A fresh translation of Dostoevsky’s short story, which was first published in 1877.
I am a ridiculous fellow. They call me crazy now. That would be a step up in rank, if I were not still as ridiculous to them as I was before. But now I am not angry, they are all nice to me now, even when they laugh at me—and then they are especially nice. I would laugh with them myself, not at myself, but out of love for them, if I were not so sad to look at them. Sad because they don’t know the truth, and I know the truth. Oh, how hard it is to know the truth all alone! But they won’t understand it. No, they won’t.
And earlier on, I used to feel very sad because I seemed ridiculous. I didn’t just seem ridiculous, I was ridiculous. I’ve always been ridiculous, and I’ve known it maybe since I was born. Maybe as early as seven years old I knew I was ridiculous. Then I went to school, then I went to university and well—the more I studied, the more I learned that I was ridiculous. So, for me all my university learning seemed to exist only for that purpose—to prove and explain to me, as I went deeper into it, that I am ridiculous. Similarly, as in science, so it went in life. With each passing year the same consciousness of my ridiculousness in every respect grew and strengthened in me. I was laughed at by everyone and at all times. But they did not know or guess that if there was a person on earth who knew more than anyone else that I was ridiculous, it was me—and that was the most offensive for me that they did not know it, but here I was to blame—I was always so proud that I never wanted to admit it to anyone. This pride grew in me as the years went by, and if I had ever let myself confess to anyone that I was ridiculous, I think I would have blown off my head with a revolver that very evening. Oh, how I suffered in my adolescence that I would not be able to bear it and that I would suddenly confess it to my friends. But since becoming a young man, though I’ve learned more and more about my terrible quality every year, I’ve somehow become a little calmer, somehow, though I still can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps because in my soul a terrible melancholy was growing for one circumstance that was already infinitely above me: it was the conviction that had come over me that nothing in the world really mattered. I had felt this for a very long time, but the full conviction came suddenly in the last year. I suddenly felt that I wouldn’t care if the world existed or if there was nothing anywhere. I began to hear and feel with all my being that nothing was with me. At first it seemed to me that there had been a lot of things before, but then I realized that there had been nothing before, but only seemed to be for some reason. Little by little I became convinced that there would never be anything. Then I suddenly ceased to be angry with people and almost began not to notice them. For instance, I would happen to be walking down the street and bump into people. And it was not out of thoughtfulness: what was there for me to think about, I stopped thinking completely—I did not care at all. And it would have been good if I had solved issues; oh, I had not solved a single one, and how many were there? But I did not care, and the issues disappeared.
And so, after that time, I learned the truth. I learned the truth last November, on the third of November, and since that time I can remember every moment of that day. It was on a gloomy evening, the gloomiest evening there can be. I was returning home at eleven o’clock at night, and I remember thinking that there could not be a darker time. Even physically. It had been raining all day, and it was the coldest and gloomiest rain, a sort of threatening rain, I remember, with an obvious hostility to people, and then suddenly, at eleven o’clock, it stopped, and there was a terrible dampness, wetter and colder than when it rained, and there was steam coming from everything, from every stone in the street and from every alley, if you looked into it from the street. I suddenly imagined that if the gas had gone out everywhere, it would have been more cheerful, because with the gas it was sadder to my heart, because it lit everything all up. I had hardly eaten lunch that day, and from early evening I had sat at an engineer’s house, while two other friends were sitting with him. I kept quiet and I think I bored them. They were talking about something provocative and suddenly they even got all fired up. But they didn’t care, I could see that, and they only pretended to be all fired up. I suddenly said to them: “Gentlemen, I say, you don’t care.” They were not offended, but they all laughed at me. It was because I said it without any reproach, and simply because I did not care. They saw that I didn’t care, and they were amused.
When I was outside thinking about gas, I looked up at the sky. The sky was terribly dark, but you could clearly make out torn clouds, and between them fathomless black spots. Suddenly, I noticed a star in one of those spots and began to stare at it intently. It was because this star gave me an idea: I had decided to kill myself that night. I had firmly decided two months ago, and poor as I am, I bought a fine revolver and loaded it the same day. But two months passed, and it was still lying in the drawer; but I did not care so much that I wanted to find a moment when I would not care so much, for what reason I do not know. And so, during those two months, every night when I came home, I thought I would shoot myself. I kept waiting for the minute. And now this little star brought me the thought, and I decided that it would certainly be this night. I don’t know why the star gave me the idea.
