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The Music of Doom (from 'Klingsor's Last Summer')

THE LAST DAY OF JULY had come, Klingsor's favourite month; Li Po's grand festival had faded, had not been repeated. Sunflowers in the garden brashly raised their gold to the blue. Together with his faithful Tu Fu, Klingsor tramped through a region that he loved: the parched outskirts of a town, dusty roads beneath high rows of trees, red and orange little houses facing the sandy shore, trucks and quays, long violet walls, colourful poor folk. In the evening he sat in the dust at the edge of the town and painted the coloured tents and wagons of an itinerant carnival; he crouched by the side of the road on scruffy, parched greensward, beguiled by the strong colours of the tents. He clung fast to the faded lilac of a tent tassel, to the jolly greens and reds of the clumsy trailer homes, to the blue-and-white framing poles. Fiercely, he wallowed in cadmium, savagely in cool sweet cobalt, drew melt­ing lines of crimson lake through the yellow and green sky. Another hour, no, less, then he would knock off, night would come, and tomorrow August would be starting. August the burning fever month which mixes so much fear of death and timorousness into its ardent cup. The scythe was sharpened, the day declined; death laughed, concealed among the parching leaves. Ring high and blast your trumpet, cadmium! Boast loudly, lush crimson lake. Laugh glaringly, lemon yellow! Come here, you deep-blue mountain in the distance. Come to my heart, you matt dusty green trees. How tired you are, how you let your pious branches droop submissively, I drink to you, lovely things of the world! I give you semblance of duration and immortality, I who am the most tran­sitory, the most believing, the saddest of all, who suf­fer from the fear of death more than all of you. July is burned out, soon August will be burned out, suddenly the great ghost chills us from the yellowed leaves in the dew-wet morning. Suddenly November sweeps across the woods. Suddenly the great ghost laughs, suddenly the chill settles around our hearts, suddenly the dear pink flesh falls from our bones, the jackal howls in the desert, the vulture hoarsely sings his ac­cursed song. An accursed newspaper in the city publishes my picture, and under it the words: "Outstand­ing painter, expressionist, great colourist, died on the sixteenth of this month."
   Full of hatred he ripped a furrow of Paris blue un­der the green gypsy wagon. Full of bitterness, he broke the chrome-yellow edge of the kerbstones. Full of deep despair, he dashed vermilion in an empty spot, annihilating the challenging white; bleeding, he fought for continuance. He screamed in bright green and Neapolitan yellow to inexorable God. Groaning he threw more blue into the dreary dusty green; im­ploringly, he kindled deeper lights in the evening sky. The little palette full of pure unmixed colours, intense­ly luminous, was his comfort, his tower, his arsenal, his prayer book, his cannon. From it he fired upon wicked death. Purple was denial of death, vermilion was mockery of decay. His arsenal was good; his brave troop stood lined up brilliantly, the rapid rounds from his cannon flashed. But it was no use, all shooting was in vain; and yet shooting was good, was happiness and consolation, was still living, still triumphing.
   Tu Fu had left to visit a friend who had his magic citadel over there between the factory and the wharf. Now he returned, bringing with him the Armenian astrologer.
   Klingsor, finished with the painting, drew a deep breath of relief when he saw the two faces close by, the good fair hair of Tu Fu and the black beard with white teeth in the smiling face of the magus. With them came the shadow also, the long dark shadow with receding eyes in deep sockets. Welcome, you too, Shadow, fine fellow!
   "Do you know what day today is?" Klingsor asked his friend.
   "The last day of July, I know."
   "I cast a horoscope today," the Armenian said, "and I saw that this evening is going to bring me some­thing. Saturn stands strangely, Mars neutral, Jupiter is dominant. Li Po, aren't you a Leo?"
   "I was born on July the second."
   "I thought so. Your stars stand confusedly, Friend; only you yourself can interpret them. Fertility sur­rounds you like a cloud about to burst. Your stars stand oddly, Klingsor; I’m sure you can't help feeling it."
