Source: British Socialist, July, 1912, p.33-36;
Online Version: Maxim Gorky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2003;
Transcription: Ted Crawford.
It is eerie to listen, in the stillness and loneliness of the night, to the beautiful and uniform voice of the clock. To those monotonous, mathematically exact sounds which are ever marking one and the same thing: the untiring movement of life. The earth lies in darkness and dreams. All is still. It is the clock alone which, cold and hard, reminds one of the passing of the seconds. The pendulum ticks. And, with each sound, life is shortened by a second. This second, this microscopic atom of time, has been given to each of us, but it passes, never to return. Whence came this second and whither does it go? No one gives an answer . . . . . There are many other questions which remain unanswered, many momentous questions, on the answer to which our life's happiness depends.
How shall we live so as to have the consciousness of not having lived in vain? How shall we live so as not to lose faith and willpower? How live that no second shall pass which is not moved by intellect and feeling? Will the clock never give an answer to that? Oh! this motion without an end! What does the clock say to it?
There is nothing in the world more equanimous than the clock. It ticked with the same uniformity at the moment of our birth and at the time when we eagerly plucked the flowers of youth's dreams. From the day of his birth onwards man is moving ever nearer to the end, and, when he lies in extremis, the clock, cold and impassive as ever, will continue to number its seconds.
And if he listens he feels in these dry counts something all-knowing and weary from all the knowledge. These tones cannot be excited about anything, and nothing is sacred to them. They are indifferent to us, and if we would live we must procure another clock, a clock full of feeling and thought, a clock full of actions, as a substitute for the many monotonous, dull, cold-sounding hours of life, which kill the soul with depression.
In the never-tiring haste of the clock there is no interval of rest. What, after all, do we call the present? One newborn second follows on another, and already the first falls into the abyss of the past.
Tick-tack, and all at once we are happy. Tick-tack, and into our hearts is poured the corroding poison of grief. And it threatens to remain in our hearts all our life long, if we do not quickly see that every second of our life is filled by something new and creative. There is something seductive in suffering. It is a dangerous privilege. If we possess it we forget the other, the higher right of the human calling. And we find so many sufferings that they become depreciated. They lose their claim on the attention of mankind. It is, therefore, foolish to look upon suffering as something precious. No, let us rather fill the soul with something more unusual. Shall we not?
Suffering is a worthless treasure. And one should not complain to others about life. Words of comfort seldom contain that for which man craves. Life is richer, more interesting, if man seeks to fight alone against all that which opposes itself to him. It is only in the fight that the dull depressing hours of life disappear.
Tick-tack! The life of man is absurdly short. How shall one best live? Some turn obstinately away from life, others dedicate themselves completely to it. At the end of their lives the former are quite destitute of intelligence and remembrance, the latter are rich in both. The one, like the other, dies, and of one as of the other, nothing remains, unless he has joyfully given others of the treasures of his heart and intellect. And at their death the clock will number its seconds. Tick-tack! And during those very seconds new human beings will be born, several, indeed, in one second; but the others are already no longer there. And nothing remains of them but their bodies, which soon see corruption. Must not your pride rebel against this automatic process by which we are called into life in order afterwards to be torn out of it again - and nothing more - Strengthen, then, during your lifetime the future remembrance of you, if so it be that you are proud, and rebel against this mysterious function of time. Think about your part in life. A brick was formed. Thenceforward it remained motionless in the wall. Then it crumbled into dust and disappeared. It is dull and ugly to be only a brick, is it not? Do not be like the brick, you, who possess reason and soul, and long to taste to the dregs all your stormy feelings!
If you would only think about it, what this ceaseless motion means, the feeling of unworthiness must oppress you. O, that this consciousness might rouse you, might awaken the pride in you and lead you to the struggle with life. Life, which offends you: declare war against it.
When nature had once brought man to the stage at which he no longer needed to crawl on his belly, she gave him a staff - the ideal. And since that time he instinctively and unconsciously aspires higher and higher. Make this aspiration a conscious one; teach men that the true happiness of humanity is only to be found in the conscious aspiration towards something higher. Do not accuse yourselves of powerlessness, do not accuse anything. All you can obtain by that means is pity - an alms for the intellectually destitute. All people are unhappy, but the unhappiest are they who boast of their unhappiness. Such people thirst to direct the attention of others to themselves, but they are just those who are least worthy of it.
The forward aspiration is the greatest object of life. May your whole life be such an aspiration, and then the most glorious hours will be your portion.
Tick-tack ! Tick-tack !
"Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul, to the man whose way is hid?" This is the question Job of old put to God. There are to-day no more such courageous people who, in the consciousness of being on a level with God, do not fear to speak to God, like Job. Men think themselves too small, too insignificant. They do not love life enough, nor themselves. They fear pain, as they know they cannot escape it. The inevitable is a law of nature. It is a fact, and one must face it, that the dying of man has been going on since he first saw the light. Only the consciousness of having accomplished one's task can destroy the fear of death. The honestly trodden path insures a calm end.
Tick-tack ! And all that remains of man are his deeds. His hours, with the desires they contain, break off and make room for other hours. Hour measures of his life! Cruel hours!
Tick-tack ! Tick-tack!
In this world full of contradictions, lying and wickedness thrive indeed to a tremendous extent. All would be better if men would mutually seek to protect each other, and if each possessed a real friend. The individual, however great, is of little account. Mutual understanding is absolutely necessary, for the way we express ourselves is much more dim than our thoughts. Many words are wanting to man in order to enable him to open his heart to his friend. Hence comes the loss of so many important thoughts, because we cannot at the right time find the right forms for them. A thought is born, and with it the deep sincere wish to embody this thought in words as hard as steel. But the words are wanting.
More attention, then, to the thoughts! Help to increase the: number of thoughts that are born, your trouble will not be unrewarded. You find thoughts everywhere: even in the clefts of stones, they are there, for him who knows how to find them. Does it not depend upon a man himself whether he will be a lord of life instead of a slave? If you had but the burning desire to live, and. the proud consciousness of your strength, the whole of life would be nothing but one row of glorious hours, full of spiritual strength and of great-souled heroism that would astonish you yourself.
Long live the strong souls, the brave men! Men who dedicate their lives to truth and justice and beauty!
We know not these men, for they are proud and do not hunt after reward. We do not see with what joy they sacrifice their hearts on the altar of truth; but as they cast a halo over life they force the blind to see. It is of urgent importance to make the blind see, for there are but too many of them. "Open your eyes to see the unworthiness of your life."
Long live the man who is master over his longing!
The whole world lives in his heart, and all pains and sufferings live in his soul. All that is evil and ugly, lying and cruelty, are his bitterest enemies. With a full heart he consecrates all his hours to this struggle, and his life is rich in stormy joy, in beautiful anger and proud persistency.
Do not spare yourself - that is the most glorious truth on earth. Long live the man who knows not how to spare himself! There are only two ways of life: to rot or to burn. The cowardly and avaricious choose the first, the brave and generous the second. Everyone who has any sense of the beautiful knows where Greatness is hidden.
The hours of our existence are empty, dull hours. Let us fill them up with beautiful deeds of heroism, without sparing ourselves! Then will come and meet us hours full of joyful tremor, of burning pride. Long live the man who knows not how to spare himself!