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« Kierkegaard, "A Worthwhile Engagement" (part 2) | Main | Mallarmé, "Las de l'amer repos..." »

Kierkegaard, "A Worthwhile Engagement" (part 1)

The first part of a selection from a work by this Danish man of letters.  You can find the original in this volume.

Thus I am engaged to be married; so is Cordelia, of course, and that is nearly everything that she knows about the matter.  If she had a friend with whom she could speak properly and openly, she would say something like the following: "What all this means I really cannot fathom.  There's something about him which attracts me to him, but I cannot get wise to what that is.  He has some weird power over me, but love him I do not, and perhaps would never arrive at such a condition.  On the other hand, I could see myself living and even being quite blissful with him and our life together because if one can tolerate him he certainly does not ask for much."  My dear Cordelia!  Perhaps he is asking for more in exchange for less tolerance – and of all ridiculous things an engagement to be married must be the most ridiculous.  After all, marriage is a purpose even if the purpose discomforts me.  An engagement to be married, however, is purely a human invention and by no means does its inventor any honor.  It is neither fish nor fowl, and is to love what the rags a school groundsman wears are to a professor's gown.  Now I am a member of this hateful society.  This is not insignificant  for, as Trop says, only once you are an artist do you have the right to judge other artists.  And isn't a fiancé necessarily a deer park artist?    

Edward is beside himself with acrimony.  He's let his beard grow and hung up his black frock, which says a lot already.  He wants to talk to Cordelia and describe my subtlety to her.  Now this would be a shattering scene: Edward unshaven and in slapdash garb, speaking in high tones with Cordelia.  May he not jab me with his long beard!  In vain I attempt to bring him to reason; I explain that it was the aunt who set up the match, so to speak, with Cordelia still possibly harboring feelings for him, and me willing to step back if he can win her over.  For a moment he waffles as to whether he should let his beard stick out in some new way, whether he should buy a new black frock; then a moment later I find him scolding me.  Nevertheless, I try my best to maintain my best countenance.  However angry with me he may be, I am certain that he would not take a step without first consulting with me.  He cannot forget what a benefit it was to have had me as a mentor.  And why should I then wrest from him this final hope, why should I break with him?  After all, he is a good person who knows what can happen in time.

What I have to do now is twofold.  On the one hand, I must exert all efforts to have the engagement broken off so that I may assure myself of a lovelier and more meaningful relationship with Cordelia; on the other hand, I will need to use the time as profitably as possible so as to exult in all the grace and adorableness with which Nature has so superfluously equipped her.  I will also delight in the limitations and circumspection which impede anything from being understood.  Once I have made her learn what it means to love, and what it means to love me, so then will the engagement collapse like an incomplete form, and she will belong to me.  Other people get engaged at precisely this point, and have excellent prospects for a boring marriage for all of eternity.  That is up to other people.  

Everything is still in statu quo, but hardly could any fiancé on earth be happier than I, nor any miser who has just come across a gold coin.  I am intoxicated by the thought that she is in my power.  A pure, innocent femininity as transparent as the ocean and yet as profound as it as well, without a suspicion of love!  Now she will learn what kind of power love is.  Like a king's daughter raised from the dust that leads to her father's throne, she is then enshrined in the Royal house to which she has always belonged.  And that shall happen with me: because she will learn to love, she will learn to love me; because she will develop rules and successive paradigms will unfold, all these will become me; because in loving she will feel her entire meaning, she will apply this to loving me; and she will love me twice as much once she realizes that she has learned it from me.  The thought of my joy overwhelms me to such a degree that I almost lose consciousness.       

Her soul is neither bound nor eased by love's indefinite stirrings, something which leads many young women never to love, that is to say, never to love definitely, energetically or completely.  What they have on their consciences is a fuzzy everyday scene which shall become an ideal once the genuine article has been sampled.  From such halves comes something with which one can move through the world in a Christian way.  Since love now watches over her soul, I can see through it; from within her I can listen to it in all of love's voices.  I gain certainty as to how this has taken shape in her and pattern myself in that image.  And since I am already directly involved in the story, love runs through her heart and I meet her again halfway, as disappointingly as possible.   After all, a girl only loves once.      

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