Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXX

Once again I am at an age when I walk in the moonlight. Thirty years ago I walked in the moonlight, too, walked on crackling, snowy roads, on bare, frozen ground, round unlocked barns, on the hunt for love. How well I remember it! But it is no longer the same moonlight. I could even read by it the letter she gave me. But there are no such letters any more.

Everything is changed. The tale is told, and tonight I walk abroad on an errand of the head, not of the heart: I shall go across to the trading center and dispatch a knapsack by the steamer; after that I shall wander on. And that requires nothing but a little ordinary training in walking, and the light of the moon to see by. But in those old days, those young days, we studied the almanac in the autumn to find out if there would be a moon on Twelfth Night, for we could use it then.

Everything is changed; I am changed. The tale lies within the teller.

They say that old age has other pleasures which youth has not: deeper pleasures, more lasting pleasures. That is a lie. Yes, you have read right: that is a lie. Only old age itself says this, in a self-interest that flaunts its very rags. The old man has forgotten when he stood on the summit, forgotten his own self, his own alias, red and white, blowing a golden horn. Now he stands no longer — no, he sits — it is less of a strain to sit. But now there comes to him, slow and halting, fat and stupid, the honor of old age. What can a sitting man do with honor? A man on his feet can use it; to a sitting man it is only a possession. But honor is meant to be used, not to be sat with.

Let sitting men wear warm stockings.

What a coincidence: another barn on my road, just as in the days of the golden horn! It offers me plenty of straw and shelter for the night; but where is the girl who gave me the letter? How warm her breath was, coming between lips a little parted! She will come again, of course; let us wait, we have plenty of time, another twenty years — oh, yes, she will come. . . .

I must be on my guard against such traps. I have entered upon the honorable years; I am weak and quite capable of believing that a barn is a gift from above: thou well-deserving old man, here is a barn for thee!

No, thank you, I’m only just in my seventies.

And so in my errand of the head I pass by the barn.

Toward morning I find shelter under a projecting crag. It is fitting that I should live under crags hereafter, and I lie down in a huddle, small and invisible. Anything else you please, as long as you don’t flaunt your selfishness and your rags!

I am comfortable now, lying with my head on another person’s knapsack full of used clothes; I am doing this solely because it is just the right size. But sleep will not come; there are only thoughts and dreams and lines of poetry and sentimentality. The sack smells human, and I fling it away, laying my head on my arm. My arm smells of wood — not even wood.

But the slip of paper with the address — have I got the address? And I scratch a match to read it through and know it by heart tomorrow. Just a line in pencil, nothing; but perhaps there is a softness in the letters, a womanliness — I don’t know.

It doesn’t matter.

I manage to reach the trading center at midday, when everyone is up and about, and the post office open. They give me a large sheet of wrapping paper and string and sealing wax; I wrap the parcel and seal it and write on the outside. There!

Oh — I forgot the slip of paper with the address — to put it inside, I mean. Stupid! But otherwise I have done what I should. As I continue on my way, I feel strangely void and deserted; no doubt because the knapsack was quite heavy after all, and now I am well rid of it. “The last pleasure!” I think suddenly. And as I walk on I think irrelevantly: “The last country, the last island, the last pleasure. . . . ”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38