The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1901)/Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

THE PILGRIM BEHOLDS THE STATE OF MATRIMONY

(The Preparation to this State is toilsome and anxious.)

And they lead me forward, and bring me to a street where, they said, married people lived, and they said also that the fashion of this delightful life would be pleasing unto me. And behold, there was a gate which, as they said, was called Betrothment; in front of it there was a wide square, in which crowds of people of both sexes walked about, and each one looked into the eyes of the other; and not only this, but they also looked at one another's ears, nose, teeth, neck, tongue, hands, feet, and other limbs; also did each measure the other—how tall, how broad, how stout, or how slender he was. Then one approached another, and then again stepped apart from him, examining him now in front, now from the back, now from the right side, now from the left, and observing everything that he beheld of him. Each one particularly examined (and this I saw most frequently) the bags, purses, and pouches of the other, measuring and weighing how long, how broad, how full, how heavy, or how light they were. Sometimes several men pointed to one woman, and then none took her. One man drove another away, and they quarrelled, struggled, and fought; murders also did I here behold. Then one man pushed another away, and was himself again pushed away; some, after driving others away, then ran away themselves. Yet another man, not lingering to examine, seized her who was nearest, and the couple lead each other hand-in-hand through the gate. Seeing much fooling of this fashion, I asked: "What, then, are these people doing?" The interpreter answered: "They are those who would gladly enter the street of Matrimony; but as no one is allowed to pass through yonder gate alone, but only in pairs, each one must choose himself a companion. Therefore is this choosing done here, and everyone seeks what is convenient to him; he who finds it goes, as you see, to the gate with his companion." "And could not this choosing be done in a somewhat easier fashion?" I said. "How mightily toilsome this is!" He answered: "This is not labour, but pleasure. Dost thou not see how merrily they bear themselves; how they laugh, how they exult. No fashion of life, believe me, is merrier than this one." Then I look, and see that some indeed laughed and exulted; but I see others also who hang down their heads dolefully, turn round, drag each other backwards and forwards, then again retreat; they grieve, do not sleep or eat, and even become mad. And I say: "What of these?" He answered: "This also is pleasure." "Be it so," I said; "let us proceed and see what befalls farther on."

(Great Uncertainty as to how they should sit together.)

2. Then forcing our way through the crowd, we arrive at the gate itself; and lo! before we entered it, we behold a balance suspended, which was provided with two baskets as scales, and round it stood the crowd. And they placed each of these couples in the baskets opposite one another, and watched whether the balance was even; and in various fashions they descended, then separated, shook the scales, and then again steadied them. Then only when they had sufficiently weighed them they allowed them to pass through the gate. But not all fared equally well. For some fell through the basket, were derided, and had to troop away with shame, and took themselves off; they even crammed a hood or sack over the ears of some, and made merry at their expense. And seeing this, I asked: "What, then, is done here?" The answer was: "This is done that the betrothment may be safe; for if the scales show that they are even and equal, they are, as you see, allowed to enter this state of matrimony; if it is otherwise, they separate." "And what, then, do they here consider as equality?" I said, "for indeed I see that the balance proves some to be equal in age, estate, and in every fashion, and yet they allow one of the two to fall through the basket. Others, on the other hand, who are most unequal they place together—old men and young girls, young men and old women. One stands upright, and the other bends downward, and yet they say that they may be joined; how is this?" He answered: "Thou dost not see everything. It is true that some old man or old woman may not be worth a pound of tow,[1] yet if they have either a fat pouch or a hat before which other hats are lowered, or something similar (for all these things are weighed in the scales), the matter does not stand as it appears to your judgment."

(The Fashion in which they sit together is unalterable.)

3. Entering after those whom they allowed to pass, I see at the gate men who seemed smiths; these clasp on each couple awful fetters, and only when fettered allow them to pass. Many people were present at this fettering who (as they said) were invited for the purpose of being witnesses. These played and sang before them, and bade them be of good cheer. But watching carefully, I remarked that they did not fasten up these fetters with a padlock as with other prisoners, but that they immediately forged, welded, soldered them together, so that, as long as their lives in this world lasted, they could not unbuckle them or tear them off. This frightened me, and I said: "Oh, most cruel captivity! if anyone once enters it, for all eternity he has no hope of recovering his liberty." The interpreter answered: "Certainly this of all human bonds is the most rigid; but the sweetness of this state is such that man gladly passes under the yoke; thou wilt see for thyself what a delightful life it is." "Let us then go among them, that I may see," I said.

(There is little Pleasure even when Marriage is most successful.)

4. We then enter the street, and behold, there was a host of people all in couples, but many, as it seemed to me, most unequally joined, big ones with small ones, handsome ones with ugly ones, young ones with old ones, and so forth. And examining carefully what they were doing, and in what the sweetness of this state consisted, I see that they look at each other, speak to one another, and sometimes one caressed and also kissed the other. "Here you see," said the interpreter to me, "what a pure thing wedlock is, when it is successful." "Then this," said I, "is the summa of all?" "Certainly," he said. And I again, "Then there is indeed but little pleasure; and whether it is worth such fetters, I know not."

(The Misery and Worry of all Married People generally.)

