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An eternal and exquisite lament

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Just when I think that perhaps M. Proust's brief pieces just aren't for me, I come across his three paragraphs about the sea. He had me hooked from the first line.

The sea will always fascinate those people in whom the disgust with life and the enticement of mystery have preceded their first distress, like a foreboding of reality's inability to satisfy them. People who need rest before so much as experiencing any fatigue will be consoled and vaguely excited by the sea. Unlike the earth, the sea does not bear the traces of human works and human life. Nothing remains on the sea, nothing passes there except in flight, and how quickly the wake of a ship disappears! Hence the sea's great purity, which earthly things do not have. And this virginal water is far more delicate than the hardened earth, which can be breached only by a pick. With a clear sound a child's footstep in water leaves a deep wake, and the united tinges of the water are broken for a moment; then, every vestige is wiped away, and the sea is once more calm as it was on the earliest days of the earth. The man who is weary of earthly paths or who, before even trying them, can guess how harsh and vulgar they are will be seduced by the pale lanes of the sea, which are more dangerous and more inviting, more uncertain and more forlorn. Everything here is more mysterious, even those huge shadows that sometimes float peacefully across the sea's naked fields, devoid of houses and shade, and that are stretched by the clouds, those celestial hamlets, those tenuous boughs.


The sea has the magic of things that never fall silent at night, that permit our anxious lives to sleep, promising us that everything will not be obliterated, comforting us like the glow of a night-light that makes little children feel less alone. Unlike the earth, the sea is not separated from the sky; it always harmonizes with the colors of the sky and it is deeply stirred by its most delicate nuances. The sea radiates under the sun and seems to die with it every evening. And when the sun has vanished, the sea keeps longing for it, keeps preserving a bit of its luminous reminiscence in the face of the uniformly somber earth. It is the moment of the sun's melancholy reflections, which are so gentle that you feel your heart melting at the very sight of them. Once the night has almost fully thickened, and the sky is gloomy over the blackened earth, the sea still glimmers feebly--who knows by what mystery, by what brilliant relic of the day, a relic buried beneath the waves.

The sea refreshes our imagination because it does not make us think of human life; yet it rejoices the soul, because, like the soul, it is an infinite and impotent striving, a strength that is ceaselessly broken by falls, an eternal and exquisite lament. The sea thus enchants us like music, which, unlike language, never bears the traces of things, never tells us anything about human beings, but imitates the stirrings of the soul. Sweeping up with the waves of those movements, plunging back with them, the heart thus forgets its own failures and finds solace in an intimate harmony between its own sadness and the sea's sadness, which merges the sea's destiny with the destinies of all things.


Entry #28 in the "Regrets, Reveries the Color of Time" section of Pleasures and Days aka The Complete Short Stories of Marcel Proust translated by Joachim Neugroschel and published in the United States by Cooper Square Press
Current Music:
ongoing horror and outrage in Palestine courtesy of BBC WorldService
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On January 8th, 2009 05:21 am (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
It's still chaos, though
Well, yes, that's lovely. Though I can't help wondering if he's right, not about the sea itself (that seems pretty right), but about those people who are fascinated by it, because conversely, what does it say about those who aren't? That their first experience of distress preceded their disgust with life, necessarily? That they have no disgust with life? MoT
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On January 8th, 2009 06:00 am (UTC), emmarytz replied:
Re: That's one theory
I owe you an email and shall continue to do so; my head is killing me. I think, however, that M. Proust's position is that those who don't share his particular fascination with the sea aren't so sensitive as he is; that they first suffer disappointment and then become disgusted with life; that they must first do something to make them exhausted and then they are tired. Whereas the Cancerian Marcel (who among us is surprised to find that he is a Cancer?) was born with an intuition of despair; he knows before he sets out that he is doomed to disappointment, that for all the points on the compass there is only one direction. But the ocean, young and idealistic Marcel suggests, offers consolation to the delicate spirit. Maybe.-em.
On January 9th, 2009 05:07 am (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
Re: That's one theory
I just know that it's waiting to swallow me up, that's why I don't like it. I like birds, and air. No one dies from sinking to the bottom of the air. That's what we call walking, or sitting on the lawn, or anything, really. MoT
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