June 2, 2010

Heart of Darkness

When I read it, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness rang me like a bell. What happens if you take away the thin veneer of civilization and people are left to treat others however they like, especially when good society isn’t watching and they have the excuse of God or Country or, in my case, the Ranch? Then, how do you speak truth about an experience like that? How do you know the truth? Today, I’m posting a few excerpts from that novella.

Here, the Englishman Charles Marlow describes the death of Kurtz, the ivory trader who has “gone native” in the Congo.

“Kurtz's life was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his heart into the sea of inexorable time. … Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn't touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror -- of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision -- he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

"'The horror! The horror!'



Here, Marlow talks about Kurtz’s death with Kurtz’s fiancé.


"But I do not. I cannot -- I cannot believe -- not yet. I cannot believe that I shall never see him again, that no-body will see him again, never, never, never.'

"She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching them back and with clasped pale hands across the fading and narrow sheen of the window. Never see him! I saw him clearly enough then. I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live, and I shall see her, too, a tragic and familiar Shade, resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernal stream, the stream of darkness. She said suddenly very low, 'He died as he lived.'

"'His end,' said I, with dull anger stirring in me, 'was in every way worthy of his life.'

"'And I was not with him,' she murmured. My anger subsided before a feeling of infinite pity.

"'Everything that could be done -- ' I mumbled.

"'Ah, but I believed in him more than any one on earth -- more than his own mother, more than -- himself. He needed me! Me! I would have treasured every sigh, every word, every sign, every glance.'

"I felt like a chill grip on my chest. 'Don't,' I said, in a muffled voice.

"'Forgive me. I -- I have mourned so long in silence -- in silence. . . . You were with him -- to the last? I think of his loneliness. Nobody near to understand him as I would have understood. Perhaps no one to hear. . . .'

"'To the very end,' I said, shakily. 'I heard his very last words. . . .' I stopped in a fright.

"'Repeat them,' she murmured in a heart-broken tone. 'I want -- I want -- something -- something -- to -- to live with.'

"I was on the point of crying at her, 'Don't you hear them?' The dusk was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a rising wind. 'The horror! The horror!'

"'His last word -- to live with,' she insisted. 'Don't you understand I loved him -- I loved him -- I loved him!'

"I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.

"'The last word he pronounced was -- your name.'"

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