. An emperor’s tears have wonderful power, and are quite sufficient honor for me;” and then she sang again more enchantingly than ever.

“That singing is a lovely gift;” said the ladies of the court to each other; and then they took water in their mouths to make them utter the gurgling sounds of the nightingale when they spoke to any one, so thay they might fancy themselves nightingales. And the footmen and chambermaids also expressed their satisfaction, which is saying a great deal, for they are very difficult to please. In fact the nightingale’s visit was most successful.

She was now to remain at court, to have her own cage, with liberty to go out twice a day, and once during the night. Twelve servants were appointed to attend her on these occasions, who each held her by a silken string fastened to her leg. There was certainly not much pleasure in this kind of flying.

The whole city spoke of the wonderful bird, and when two people met, one said “nightin,” and the other said “gale,” and they understood what was meant, for nothing else was talked of. Eleven peddlers’ children were named after her, but not of them could sing a note.

One day the emperor received a large packet on which was written “The Nightingale.”

“Here is no doubt a new book about our celebrated bird,” said the emperor. But instead of a book, it was a work of art contained in a casket, an artificial nightingale made to look like a living one, and covered all over with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. As soon as the artificial bird was wound up, it could sing like the real one, and could move its tail up and down, which sparkled with silver and gold. Round its neck hung a piece of ribbon, on which was written “The Emperor of China’s nightingale is poor compared with that of the Emperor of Japan’s.”

“This is very beautiful,” exclaimed all who saw it, and he who had brought the artificial bird received the title of “Imperial nightingale-bringer-in-chief.”

“Now they must sing together,” said the court, “and what a duet it will be.”

But they did not get on well, for the real nightingale sang in its own natural way, but the artificial bird sang only waltzes. “That is not a fault,” said the music-master, “it is quite perfect to my taste,” so then it had to sing alone, and was as successful as the real bird; besides, it was so much prettier to look at, for it sparkled like bracelets and breast-pins.

Thirty three times did it sing the same tunes without being tired; the people would gladly have heard it again, but the emperor said the living nightingale ought to sing something. But where was she? No one had noticed her when she flew out at the open window, back to her own green woods.

“What strange conduct,” said the emperor, when her flight had been discovered; and all the courtiers blamed her, and said she was a very ungrateful creature. “But we have the best bird after all,” said one, and then they would have the bird sing again, although it was the thirty-fourth time they had listened to the same piece, and even then they had not learnt it, for it was rather difficult. But the music-master praised the bird in the highest degree, and even asserted that it was better than a real nightingale, not only in its dress and the beautiful diamonds, but also in its musical power.

“For you must perceive, my chief lord and emperor, that with a real nightingale we can never tell what is going to be sung, but with this bird everything is settled. It can be opened and explained, so that people may understand how the waltzes are formed, and why one note follows upon another.”

“This is exactly what we think,” they all replied, and then the music-master received permission to exhibit the bird to the people on the following Sunday, and the emperor commanded that they should be present to hear it sing. When they heard it they were like people intoxicated; however it must have been with drinking tea, which is quite a Chinese custom. They all said “Oh!” and held up their forefingers and nodded, but a poor fisherman, who had heard the real nightingale, said, “it sounds prettily enough, and the melodies are all alike; yet there seems something wanting, I cannot exactly tell what.”

And after this the real nightingale was banished from the empire.

The artificial bird was placed on a silk cushion close to the emperor’s bed. The presents of gold and precious stones which had been received with it were round the bird, and it was now advanced to the title of “Little Imperial Toilet Singer,” and to the rank of No. 1 on the left hand; for the emperor considered the left side, on which the heart lies, as the most noble, and the heart of an emperor is in the same place as that of other people. The music-master wrote a work, in twenty-five volumes, about the artificial bird, which was very learned and very long, and full of the most difficult Chinese words; yet all the people said they had read it, and understood it, for fear of being thought stupid and having their bodies trampled upon.

So a year passed, and the emperor, the court, and all the other Chinese knew every little turn in the artificial bird’s song; and for that same reason it pleased them better. They could sing with the bird, which they often did. The street-boys sang, “Zi-zi-zi, cluck, cluck, cluck,” and the emperor himself could sing it also. It was really most amusing.