   Klingsor packed up his gear. The world he had painted was faded, the green and yellow sky extin­guished, the bright blue flag drowned, the lovely yel­low slain and withered. He was hungry and thirsty; his throat felt full of dust
   "Friends," he said cordially, "let us spend this eve­ning together. We shall no longer be together again, all four of us; I am not reading that in the stars, but I find it written in my heart. My July moon is over; its last hours glow darkly; in the depths the Great Mother calls. Never has the world been so beautiful, never have I painted so beautiful a picture. Heat lightning flashes; the music of doom has begun. Let us sing along with it, the sweet forbidding music. Let us stay together and drink wine and eat bread."
   Beside the carousel, whose tent had just been taken down in preparation for the evening (for it was there as a sunshade), a few tables stood under the trees. A lame waitress was going back and forth; there was a small tavern in the shade. Here they sat at the plank table; bread was brought, and wine poured into the earthenware vessels. Lights glowed into life under the trees. A short distance away the carousel's hurdy­-gurdy began to jingle, loosing its shrill music into the evening.
   “I mean to drain three hundred cups tonight!" Li Po cried, and toasted the Shadow. “Greetings, Shadow, steadfast tin soldier! Greetings, friends! Greetings, electric lights, arc lamps and sparkling merry-go-round spangles! Oh, if only Louis were here, the fugitive bird! Perhaps he's already flown on ahead of us to heaven. Or perhaps he'll come back tomor­row, the old jackal, and no longer find us and laugh and plant arc lamps and flagpoles upon our grave.”
   Quietly, the astrologer went and returned with fresh wine, his white teeth smiling gladly in his red mouth.
   “Melancholia," he said with a glance at Klingsor, “is a thing we should not carry around. It's so easy - it's the work of an hour, a single intensive hour with clenched teeth, and then one is through with melancholia forever."
   Klingsor looked closely at his mouth, at the bright, straight teeth that had once upon a time, in some fer­vid hour, crunched melancholia and bitten it to death. Could he too do what the astrologer had succeeded in doing? O sweet brief glance into distant gardens: life without dread, life without melancholia! But he knew these gardens were unattainable for him. He knew his destiny was different, Saturn low­ered differently upon him, God wanted him to play different tunes upon his strings.
   "Each has his stars," Klingsor said slowly. "Each has his faith. I believe in only one thing: in doom. We are driving in a carriage on the edge of an abyss, and the horses have already shied. We are immersed in doom, all of us; we must die, we must be born again. The great turning point has come for us. It is the same ev­erywhere: the great war, the great change in art, the great collapse in the governments of the West. For us in old Europe everything we had that was good and our own has already died. Our fine-feathered Reason has become madness, our money is paper, our machines can do nothing but shoot and explode, our art is suicide. We are going under, friends; that is our destiny. Music in the Tsing Tse key has begun."
   The Armenian poured wine.
   “As you like," he said. “One can say yes and one can say no; that is only a child's game. Doom is some­thing that does not exist. For doom or resurgence to exist there must be a top and a bottom. But there is no top or bottom; these exist only in man's brain, which is the home of illusion. All paradoxes are illusions: white and black are illusion, death and life are illusion, good and evil are illusion. It is the work of an hour, a single fervent hour with clenched teeth, and one has overcome the kingdom of illusions."
   Klingsor listened to his good voice.
   “I am speaking of us,” he retorted. “I am speaking of Europe, our old Europe that for two thousand years thought itself the world's brain. It is going un­der. Do you think, Magus, that I don't know you? You are a messenger from the East, a messenger to me also, perhaps a spy, perhaps a warlord in disguise. You are here because the end is beginning, because the scent of doom is in your nostrils. But we are glad to go under, you know, we die gladly, we do not de­fend ourselves."
   “You may also say: we are glad to be born," the Asiatic said, laughing. “To you it seems doom, per­haps to me it seems birth. Both are illusion. The man who believes in the earth as a fixed disk under heaven also sees and believes in sunrise and sunset, in dawn and doom - and all, almost all men believe in that fixed disk! The stars themselves know nothing of rising and setting."
   “Have not the stars set, are not the stars doomed too?" Tu Fu cried.
