The Measure Of Joy In Life by Robert Herrick

Story type: Literature

She. Yet, how short it will be! How awful to have the days and weeks and
months slip by, and know that at the best there is only a reprieve of a
few years. I think from this night I shall have my shadow of death. I
shall always be doing things for the last time; a sad life that! And
perhaps we change; as you say, we may become dead in life, prepared for a
different state; and in that change we may find a new joy–a longing for
perfection and peace.

He. That would be an acknowledgment of defeat, indeed, and that is the
sad result of so much living. The world has been too hard, we cry–there
is so much heartbreaking, so much misery, so few arrive! We look to
another world where all that will be made right, and where we shall suffer
no more.

Let the others have their opiate. You, at least, I think, are too brave
for that kind of comfort. Does it not seem a little grasping to ask for
eternity, because we have fifty years of action? And an eternity of
passivity, because we have not done well with action? No, the world has
had too much of that coddling, that kind of shuffle through, as if it were
a way station where we must spend the night and make the best of sorry
accommodations. Our benevolence, our warmheartedness, goes overmuch to
making the beds a bit better, especially for the feeble and the sick and
old, and those who come badly fitted out. We help the unfortunate to slide
through: I think it would be more sensible to make it worth their while to
stay. The great philanthropists are those who ennoble life, and make it a
valuable possession. It would be well to poison the forlorn, hurry them
post haste to some other world where they may find the conditions better
suited. Then give their lot of misery and opportunity to another who can
find joy in his burden.

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She. A world without mercy would be hard–it would be full of a strident
clamor like a city street.

He. Mercy for all; no favoritism for a few. Whoever could find a new
joy, a lasting activity; whoever could keep his body and mind in full
health and could show what a tremendous reality it is to live–would be
the merciful man. There would be less of that leprosy, death in life, and
the last problem of death itself would not be insurmountable.

So I think the common men who know things, concrete things,–the price of
grain, if you will; the men of affairs who have their minds on the
struggle; the artists who in paint or words explore new possibilities–all
these are the merciful men, the true comforters whom we should honor. They
make life precious–aside from its physical value.

You know the keen movement that runs through your whole being when you
come face to face with some great Rembrandt portrait. How much the man
knew who made it, who saw it unmade! Or that Bellini’s Pope we used to
watch, whose penetrating smile taught us about life. And the greater
Titian, the man with a glove, that looks at you like a live soul, one whom
a man created to live for the joy of other men. In another form, I feel
the same gift of life in a new enterprise: a railroad carried through; a
corrupt government cleaned for the day. And, again, that Giorgione at
Paris, where the men and women are doing nothing in particular, but living
in the sunlight, a joyful, pagan band.

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And then think of the simpler, deeper notes of the symphony, the elements
of light and warmth and color in our world, the very seeds of existence. I
count that day the richest when we floated into the Cape harbor in the
little rowboat, bathed in the afternoon sun. The fishermen were lazily
winging in, knowing, like birds, the storm that would soon be on them. We
drank the sun in all our pores. It rained down on you, and glorified your
face and the flesh of your arms and your hands. We landed, and walked
across the evening fields to that little hut. Then nature lived and glowed
with the fervor of actual experience. You and the air and the sun-washed
ocean, all were some great throbs of actualities.

She. You remember how I liked to ride with you and sail, the stormy
days. How I loved to feel your body battling even feebly with the wind and
rain. I loved to see your face grow crimson under the lash of the waves,
and then to feel you, alive and mine!

He. It would not be bad, a heaven like that, of perpetual physical
presentiment, of storms and sun, and rich fields, and long waves rolling
up the beaches. For nerves ever alive and strung healthily all along the
gamut of sensation! Days with terrific gloom, like the German forests of
the Middle Ages; days with small nights spent on the sea; September days
with a concealed meaning in the air. One would ride and battle and sail
and eat. Then long kisses of love in bodies that spoke.

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She. And yet, how strange to life as it is is that picture–like some
mediaval song with the real people left out; strange to the dirty streets,
the breakfasts in sordid rooms, the ignoble faces, the houses with failure
written across the door-posts; strange to the life of papa and mamma; to
the comfortable home; the chatter of the day; the horses; the summer
trips–everything we have lived, you and I.

He. Incomplete, and hence merely a literary paradise. It is well, too,
as it is, for until we can go to bed with the commonplace, and dine with
sorrow, we are but children,–brilliant children, but with the unpleasant
mark of the child. Not sorrow accepted, my love, and bemoaned; but sorrow
fought and dislodged. He is great who feels the pain and sorrow and
absorbs it and survives–he who can remain calm in it and believe in it.
It is a fight; only the strong hold their own. That fight we call duty.

And duty makes the only conceivable world given the human spirit and the
human frame: even should we believe that the world is a revolving
palastrinum without betterment. And the next world–the next? It must be
like ours, too, in its action; it must call upon the same activities, the
same range of desires and loves and hates. Grander, perhaps, more adorned,
with greater freedom, with more swing, with a less troubled song as it
rushes on its course. But a world like unto ours, with effort, with the
keen jangle of persons in effort, with sorrow, aye, and despair: for there
must be forfeits!

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Is that not better than to slink away to death with the forlorn comfort of

Requiescat in pace?”

PARIS, December, 1895.

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