One evening, when the artificial bird was singing its best, and the emperor lay in bed listening to it, something inside the bird sounded “whizz.” Then a spring cracked. “Whir-r-r-r” went all the wheels, running round, and then the music stopped.

The emperor immediately sprang out of bed, and called for his physician; but what could he do? Then they sent for a watchmaker; and, after a great deal of talking and examination, the bird was put into something like order; but he said that it must be used very carefully, as the barrels were worn, and it would be impossible to put in new ones without injuring the music. Now there was great sorrow, as the bird could only be allowed to play once a year; and even that was dangerous for the works inside it. Then the music-master made a little speech, full of hard words, and declared that the bird was as good as ever; and, of course no one contradicted him.

Five years passed, and then a real grief came upon the land. The Chinese really were fond of their emperor, and he now lay so ill that he was not expected to live. Already a new emperor had been chosen and the people who stood in the street asked the lord-in-waiting how the old emperor was.

But he only said, “Pooh!” and shook his head.

Cold and pale lay the emperor in his royal bed; the whole court thought he was dead, and every one ran away to pay homage to his successor. The chamberlains went out to have a talk on the matter, and the ladies’-maids invited company to take coffee. Cloth had been laid down on the halls and passages, so that not a footstep should be heard, and all was silent and still. But the emperor was not yet dead, although he lay white and stiff on his gorgeous bed, with the long velvet curtains and heavy gold tassels. A window stood open, and the moon shone in upon the emperor and the artificial bird.

The poor emperor, finding he could scarcely breathe with a strange weight on his chest, opened his eyes, and saw Death sitting there. He had put on the emperor’s golden crown, and held in one hand his sword of state, and in the other his beautiful banner. All around the bed and peeping through the long velvet curtains, were a number of strange heads, some very ugly, and others lovely and gentle-looking. These were the emperor’s good and bad deeds, which stared him in the face now Death sat at his heart.

“Do you remember this?” “Do you recollect that?” they asked one after another, thus bringing to his remembrance circumstances that made the perspiration stand on his brow.

“I know nothing about it,” said the emperor. “Music! music!” he cried; “the large Chinese drum! that I may not hear what they say.”

But they still went on, and Death nodded like a Chinaman to all they said.

“Music! music!” shouted the emperor. “You little precious golden bird, sing, pray sing! I have given you gold and costly presents; I have even hung my golden slipper round your neck. Sing! sing!”

But the bird remained silent. There was no one to wind it up, and therefore it could not sing a note. Death continued to stare at the emperor with his cold, hollow eyes, and the room was fearfully still.

Suddenly there came through the open window the sound of sweet music. Outside, on the bough of a tree, sat the living nightingale. She had heard of the emperor’s illness, and was therefore come to sing to him of hope and trust. And as she sung, the shadows grew paler and paler; the blood in the emperor’s veins flowed more rapidly, and gave life to his weak limbs; and even Death himself listened, and said, “Go on, little nightingale, go on.”

“Then will you give me the beautiful golden sword and that rich banner? and will you give me the emperor’s crown?” said the bird.

So Death gave up each of these treasures for a song; and the nightingale continued her singing. She sung of the quiet churchyard, where the white roses grow, where the elder-tree wafts its perfume on the breeze, and the fresh, sweet grass is moistened by the mourners’ tears. Then Death longed to go and see his garden, and floated out through the window in the form of a cold, white mist.

“Thanks, thanks, you heavenly little bird. I know you well. I banished you from my kingdom once, and yet you have charmed away the evil faces from my bed, and banished Death from my heart, with your sweet song. How can I reward you?”

“You have already rewarded me,” said the nightingale. “I shall never forget that I drew tears from your eyes the first time I sang to you. These are the jewels that rejoice a singer’s heart. But now sleep, and grow strong and well again. I will sing to you again.”

And as she sung, the emperor fell into a sweet sleep; and how mild and refreshing that slumber was!

When he awoke, strengthened and restored, the sun shone brightly through the window; but not one of his servants had returned– they all believed he was dead; only the nightingale still sat beside him, and sang.

“You must always remain with me,” said the emperor. “You shall sing only when it pleases you; and I will break the artificial bird into a thousand pieces.”