As I was looking up at the sky, I was suddenly grabbed by elbow by this girl. The street was already empty, and there was hardly anyone about. In the distance, a cabman was sleeping on a coach. The girl was about eight years old, in a kerchief and one dress, all wet, but I remembered especially her wet torn shoes, and I remember them now. They caught my eye particularly. Suddenly she started tugging at my elbow and calling me. She was not crying, but somehow she shouted some words that she could not pronounce well, for she was shivering with a bit of tremor in the chill. She was somehow terrified, and cried out desperately, “Mammy! Mommy!” I turned my face toward her, but I did not say a word and kept on walking, but she ran and tugged at me, and there was that sound in her voice which in very frightened children means despair. I know that sound. Even though she didn’t finish the words, I realized that her mother was dying somewhere, or something had happened to them, and she ran out to call someone, to find something to help her mother. But I didn’t follow her, and on the contrary, I had the sudden idea to chase her away. I first told her to find a policeman. But she suddenly folded her arms and, sobbing and panting, kept running sideways and would not leave me. That’s when I stomped my foot and shouted. She just shouted: “Sir, Sir!” But suddenly she left me and ran across the street: a passer-by appeared there, and she must have rushed from me to him.
I went up to my fifth floor. I rent a room from the owners; there are other renters who also have rooms. My room is poor and small, and the attic window is semi-circular. I have a cloth sofa, a table with books on it, two chairs, and a tired armchair, old as old can be, but a Voltaire one. I sat down, lit a candle and began to think. Next door, in the other room, behind a partition, the pandemonium continued. It had been going on for the past three days. A retired captain lived there, and he had guests, six men, who drank vodka and played Stoss with old cards. Last night there was a fight, and I know two of them dragged each other by the hair for a long time. The landlady wanted to complain, but she is terribly afraid of the captain. We have only one other tenant in our rooms, a small and thin lady, from the regiment, who came here, with three small children who got sick when they took loding. Both she and the children are frightened of the captain to the point of fainting and trembling and crossing themselves all night, and the youngest child had a seizure out of fear. This captain, I know for sure, stops passers-by on Nevsky and begs for money. He is not accepted for service, but, strange to say (I am telling you this just for the sake of telling you this), the captain has not aroused any annoyance in me during the whole month since he has been living with us.
Of course, I avoided getting to know him from the very beginning, and he was bored with me from the very first. But no matter how much they shouted behind their partition, and no matter how many of them there were, I never cared. I sit up all night, and I don’t hear them, that is how much I forget them. I’ve been up till dawn every night for a year now. I sit all night at my desk in my armchair and do nothing. I only read books during the day. I don’t even think; I just let my thoughts wander and let them go. The candle burns out in the night. I sat down quietly by the table, took out my revolver and put it in front of me. As I put it down, I remember asking myself: “Is it like this?” and I answered myself in the affirmative: “Like this.” I mean, I’m going to shoot myself. I knew that I would probably shoot myself that night, but I did not know how long I would sit at the table until then. And I certainly would have shot myself if it hadn’t been for that girl.
You see, even though I didn’t care, I could feel pain. If someone had hit me, I would have felt pain. And so it is in moral terms: if something very miserable happened, I would feel pity, just as I did when I still cared about life. I did feel pity the other day: I would have helped the child. Why didn’t I help the girl? It was because of an idea that appeared at that time: when she was pulling and calling me, a question suddenly arose before me and I could not solve it. It was an idle question, but I was angry. I was angry because of the conclusion that if I had already decided that I would kill myself this night, then everything in the world must now, more than ever, become indifferent to me. Why did I suddenly feel that I cared and felt sorry for the girl? I remember that I felt very sorry for her; to a degree that was even strangely painful and quite unbelievable in my position. I do not know how best to convey this fleeting feeling of mine at that time, but the feeling continued at home, when I was already sitting at the table, and I was very irritated, as I had not been for a long time. One rationale followed another. It seemed clear that if I am a human being, and I am not yet a nonentity, and I have not yet turned into a nonentity, then I live, and consequently I can suffer, get angry and feel shame for my deeds. So be it. But if I kill myself, for example, in two hours, what is the girl to me, and what do I care about shame and everything in the world? I turn into nothingness, into absolute nothingness. And could the consciousness that I would not exist at all right now, and therefore nothing would exist, not have the slightest influence—either on the feeling of pity for the girl, or on the feeling of shame after the mean deed I had done? After all, that is why I stomped my foot and shouted in a wild voice at the unhappy child that, not only do I not feel pity, but if I do an inhuman meanness, I can do it now, because in two hours everything will be gone. Do you believe that’s why I shouted? I am now almost convinced of it. It seemed clear that life and the world right now as it were depended on me. One could even say that the world is right now as if made for me alone: if I shoot myself, there will be no world, at least for me. Not to mention that, perhaps, there will be nothing for anyone after me, and the whole world will fade away as soon as my consciousness fades away, fade away immediately as a ghost, as belonging to my consciousness alone, and will be abolished, because, perhaps, this whole world and all these people are myself alone.
