Would rather jump off Waterloo Bridge and let Old Father Thames humble me. Mean it.
The masses, slaves, peasants, and foot soldiers exist in the cracks of its flagstones, ignorant even of their ignorance. Not so the great statesmen, scientists, artists, and most of all, the composers of the age, any age, who are civilization's architects, masons, and priests. Ayrs sees our role is to make civilization ever more resplendent. My employer's profoundest, or only, wish is to create a minaret that inheritors of Progress a thousand years from now will point to and say, "Look, there is Vyvyan Ayrs!"
How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn't, the wolves and blizzards would be at one's throat all the sooner.
A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.
If my plan bears fruit, Sixsmith, you may come to Bruges before v. long. When you do, arrive in that six o' clock in the morning gnossiennesque hour. Lose yourself in the city's rickety streets, blind canals, wrought-iron gates, uninhabited courtyards—may I go on? Why, thank you—leery Gothic carapaces, Ararat roofs, shruberry-tufted brick spires, medieval overhangs, laundry sagging from windows, cobbled whirlpools that suck your eye in, clockwork princes and chipped princesses striking their hours, sooty doves, and three or four octaves of bells, some sober, some bright.
Why not? Had no better plan. You groan and shake your head, Sixsmith, I know, but you smile too, which is why I love you.
Dreamt I stood in a china shop so crowded from floor to far-off ceiling with shelves of porcelain antiquities etc. that moving a muscle would cause several to fall and smash to bits. Exactly what happend, but instead of a crashing noise, an august chord rang out, half-cello, half-celeste, D major(?), held for four beats. My wrist knocked a Ming vase affair off its pedestal—E-flat, whole string section, glorious, transcendent, angels wept. Deliberately now, smashed a figurine of an ox for the next note, then a milkmaid, then Saturday's Child—orgy of shrapnel filled the air, divine harmonies my head. Ah, such music! Glimpsed my father totting up the smashed items' value, nib flashing, but had to keep the music coming. Knew I'd become the greatest composer of the century if I could only make this music mine. A monstrous Laughing Cavalier flung against the wall set off a thumping battery of percussion.
"The nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. QED, nations are entities whose laws are written by violence. Thus it ever was, so ever shall it be. War, Robert, is one of humanity's two eternal companions."
So, I asked, what was the other?
"Oh, diplomacy." said M.D., in his element, "it mops up war's spillages; legitimizes its outcomes; gives the strong state the means to impose its will on a weaker one, while saving its fleets and battalions for weightier opponents. Only professional diplomats, inveterate idiots, and women view diplomacy as a long-term substitute for war."
The reductio ad absurdum of M.D.'s view, I argued, was that science devises ever bloodier means of war until humanity's powers of destruction overcome our powers of creation and our civilization drives itself to extinction.
Because her name is a synonym for temptation: what treads nearer to the core of man?
Because her soul swims in her eyes.
Because I dream of creeping through the velvet folds to her room, where I let myself in, hum her a tune so-so-so softly, she stands with her naked feet on mine, her ear to my heart, and we waltz like string puppets. After that kiss, she says, "Vous embrassez comme un poisson rouge!" and in moonlit mirrors we fall in love with our youth and beauty.
Because all my life, sophisticated, idiotic women have taken it upon themselves to understand me, to cure me, but Eva knows I'm terra incognita and explores me unhurriedly, like you did.
Because she's lean as a boy. Because her scent is almonds, meadow grass.
Because if I smile at her ambition to be an Egyptologisy, she kicks my shin under the table.
Because she makes me think about something other than myself.
Because even when serious she shines.
Because she prefers travelogues to Sir Walter Scott, prefers Billy Mayerl to Mozart, and couldn't tell C major from a sergeant major.
Because I, only I, see her smile a fraction before it reaches her face.
Because Emperor Robert is not a good man—his best part is commandeered by his unperformed music—but she gives me that rarest smile, anyway.
Because we listened to nightjars.