   “For us, for our eyes.”
   He filled the cups; it was always he who undertook to pour, attentively, smilingly. He went away with the empty pitcher to bring more wine. The carousel music blared.
   "Let's go over there, it's so lovely," Tu Fu pleaded, and they went over to the carousel, stood by the paint­ed barrier, watched the carousel turn its giddy cir­cles in the piercing glitter of spangles and mirrors. They saw a hundred children with eyes greedily fixed on the brilliance. For a moment Klingsor felt, with deep amusement, the primitiveness and African qual­ity of this whirling machine, this mechanical music, these garish pictures and colours, mirrors and insane ornamental columns. Everything bespoke medicine men and shamans, magic and age-old pied-piperism, and all that wild weird sparkle was at bottom nothing but the darting glitter of the tin lure that the pike thinks is a minnow.
   Every child must ride the carousel. Tu Fu gave money to the children; the Shadow beckoned to all the children to come nearer. They clustered around their benefactor, clung to him, begged, thanked. There was a pretty blond girl of twelve who asked repeatedly; she rode on every round. In the glitter of the lights her short skirt blew up around her boyish legs. One child cried. Boys fought. The cymbals clanged sharply along with the organ, poured fire into the beat, opium into the wine. For a long while the four stood amid the tumult.
   Then they returned to their quiet table under the trees. The Armenian filled the cups with wine, stirred up doom, smiled brightly.
   "Let us empty three hundred cups today," Klingsor sang. His sun-bleached hair glowed yellow, his laugh­ter boomed. Melancholia knelt, a giant, upon his twitching heart. He held up his glass in a toast, he hailed doom, hailed the desire for death, the Tsing Tse key. The carousel music surged and roared. But inside his heart, dread lurked. The heart did not want to die. The heart hated death.
   Suddenly more music assaulted the night, shrill, in­temperate, from the tavern. In the nook beside the chimney piece, whose shell was lined with neatly ar­ranged wine bottles, a player-piano blazed, machine-gun fire, wild, hectoring, impetuous. Sorrow cried from discordant strings, steam-roller rhythm flattened groaning dissonances. There was a crowd here too, light, noise, young men and girls dancing, the lame waitress too, and Tu Fu. He danced with the blond little girl. Klingsor watched. Lightly, sweetly, her short summer dress whirled around the pretty skinny legs. Tu Fu's face smiled amiably, filled with love. The others sat at the chimney piece; they had come in from the garden, were close to the source of the music, in the very midst of it. Klingsor saw tones, heard colours. The magus took one and another bottle from the shelf, opened them, poured. His smile never wavered on his brown intelligent face. The music thumped fearfully in the low-ceilinged hall. Slowly the Armenian opened a breach in the row of old bot­tles on the mantle, like a temple robber removing, chalice by chalice, the precious utensils from an altar.
   “You are a great artist," the astrologer whispered to Klingsor as he filled his cup. “You are one of the greatest artists of this age You are quite entitled to call yourself Li Po. But, Li Po, you are a poor, har­ried, tormented, and anxiety-ridden man. You have struck up the music of doom; you sit singing in your burning house, which you yourself have set afire, and you do not feel happy about it, Li Po, even if you empty three hundred cups every day and drink with the moon. You are not happy about it, you are very sorry about it, singer of doom. Won't you stop? Don't you want to live? Don't you want to continue?"
   Klingsor drank and whispered back in his some­what hoarse voice: “Can a man change fate? Is there freedom of the will? Can you, astrologer, guide my stars differently?"
   “I cannot guide them, only interpret them. Only you yourself can guide. There is freedom of the will. It is the wisdom of the Magi."
   "Why should I practice the wisdom of the Magi when I can practice art? Isn't art just as good?"
   "Everything is good. Nothing is good. The wisdom of the Magi abolishes illusions. It abolishes that worst of illusions which we call 'time'."
   “Doesn't art do that also?"
   “It tries to. Is your painted July, which you have there in your portfolio, enough for you? Have you abolished time? Are you without fear of the autumn, of the winter?"