I remember that, sitting there and reasoning. I turned all these new questions, which were crowding in one after another, in a completely different direction and came up with something completely new. For example, I suddenly had a strange thought that if I had lived before on the moon or on Mars and had done there some of the most shameful and dishonorable deeds imaginable, and had been scolded and dishonored there for it in such a way as can be felt and imagined only sometimes in a dream, in a nightmare, and if, when I found myself back on earth, I continued to be conscious of what I had done on the other planet, and, moreover, knew that I would never and ever return there, then, looking from earth to the moon, would I care or not? Would I feel shame for that deed or not? The questions were idle and superfluous, for the revolver was already in front of me, and I knew with all my being that it would probably be so, but they made me excited and mad. It was as if I could not die now without having resolved something beforehand. In a word, this girl saved me, because I had putting off the gun shot. In the meantime, everything began to quiet over at the captain’s room: they had finished playing cards and were getting ready for bed, but in the meantime they were grumbling and lazily arguing.
I suddenly fell asleep, which had never happened to me before, at the table or in the chairs. I fell asleep quite unnoticeably. Dreams, as you know, are an extremely strange thing: one thing appears with terrifying clarity, with jeweler-fine details, and you jump through another, as if not noticing at all, for example, through space and time. Dreams seem to be driven not by reason but by desire, not by the head but by the heart, and yet what cunning things my reason sometimes did in my dreams! Meanwhile, things quite incomprehensible happen to me in dreams. My brother, for example, died five years ago. I sometimes see him in my dreams: he takes part in my affairs, we are very much interested, and yet I know and remember that my brother is dead and buried. How can I not marvel at the fact that he is dead, but still is here beside me and concerned about me? Why does my mind absolutely allow all this?
But enough. I shall now proceed to my dream. Yes, I had that dream then, my dream of the third of November! They tease me now that it was only a dream. But does it matter whether it was a dream or not, if it was a dream that announced the Truth to me? For if you recognize the truth and see it, you know that it is the truth and there is no other and cannot be, whether you are sleeping or living. Well, let the dream be a dream, and let it be, but this life, which you so exalt, I wanted to extinguish by suicide, but my dream, my dream—oh, it announced to me a new, great, renewed, strong life!
I said that I fell asleep imperceptibly, and even as if continuing to reason about the same matter. Suddenly I dreamed that I took a revolver and, sitting up, pointed it straight at my heart—at my heart, not at my head; I had decided to shoot myself in the head, and it was in the right temple. I waited a second or two, and my candle, the table, and the wall in front of me suddenly moved and rippled. I fired quickly.
In a dream you sometimes fall from a height, or you get or beaten, but you never feel pain, except if you really hurt yourself in bed, then you feel pain and always wake up almost from pain. And so it was in my dream—I felt no pain, but I imagined that with my shot everything in me was shaken and everything was suddenly extinguished, and it became terribly black around me. It was as if I were blinded and numb, and here I was lying on something hard, stretched out, on my back, unable to see anything and unable to make the slightest movement. People are walking and shouting around me, the captain’s bass voice, the landlady’s shrieking, and suddenly there is a break again, and now I am being carried in a closed coffin. And I feel the coffin swaying, and think about it; and suddenly I am struck for the first time by the idea that I am dead, quite dead, I know it and do not doubt it; I do not see and do not move, and yet I feel and reason. But I soon put up with it and, as usual in a dream, accept the reality without argument.
And then they bury me in the ground. Everyone leaves. I’m alone, completely alone. I’m not moving. When I had always imagined being buried in a grave, the only thing I had ever connected with the grave was the sensation of dampness and cold. Now I felt that I was very cold, especially to the ends of my toes, but I felt nothing else.