Because her laughter spurts through a blowhole in the top of her head and sprays all over the morning.
Because a man like me has no business with this substance "beauty", yet here she is, in these soundproofed chambers of my heart.
Once, her face was burned into my idiotic eyes, saw her everywhere, in everyone.
HÔTEL MEMLING, BRUGES
QUARTER PAST FOUR IN THE MORNING, 12TH—XII—1931
Shot myself through the roof of my mouth at five A.M. this morning with V.A.’s Luger. But I saw you, my dear, dear fellow! How touched I am that you care so much! On the belfry's lookout, yesterday, at sunset. Sheerest fluke you didn't see me first. Had got to that last flight of stairs, when I saw a man in profile leaning on the balcony, gazing at the sea—recognized your natty gabardine coat, your one and only trilby. One more step up, you'd have seen me crouching in the shadows. You strolled to the north side—one turn my way, I would have been rumbled. Watched you for as long as I dared—a minute?—before pulling back and hotfooting it down to Earth. Don't be cross. Thank you ever so for trying to find me. Did you come on the Kenitish Queen?
Questions rather pointless now, aren't they?
Wasn't the sheerest fluke I saw you first, not really. World's a shadow theatre, an opera, and such things writ large in its libretto. Don't be too cross at my role. You couldn't understand, no matter how much I explained. You're a brilliant physicist, your Rutherford chap et al. agree you've got a brilliant future, quite sure they're right. But in some fundamentals you're a dunce. The healthy can't understand the emptied, the broken. You'd try to list all the reasons for living, but I left 'em behind at Victoria Station back in early summer. Reason I crept back down from the belvedere was that I can't have you blaming yourself for failing to dissuade me. You may anyway, but don't, Sixsmith, don't be such an ass.
Likewise, hope you weren’t too disappointed to find me gone from Le Royal. The manager got wind of M. Verplancke’s visit. Obliged to ask me to leave, he said, on account of heavy bookings. Piffle, but I took the fig leaf. Frobisher the Stinker wanted a tantrum, but Frobisher the Composer wanted peace and quiet to finish my sextet. Paid in full—bang went the last Jansch money— and packed my valise. Wandered crooked alleys and crossed icy canals before coming across this deserted-looking caravansary. Reception a rarely manned nook under the stairs. Only ornament in my room a monstrous Laughing Cavalier too ugly to steal and sell. From my filthy window, one sees the very same dilapidated old windmill on whose steps I napped on my first morning in Bruges. The very same. Fancy that. Around we go.
Knew I’d never see my twenty-fifth birthday. Am early for once. The lovelorn, the cry-forhelpers, all mawkish tragedians who give suicide a bad name are the idiots who rush it, like amateur conductors. A true suicide is a paced, disciplined certainty People pontificate, “Suicide is selfishness.” Career churchmen like Pater go a step further and call it a cowardly assault on the living. Oafs argue this specious line for varying reasons: to evade fingers of blame, to impress one’s audience with one’s mental fiber, to vent anger, or just because one lacks the necessary suffering to sympathize. Cowardice is nothing to do with it—suicide takes considerable courage. Japanese have the right idea. No, what’s selfish is to demand another to endure an intolerable existence, just to spare families, friends, and enemies a bit of soulsearching. The only selfishness lies in ruining strangers’ days by forcing ’em to witness a grotesque-ness. So I’ll make a thick turban from several towels to muffle the shot and soak up the blood, and do it in the bathtub, so it shouldn’t stain any carpets. Last night I left a letter under the manager’s day-office door—he’ll find it at eight A.M. tomorrow—informing him of the change in my existential status, so with luck an innocent chambermaid will be spared an unpleasant surprise. See, I do think of the little people.
Don’t let ’em say I killed myself for love, Sixsmith, that would be too ridiculous. Was infatuated by Eva Crommelynck for a blink of an eye, but we both know in our hearts who is the sole love of my short, bright life.
