October 31, 2008

Shadow Writing

“The 22nd of March 1832 had come.  In his armchair, a coverlet upon his knees, the green shade over his eyes, Goethe died.  The dread and anxiety that often precede death by some time were over and done; he suffered no more, he had suffered himself out.  And when he asked what day of the month it was, and was told the 22nd, he replied that, now spring had come, it would be all the easier to get well.  After that he raised his arm and traced signs in the air.  His hand kept moving outward, then downward to the left; he was actually writing, line under line, and his arm sank lower not only because there would be no more room above for the shadow-writing, but also because he was weak.  At last the hand rested upon the coverlet, but still he continued writing.  The dying man seemed to be repeatedly setting down the same thing in these invisible lines.  He was seen to punctuate with care; here and there letters could be descried.  Then his fingers turned blue, they ceased to move, and when the green shade was lifted, his eyes were already sightless.”

—from “Goethe’s Career as a Man of Letters,” Thomas Mann’s address on the centenary of Goethe’s death.   

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