From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 2, pages 55-60


servant, a tailor by trade, in building an armory which would serve for our dramas and tragedies long after we had outgrown our puppets. My playmates also had armor and they considered theirs as good as mine but I was not just concerned with the needs of one individual. I could equip a small army with full gear, thus making me indispensible to our little circle. Our dramas depicted disagreements, battles and combat along with the usual negotiations and vexations which led to bad endings. Certain playmates would side with me while others formed a countergroup although there were often switches in sides. One boy, whom I will call Pylades, abandoned my side only once but when he was provoked into facing me as an enemy he could not stand it for even a minute. We reconciled amid many tears and then remained true to one another for a long time.

I was able to make this boy and other kindly-disposed individuals happy by telling them fairytales. They especially loved it when I spoke in first person narrative form. * It gave them great joy to think that such wondrous things could happen to their own playmate. It didn't seem to trouble them to wonder about how I found the time for such adventures even though they were well aware of my usual activities and my comings and goings. Additionally, such tales must necessarily have taken place in a different region if not a totally different world and always occurred either that very day or the day before. It was more that they deceived themselves


rather than my deceiving them. If it hadn't been thoroughly within my nature to create artful representations of amusing characters and outrageously boastful situations then this tiny beginning certainly would have led to a bad end for me.

If one recognizes here a driving force then perhaps one also sees how the poet presumes that his audience will accept as real what he, the creator, has done his best to present as real.

What I have referred to in general terms may be easier to comprehend if I present an example. I add here a fairytale, which my playmates asked me to recite often. It comes to mind as a fine representative of the power of imagination.

The New Paris
A Boy's Tale *

Recently I had a dream. On the night before Pentacost Sunday I stood before the mirror looking at my new summer outfit, which my parents had tailored for me for the feastday. The outfit, you should know, consisted of shoes made of polished leather with big silver buckles, fine cotton socks, black undergarments of serge * and a coat of green barracan with golden buttons. The vest was made of gold brocade and was cut from my father's wedding vest. I was combed and powdered and my curls stood out like little wings on my head, however I couldn't finish dressing


because I kept mixing up the garments and the first piece would fall from my body as I tried to put on the second. Amid this great confusion a handsome young man entered the room and gave a friendly greeting. Hello and welcome, I said. I'm very happy to see you here. — "Do you know me then?" he responded. — Why shouldn't I? was my cheerful reply. You are Mercury, and I have seen you often enough in paintings. — "That's me," he said, "and I have been sent by the gods with an important job for you. Do you see these three apples?" — He extended his hand and showed me the three apples, which barely fit in his hand, being as large as they were beautiful. One was red, the second yellow and the third green. One would have thought they were precious jewels given the form of fruit. I reached for them but he pulled them away and said, "The first thing you should know is that these apples are not for you. You must give them to the three most handsome young men in the city, who in accordance with their individual destinies will find the wives they've always dreamed of. Take them now and do a good job!" he stated firmly as he put the apples in my opened hands. They seemed even larger to me than they did before. I held them up to the light and saw they were transparent. The apples expanded lengthwise and transformed into 3 beautiful young ladies the size of puppets. Their dresses were the colors of the apples. They glided up past my fingers and before I could snatch them they soared up so high into the air that I lost sight of them. I stood there quite dumbfounded,


as if made of stone, with my hand in the air still looking at my finger as though there were something to see. Suddenly I saw the most lovely girl dancing on my finger. She was as small as the others but daintier and more cheerful. She didn't fly away like the others; instead she remained and danced back and forth across my fingertips. She pleased me so much and I believed I'd be clever enough to grab her but in that instant I felt a blow to my head which knocked me senseless. I didn't wake up until it was time to get dressed and go to church.

I recalled every image of the incident during the church service and afterwards at my grandparents' diningroom table as I ate my midday meal. In the afternoon I would visit a few friends so they could see me in my new clothes with my hat under my arm and the sword at my side. Besides, I really did owe them a visit. No one was at home but I heard they had gone to the garden so I decided to follow them and spend a pleasant evening. My path led me beyond the old fort until I came to the area known as the slimey wall. * The place had always looked ominous. I now strolled slowly and thought about my three goddesses, especially the little nymph, and I held up my finger in the hope she would be good enough to balance herself on it again. Lost in these thoughts I saw on the left hand side of the wall a gateway, which I didn't remember seeing before. It seemed tiny but the archway would have allowed very large men to pass through it. The archway and the walls


were ornately chiseled by stone masons and sculptors but it was the door itself which drew my attention. It was made of ancient brown wood with few decorations on it except for broad, deeply set metal band hinges etched with leaves on which the most natural looking birds sat. What was most remarkable was there was no lock, no door handle and no knocker. From this I surmised that the door was meant to open from the inside only. I was not mistaken. As I approached the door to further examine the etchings with my finger, it swung out and a man appeared dressed in a long, wide, and foreign-looking garment. He had a respectable beard circling his chin. I was inclined to think he was a Jew. As if reading my thoughts he made the sign of the cross so as to show me that he was a good Catholic Christian. — "Young man, how did you get here and what are you doing?" he said in a friendly tone. — I was admiring the etchings on your door, I responded. I've never seen anything like them except in some small and private art collections. — "It pleases me," he replied, "that you admire this work. The door is even more attractive from the inside. You may come in if you like." I wasn't thinking clearly at the moment. It might have been the gatekeeper's strange garment; it might have been the situation. I'm not sure but there seemed to be some sort of oppressive air which enveloped me. I stood there under the pretext of further examining the outside of the door and then stole a glance into the garden beyond. Indeed it was a garden which opened up to me. Beneath the portal I saw a


large, shaded place full of old lime trees. They had been planted at uniformly spaced intervals and provided full coverage with their thick, intertwining branches. On the hottest days large numbers of people could have refreshed themselves there. I had already stepped past the threshold and the old man knew how to entice me to come farther. I did not resist. I had heard one time that in such a case a prince or sultan must never question whether he is in danger. Besides, I still had my sword at my side; wouldn't I be prepared if the old man proved to be hostile? Confidently I walked inside. The gatekeeper closed the door, which snapped shut so quietly that I scarcely heard it. He showed me the interior, in which there were many artistic pieces of work. As he explained them to me I perceived his goodwill. I was now fully at peace and I allowed him to lead me to the leafy room at the wall, which was circular. I found much to admire there. Recesses in the walls were artfully decorated with shells, coral and chunks of ore. Spigots formed like tritons spouted water which fell into marble basins. In between were bird houses and other lattice work containing frisky squirrels, leaping guinea pigs and any other variety of graceful creature one could think of. Birds cawed and sang to us as we passed. The starlings in particular chattered in foolish parody. One kept calling, Paris, Paris! while the other responded Narcissus! Narcissus! * in the the clear voices only schoolboys have. The old man seemed to seriously observe me as the birds cried but I paid him no real notice. There really wasn't time to pay attention to him. I was aware that


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Text provided by the Lockwood Library, State University of New York at Buffalo.
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks