- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Robert Walser on Writing, Questions, Walking, and More


Happy birthday, Robert Walser! Here are some quotes from his writing:


“We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.”


“What we understand and love understands and loves us also.”


“That lovely things exist is a lovely thought.”


“It is a very painful thing, having to part company with what torments you. And how mute the world is!”


“Let us see to it that ponderers, thinkers, feelers survive in our midst.”


“Forget, forget nothing, don’t forget the sweetness, don’t forget the severity. If indifference and unkindness take hold of your being, stir your memory and think of all the beautiful, all the burdensome things. Remember there is life and there is death, remember there are moments of bliss and there are graves. Do not be forgetful, but instead remember this.”


“If I am well-disposed, that’s to say, feeling good, I tailor, cobble, weld, plane, knock, hammer, or nail together lines the content of which people understand at once. If you liked, you could call me a writer who goes to work with a lathe. My writing is wallpapering. One or two kindly people venture to think of me as a poet, which indulgence and manners allow me to concede. My prose pieces are, to my mind, nothing more nor less than parts of a long, plotless, realistic story. For me, the sketches I produce now and then are shortish or longish chapters of a novel. The novel I am constantly writing is always the same one, and it might be described as a variously sliced-up or torn-apart book of myself.”


“That’s what’s so miraculous about the city: each person’s bearing and behavior vanish among these thousand sorts, observations are fleeting, judgements swift, and forgetting inevitable.”


“I wanted to speak with someone, but found no time; sought some fixed point, but found none. In the midst of the unrelenting forward thrust I felt the wish to stand still. The muchness and the motion were too much and too fast. Everyone withdrew from everyone. There was a running, as of something liquefied, a constant going forth, as of evaporation. Everything was schematic, ghostlike, even myself.”


“If a hand, a situation, a wave were ever to raise me up and carry me to where I could command power and influence, I would destroy the circumstances that had favoured me, and I would hurl myself down into the humble, speechless, insignificant darkness. I can only breathe in the lower regions.”


“Questions are usually more beautiful, more significant than their resolutions, which in fact never resolve them, are never sufficient to satisfy us, whereas from a question streams a wonderful fragrance.”


“Something feels like it’s missing when I haven’t heard any music, and when I hear music, then I really feel like something is missing. That’s the best I can do in trying to describe music.”


“I’d like to die listening to a piece of music. I imagine this as so easy, so natural, but naturally it’s quite impossible. Notes stab too softly. The wounds they leave behind may smart, but they don’t fester. Melancholy and pain trickle out instead of blood. When the notes cease, all is peaceful within me again.”


“That is all very senseless, but this senselessness has a pretty mouth, and it smiles.


“The novel I am constantly writing is always the same one, and it might be described as a variously sliced-up or torn-apart book of myself.”


“Houses, gardens, and people were transfigured into musical sounds, all that was solid seemed to be transfigured into soul and into gentleness. Sweet veils of silver and soul-haze swam through all things and lay over all things. The soul of the world had opened, and all grief, all human disappointment, all evil, all pain seemed to vanish, from now on never to appear again. Earlier walks came before my eyes; but the wonderful image of the humble present became a feeling which overpowered all others. The future paled, and the past dissolved. I glowed and flowered myself in the glowing, flowering present. From near and far, great things and small things emerged bright silver with marvelous gestures, joys, and enrichments, and in the midst of this beautiful place I dreamed of nothing but this place itself. All other fantasies sank and vanished in meaninglessness. I had the whole rich earth immediately before me, and I still looked only at what was most small and most humble. With gestures of love the heavens rose and fell. I had become an inward being, and walked as in an inward world; everything outside me became a dream; what I had understood till now became unintelligible. I fell away from the surface, down into the fabulous depths, which I recognized then to be all that was good. What we understand and love understands and loves us also. I was no longer myself, was another, and yet it was on this account that I became properly myself. In the sweet light of love I realized, or believe I realized, that perhaps the inward self is the only self which really exists.”


“With all my ideas and follies I could one day found a corporate company for the propagation of beautiful but unreliable imaginings.”


“I don’t want a future, I want a present. To me this appears of greater value. You have a future only when you have no present, and when you have a present, you forget to even think about the future.”


“No one who strives to bring new life to something significant should be too quick to abandon the hope that he will succeed in this endeavor, for that would be a shame…”


“Ultimately, the most romantic thing is the heart, and every sensitive person carries in himself old cities enclosed by ancient walls.”


“It is not with pleasures and with joys that a man grows proud. Proud and gay in the roots of his soul he becomes only through trial bravely undergone.”


“Without walking and the contemplation of nature which is connected with it, without this equally delicious and admonishing search, I deem myself lost, and I am lost. With the utmost love and attention the man who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf, or no more than a poor discarded scrap of paper on which, perhaps, a dear good child at school has written his first clumsy letters. The highest and the lowest, the most serious and the most hilarious things are to him equally beloved, beautiful, and valuable. He must bring with him no sort of sentimentally sensitive self-love or quickness to take offense. Unselfish and unegoistic, he must let his careful eye wander and stroll where it will; only he must be continuously able in the contemplation and observation of things to efface himself, and to put behind him, little consider, and forget like a brave, zealous, and joyfully self-immolating front-line soldier, himself, his private complaints, needs, wants, and sacrifices. If he does not, then he walks only half attentive, with only half his spirit, and that is worth nothing.”


