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Bertrand Russell : The Pilgrimage of Life

Dernière mise à jour : 10 sept. 2022

Extracts from :

Bertrand Russell

The Pilgrimage of Life (1902-1903)


The Past

THERE IS NO SADNESS so poignant as the sadness of vanished days. The Past is a calm and smiling land, bathed in eternal sunshine, from which life’s voyage has separated us by a whole sea of sorrow, renunciation, and loss. The icy touch of experience has chilled for ever those joys which relentless memory still recalls as minutely as in the happy moments when Fate, to pumsh us the more surely, first permitted us to know them.

Gone, for ever gone, is the careless happiness of summer, the gentle release of spring, and the dewy magic of autumn mornings. Only as ghosts they haunt us, while the dreary load of Duty weighs like lead upon the soul. Ever as we toil along the parched and dusty road of life, the mirage moves with us, but never again can we enter that enchanted country; for the Past returns not, and eatmg cares have destroyed all hope. And at length the Past so invades the inmost recesses of feeling that happiness, even in the very moment of its being, seems already gone, and present joys bring with them their own wraiths as unmvited guests.



ONE BY ONE hopes die, and the kingdom of the Past receives them; but still their spectres inhabit our wintry world. There are words we dare not utter, places we dare not see, books we dare not read, lest we summon the pale army of memories, and they imprison us in the dungeon of despair, lest, for a moment of terror, we hve once more the life of pain. Long ago we put away joy and sorrow, but still in dreams the sharp stab of loss pierces our hearts.

And all that beautiful country of the Past, we dare not look towards it, for there dwell the loves, the friendships, the joys, from which the sea of Time has parted us. Would that when our better part is dead, we too might die; but still, in some shadowy way, we live. Yet at last

we too shall enter those happy fields, for Death will open the door to our prayers; we ourselves shall be but a memory and in that quiet land we shall rest, while the toiling generations struggle towards the silent portal. And there at last we shall rejoin those whom we loved in this brief valley of darkness, and sleep will end our weariness for ever.


The Two Races of Man

SORROW CAME TO me and said: Behold the races of man ! And I saw before me a shady garden, with roses and tall palms, and many souls rejoicing, and a fountain in the midst refreshing the earth and softly plashing in the cool and pleasant air.

And Sorrow said: that is the fountain of joy, and to those who drink of its waters pain comes not. Then I saw that beyond the garden was desert, and the desert was hot and parched, and the sun shone down pitilessly. And m the desert were innumerable spirits weeping, weeping, weeping; and of their tears was made a stream, and from the stream sprang the fountam of joy.

And Sorrow said: These are my worshippers; they dwell far from the fountain of joy, and the worshippers of joy behold them not, and know not whence the pleasant waters flow. But

those who weep know that their tears water the garden of delight, and they weep that it may be green for others.

And do they never drink of the fountain ? I asked. Once only. Sorrow replied: Death takes them by the hand, and leads them to the garden, and they drink one deep draught, and all is ended. But some there are who will not leave their comrades in the desert even at the bidding of Death, and they never drink, but beside their loved ones they fall asleep.


The Worship of Truth

TRUTH IS a stern and pitiless God; he exacts his hecatombs of human sacrifices, he slays with jealous thunder every love which is unfaithful to him, he drives into madness those who cannot bear the full terror of his majestic frown, his whispers are fanged adders whose sting poisons trust and human fellowship. In happiest moments, his commands enjoin doubt, his cold commentary freezes the blood. Only those who resolutely turn away from him escape his tyranny, only for them the sun shines and flowers are gay. Why worship such a God ? Why not fly to oblivion and ease, to kindness and love ?

Yet an inner voice speaks, with an absolute authority that no vain words can diminish, bidding us follow Truth though he slay us, though he blast the lives of those we love, though he wither the flowers of joy and dry up with his parched breath the pleasant springs of happiness. In his service is courage, in his service only can the soul grow great, in his service only the shming lights are kindled on the mountam-tops by which, far off in the plain, humanity is guided in the night of fear and perplexity. Alone, the priest of Truth lives in the service of the generations to come, and keeps ever bright the sacred flame, pity he may feel for those who dwell below, but fellowship only in the mystic communion of those who create and tend the lights which illumine the world.