I lay there and, strangely enough, waited for nothing, accepting without dispute that there is nothing to wait for in the dead. But it was damp. I don’t know how much time had passed—an hour, or a few days, or many days. But suddenly a drop of water that had seeped through the roof of the coffin fell on my left closed eye, followed a minute later by another, then a minute later by a third, and so on and so forth, all in a minute. A deep indignation was suddenly kindled in my heart, and suddenly I felt a physical pain in it: “This is my wound,” I thought, “this is the shot, there is the bullet.” And the drop kept dripping, every minute and right on my closed eye. And I suddenly cried out, not with my voice, for I was immovable, but with my whole being, to the ruler about everything that was happening to me:
“Whoever you are, and if you really exist, and if there is anything more reasonable than what is now being done, then let it be here right now. If you are avenging my unreasonable suicide by the ugliness and absurdity of my further existence, then know that no torment, whatever may befall me, can ever compare with the contempt which I shall feel in silence, even if it be for millions of years of martyrdom!”
I cried out and was silent. For almost a whole minute there was a deep silence, and even another drop fell, but I knew, I knew and believed without limit and without fail that everything was about to change. And then suddenly my grave opened. That is, I do not know whether it was opened and dug, but I was taken by some dark and unknown to me being, and we found ourselves in space. I had a sudden epiphany: it was deep night, and never, never had it been so dark! We were traveling in space far away from the earth. I did not ask the one who was carrying me anything; I waited and was yet proud. I assured myself that I was not afraid, and winced with admiration at the thought that I was not. I don’t remember how long we were traveling, and I can’t imagine; everything was happening as it always does in dreams, when you jump through space and time and through the laws of being and reason, and stop only at the spots your heart dreams about. I remember suddenly seeing a single star in the darkness. “Is that Sirius?” I asked, suddenly unable to help myself, for I did not want to ask anything. “No, it is the same star you saw between the clouds on your way home,” answered the being who was carrying me away.
I knew that it had a sort of human face. Strangely enough, I did not love this creature, even felt a deep disgust. I waited for perfect nothingness, and with that I shot myself in the heart. And here I was in the hands of a creature, certainly not human, but which lived, which existed: “And so there is life beyond the grave!” I thought with the strange levity of a dream, but the essence of my heart remained with me in all its depths: “And if it is necessary to be again,” I thought, “and to live again by someone’s indefeasible will, I do not want to be defeated and humiliated!”
“You know that I am afraid of you, and for that you despise me,” I said suddenly to my companion, unable to resist the humiliating question in which the confession consisted, and feeling my humiliation like the prick of a pin in my heart. He did not answer my question, but I suddenly felt that I was not despised, or laughed at, or even pitied, and that our journey had a purpose, unknown and mysterious, and concerning me alone. Fear was growing in my heart. Something mutely, but with anguish, was communicated to me by my silent companion and seemed to penetrate me. We were traveling through dark and unknown spaces. I had long ago stopped seeing constellations familiar to the eye. I knew that there were such stars in the celestial spaces, from which rays reach the earth only in thousands and millions of years. Perhaps we had traveled through these spaces before. I was waiting for something with a terrible, heart-wrenching longing. Suddenly a familiar and highly inviting feeling shook me: suddenly I saw our sun! I knew that it could not be our sun, which had given birth to our earth, and that we were at an infinite distance from our sun, but I recognized somehow, with all my being, that it was exactly the same sun as ours, a repetition of it and a double of it. A sweet, beckoning feeling resounded in my soul: the original power, the light, the same light that gave birth to me, echoed in my heart and revived it, and I felt life, the old life, for the first time since my grave.
“But if it is the sun, if it is a sun like ours,” I cried, “where is the earth?
And my companion pointed to a star that glowed emerald in the darkness. We were heading straight for it.
“And is it possible that there can be such repetitions in the universe? Is it a natural law? And if that’s the earth there, is it the same earth as ours? Completely the same, miserable, poor, but dear and eternally loved, and the same painful love that gives birth to itself even in the most ungrateful of its children, as ours does?” I cried out, shaking with irrepressible, rapturous love for that native former land which I had left. The image of the poor girl whom I had wronged flashed before me.
“You will see everything,” replied my companion, and there was a kind of sadness in his words.
