Notes on The Magic Mountain: “Snow”

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“What he had dreamed was already fading from his mind.”

So vivid the dream, so full of meaning, and as he lay there in the snow he had vowed to live for love and virtue, and never to let death enter his thoughts.

But already the dream fading, will any trace of it be left the next morning? Some remnant of it visible in his disposition, which perhaps even he will not recognise for what it is?

What he had seen most vividly was the smiling reverence of those people for each other, a seriousness veiled in joyfulness, never austere or sombre. Except in that one boy’s glance back at the temple, where he had seen in that face a look of sadness like grey stone, as momentarily he saw the horror that goes on behind those bronze doors. He realised that all these joyful and gracious people knew full well of these horrors, and that this was the reason for their kindness and respect for one another. How could unkindness be possible, knowing what darkness finally awaits each and every one of us? Pity we might feel, and from this follows tenderness and love for our fellow sufferers. A taboo on all solemn talk of death, since death we will all know soon enough.

Already the dream fading, and what he saw so clearly he could articulate it, and declare himself for love over death, virtue over despair and abandon, is now become perhaps something instinctive that belongs to him, that will perhaps be visible in a joyfulness and tenderness almost imperceptible.

And yet … Hans was already full of good will and kindness for his fellow sufferers, with his friendly manner and compassion for the sick and dying. So what can have changed? Perhaps the dream was never a sign for him to change, but a reflection of what he already was.

(I’ve been reading Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter.)

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