…it was no longer gentle Aribert who spoke, but a solemn and impassioned lover:
—Where do you live?
—A place underground where the light speaks.
—What do you see?
—The sockets of my eyes.
—What can I give you?
—The silence of your lips.
—My thoughts never leave you. Can this be what they call love?
—Love feeds on gazes, on kisses, and my body has left me.
—Will that keep me from loving you?
—Love asks no permission.
—Say something to me, just a word.
—What am I, a simple girl, to make of one?
—The most violent of offerings.
—What can I offer, if not myself?
—What is beyond you.
—And what is in me?
—Death has already taken hold of that. Give me your shadow.
—I will marry your shadow.
—Will I ever see you someday?
—When the secret becomes a pearl.
—I feel like crying.
—Your tears, your tears in my voice…
—Must I always wait?
—Your tears in my eyes, and you will blossom.
—Never in this world?
—Always in this world.
from “Terre de songes” by Marcel Schneider, in the collection Histoires à mourir debout.
A beautiful bit of dialogue I just had to translate. Ideally I’d like all my dialogue to slip logic’s shackles so poetically, almost accidentally, a dream catechism, each speaker responding to the other like a lost soul to the echo of stone struck on stone in the distant chambers of a cave: for who, making his or her way alone from the labyrinth, is not led on by such a sound?
I’d started Schneider’s collection in December, but picked it up again recently after finishing his book-length essay Le Labyrinthe d’Arioste. The stories’ well-researched historical settings, fierce brigands and chaste heroines, their general dreamlike mood, remind me of Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales, though Schneider often builds to climaxes of more overt horror or violence.
Dinesen is one of the few authors I’ve read who give chastity its due without veering into the kind of piousness that seems inevitable in any American treatment, given our schismatic Puritan outlook. But her virgins are sheltered by a social structure and an idea of nobility.
Realism, perhaps fearing accusations of naïveté, or perhaps because the balance of lived life falls with experience, rarely gives innocence its due, or explores the subtleties of its strength. Or perhaps fabulists handle it better because innocence is the last fantasy: always looked back on, and gone the moment we are born. Ah well. Unformed thoughts.