Letter To Myself In The Form Of A Parable
Letter To Myself In The Form Of A Parable, by Rene Daumal
The Thirsty Man, the Lover & the Optician were speaking about the Water-Carrier:
“She is fresh & pure, she is life-giving. For her I would give all the fortunes in the world,” said the first: he was speaking about Water.
“She is the marvel which alone will quench my unquenchable thirst. For her I would give all the wealth in the world,” said the second: he was speaking of the Woman.
“In her all things are reflected,” said the third, “the Mountain, the Tree & the flight of the Bird, & especially the Sky; I would give treasures in abundance to see such a prodigy once more”: he was speaking of the Jug, for he did not yet know about the laws of reflection.
And all three thought they understood each other, & for hours on end they spoke about the Marvel, at triple cross-purposes.
The Man came & said: “It is a woman returning from the fountain with a jug full of clear water.”
The Thirsty Man shouted at him that he should take his twaddle somewhere else. The Lover wanted to strangle him, but the Optician held him back saying mockingly: “Can’t you see that he’s mad?”
But the Man said once again: “A woman with a jug of clear water.” And he repeated it. At the tenth time, the Thirsty Man started to speak of water using the rhetorical figure of a woman of light, the Lover of the reflection of the world in clear water, the Optician the calm pool of her eyes. For a time there was total Symbolic Confusion. Little by little, the image of the Water-Carrier came to correspond for each of them to what the Man had said, they began to quarrel over the names to give the Marvel: Quencher of Thirst, My Other Half, or Carrier of the Images of the World?
They were about to cut each others’ throats when the Man pulled them apart, saying that now they were closer to understanding each other than they had been at the start.
In the end, the Man decided that he had played around enough. He looked at the Optician, the Lover & the Thirsty Man, who had never been anything other than creatures of his fancy, & replaced them where they should each go, in his forehead, in his chest & in his stomach.
But for us who speak of Truth like they spoke of the Water-Carrier, the Man has not yet come. And he will not come unless we awaken him. I seek the Truth, therefor I cannot know it. How then can I say that I want to reach it? In fact, I do not have the right to say anything about the truth, not even that it is a good thing. But I am suffering, I am afraid & in doubt, I want to know why, I want to deliver myself, I want to know… You cannot want to sleep. If I want anything, it is first & foremost to stay awake, or rather to awaken ceaselessly. When I awaken, I am aware that I am suffering, that I am changing, that I am diverse, that I do not understand anything; & the more I awaken, the more I am unhappy, the more I think I am weak & stupid. The more I awaken, the more I want to change & the greater the price I have to this Truth which I do not know, & which only represents for me the absurd negation of my present fall from grace.
I cannot say anything about Truth. First of all, who is it that speaks to me? Man is a multitude, where a thousand animals speak with one vocal apparatus; but each word has a different meaning according to its deepest origin. A little while ago three men were saying: ‘She’; & one meant ‘Water’, the other meant ‘Woman’, & the third meant ‘Jug’. Man is sometimes led by his mind, sometimes by his stomach, sometimes by his heart; very rarely does he know who is the tyrant of the moment, very rarely does he notice when suddenly another one takes over, completely changing the meaning of what he sees, of what he does, of what he says. When the One Man, the master of his jungle, a just master who gives to each servant his place & his nourishment, speaks the Word, the whole zoo will be speaking though his mouth, & yet it is Man, living harmony, synthesis of many creatures, who is speaking. As long as at least one animal is awake in another zoo, something of what he says will be heard.
When the poet speaks, the awareness that is is suffering in his body, suffering in his self-esteem, the awareness that he is plagued by doubts, will turn him into a man. Then he will be able to begin a search for truth.
The many heavy balls around our ankles, our selfish centers, are our animals, in the anarchic state where Man does not sign. We must first violently tear them away from their own contemplation, & direct them all towards the top of man’s skull; it is painful. The selfishness of the stomach can be broken by physical pain; the selfishness of the heart by wounds to vanity & pride; the selfishness of the brain by squaring the circle.
And when man has found his own words, & spoken them, he must be even more in his guard, because vampires within him are feeding on his words & one of them could suddenly turn it into the language of tyranny. A curse on comfortable truths! A foul creature takes over man’s words, & holds him by the tongue from then on. It is true that riches are contemptible; but the vampire of Laziness takes over these words, only too happy not to have to work. Tyranny threatens within the individual just like it threatens men in society, depending upon the level of wisdom. Christ doubts, denies, thinks & speaks, is a man, & the vampire of Religion, at the service of the Bellies, takes over his words, & turns them into faith, dogma, torpor.
Within as without, the man who thinks is the violent enemy of all imposed faith, of all dogma, of all tyranny. He is in his essence a Revolutionary.
You speak of Truth. But who speaks in you? Seek yourself first. But see what happens! the path stretches away indefinitely, you never stop seeking yourself. And to seek oneself is the same as seeking truth. You are seeking because you are suffering & because you doubt. Your suffering is your own, you very own. Your path is your very own path; those who are seeking are completely individual. And they seek the Self. But that Self is the negation of everything specific & diverse & changing in each one of us. That Self is the active NO! The NO is NO, identical to itself, formless. Self is Self—the same—in each of us. Millions of springs born of the same Rain, millions of rivers, but one Ocean——and millions of fathomless pits.
I am me, an individual, & yet no, I am that universal Self. I become that Self, & thus the struggle of opposites is the Father of all movement. Words & symbols are Janus-like: one face looks at the individual, the other at the universal. Motionless, the Center of the head thinks itself eternal.
if the Poet speaks for the Self, he will be called, paradoxically, esoteric. When a man speaks he allows all the voices imprisoned within him to speak, according to the law of harmony; & under each word we can hear at one & the same time all voices. It is because the Poet is supremely clear that his words are a plurality, a totality of significations under that one meaning.