But we were rapidly approaching the planet. It was growing bigger before my eyes, I could already distinguish the ocean, the outlines of Europe, and suddenly a strange feeling of some great, holy jealousy flared up in my heart: “How can there be such a repetition, and for what purpose? I love, I can only love that land which I left behind, on which my blood spattered when I, ungrateful, extinguished my life with a shot in my heart. But never, never have I ceased to love that land, and even that night, parting from it, I may have loved it more agonizingly than ever. Is there torment in this new land? In our land we can truly love only with agony and only through agony! We do not know how to love otherwise, nor do we know any other kind of love. I want agony in order to love. I want, I long at this moment to kiss, to pour tears over only that one land, which I left, and I do not want, I do not accept life on any other!”
But my companion had already left me. Suddenly, as if unbeknownst to me, I was on this other land in the bright light of a sunny, paradise-like day. I was standing, I think, on one of those islands which make up the Greek archipelago on our earth, or somewhere on the coast of the mainland adjoining that archipelago. Oh, everything was exactly as it was with us, but it seemed to shine everywhere with some kind of festivity and great, holy and accomplished triumph at last. The gentle emerald sea was quietly splashing against the shores and kissing them with love, explicit, visible, almost conscious. Tall, beautiful trees stood in all the splendor of their color, and their countless leaves, I am convinced, greeted me with their quiet, affectionate murmurs and as if they were uttering some words of love. The meadow was ablaze with bright fragrant flowers. Birds flew in flocks in the air and, unafraid of me, sat on my shoulders and hands and beat me joyfully with their sweet, fluttering wings. And at last I saw and recognized the people of this happy land. They came to me by themselves, they surrounded me, they kissed me. Children of the sun, children of their sun—oh, how beautiful they were! Never have I seen such beauty in man in our land. Only in our children, in the very first years of their age, could one find a distant, though faint, glimmer of this beauty.
The eyes of these happy people shone with a clear luster. Their faces shone with intelligence and some kind of consciousness that had already been restored to calmness, but their faces were cheerful; there was a childlike joy in their words and voices. Oh, I immediately, at the first sight of their faces, understood everything, everything! This was a land not defiled by the fall into sin, where people who had not sinned lived, in the same paradise in which, according to the traditions of all mankind, our sinful forebears also lived, with the only difference that the whole earth was the same paradise everywhere. These people, laughing joyfully, crowded to me and caressed me; they took me to themselves, and each of them wanted to comfort me. Oh, they did not ask me anything, but as if they knew everything, so it seemed to me, and they wanted to drive away the suffering from my face as soon as possible.
You see the point, again—well, let it have been only a dream! But the feeling of the love of these innocent and beautiful people has remained in me forever, and I feel that their love is poured out upon me even now from there. I saw them myself; I knew them and became convinced about them; I loved them; I suffered for them afterward. Oh, I immediately realized, even then, that in many respects I would not understand them at all; to me, as a modern Russian progressivist and a vile Petersburger, it seemed insoluble, for example, that they, knowing so much, did not have our science. But I soon realized that their knowledge was replenished and nourished by different insights than ours on earth, and that their aspirations were also quite different. They wanted nothing and were calm; they did not strive to know life as we strive to know it, because their life was full.
But their knowledge was deeper and higher than that of our science; for our science seeks to explain what life is, and seeks to realize it in order to teach others how to live; but they knew how to live without science; and this I understood, but I could not understand their knowledge. They pointed to their trees, and I could not understand the degree of love with which they looked at them—it was as if they were speaking to their own kind. And you know, perhaps I would not be mistaken if I said that they spoke to them! Yes, they found their language, and I am convinced that they understood them. Thus, they looked at all nature—at the animals that lived peacefully with them, did not attack them, and loved them, overcome by their own love. They pointed me to the stars and spoke to me about them, about something I could not understand, but I am convinced that they were in touch with the heavenly stars in some way, not by thought alone, but in some living way. Oh, these people did not want me to understand them; they loved me without it; but I knew that they would never understand me either; and therefore I hardly ever spoke to them about our land. I only kissed the land on which they lived, and adored them without words, and they saw this and let themselves be adored, not ashamed that I adored them, because they themselves loved a lot.