“No; do not do that,” replied the nightingale; “the bird did very well as long as it could. Keep it here still. I cannot live in the palace, and build my nest; but let me come when I like. I will sit on a bough outside your window, in the evening, and sing to you, so that you may be happy, and have thoughts full of joy. I will sing to you of those who are happy, and those who suffer; of the good and the evil, who are hidden around you. The little singing bird flies far from you and your court to the home of the fisherman and the peasant’s cot. I love your heart better than your crown; and yet something holy lingers round that also. I will come, I will sing to you; but you must promise me one thing.”

“Everything,” said the emperor, who, having dressed himself in his imperial robes, stood with the hand that held the heavy golden sword pressed to his heart.

“I only ask one thing,” she replied; “let no one know that you have a little bird who tells you everything. It will be best to conceal it.”

So saying, the nightingale flew away.

The servants now came in to look after the dead emperor; when, lo! there he stood, and, to their astonishment, said, “Good morning.”

END

Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and stories

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More in: Andersen, Hans Christian, Archive A-B, Grimm, Andersen e.o.: Fables, Fairy Tales & Stories


MENNO TER BRAAK: DE REPORTER EN HET ASFALT

TERBRAAKMENNO21

Menno ter Braak

(1902-1940)

De reporter en het asfalt

Zij beiden sloten een hechte vriendschap, toen de tijden rijp waren. Want in het lijden verenigen zich allen.

Waarom moesten zij zich verbinden tot een genegenheid, die alleen onder vertrapten bestaat? Waarom zij, het slaafse asfalt en de reporter, de krullenjongen bij Buitenlands Nieuws? Dit zijn de vragen, die later oprezen, toen het asfalt door een nieuw procédé was vervangen en de reporter in de Eeuwige Jachtvelden ronddoolde en dronk uit het bekkeneel van zijn hoofdredacteur. Het is een raar sprookje gelijk.

Immers zij beiden spiegelden. Spiegelden, spiegelden. Het asfalt, wanneer het vet was van de regen, de reporter, wanneer hij geen last had van zijn maag en op zijn bed bleef liggen. En welk verschil maakt het voor God of men sinaasappeljoden en mooie vrouwen dan wel rijksdagvergaderingen en filmactrices-met-miljonairs-schandalen spiegelt? Staat er niet geschreven: ‘Spiegelt aangenaam voor het oog des Heeren’?

Wat begrepen zij? Werelden van geluk en ellende verwerkten zij als machines; het asfalt werd er steeds wrakker op en de reporter kreeg geen opslag van salaris. Geen van beiden ‘werd er beter van’, zoals de term luidt. Geen genot is het immers de kosmos te verduwen zonder begrip; dit speurde het asfalt, wanneer het zich wat langer wilde verlustigen in een hooggehakt schoentje; dit speurde de reporter als Nieuw-Zeeland en Californië door zijn hersens joegen.

Zielloze media…

Dode tussenstations, die registreren, maar niet scheppen.

Alleen op het asfalt schiep de reporter. Des daags tussen de duizenden, die voortschuifelen en zacht praten. Het asfalt was ònder de reporter en de reporter was òp het asfalt; dit moest, zo overwoog hij, wiskunstig hetzelfde zijn. Toch vond hij het tweede sympathieker, omdat het zijn persoonlijkheid beter deed uitkomen. De indruk was kraniger. Het asfalt was echter slechts onder de mensen, die voorbijschuifelden; vreemd, maar het was zo en het is nòg zo. Het asfalt droeg hèn meer dan dat zij het asfalt trapten… in het oog van de reporter.

Dit waren de onlogische rekensommetjes van de krullenjongen bij Buitenlands Nieuws.

Hij haatte de voorbijschuifelaars en de zachtpraters, omdat hij nog zo jong was. Hij wist niet, dat zij allen goed waren. Sommigen bezochten voor zij gingen winkelen, de mis. Anderen zagen er zo goed uit, dat zij zelfs zonder dit wel zalig zouden worden.

De reporter haatte hen. Maar dat zou terecht komen, als hij promotie maakte. Dan komt immers alles terecht.

Het asfalt zuchtte onder de last en hier en daar werkten gemeentewerklieden om het steviger te maken. De reporter wandelde naar zijn bureau en vloekte, dat het niet aan te horen was. De mensen echter waren zo wijs, zich hieraan niet te storen; zij waren goed en winkelden voort.

