The Precious One

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Yes, this delicate one led a precious existence. I don’t doubt this for a moment because I understand him, and this being the case, my pen hardly dares to describe or, let’s say, sketch the one who was sitting in a room, reading and trying his best to believe himself happy. Cautiously, carefully I handle him, so that the likeness I’m attempting resembles a breeze or fragrance. Understandably the house he inhabited was a magnificent building resting in a beautiful garden demurely and illusion-inducingly comprised of meadows, trees, and paths, little fountains and pavilions. Whoever walked through this park felt distinguished simply by doing so and succumbed to beautiful imaginings. Swans, whose feathers seemed to sing, enlivened a small lake or pond which graced the garden with its softness and, by virtue of its resplendence, rendered it more serene and isolated than it already was. The air appeared to be the bride of the garden, and the garden the groom, and the leaves and flowers rejoiced when the cherished one strolled toward them, so that he might direct a few words to the ones whispering and pleasantly gazing about. Sometimes he ventured a boat trip on the water or rested for a while on a shady bench, in rapport with all kinds of thoughts that chimed with the quietness around him and with whose scampering about he concurred, because he did not begrudge them their wandering. The wind played with his hair. Even as a child in the crib a special quality veiled him. Never would he grow old, he divined, since aging is tied to the diminishment of one’s handsomeness, and it didn’t seem permissible to become graceless or to give those in his presence occasion to think of something unpleasant due to his appearance. His purpose in life lay in being graceful and in his never experiencing disappointment. No one frowned upon him, which is why it was denied him to say no to anything that had breath and form. Beleaguered by considerateness, his activities were limited to behaving well-mannered, and much not-knowing, which is diverting, was the lot of his soul, which stayed ungrown-upish.

What was expected—and because of his preciousness almost deemed proper to wish for—happened. He was gripped by an illness he could not resist, and leaving memories behind, let it lead him away.

—1932–1933

Excerpted from Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories, forthcoming from New York Review Books Classics.

Robert Walser (1878-1956) was a German-speaking Swiss writer.

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