Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter IV

Have I said that I was too near men? Heaven help me, for some days in succession I have been taking strolls in the forest, saying good morning and pretending I was in human company. If it was a man I imagined beside me, we carried on a long, intelligent conversation, but if it was a woman, I was polite: “Let me carry your parcel, miss.” Once it must have been the Lapp’s daughter I seemed to meet, for I flattered her most lavishly and offered to carry her fur cloak if she would take it off and walk in her skin; tut, tut.

Heaven help me, I am no longer too near men. And probably I will not build that peat hut still further away from them.

The days grow longer, and I do not mind. The truth is that in the winter I suffered privation and learned much in order to master myself. It has taken time and sometimes a resolute will, so it cannot be denied that I am paying for my education rather dearly. Sometimes I have been needlessly stern with myself.

“There is a loaf of bread,” I said. “It doesn’t surprise me, it doesn’t interest me; I am used to it. But if you see no bread for twelve hours, it will mean something to you,” I said, and hid the bread away.

That was in the winter.

Were they dreary days? No, good days. My liberty was so great that I could do and think as I pleased; I was alone, the bear of the forest. But even in the heart of the forest no man dares speak aloud without looking round; rather, he walks in silence. For a time you console yourself that it’s typically English to be silent, it’s regal to be silent. But suddenly you find this has gone too far, your mouth begins to wake, to stretch, and suddenly to shout nonsense.

“Bricks for the palace! The calf is much stronger today!”

Perhaps if your voice is strong, the sound will carry for a quarter of a mile — but then you feel a sting as though after a slap. If only you had kept your regal silence! One day the postman who crosses the fjeld once a month came on me just as I had shouted.

“What?” he called from the wood.

“Careful below!” I called back to save my face. “I’ve put out a trap.”

But with the longer days, my courage grows; it must be the spring that causes this mysterious revival within me, and I no longer fear a shout more or less. I needlessly rattle my pots and pans as I cook, and I sing at the top of my voice. It is spring.

Yesterday I stood on a hillock and looked out across the wintry woods. They have a different expression now; they have gone gray and bedraggled, and the midday sun has thawed down the snow and diminished it. There are catkins everywhere, drifts of them in the underbrush, looking like letters of the alphabet piled in a heap. The moon rises, the stars break forth. I am cold and shiver a little, but I have nothing to do in the hut, and prefer to shiver as long as possible. In the winter I did nothing so foolish, but went home if I was cold. Now I’m tired of that, too. It is the spring.

The sky is pure and cool, lying wide open to all the stars. There is a great flock of worlds up in that endless meadow, tiny, teeming worlds, so tiny that they are like the sound of a tinkling bell; as I look at them, I can hear thousands of tiny bells. Yes, certainly I am being drawn more and more toward the grassy slopes of spring.

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