They did not suffer for me when I, in tears, sometimes kissed their feet, knowing in my heart with joy what power of love they would reciprocate. At times I asked myself in wonder—how could they not, all the time, insult someone like me and never once stir up feelings of jealousy and envy in someone like me? Many times I asked myself, how could I, a braggart and a liar, not tell them of my knowledge, of which, of course, they had no idea, not wish to surprise them with it, or at least only out of love for them? They were as frisky and merry as children. They wandered through their beautiful groves and forests, they sang their beautiful songs, they fed on easy food, the fruit of their trees, the honey of their forests, and the milk of their beloved animals. For their food and for their clothing they labored only a little and lightly. They had love and children, but I never noticed in them the impulses of that cruel voluptuousness which befalls almost everyone on our earth, everyone and everything, and is the only source of almost all the sins of our mankind. They rejoiced in their children as new participants in their bliss. There was no quarreling or jealousy between them, and they did not even realize what it meant. Their children were the children of all, for all were one family.
They had almost no illnesses at all, though there was death; but their old men died quietly, as if falling asleep, surrounded by the people who were bidding them farewell, blessing them, smiling at them, and accompanied them by their bright smiles. I did not see any sorrow or tears, but only a love that multiplied as if to rapture; but a calm, replenished, contemplative rapture. One could think that they were still in contact with their dead even after their death and that the earthly unity between them was not interrupted by death. They almost did not understand me when I asked them about eternal life, but apparently they were so unaccountably convinced of it that it was not a question for them. They had no temples, but they had a vital, living, and uninterrupted union with the Whole of the universe; they had no faith, but they had the firm knowledge that when their earthly joy had been replenished to the limits of earthly nature, there would come for them, both for the living and the dead, a still greater extension of their contact with the Whole of the universe. They waited for this moment with joy, but not in a hurry, not suffering for it, but as if they already had it in the anticipations of their hearts, which they communicated to each other. In the evenings, when they were going to bed, they liked to form consonant and harmonious choruses. In these songs they conveyed all the feelings of the passing day, glorified it, and said goodbye to it.
They praised nature, the earth, the sea, the forests. They loved to write songs about each other and praised each other like children; they were the simplest songs, but they poured out of their hearts and penetrated their hearts. And not in songs alone, but it seemed that they spent their whole lives in admiring each other. It was a kind of love for each other, all-embracing, universal. Their other songs, solemn and rapturous, I hardly understood at all. While I understood the words, I could never penetrate into their meaning. It remained as if inaccessible to my mind, but my heart was penetrated by it unaccountably and more and more. I often told them that I had long before felt all this, that all this joy and glory had appeared to me on our land with an urgent longing, sometimes reaching unbearable sorrow; that I had felt all of them and their glory in the dreams of my heart and in the dreams of my mind, that I often could not look, on our land, at the setting sun without tears…. That in my hatred for the people of our land was always a longing—why can I not hate them without loving them? Why can I not forgive them, and in my love for them a longing—why can I not love them without hating them? They listened to me, and I saw that they could not imagine what I was saying, but I was not sorry to tell them; I knew that they understood the full force of my longing for those whom I had forsaken. Yes, when they looked at me with their sweet, loving gaze, when I felt that in their presence, and my heart became as innocent and true as their hearts, I was not sorry that I did not understand them. The feeling of fullness of life took my breath away, and I prayed silently for them.
Oh, everyone now laughs in my face and assures me that it is impossible to see in a dream such details as I now relay, that in my dream I saw or felt only one sensation generated by my own heart in delirium, and that I had just made up the details myself when I awoke. And when I told them that it might have been so, God, how they laughed in my face, and what amusement I gave them! Oh yes, of course, I was defeated by only one sensation of that dream, and it alone survived in my bleeding heart—but the actual images and forms of my dream, that is, those which I actually saw at the very hour of my dream, were filled up with such harmony, were so charming and beautiful, and so true, that when I awoke, I was certainly unable to translate them into our feeble words, so that they must have become as if stifled in my mind, and indeed, perhaps, I myself, unconsciously, may have been forced to compose the details afterwards, and certainly to distort them, especially when I was so eager to convey them as soon as possible and at least as much as possible.
