On the Marble Cliffs

by Ernst Juenger

Translated from the German by Stuart Hood, New Directions, 1947.

You all know the wild grief that besets us when we remember times of happiness. How far beyond recall they are, and we are severed from them by something more pitiless than leagues and miles. In the afterlight, too, the images stand out more enticing than before; we think of them as we do of the body of a dead loved one who rests deep in the earth, and who now in his enhanced and spiritual splendour is like a mirage of the desert before which we must tremble. And constantly in our thirst-haunted dreams we grope for the past in its every detail, in its every line and fold. Then it cannot but seem to us as if we had not had our fill of love and life; yet no regret brings back what has been let slip. Would that this mood might be a lesson to us for each moment of our happiness.

Sweeter still becomes the memory of our years by moon and sun when their end has been in the abyss of fear. Only then do we realise that for us mortals even this is great good-fortune - to live our lives in our little communities under a peaceful roof, with pleasing discourse and with loving greeting at morning and at night. Alas! always too late do we grasp that, if it offered no more than this, our horn of plenty brimmed with riches.

Another example (p. 22-23):

One morning as I looked out on to the Marina from the terrace, her waters appeared to me deeper and more translucent, as if I were seeing them for the first time with unclouded vision. At the same moment I felt, almost with anguish, words and phenomena springing apart like the cord from an over-taut bow. I had seen a fragment of the iridescent veil of this world, and from that hour my tongue failed me.

At the same time, however, a new awareness possessed me. Like a child groping with its hands when the light of its eyes is first directed out upon the world, I cast around for words and images to catch the new splendour which dazzled me. I had never before divined that speech itself could be such a torment, and yet I did not regret the old and care-free life. If we dream of flying, a clumsy spring brings us more joy than the security of well-trod paths. It is thus, too, that I explain the sensation of giddiness which often assailed me during my attempts.