OH MAY OLD AGE bring wisdom ! When weariness has stilled the fiery passion, the fierce restlessness of yearning, leaving a spirit open to Nature’s gentle beauty, to the soothing balm of sunshine, of woods and streams, of flowers and meadows and the dews of early morning; when Self and its sorrows stand no longer like a spectral shadow between the soul and all calm and lovely things, when the unchanging stars are no longer a flaunting insult to tortured thought, and the peaceful dawn is not a hated call to labour and renunciation. Ah then may love fill my soul, love for all who suffer, and sympathy for the pangs which each in turn must endure.

It is not happiness that life can give: generation after generation is born into the world lonely, restless, full of eager desire; with endless effort and pain another generation is made capable of a like doom, and swiftly Death claims the few who make life precious. But away from man, away from the struggle and the fret, eternal beauty is ready to stanch the wounds which man inflicts on man: only a humble spirit, only a soul purged of rebellion, is required for that pure and ennobling joy.



INFINITE is the sadness of wisdom. She is old, old with the weight of human suffering, stern and melancholy, the kind and ever watchful mother of sorrows. She has seen the generations of man come and go, she has known the hopes, the disappomtments, the despairing cries to Fate for mercy, the failures and the victories, the rashness, the punishment, and the weary, weary acquiescence, that each in turn must endure before seeking her love and her healing counsel. Eagerly, boldly, imperiously, we call for happmess, for ease, for the fiery joys of a too possessive love; but Duty stands ever at the door with warnmg voice, telling of the burden to be borne, the happiness to be renounced, the awful truth from which cowardice recoils.

More and more terrible grow the commands of Duty, more and more impossible the fevered struggle to forget the hated monitor. But behind Duty, Wisdom calmly waits, serene and beautiful, ever ready to give balm to those who loyally follow Duty through the dark and tangled wilderness of abnegation. Only to those who truly love her are her treasures given; not to those who seek them, but to those who ask for nothing but an upright life, are her soothing words spoken.

O weary warrior, lifeless almost with the wounds of deadly battle, the victory has not been vain, the triumph is not wholly barren. When joy and pain are overcome, peace and love remain, and Wisdom softly whispers words of rest and calm.


The Ocean of Life

MONOTONOUS, MELANCHOLY, ETERNAL, the waves break on the beach, travelling from the grey horizon to their destined end. So souls emerge from the mystery of birth, and one by one they reach the moamng shore of Death. Vast and sad is the ocean of life, yet calm with an infinite peace, not restless, rebellious, eager, full of yearning for the sunny land from which Death parts it, but great and free, deep, unsearchable and sublime.

O strugglmg anxious soul, forget thy fretful desires, forget thy hopes and fears, thy joys and thy pains, and look upon the world with open eyes. Then will mortality be no longer a great emgma, no longer terrible, but beautiful as the fading light of evening; then will sorrow

become divine, a voice revealing in the darkness the secret message of nature, then will Time and Change and Fate lose their cruel empire, while tenderness, pity, and the wisdom of infinite love ennoble the tragic burden of humanity.

So may man become one with that great soul of sadness that speaks in the stars, in the dawn, in the rustle of midnight breezes, in the lonely ripple of mountain tarns, in the ceaseless sighing of pines, and in the tender grace of willows whitened by the passing wind.

The Message of Nature

THE SETTING SUN illumines an enchanted world, the grass is golden, in the summer air the tree-tops tremble as for the passing of a soul. Again Nature speaks her message — no longer now a haunting mystery, no longer an unfathomable depth of wisdom filling the heart with wistful yearinng for hidden knowledge, but a voice speaking straight to experience and sorrow. Peace and beauty, beauty and peace, the voice says; human suffering is but of yesterday, and tomorrow it will be no more, but beauty is eternal, and peace is for those who have learnt to live with the things that endure for ever.

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