Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Eternal Question
By Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919)
From ‘Anathema: A Tragedy in Seven Scenes,’ translated by Herman Bernstein
  The scene represents a wild, deserted place, the slope of a mountain rising to infinite heights. In the rear of the stage, halfway up the mountain, huge iron gates, tightly closed, indicate the boundary of the world as we conceive it. Beyond the iron gates, which oppress the earth with their enormous weight, in silence and in mystery, dwells the Beginning of every being, the Supreme Wisdom of the universe.
  At the foot of the Gates stands Someone guarding the entrances, leaning upon a long sword, perfectly motionless. Garbed in wide clothes, which are like stone in the motionlessness of their folds and creases, He hides His face beneath a dark cover, and is Himself the greatest of mysteries. Standing on the boundary separating two worlds, He is dual in His make-up;—in appearance a man, in reality a spirit. An arbitrator between two worlds, He is like unto a huge shield, which gathers all bolts,—all looks, all entreaties, all expectations, reproaches, and curses. The bearer of two elements, He wraps his speech in silence, which is like the silence of the iron gates, and sometimes in human words.
  Amidst the rocks, looking around on all sides strangely and shyly, appears Anathema, someone accursed. Clinging to the gray rocks, cautious and flexible, like a serpent seeking a hole, he goes stealthily and quietly to The Guardian of the Entrances, desiring to strike him with an unexpected blow. But he is frightened by his own audacity and, jumping to his feet, laughs defiantly and maliciously. Then he sits down on a rock, with an air of freedom and independence, and throws small cobblestones at the feet of the Guardian of the Entrances;—cunning, he conceals his fear beneath the mask of raillery and slight audacity. In the faint, gray, almost colorless light, the head of the accursed one seems enormous; especially large is his high forehead, which is furrowed by wrinkles of fruitless reflections and unsolvable eternal problems. Anathema’s thin beard is perfectly gray; his hair, once jet black, is also grayish, rising on his head in disordered tufts. Restless in his movements, he is vainly trying to conceal his alarm and his purposeless haste, which are forever devouring him. Endeavoring to emulate the proud stillness of the Guardian of the Entrances, he grows quiet for an instant in the pose of proud majesty, but the very next moment, in painful quest after the eternally elusive, he wriggles in mute spasms, like a worm under foot. And in his questions he is rapid and impetuous like a whirlwind, drawing strength and fury in his mad whirl….

  Anathema—You are still here on guard? And I thought you were away,—even a chained dog has his moments of rest or sleep, even though the whole world be his kennel and Eternity his master! Is Eternity afraid of thieves? But do not be angry. I have come to you as a good friend and I implore humbly: Open the heavy Gates for an instant and allow me to have a glimpse of Eternity. You dare not? But perhaps the mighty gates have cracked from age, and the unfortunate, honest Anathema could peep into the narrow cleft, without disturbing anyone,—show me it with a sign. Softly, on my belly, will I crawl over, I will glance at it and crawl back,—and He will not know. But I shall know and become a God, become a God, a God! I have so long wanted to become a God—and would I be a poor God? Look!
He assumes a haughty pose, but immediately bursts into laughter.  Then he sits down calmly on a flat rock and, folding his legs under him, takes out dice.  He mutters something to himself, yet loud enough to be heard by the Guardian of the Entrances.

  If you don’t want to, you need not do it,—I shall not fight with you. Have I come here for that purpose? I simply roamed about the world and came here by mere accident—I have nothing to do, so I roam about. And now I am going to throw dice. If He were not so serious, I would have invited Him, too,—but He is too proud, too proud, and He does not understand the pleasure of the game. Six, eight, twenty—correct! It’s always correct when the Devil plays, even when he plays honestly…. David Leizer…. David Leizer….
Turning to the Guardian of the Entrances, he speaks freely.

  Do you know David Leizer? You surely do not know him. He is a sick and foolish old Jew, whom no one knows, and even your Master has forgotten about him. So says David Leizer, and I cannot help believing him—he is a foolish, but honest man. He is the man I have won just now with my dice—you saw it: six, eight, twenty…. One day I met David Leizer by the seashore, when he was questioning what the waves were complaining of, and I liked him. He is a foolish, but honest man, and if he should be well tarred and lighted, he would make a brilliant torch for my feast.
Chatting with feigned ease, he steps over softly to the rock nearest the Guardian.

  No one knows David Leizer, but I shall make him famous, I shall make him mighty and great—it is very possible that I shall even make him immortal! You do not believe me? No one believes the wise Anathema, even when he speaks the truth—and who loves the truth more than Anathema does? Perhaps you? You silent dog, you who have stolen the truth from the world, you who have barred the entrances with iron!…
He rushes furiously toward the Guardian of the Entrances, but retreats from the stern, motionless Guardian, with a shriek of horror and pain.  And he speaks plaintively, falling with his gray chest upon the gray rock.

  Oh, the Devil’s hair is gray! Weep, you who have grown fond of Anathema! Wail and grieve, you who are striving toward Truth, who are honoring wisdom—Anathema’s hair is gray! Who will help the son of Dawn? He is alone in the universe. Wherefore, O Great One, have you frightened the fearless Anathema—he did not intend to strike you, he only wanted to approach you. May I come over to you? Tell me.
The Guardian of the Entrances is silent, but to Anathema it seems that he hears something in the silence.  Outstretching his serpentine neck, he shouts passionately.

  Louder! Louder! Are you silent, or did you speak? I do not understand. The accursed one has a sensitive ear and discerns the shades of certain words in your silence; he feels a vague movement of thoughts in your motionlessness,—but he does not understand. Did you speak or are you silent? Did you say: “Come,” or did it only sound so to me?
  The Guardian—Come.  7
  Anathema—You said it, but I dare not come up to you.  8
  Guardian—Come.  9
  Anathema—I am afraid.  10
He advances toward the Guardian irresolutely, in zigzag movements; lies down on his belly and crawls, wailing with longing and fear.

  Oh, I the prince of darkness, wise and powerful, and yet you see—I am crawling on my belly like a dog. And I am doing it because I love you, I want to kiss the hem of your cloak. But why does my old heart ache so much? Tell me, Omniscient.
  Guardian—The accursed one has no heart.  12
  Anathema  [advancing]—Yes, yes. The accursed has no heart, his chest is mute and motionless like the gray rock which does not breathe. Oh, if Anathema had a heart, you would have destroyed him long ago by his sufferings, even as you destroy the foolish man. But Anathema has a mind that is searching for the Truth, unprotected against your blows—spare it…. Here I am at your feet, reveal your face to me. Only for an instant, as brief as the flash of lightning,—reveal your face to me.

He cringes servilely at the feet of the Guardian, not daring, however, to touch his cloak.  He is vainly endeavoring to lower his eyes, which are quick and searching, sharp, flashing like coals beneath gray ashes.  The Guardian is silent and Anathema continues his fruitless and persistent entreaties.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.