Carlo Michelstaedter may be a name known to some. Author of Persuasion and Rhetoric, a work that places itself in the genealogy wherin reside Ecclesiastes, Sophocles, Leopardi, Schopenahuer and other great pessimists, Michelstaedter mercilessly exposed the delusions through which humans convince themselves life is worth living. One day after mailing the manuscript of the work to his university in submission for his doctorate, Michelstaedter shot himself. In addition to his great work, he also wrote occasional poetry, an example of which (addressed to his sister Paula) I present here.
Even as swallows year by year return
Back to the nests that held them featherless,
So man goes back in the course of his days,
Time after time to the thought of his cradle.
And as every year he keeps that day,
That to hunger and thirst, to sorrow and grief,
That to this mortal life did him awaken,
Every year he persuades himself again
To love his life.
And the parents who in the newly-born,
In the fragile and helpless little being,
Saw the fruit of their hopes;
And holding out to him with timorous love
All that life gives to him who asks to live,
Made of his tears a veil for their own eyes;
Trusting that clothes and food
Could make him live his life;
Year after year revive their ancient hope,
Their ancient grief,
And with a veil still cover their tired eyes,
Offering thanks to him for being born,
That he may thank them for his life,
and that The dumb grief be forgotten,
and the vain Promise be ever present.
But may the wish, that, what he never had,
Even for an instant,
Should come to him through long luminous years,
Lend the light that it borrows from the future
To the day of his birth,
and multiplying Illusions,
may it persuade him
That his hunger is good,
and life sufficient
Is this our daily death.
May gifts and kisses and the table spread,
Sweet words in plenty, plenty of sweet things,
Blithe promises and glances full of trust,
Make the familiar room joyous and bright,
And shield it from the terrors of the night.
Paula, I cannot say sweet words to thee,
And things that might be dear I do not know,
Because dumb grief has spoken unto me,
And told me that which every heart suffers
Unknowingly, unconfessed to itself.
Beyond the window-panes of the bright room,
Which the accustomed images reflect,
The darkness I can see, still threatening,
And stay and rest I cannot in the desert.
O, let me go, Paula, through the night,
There to create my own light by myself,
Let me go through the desert, to the sea,
That I may bring thee back the gift of light. _
more than thou thinkest, thou art dear to me.