Saturday, October 11, 2008

From ‘Zorba The Greek’ – by Nikos Kazantzakis

“May God be with us,” I said as I rose. “Lets go!”
“God and the devil!,” Zorba added calmly

An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. ‘What, granddad!’ I exclaimed. ‘Planting an almond tree?’ And he, bent as he was, turned round and said: ‘My son, I carry on as if I should never die.’ I replied: ‘And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.’ Which of us was right, boss?

While experiencing happiness, we have difficulty in being conscious of it. Only when the happiness is past and we look back on it do we suddenly realize – sometimes with astonishment – how happy we had been.

“What happened to the crow, Zorba?”
“Well, you see, he used to walk respectably, properly – well, like a crow. But one day he got it into his head to try and strut about like a pigeon. And from that time on the poor fellow couldn’t for the life of him recall his own way of walking. He was all mixed up”

He threw himself into the dance, clapping his hands, leaping and pirouetting in the air, falling on to his knees, leaping again with his legs tucked up – it was as if he was made of rubber. He suddenly made tremendous bounds into the air, as if he wished to conquer the laws of nature and fly away. One felt that in this old body of his there was a soul struggling to carry away this flesh and cast itself like a meteor in the darkness. It shook the body which fell back to earth, since it could not stay very long in the air, it shook it again pitilessly, this time a little higher, but the poor body fell again, breathless

It was raining again the next day. The sky mingled with the earth in infinite tenderness

‘Don’t you fear God, Giaour?’ ‘Why should I’
‘Because, little Roumi, he who can sleep with a woman and does not, commits a great sin. My boy, if a woman calls you to share her bed and you don’t go, your soul will be destroyed! That woman will sigh before God on judgement day and that woman’s sigh, whoever you may be and whatever your fine deeds, will cast you into Hell!’

“This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition. To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them. To take part in the Christmas activities and after eating and drinking well, to escape on your own far from all the snares, to have the stars above, the land to your left and the sea to your right: and to realize all of a sudden that in your heart, life has accomplished the final miracle: it has become a fairy tale.”

My indiscreet desire of that morning to pry into and know the future, before it was born suddenly appeared to me a sacrilege.
I remembered one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as the butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited a while, but it was too long in appearing and I was impatient. I beat over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath. In vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of its wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.
That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

‘Well, I think every man has his own smell. We didn’t notice it much because smells mingle all together and we can't tell which is yours and which is mine, really…….All we know is that there’s a foul smell and that what we call ‘humanity’……I mean “the human stench”. There are people who sniff at it as if it was lavender. It makes me want to spew.’

When you’ve made up your mind, no use lagging behind, go ahead and no relenting.
Let your youth have free reign, it won’t come again, so be bold and no repenting.

“Once when I was a kid, I was mad on cherries……..found a silver mejidie and pinched it……..bought a basket o’ cherries……began eating it……till I was all swollen out. My stomach began to ache and I was sick……thoroughly sick, and from that day to this I’ve never wanted a cherry. I couldn’t bear the sight of them. I was saved. I could say no to any cherry. I don’t need you anymore and I did this same thing later with wine and tobacco. I still drink and smoke, but at any second, if I want to, whoop! I can cut it out. I’m not ruled by passion. It’s the same with my country. I thought too much about it, so I stuffed myself up to the neck with it, spewed it up and its never troubled me since.”
“What about women?” I asked.
“Their turn will come, damn them!......When I’m about seventy!”
“……..that’s how men free themselves!...............there’s no way except by stuffing themselves till they burst. Not by turning ascetic. How do you expect to get the better of a devil, boss, if you don’t turn into a devil and a half yourself?”

“The weather’s changed. The tree’ll swell and so will young girls breasts….and they’ll be bursting out of their bodices! Ah! Spring’s a rogue! An invention of the devil!”
“…………Have you noticed, boss, everything good in this world is an invention of the devil? Pretty women, spring, roast suckling, wine - the devil made them all! God made monks, fasting, camomile-tea and ugly women……pooh!”
“…………In the spring,” he said, “Satan reigns supreme. Belts are slackened, blouses unbuttoned, old ladies sigh…”

“Yes, you understand with your brain. You say: ‘This is right and that’s wrong……..’ but where does that lead us? While you are talking I watch your arms and chest. Well, what are they doing? They’re silent. They don’t say a word. As though they hadn’t a drop of blood between them. Well, what do you think you understand with? With your head? Bah!”

“Its all because of doing things by halves,” he would often say to me and “saying things by halves, being good by halves, that the world is in the mess it's in today. Do things properly by God! One good knock for each nail and you’ll win through! God hates a half-devil ten times more than an archdevil”

………two seagulls bobbed up and down on the tiny waves, with necks fluffed out, voluptuously enjoying the movement of the water.
I could well imagine their delight in the freshness of the water under their bellies. As I watched the seagulls, I thought: “That’s the road to take; find the absolute rhythm and follow it with absolute trust.”

That is what a real man is like, I thought, envying Zorba’s sorrow. A man with warm blood and solid bones who lets real tears run down his cheeks when he is suffering; and when he is happy he does not spoil the freshness of his joy by running it through the fine sieve of metaphysics

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