‘Maar al het mangaan en goud, dat de tandartsen in hun rottende gebitten stoppen, zal niet voldoende zijn om hun rotte zielen een duizendste seconde uit hun zelfgeschapen hel los te kopen’, zwoer de reporter.

Het zou wel terecht komen… en bovendien had hij zelf drie gevulde kiezen. Zo is de wereld: het zijn de jongelingen, die haar haten en de ouden van dagen, die weten, wat zij waard is. Maar dezen hebben dan ook het meeste goud in hun gebitten, als die althans niet vals zijn.

Des nachts, wanneer door hem heen de nieuwtjes voor het ochtendblad waren geflitst, sukkelde de reporter naar zijn kamer. Als het regende, vlamde het lege asfalt onder de huiverende lantarens. Dat was goed, want als het oudbakken was van de daagse hitte, was het vervelend.

In de nacht vooral schiep de reporter, als reactie op zijn Buitenlands Nieuws. Hij schiep zo geweldig, dat het haast werkelijkheid werd. Eens kwam over het verlaten asfalt, dat in de regen zo heftig kan glanzen, een slanke vrouw op hem toe, heel mooi, heel bleek, in het zwart, zoals in moderne romans. Zij was de schepping van de reporter en een geestelijk kind van het asfalt, maar dat wist de onnozele schepper zelf niet. En dus begeerde hij zijn eigen werk met een heel gewone gedachtenreeks: Ik-ga-met-haar-mee-ze-is-mooi-later-schrijf-ik-een-feuilleton-dat-ik-niet-ben-meegegaan-misschien-krijg-ik-het-wel-geplaatst-en-verder-niet-denken.

Hij naderde, het jonge reportertje met een hunkerend hart en een verlegen gezicht. Maar toen ging het mis. Zijn gehele fantasme brak uiteen in zwarte gitten, die rondspatten over het asfalt. Duisternis verstikte de lantarens en één enkele gouden ster wielde weg, ver op de achtergrond. Als een beleefde agent de reporter niet had opgeraapt, was hij misschien doornat geworden op het natte plein, waar hij zichzelf vond zitten. Zonder veel bewustzijn kwam hij in zijn bed terecht. Het asfalt ònder de reporter; de reporter òp het asfalt… veel verschil maakt het niet, als de reporter in een plas ligt!

Sedert die tijd was de vriendschap tussen hem en het asfalt nog hechter.

Het asfalt gaf raad: ‘Schep niet, wij zijn maar spiegels van het wereldgebeuren, wij zijn maar tussenstations!’

De reporter geloofde het, tot hij door ziekte van een hogergeplaatst collega eens uit zijn berichtjes een Overzicht mocht distilleren. Toen begon hij opnieuw en meermalen liep hij tegen zijn eigen beelden aan.

De reporter maakte promotie, vloekte niet meer, trouwde een niet-geëmancipeerde en toch niet domme vrouw, had des te meer last van zijn maag, maar… reed in een taxi over het asfalt. Elk halfjaar kwam er meer goud in zijn mond.

Het asfalt draagt nog de duizenden, die voortschuifelen en zacht praten. Het vindt alles en allen goed en wenst de ganse mensheid een prettige plaats in de hemel.

Alleen vindt het de taxi van de reporter een onverdraaglijke pedanterie, want door de isolerende rubberbanden is geen vriendschap mogelijk.

Zo gaat het!

Menno ter Braak
20 september 1924
Murena

bron: Menno ter Braak, De Propria Curesartikelen 1923-1925 (ed. Carel Peeters). BZZTôH, Den Haag 1978

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JEROEN BROUWERS IN VPRO BOEKEN

jeroenbrouwers_hethout

Jeroen Brouwers (1940), oud- AKO Literatuurprijswinnaar, viert met zijn nieuwste langverwachte roman ‘Het hout’, zijn vijftig jarige schrijverschap.

Hierin beschrijft hij een door kloosterlingen geleid jongenspensionaat in de jaren vijftig van de vorige eeuw. In het jongenspensionaat vinden sadisme, sexueel misbruik en vernedering plaats.

