At the Bookcase

Accept my greetings, ancient scrolls, and favor my kiss in your dusty slumber. From sailing to foreign isles my soul has returned, and like a wandering dove, trembling and with weary wings, once more it knocks at the entrance to its childhood nest. Do you recognize me? I am he! Your bosom-child from way back, the abstinent one. Of all the divine delights in the wide world my early years knew only yours, you were my garden on a hot summer’s day and on winter nights my pillow. I learned to bundle my soul into your scrolls for safekeeping, and to fold into your columns my holy dreams. Do you still remember? — I have not forgotten — In an alcove in a desolate house of study I was the last of the last, on my lips the fathers’ prayers fluttered and died, and in a hidden corner there, by your shelves, the eternal flame flickered before my eyes and was gone. In those days I was still young, no bud had yet blossomed on my cheeks, and wintry nights, tumultuous nights, found me over an old book, its pages torn, alone with the fears and the fantasies of my soul. A darkening wick still heaved as the oil in the lamp on the table was consumed; in the bowels of the bookcase a mouse was scratching; a coal in the fireplace released a final whisper — and the fear of God made my flesh crawl and my teeth chatter in terror. It was a ghastly night, the most cursed of nights. Outside, behind the clouded window, a raging storm howled wildly, the shutters broke, iron bolts and all, the demons of destruction tore down the walls. I saw my fortress exploded, and I watched God’s presence leave its place

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