Circle Dance

Robert Walser

Artwork by Lee Wan Xiang

Suddenly, before all the others even know it, someone has been made big and important. No one in the group is quite sure afterward who it was who declared that someone so. Such a surplus of thrilling, inflaming imprecisions life and the game of life seem to rest on, and we all know that it is not exactly crowned with careful deliberation. But there are also some people amazingly content with the middling, not that that’s probably so very amazing. Our wishes and desires do, when all is said and done, always harmonize with our abilities, and not a year goes by before a person can sense what he is capable of, more or less. In the roundish circle of the game, there is one lonesome girl, crying. And the rest act as though they don’t notice, which is surely the decent thing to do. When I feel sorry for someone I am supposed go up to them and throw my arms around their neck and devote my life to them, and one does tend just a little to shy away from all that. How deeply, how powerfully, every one of them must value and love themselves. So runs the Law of Nature. Love plays a peculiar role on the grassy meadow of life. Here two people love each other but find themselves quite unable to respect each other. There two people loathe each other but get along pretty well in their mutual daily dealings. Love is unfathomable and the endpoint for many mistakes. There we have someone who would gladly be a mighty ruler, but you can tell just by looking at him that he will never have the chance to dominate or order around. Another wants nothing more than to be taken care of and finds himself forever the caretaker. It’s a strange game, life. We see snow-white butterflies fluttering here and there: they are thoughts, whose fate is to flutter, to tire, to fall. The air is full of unspeakable longing, hot with renunciation. Some ways off stands the father, and when one of the children of man dashes over to him to complain about something, he smiles and bids the child return to the circle of the dance. When a child dies, that child’s game is over. The others play on, though, on and on.

translated from the German by Damion Searls

Click here to read another short story from Robert Walser, “Full,” translated by Susan Bernofsky, in the Summer 2011 issue.