Christian Morgenstern, Selected Diary Entries (1907)

As a schoolboy, I attempted for the first time to create a vivid picture of what we call the endlessness of the universe. At night, I would lay down in the garden on a folding chair in an almost horizontal position, and I would try to penetrate into the reality of the starry sky beyond its purely visual appearance. I succeeded in experiencing the following: One second of this kind of absence from the earth, one single little step further, and my brain would be lost forever. I broke off the unearthly experiment. Now, some fifteen odd years later, the same danger threatens me in the light of day. It began on a steely blue spring evening in a garden in Obermais with my gaze directed at the mountain chain upstream from the Vinschgau Valley. The mountains formed something like a molehill, the places around me lost their significance. My little trough seemed no more significant to me than a thumbprint in a wax ball, and the huge yet small planet carried me around on its back through space like a single-celled organism. I was gripped by a light, spiritual feeling of vertigo, a presentiment of motion sickness of the soul. The concepts above and below disappeared into a third. I sat there due only to the mercy of barometric pressure.


Were it not for my such great love of the present, were it not for this love like a great, secure parachute, I would have fallen into the abyss long ago.


Well, then, I come from painters—and have to experience the collapse of nature as an image within myself.


I am like someone who, without a guide, climbs up into the high mountains using only maps and occasional information from shepherds and hikers. Nobody would guess the agony I had to pay for it or that a quick death would have often been a divine blessing for me. No, my ‘dilettantism’ was not fun, not coquetry. It is my fate, but I cannot escape it. Since my spirit was always willing, my body always lacked that last gasp of energy that always has to provide support whenever something great should come about in the world.


I have a lot of luck, both the luck that conceals my limits from me and the luck that my limits seem to enable me to extend myself out into the indeterminate. I have a lot of talent at living—if only life had more talent for me. But sometimes a gust of wind will blow away every warm protective illusion and then I momentarily see my silhouette and…shudder.


I have only one real and true enemy in the world and that is myself.


Whenever I’m among people, it’s like I’m on vacation. And that’s why I shouldn’t go out among people anymore and, least of all, among friends. For none of them know that I’m only with them and lend them an ear as a guest, that I’ve lost the last bit of passionate attention for much of their lives and goings-on, as though I was a man listening to beautiful and huge music in a big hall—but outside his wife is secretly standing in front of the door and waiting for him, and, due to pure inner unrest, he only listens with one ear, and hardly hides his distractedness, and, for many sharp observers, would rightly not be considered to be a very expertly engaged listener.


I wander around in these European countries like a bird in a greenhouse. People think that my life is enviable because I travel from one place to another. They don’t know that in the end every one of these places is disappointing—because the bane of European civilization, which the places had been spared a hundred, even fifty years ago, has been poured out over every last one of them. The appalling sobriety of the past 30, 40 years creeps around after you everywhere, indeed, even stains you. In the end, you hopelessly spend your time in hotels. For if there’s not a hotel, there’s no room for you with your massive traveling suitcase and your standard German language. I, too, believed in the greatness of our epoch of technology, but now I only feel one thing: that it disenchants the earth by making everything common.


The alternating buzzing of two or three wasps reminds me of the responsorial songs in the Catholic church. I can see the well-fed churchmen, the priests celebrating on the steps of the altar and even the altar with its slim little candles and old paintings.


I began this fall with evil deeds. On two hot days in September, I killed five or six wasps that had come into my room and were bothering me. It was completely and utterly out of character for me and can only be explained with the unrest and lack of self control that had come over me under the influence of the southern wind perhaps just as it had the wasps.
Later comment: I can still remember how much the “stupidity” of the animals, in particular, had gotten me worked up at the time, how they would fly around the ceiling for hours, up and down, back and forth, without finding or wanting to find the open balcony door. If we transfer my impatience and hurry to the relation between gods and man, then the gods would really have nothing to do all day long other than kill people.


My entire life I’ve been searching for the stinger I could press into idle flesh—and I never find it.


Today, I could still play in the woods like a boy: build houses out of stones and pieces of wood, mark off streets with dry little branches and create groves, elevate a piece of rock to the status of an Alpine peak, and bestow the dominion over everything on a stag beetle and his wife. And this little kingdom would make me happier, and occupy and work up my fantasy in a more intricate way than even the largest kingdom found in reality. So, once, at age 35, I spent eight days on a beach on the island of Salt creating and building a seaside hut. Honestly, I have seldom been so happy at heart as during this harmless game.


The older I become, the more one word becomes my word above all others: ‘grotesque’.


If I was a musician, I would compose a work for a mixed choir with an orchestra—”The Choir of Convalescents”—and not even in heaven itself would the singing be so deep, so ardent, and so sweet.


Source: Christian Morgenstern, “1907,” in Stufen: Eine Entwicklung in Aphorismen und Tagebuch-Notizen, 22-26 (Munich: Piper, 1918).

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