Along with this letter and the rest of the Ewing book, I’ve made arrangements for a folder containing my completed manuscript to find you at Le Royal. Use the Jansch money to defray publishing costs, send copies to everyone on the enclosed list. Don’t let my family get hold of either of the originals, whatever you do. Pater’ll sigh, “It’s no Eroica, is it?” and stuff it into a drawer; but it’s an incomparable creation. Echoes of Scriabin’s White Mass, Stravinsky’s lost footprints, chromatics of the more lunar Debussy, but truth is I don’t know where it came from. Waking dream. Will never write anything one-hundredth as good. Wish I were being immodest, but I’m not. Cloud Atlas Sextet holds my life, is my life, now I’m a spent firework; but at least I’ve been a firework.
People are obscenities. Would rather be music than be a mass of tubes squeezing semisolids around itself for a few decades before becoming so dribblesome it’ll no longer function.
Luger here. Thirteen minutes to go. Feel trepidation, naturally, but my love of this coda is stronger. An electrical thrill that, like Adrian, I know I am to die. Pride, that I shall see it through. Certainties. Strip back the beliefs pasted on by governesses, schools, and states, you find indelible truths at one’s core. Rome’ll decline and fall again, Cortés’ll lay Tenochtitlán to waste again, and later, Ewing will sail again, Adrian’ll be blown to pieces again, you and I’ll sleep under Corsican stars again, I’ll come to Bruges again, fall in and out of love with Eva again, you’ll read this letter again, the sun’ll grow cold again. Nietzsche’s gramophone record. When it ends, the Old One plays it again, for an eternity of eternities.
Time cannot permeate this sabbatical. We do not stay dead long. Once my Luger lets me go, my birth, next time around, will be upon me in a heartbeat. Thirteen years from now we’ll meet again at Gresham, ten years later I’ll be back in this same room, holding this same gun, composing this same letter, my resolution as perfect as my many-headed sextet. Such elegant certainties comfort me at this quiet hour.
Sunt lacrimæ rerum.
Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we're bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, rebirth our future. No revolutionary ever was.
I understand now, that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may trandcend any convention, if only one can first conceive of doing so. Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.
To be is to be perceived. And so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other. The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds, that go on and are pushing themselves throughout all time. He believed that love could outlive death.
Watched my final sunrise, enjoyed the last cigarette. Didn't think the view could be anymore perfect, until I saw that beat-up trilby. Honestly, Sixsmith, as ridiculous as that thing makes you look, I don't believe I've ever seen anything more beautiful. Watched you for as long as I dared. I don't believe it was a fluke that I saw you first.
I believe we do not stay dead long. Find me beneath the Corsican stars where we first kissed.
I believe death is only a door. When it closes, another opens. If I can't imagine heaven, I would imagine that door open. And behind it, I will find him there, waiting for me.
Ahora entiendo que la barrera entre el ruido y el sonido es una convención. Todas las fronteras son convenciones que esperan ser superadas. Puedes superar todas las convenciones con sólo concebir la posibilidad de hacerlo. En momentos como éste percibo los latidos de tu corazón tan claramente como los míos y sé que la separación es una ilusión. Tu vida se extiende más allá de las limitaciones de mi ser.
La he terminado en un estado de agitación que me ha recordado nuestra última noche en Cambridge. He admirado mi último amanecer. He saboreado un último cigarrillo. No creí que hubiera escena más perfecta, hasta que he visto el sombrero de fieltro. Sinceramente Sixsmith, por muy ridículo que esa cosa te haga parecer, no creo que haya contemplado jamás algo más bello en mi vida. Te miré tanto tiempo como me atreví. No creo que fuera al azar que yo te viera primero.
Creo que hay otro mundo esperándonos, Sixsmith. Un mundo mejor. Y te estaré esperando allí.
Creo que no permanecemos muertos mucho tiempo. Búscame bajo las estrellas corsas donde nos besamos por primera vez.
Tuyo eternamente. R.F.