“I have to report that one fine morning, I do not know any more for sure what time it was, as the desire to take a walk came over me, I put my hat on my head, left my writing room, or room of phantoms, and ran down the stairs to hurry out into the street. I might add that on the stairs I encountered a woman who looked like a Spaniard, a Peruvian, or a Creole. She presented to the eye a certain pallid, faded majesty. But I must strictly forbid myself a delay of even two seconds with this Brazilian lady, or whatever she might be; for I may waste neither space nor time. As far as I can remember as I write this down, I found myself, as I walked into the open, bright, and cheerful street, in a romantically adventurous state of mind, which pleased me profoundly. The morning world spread out before my eyes appeared as beautiful to me as if I saw it for the first time. Everything I saw made upon me a delightful impression of friendliness, of goodliness, and of youth. I quickly forgot that up in my room I had only just a moment before been brooding gloomily over a blank sheet of paper. All sorrow, all pain, and all grave thoughts were as vanished, although I vividly sensed a certain seriousness, a tone, still before me and behind me. I was tense with eager expectation of whatever might encounter me or cross my way on my walk. My steps were measured and calm, and, as far as I know, I presented, as I went on my way, a fairly dignified appearance. My feelings I like to conceal from the eyes of my fellow men, of course without any fearful strain to do so—such strain I would consider a great error, and a mighty stupidity.”


“I must find myself a life, a new life, even if all of life consists only of an endless search for life. What is respect compared to this other thing: being happy and having satisfied the heart’s pride. Even being unhappy is better than being respected. I am unhappy despite the respect I enjoy; and so in my own eyes I don’t deserve this respect; for I consider only happiness worthy of respect. Therefore I must try whether it is possible to be happy without insisting on respect.”


“The assumption, which you just now voiced so frankly, that I might be poor, could however rest upon a basis of acute and accurate observation. But it suffices entirely that I myself know what I know, and that it is I myself who am best informed about my own person. Appearances often deceive, good sir, and the delivery of a judgment upon a man is best left to the man in question. Nobody can know as well as I do this person who has seen and experienced all sorts of things…I believe that it is a fine thing to struggle for life. It is not with pleasures and with joys that a man grows proud. Proud and gay in the roots of his soul he becomes only through trial bravely undergone, and through suffering patiently endured….What honest man was never in his life without sustenance? And what human being has ever seen as the years pass his hopes, plans, and dreams completely undestroyed? Where is the soul whose longings and daring aspirations, whose sweet and lofty imaginings of happiness have been fulfilled without that soul’s having had to deduct a discount?”


“What sort of a world of swindle are we beginning, or have already begun, to live in, when the municipality, the neighbors, and public opinion not only tolerate but unhappily, it is clear, even applaud that which injures every good sense, every sense of reason and good office, every sense of beauty and probity, that which is morbidly puffed up…Do golden, far-shining loathsomely glittering letters stand in any acceptable, honorably justified relation, in any healthy affinitive proportion to…bread? Not in the least! But loathsome boasting and swaggering began in some corner, in some nook of the world, at some time or other, advanced step by step like a lamentable and disastrous flood, bearing garbage, filth, and foolishness along with them, spreading these throughout the world, and they have affected also my respectable baker, spoiled his earlier good taste, and undermined his inborn decency. I would give much, I would give my left arm, or left leg, if by such a sacrifice I could help recall the fine old sense of sincerity, the old sufficiency, and restore to country and to people the respectability and modesty which have been plentifully lost, to the sorrow of all men who seek honesty…To the devil with every miserable desire to seem more than one is.”


“What is fitting is to trust in ourselves and the world. Who feels this better than the artist? When he was poor, he believed more than ever in his abilities; when he began to grow weary, he was urged on more powerfully still by the image and idea that it is beautiful to pull oneself together. No one understands devotion to life, nor exhaustion, better than he, nor that Nature has willed it so, and that true industry and the heartfelt wish to produce work have their source in seasons of inertia.”


“He feels it, that’s all, and that’s how he finds it. He instantly separates the things of the highest importance from the unimportant ones, leaving everything extraneous or illusory to be what it will. He can gather his thoughts in a flash, his mind lucid, his consciousness alert. He is swift to discern what is not a matter of indifference, and for this reason always has both the inclination and cause to be of good cheer. His optimism waxes along with his predisposition to dispense with worry. When others ask: ‘What now?’ and do not know the way forward, he has already found his own. He doesn’t see his path clearly, but also doesn’t consider this absolutely necessary; he strikes out in some direction or other, and one thing leads to the next. All paths lead to lives of some sort, and that’s all he requires, for every life promises a great deal and is replete with possibilities enchantingly fulfilled.”


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