   Klingsor sighed and fell silent. Silently, he drank. Silently, the magus filled his cup. Hectically, the un­leashed mechanical piano rumbled. Angelically, Tu Fu's face floated among the dancers. July was over.
   Klingsor toyed with the empty bottles on the table, arranging them in a circle.
   “These are our cannon," he exclaimed. "With these cannon we shoot time to pieces, death to pieces, mis­ery to pieces. I have also shot at death with paints, with fiery green and explosive vermilion and sweet scarlet lake. Often I have hit him on the head; I have driven white and blue into his eye. I have often sent him scurrying. I shall meet him often again, overcome him, outwit him. Look at the Armenian; he is opening another old bottle and the imprisoned sun of past summers shoots into our blood. The Armenian, too, helps us shoot at death; the Armenian, too, knows no other weapon against death."
   The magus broke bread and ate.
   "I need no weapon against death because there is no death. There is only one thing: dread of death. That can be cured; there is a weapon to use against that. It is a matter of an hour to overcome that dread. But Li Po does not want to. For Li loves death; he loves his dread of death, his melancholy, his misery. Only his dread has taught him all that he can do and all we love him for."
   Mockingly, he raised his cup to Klingsor's; his teeth flashed, his face grew more and more jovial. Sorrow seemed alien to him. No one answered. Klingsor shot his wine cannon against death. Death loomed at the open doors of the tavern, which was swollen with people, wine, and dance music. Death loomed at the doors, softly shook the black acacia, lurked darkly in the garden. Everything outside was full of death, filled with death; only here in the crowded hall they still fought on, fought gloriously and bravely against the black besieger who whimpered at the windows.
   Mockingly, the magus looked across the table; mockingly, he filled the cups. Klingsor had already broken many cups; the magus had given him new ones. The Armenian had also drunk a great many, but he sat as erect as Klingsor.
   "Let us drink, Li," he said in low-voiced mockery. "You love death, you know, you want to be doomed, you are glad to die the death. Didn't you say so, or have I deceived myself - or have you after all de­ceived me and yourself? Let us drink, Li, let us be doomed."
   Rage bubbled up in Klingsor. He stood up, stood erect and tall, the old sparrow hawk with his chiselled face, spat into the wine, hurled his full cup on the floor. The red wine splashed out into the hall; his friends paled, strangers laughed.
   But smiling silently the magus fetched a new cup, smilingly filled it, smilingly offered it to Li Po. Then Li smiled, he too smiled. A smile flickered like moonlight over his distorted face.
   “Friends," he cried out, “let this foreigner talk! The old fox knows a great deal; he has come out of a deep and hidden den. He knows a great deal, but he does not understand us. He is too old to understand children. He is too wise to understand fools. We who are about to die know more about death than he. We are men, not stars. See my hand, holding a small blue cup of wine! This hand, this brown hand, can do many things. It has painted with many brushes, has wrested fresh segments of the world from the darkness and. placed them before men's eyes. This brown hand has stroked many women under the chin and seduced many girls. Many have kissed it, tears have fallen on it, Tu Fu has written a poem to it. This dear hand, friends, will soon be full of earth and mag­gots; none of you would touch it then. Very well, that is the reason I love it. I love my hand, I love my eyes, I love my soft white belly; I love them with regret and with scorn and with great tenderness because they must all wither and decay so soon. Shadow, dark friend, old tin soldier on Andersen's grave, you too will meet the same fate, dear fellow. Drink with me: Three cheers for our limbs and guts! Long may they live!"
   They drank the toast. The Shadow smiled darkly from his deep eye sockets - and suddenly something passed through the hall like a wind, like a spirit. Abruptly the music stopped, the dancers vanished, as if swallowed by the night, and half the lights went out. Klingsor looked at the black doors. Outside stood death. He saw death standing there. He smelled him. Like raindrops in the leaves by the highroad, that was how death smelled.
   Then Li Po pushed the cup away, knocked back the chair, and walked slowly out of the hall into the dark garden and on, in the darkness, heat lightning flashing over his head, alone. His heart lay heavy in his breast like the stone upon a grave.