But how can I not believe it all happened? A thousand times better, brighter and happier than I’m telling you? It may have been a dream, but it couldn’t have happened. You know, I’ll tell you a secret—it may not have been a dream at all! For something happened here, something so terribly true that it could not have been dreamt. My heart may have given birth to my dream, but could my heart alone have given birth to the awful truth which then happened to me? How could I alone have invented it, or could I have dreamed it with my heart? Could my shallow heart and my capricious, petty mind have risen to such a revelation of truth! Oh, judge for yourselves: I have hitherto concealed it, but now I will also tell this truth. The fact is that I have corrupted them all!
Yes, yes, it ended in my corrupting them all! How this could have been accomplished—I do not know, I do not remember clearly. The dream passed through the millennia and left me with only a sense of the whole. I only know that I was the cause of the fall into sin. Like a foul trichina, like a plague atom infecting whole nations, so I infected all this happy, sinless earth before me. They learned to lie and loved lies and knew the beauty of lying. Oh, it may have begun innocently, with a joke, with coquetry, with a love-play, indeed, perhaps with an atom, but that atom of lying penetrated their hearts and took a liking to it. Then quickly voluptuousness was born; voluptuousness gave birth to jealousy; jealousy gave birth to cruelty…. Oh, I don’t know, I don’t remember, but soon, very soon the first blood spurted—they were surprised and horrified, and began to separate, to divide. Alliances were formed, but against each other. They began to rebuke and reproach. They recognized shame and raised shame into a virtue. The notion of honor was born, and each alliance raised its banner. They began to torture animals, and the animals went away from them into the forests and became their enemies. The struggle for separation, for isolation, for identity, for mine and thine began. They began to speak different languages.
They knew sorrow and loved sorrow; they longed for torment and said that the Truth is only attained by torment. Then science appeared to them. When they became evil, they began to speak of brotherhood and humanity and realized these ideas. When they became criminal, they invented justice and prescribed for themselves whole codes to preserve it; and to enforce the codes they put up the guillotine. They little but remembered what they had lost, did not even want to believe that they had once been innocent and happy. They laughed even at the possibility of this former happiness of theirs and called it a dream. They could not even imagine it in forms and images; but, strange and wonderful thing—having lost all faith in the former happiness, calling it a fairy tale, they so much wanted to be innocent and happy again that they fell before the desire of their heart like children, deified this desire, built temples and began to pray to their own idea, their own “desire,” at the same time quite believing in the impracticability and unattainability of it, but with tears adoring it and worshipping it. And yet, if only it could happen that they could return to that innocent and happy state which they had lost, and if someone suddenly showed it to them again and asked them whether they wanted to return to it—they would probably refuse.
They answered me: “We may be false, wicked and unjust; we know it and weep for it, and we torment ourselves for it, and we torture ourselves and punish ourselves more than even, perhaps, that merciful Judge who will judge us and whose name we do not know. But we have science, and through it we will find the truth again, but we will accept it consciously. Knowledge is higher than feeling; consciousness of life is higher than life. Science will give us wisdom; wisdom will reveal the laws, and knowledge of the laws of happiness—beyond happiness.” This is what they said, and after these words each one loved himself more than anyone else, and they could not do otherwise. Everyone became so jealous of his own personality that he tried his best only to humiliate and diminish it in others, and in that he based his life. There was slavery, even voluntary slavery—the weak submitted willingly to the strongest, only so that they helped them to crush the even weaker than they themselves. The righteous came to these people in tears and told them of their pride, their loss of measure and harmony, their loss of shame. They were mocked or stoned. Holy blood was poured on the thresholds of the temples. But people began to appear, who began to think of ways to unite everyone again in such a way that everyone could love himself more than everyone else, but at the same time not interfere with anyone else, and thus live together as if in a harmonious society.
Whole wars were fought over this idea. All those at war firmly believed at the same time that science, wisdom and a sense of self-preservation would finally make man unite into a coherent and reasonable society; and therefore, for the time being, in order to speed things up, the “wise” tried to exterminate as soon as possible all the “unwise” and those who did not understand their idea, so that they would not interfere with its triumph. But the sense of self-preservation began to weaken quickly, and there appeared proud and lustful people who demanded everything or nothing. To acquire everything they resorted to villainy, and if it failed—to suicide. Religions appeared with the cult of nothingness, and self-destruction for the sake of eternal rest in nothingness. Finally, these people became tired of meaningless labor, and suffering appeared on their faces, and these people proclaimed that suffering is beauty, for in suffering there is only thought. They sang of suffering in their songs. I walked among them, wringing my hands, and wept over them, but I loved them, perhaps even more than before, when there was no suffering on their faces and when they were innocent and so beautiful. I loved their defiled earth even more than when it was paradise, for the mere fact that grief had appeared on it. Alas, I have always loved sorrow and grief, but only for myself, for myself, and for them I wept, pitying them. I stretched out my hands to them, blaming, cursing, and despising myself in despair.
