What do we know? Who then understands the depths of things? The sunset glowed in the rose-hued clouds. It was the end of a day of storms, and the west Set the showers aflame in a ferocious blaze. Near a ditch, at the edge of a rain puddle, A toad looked at the sky, dazzled creature. In solemn contemplation, horror considered the splendor.
Why is there suffering and why is there ugliness? The Roman Empire is littered with petty Augustuses Tyrannous Caesars, as the toad is with pustules, As the meadow with flowers and the sky with sunshine. The leaves were purpling in the vermillion trees. The water glinted, twined with the grass in the ditch. The evening unfurled as a banner. The bird lowered its voice in the weakening day.
All softened, in the air, on the horizon; and, full of forgotten dreams, The toad, without fear, without shame, without anger, Gentle, watched the enormous solar aureole. Maybe the damned one felt blessed. It was a priest with a book he was reading. And the priest was old, and the woman was beautiful.
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Then came four schoolboys, serene as the heavens. We have game, inebriated by the dawn in our eyes. We have our mothers. We are joyous schoolboys. Gay little men, breathing the air, Filling our lungs, loved, free, and happy. What to do; If not torture a pathetic being? The toad crawled along in the bottom of a rut. It was the hour when the far fields turn azure.
Wild creature, the toad longed for night. The children saw him. Enlarging the hole where his eye had been, wounding His wounds, thrilled, applauded by the passersby; Because the passersby laughed.
And the sepulchral shadow Covered the dark martyr who could not even moan. And the blood, the atrocious blood, flowed from everywhere On the poor creature, whose crime was to be ugly.
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He fled. He had one leg torn off. A child struck him with a broken trowel, And every blow skimmed the beleaguered beast Who, even on a day that smiled upon him, Even beneath an immense sky, lurked at the bottom of a cave. He drools! We might have said that he had escaped a terrible embrace. The sorry act! To worsen misery! To add horror to deformity! Dislocated, he stumbled from stone to stone. The toad still had breath, without shelter, without asylum. He crawled.
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We might have said that death Found him too ugly and refused to take him. The children wanted to tie him in a shoelace, But he escaped them, slipping beside a hedge. The rut gaped. He dragged his wounds And dived in, bloodied, broken, his skull open, Feeling the bit of freshness in the green swamp, Washing the human cruelty in the mud. And the children, with spring on their cheeks, Blonde, charming, had never had such fun. And the despairing creature Watched as their terrible faces hunched over him.
It was a furor and it was an ecstasy. One of the children returned with a brick. Heavy, but for its evil purpose easily carried.
This exhausted donkey, limping and appalling, Was close to the stable after a day of walking. He pulled the cart and carried a saddlebag. Every step he took, as if his next to last. The beast walked, beaten, extenuated. The blows enveloped him like a clouded mist. His eyes were veiled with a vapor Of that stupidity, which is perhaps stupor. And the rut was deep, and so full of mud, And a slope so sharp that every turn of the wheel Was like a dismal and hoarse tearing.
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And the donkey went on, moaning, and the master cursed. The road descended and pushed the pack animal The donkey retreated into his thoughts, passive beneath the whip, beneath the flog; Sunk to a depth where no human can go. The children, hearing the wheel and the clop Turned noisily and saw the cart. That will be so much more amusing. Then, advancing in the rut, Where the monster awaited his final torture, The donkey saw the toad.
And, sad—alas! Bent Upon one sadder still—heavy, broken, mournful and scabrous, He seemed to sniff with his head low.
This enslaved one, this damned one, this patient one, granted grace. He gathered all his spent strength. Haggard, he turned the inexorable wheel, Leaving behind him the miserable toad to live. Then, under the blow of the whip, he continued on his way. Goodness of the fool! Diamond in coal! Blessed enigma! Glorious light of the shadows! The heavenly ones are no better than the doomed, If the doomed, though blind and punished, Think, and having no joy, yet have pity.
O sacred spectacle! The shadow saves the shadow. The lost soul rescues the dark soul. The stupid, moved to compassion, bends toward the hideous. The beast advances where the man recoils In the serenity of the pale twilight. The brute by turns thinks and feels she is sister Of the mysterious and profound sweetness. It is enough for a flash of grace to shine in her, For her to equal the eternal star. The beast of burden who, returning in the evening, weighed down, weary, Dying, feeling its flat hooves bleed, Takes a few extra steps, moves away and disrupts its course To avoid crushing a toad in the mire.
This abject donkey, dirty, bludgeoned beneath the stick, Is more holy than Socrates and greater than Plato. You search, philosopher? O great thinker, you meditate? Do you want to find what is real beneath our cursed fogs? Believe, cry, lose yourself inside an immense love! Whoever is good sees clear at the obscured crossroads. Whoever is good inhabits a corner of heaven. O wise one, The kindness, which in the world lights up a face; The kindness, that gaze of the sweet morning; The kindness, pure ray that warms the stranger; The instinct that in the night and in suffering loves; Is the ineffable and supreme link That joins, in the gloom, alas!
The great innocent, the donkey, to God, the great sage. Que savons-nous? Tu cherches, philosophe?
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Veux-tu trouver le vrai sous nos brumes maudites?