Jeroen Brouwers
VPRO Boeken
zondag 28 december 2014
NPO 1, 11.20 uur

 

# Website VPRO BOEKEN

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Hans Christian Andersen: Pen and inkstand

Hans Christian Andersen

(1805—1875)

Pen and inkstand

In a poet’s study, somebody made a remark as he looked at the inkstand that was standing on the table: “It’s strange what can come out of that inkstand! I wonder what the next thing will be. Yes, it’s strange!”

“That it is!” said the Inkstand. “It’s unbelievable, that’s what I have always said.” The Inkstand was speaking to the Pen and to everything else on the table that could hear it. “It’s really amazing what comes out of me! Almost incredible! I actually don’t know myself what will come next when that person starts to dip into me. One drop from me is enough for half a piece of paper, and what may not be on it then? I am something quite remarkable. All the works of this poet come from me. These living characters, whom people think they recognize, these deep emotions, that gay humor, the charming descriptions of nature – I don’t understand those myself, because I don’t know anything about nature – all of that is in me. From me have come out, and still come out, that host of lovely maidens and brave knights on snorting steeds. The fact is, I assure you, I don’t know anything about them myself.”

“You are right about that,” said the Pen. “You have very few ideas, and don’t bother about thinking much at all. If you did take the trouble to think, you would understand that nothing comes out of you except a liquid. You just supply me with the means of putting down on paper what I have in me; that’s what I write with. It’s the pen that does the writing. Nobody doubts that, and most people know as much about poetry as an old inkstand!”

“You haven’t had much experience,” retorted the Inkstand. “You’ve hardly been in service a week, and already you’re half worn out. Do you imagine you’re the poet? Why, you’re only a servant; I have had a great many like you before you came, some from the goose family and some of English make. I’m familiar with both quill pens and steel pens. Yes, I’ve had a great many in my service, and I’ll have many more when the man who goes through the motions for me comes to write down what he gets from me. I’d be much interested in knowing what will be the next thing he gets from me.”

“Inkpot!” cried the Pen.

Late that evening the Poet came home. He had been at a concert, had heard a splendid violinist, and was quite thrilled with his marvelous performance. From his instrument he had drawn a golden river of melody. Sometimes it had sounded like the gentle murmur of rippling water drops, wonderful pearl-like tones, sometimes like a chorus of twittering birds, sometimes like a tempest tearing through mighty forests of pine. The Poet had fancied he heard his own heart weep, but in tones as sweet as the gentle voice of a woman. It seemed as if the music came not only from the strings of the violin, but from its sounding board, its pegs, its very bridge. It was amazing! The selection had been extremely difficult, but it had seemed as if the bow were wandering over the strings merely in play. The performance was so easy that an ignorant listener might have thought he could do it himself. The violin seemed to sound, and the bow to play, of their own accord, and one forgot the master who directed them, giving them life and soul. Yes, the master was forgotten, but the Poet remembered him. He repeated his name and wrote down his thoughts.

“How foolish it would be for the violin and bow to boast of their achievements! And yet we human beings often do so. Poets, artists, scientists, generals – we are all proud of ourselves, and yet we’re only instruments in the hands of our Lord! To Him alone be the glory! We have nothing to be arrogant about.”

Yes, that is what the Poet wrote down, and he titled his essay, “The Master and the Instruments.”

“That ought to hold you, madam,” said the Pen, when the two were alone again. “Did you hear him read aloud what I had written?”

“Yes, I heard what I gave you to write,” said the Inkstand. “It was meant for you and your conceit. It’s strange that you can’t tell when anyone is making fun of you. I gave you a pretty sharp cut there; surely I must know my own satire!”

“Inkpot!” said the Pen.

“Scribble-stick!” said the Inkstand.

They were both satisfied with their answers, and it is a great comfort to feel that one has made a witty reply – one sleeps better afterward. So they both went to sleep.

But the Poet didn’t sleep. His thoughts rushed forth like the violin’s tones, falling like pearls, sweeping on like a storm through the forest. He understood the sentiments of his own heart; he caught a ray of the light from the everlasting Master.

To him alone be the glory!

END

Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and stories

fleursdumal.nl  magazine

More in: Andersen, Hans Christian, Archive A-B, Grimm, Andersen e.o.: Fables, Fairy Tales & Stories


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