I told them that I did it all; I alone. That it was I who brought corruption, contagion, and lies to them! I begged them to crucify me on the cross; I taught them how to make the cross. I could not, I was not able to kill myself, but I wanted to take the torment from them; I longed for the torment; I longed that in this torment my blood should be spilled to the drop. But they only laughed at me, and at the end of it they considered me a fool. They justified me; they said that they had received only what they themselves wished for, and that all that is now could not but be. At last, they declared to me that I was becoming a danger to them, and that they would put me in a madhouse if I did not keep silent. Then grief entered my soul with such force that my heart constricted, and I felt that I was going to die, and then… well, that’s when I woke up.
It was already morning; that is, it had not yet dawned, but it was about six o’clock. I woke up in the same chair, my candle burned out. The captain was asleep, and there was a rare silence in our apartments. The first thing I did was to jump up in extreme surprise; never had anything like this happened to me, even in a trivial way—never yet had I, for instance, fallen asleep like this in my chair. Then suddenly, while I was standing and coming to myself—suddenly my revolver flashed before me, ready, loaded—but I pushed it away from me in an instant! Oh, now life, life! I raised my hands and cried to the eternal truth; not cried aloud with words, but wept; rapture, immeasurable rapture lifted my whole being. Yes, life, and—preaching! I made up my mind about preaching that very minute, and certainly for my entire life! I am going to preach. I want to preach what? The truth, for I have seen it. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have seen all its glory!
And I’ve been preaching ever since! Besides, I love everyone who laughs at me more than anyone else. Why this is so, I do not know and cannot explain it, but let it be so. They say that I am going astray now; that is, if I am going astray now, what will happen next? The truth is true—I am going astray, and maybe it will get worse. And, of course, I will go astray several times while I am trying to find how to preach; that is, with what words and what deeds, because it is very difficult to fulfill it. I see it all now as if it were a day, but listen to me—who does not lose his way! And in the meantime, everyone goes after the same thing; at least everyone strives for the same thing, from the wise man to the last robber, but by different roads. This is an old truth, but what is new is this—I cannot go astray, because I have seen the truth. I have seen and I know that people can be beautiful and happy without losing the ability to live on earth. I don’t want and I can’t believe that evil is a normal state of people. And they all laugh at this belief of mine. But how can I not believe—I have seen the truth; not that I invented it with my mind, but I have seen it. I have seen it, and its living image has filled my soul forever. I have seen it in such a replenished wholeness that I cannot believe that men cannot have it.
So, how can I lose my way? I will slip up, of course, even a few times, and I will speak even, perhaps, in someone else’s words, but not for long—the living image of what I have seen will always be with me and will always correct and guide me. Oh, I am awake. I am fresh. I keep going, I keep going, and at least for a thousand years. You know, I wanted even to conceal at first that I had corrupted them all, but that was a mistake—that was the first mistake! But the truth whispered to me that I was lying, and guarded me and guided me. But how to bring about heaven—I do not know, because I do not know how to put it into words. After my dream I lost words. At least, all the main words, the most necessary ones. But not to worry—I will go and say everything, unceasingly, because I have seen with my own eyes, though I cannot retell what I have seen. But this is what the mockers do not understand: “A dream,” they say, “I saw, a delusion, a hallucination.” Oh, is that supposed to be so clever? And they are so proud! A dream? What is a dream? Isn’t our life a dream? Let it never come true; let it never come true, and let there be no paradise (for I already understand that!), but I will still preach. And yet it is so simple—one day, one hour—everything will be settled at once! The main thing is to love others as yourself; that’s the main thing, and that’s all; nothing else is needed—you will find a way to settle down immediately. But in the meantime, it is only an old truth, which has been repeated and read a billion times, but it has not managed to get along! “Consciousness of life is higher than life. Knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness”—that’s what you have to fight against! And I will. If only everyone wanted to, everything would be settled now.
And that little girl I found. And I’ll go on! I’ll go on!
Featured: A screenshot from the animated film, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man (1992), directed by Aleksandr Petrov.