5. I now look further about me among them, and witness how much toil and anxiety the wretched people had. They mostly had children around them, who were attached to them by bridles; these screamed, squalled, stank, soiled themselves, groaned, and died, and I am silent as regards the pain, the tears, the dangers to the lives of their mothers, with which they entered into the world. If a child grew up there was twofold trouble with it; one was to hold it back by means of the bridle, the other to drive it on by means of the spur; and often the children, suffering neither bridle nor spur, made wondrous mischievous endeavours, causing to their parents weariness and tears. But if they allowed them to act according to their will or tore themselves away from them, shame and death herethrough befell the parents. And marking this, I began to admonish some of the people, both parents and children, warning the former against foolish love for their children and too great forbearance with them, whilst I admonished the latter to be somewhat more virtuous. But I achieved little beyond this, that they looked at me peevishly, threw jests at me, and some even menaced to kill me. And when I saw some who were sterile I declared them happy; but they also complained and lamented that their life was joyless. Thus, then, did I understand that both to have and not to have offspring is misery. Also had almost each couple with them and around them stranger folk to serve them and theirs; they often had to bestow more care on these than on themselves and their family, and besides had to suffer much discomfort through them. Also were there here, as in that market-place, many implements and stumbling-blocks, wood, stones, and pits; when one stumbled, he tripped up the other also, fell and injured the other also; the other, unable to leave him, had equally with him to whimper, cry, and suffer pain. Thus did I understand that everyone in this state, instead of one care, anxiety, danger, has to suffer as many cares, anxieties, dangers as there are people to whom he is tied. And this state pleased me not.

(The awful Tragedy of luckless Marriage.)

6. While I was then gazing at some of these in the crowd, I beheld a tragedy. Two were joined together who were assuredly not of one will; one wanted to go this way, the other that; then they quarrelled, disputed, wrangled. One complained to the passers-by of this, the other of that; and then when there was nobody to arbitrate between them, they attacked one another, and cuffed and cudgelled each other in an ugly fashion. If some one reconciled them, after a while they quarrelled again. Some for a long time disputed in words whether they should go to the right or to the left, and as each obstinately insisted on what he wished, one with all his might flung himself in the direction he wished to go, and the other also in the opposite direction. Then there was a struggle and a mournful spectacle who would overcome the other; sometimes the man triumphed and dragged the woman after him, although she caught at the ground, the grass, or whatever she could; sometimes the man had to follow the woman, and the others laughed at this. But this seemed to me a matter worthy rather of pity than of laughter; particularly when I saw that during this torment some shed tears, groaned, wrung their hands heavenward, declaring that they wished by means of gold and silver to redeem themselves from this bond. And I said to my interpreter: "Can no help, then, be granted them? Can they not be untied and set free from one another, they who cannot be reconciled?" "That cannot be," he said; "as long as they live they must continue thus." "Oh, this cruel bondage and slavery! This is indeed worse than death!" And he again: "Why, then, did they not previously reflect more wisely? They deserve their fate; let them continue in their dissensions."

(Voluntary Slavery.)

7. Then I gaze, and lo! Death, with her arrows, strikes down some and overthrows them, and immediately the fetters of each of them were loosened. And I wished them joy of this, thinking that they also would wish themselves joy, and be heartily glad of this relief. But behold, almost every one of them began to cry and lament in a fashion that hardly ever I had heard in the world, wringing their hands and complaining of their misfortunes. Of those whom I had before seen living peaceably together, I understood that one really grieved for the death of the other. I thought, however, that they only dissembled thus before the people. I vowed that they would repent their error, and teach others to beware of these bonds. But these, before I had time to observe, wiped their eyes again, ran outside, and returned afresh in new fetters. And I said with wrath: "Oh, ye monsters! ye are unworthy of pity;" and to my guide: "Let us from hence; I find in this state more of vanity than anything else."

(The Pilgrim also receives Fetters.)

8. Meanwhile (for I must not be silent as regards my own adventures), while we are returning to the gate of separation, and though my intention is further to look on the world, my guides, both Impudence and Falsehood, begin strongly to urge me to try myself, also, the state of matrimony; thus would I better understand it. I replied that I was young, that the examples I had seen terrified me, that I had not yet beheld everything in the world, and so forth. But this availed not; they induced me to go on to the scales, as it were in sport, and then into bonds, and I proceeded as one of four who were joined together; they also added to our party a number of others (they said it was that they should be my servants, and for the sake of modesty); so that, gasping and groaning, I could hardly drag them along with me. Then suddenly a tempest came down, with lightning, thunder, and a terrible fall of hail; and all those around me dispersed, except those who were joined to me. With these I hurry into a corner, but Death, with her arrows, strikes down my three companions, so that, mournfully solitary and stunned by horror, I knew not what to do. My guides said that this was a favourable moment, and that I could now easily flee. And I said: "Why, then, did you advise me to come here?" They answered that there was no time for disputing; rather should I flee. And thus did I hurry away.

(The Pilgrim's Judgment on the State of Matrimony.)

9. And having escaped thence, I yet do not know what I should say about this state, whether it affords more pleasure when it is successful (which I presume would have been the case with me), or more woe from various causes. That only I remember that both without it and within it there is much anxiety, and even when it is successful, the sweet is mixed with the bitter.

  1. A proverbial expression in Bohemia.