Bohumil Hrabal

From "Too Loud a Solitude":

"I can be by myself because I'm never lonely; I'm simply alone, living in my heavily populated solitude, a harum-scarum of infinity and eternity, and Infinity and Eternity seem to take a liking to the likes of me."

"I look on my brain as a mass of hydraulically compacted thoughts, a bale of ideas, and my head as a smooth, shiny Aladdin's lamp."

"...living as i do in a land that has known how to read and write for fifteen generations; living in a onetime kingdom where it was and still is a custom, an obsession, to compact thoughts and images patiently n the heads of the population, thereby bringing them ineffable joy and even greater woe; living among people who will lay down their lives for a bale of compacted thoughts."

"Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel."

"Lost in my dreams, I somehow cross at the traffic signals, bumping into street lamps or people, yet moving onward, exuding fumes of beer and grime, yet smiling, because my briefcase is full of books and that very night I expect them to tell me things about myself I don't know."

"I kept working and...reading The Theory of The Heavens a sentence at a time, savoring each sentence like a cough drop and brimming with a sense of the immensity, grandeur, and infinite beauty streaming at me from all sides"

"A few more years of the same, though, and I got used to it: I would load entire libraries from country castles and city mansions, fine, rare, leather- and Morroco-bound books, load whole trains full, and as soon as a train had thirty cars, off it would go to Switzerland or Austria, one kilogram of rare books for the equivalent of one crown of convertible currency, and nobody blinked an eye, nobody shed a tear, not even I myself, no, all I did was stand there smiling as I watched the train hauling those priceless libraries off to Switzerland and Austria for one crown in convertible currency a kilo. By then I had mustered the strength to look upon misfortune with composure, to still my emotions, by then I had begun to understand the beauty of destruction and I loaded more and more freight cars, and more and more trains left the station heading west at one crown per kilogram, and as I stood there staring after the red lantern hanging from the last car, as I stood there leaning on a lamppost like Leonardo da Vinci, who stood leaning on a column and looking on while French soldiers used his statue for target practice, shooting away horse and rider bit by bit, I thought how Leonardo, like me, standing and witnessing such horrors with complete composure, had realized even than that neither the heavens are humane nor is any man with a head on his shoulders."

"I always loved twilight: it was the only time of day I had the feeling that something important could happen. All things were more beautiful bathed in twilight, all streets, all squares, and all the people walking through them; I even had the feeling that I was a handsome young man, and I liked looking at myself in the mirror, watching myself in the shop windows as I strode along, and even when I touched my face, I felt no wrinkles at my mouth or forehead."

"Sometimes when I get up and emerge from the mists of slumber, my whole room hurts, my whole bedroom, the view from the window hurts, kids go to school, people go shopping, everybody knows where to go, only I don't know where I want to go, I get dressed, blearily, stumbling, hopping about to pull on my trousers, I go and shave with my electric razor - for years now, whenever I shave, I've avoided looking at myself in the mirror, I shave in the dark or round the corner, sitting on a chair in the passage, with the socket in the bathroom, I don't like looking at myself any more, I'm scared by my own face in the bathroom, I'm hurt even by my own appearance, I see yesterday's drunkenness in my eyes, I don't even have breakfast any more, or if I do, only coffee and a cigarette, I sit at the table, sometimes my hands give way under me and several times I repeat to myself, Hrabal, Hrabal, Bohumil Hrabal, you've victoried yourself away, you've reached the peak of emptiness, as my Lao Tzu taught me, I've reached the peak of emptiness and everything hurts, even the walk to the bus-stop hurts, and the whole bus hurts as well, I lower my guilty-looking eyes, I'm afraid of looking people in the eye, sometimes I cross my palms and extend my wrists, I hold out my hands so that people can arrest me and hand me over to the cops, because I feel guilty even about this once too loud a solitude which isn't loud any longer, because I'm hurt not only by the escalator which takes me down to the infernal regions below, I'm hurt even by the looks of the people travelling up, each of them has somewhere to go, while I've reached the peak of emptiness and don't know where I want to go."

"When I start reading I'm somewhere completely different, I'm in the text, it's amazing, I have to admit I've been dreaming, dreaming in a land of great beauty, I've been in the very heart of truth. Ten times a day, every day, I wonder at having wandered so far, and then, alienated from myself, a stranger to myself, I go home, walking the streets silently and in deep meditation, passing trams and cars and pedestrians in a cloud of books, the books I found that day and am carrying home in my briefcase"

"... because real thoughts come from outside and travel with us like the noodle soup we take to work; in other words, inquisitors burn books in vain. If a book has anything to say, it burns with a quiet laugh, because any book worth its salt points up and out of itself."

"And so everything I see in this world, it all moves backward and forward at the same time, like a black-smith's bellows, like everything in my press, turning into its opposite at the command of the red and green buttons, and that's what makes the world go round."

"Suddenly the door opened and in stomped a giant reeking of the river, and before anyone knew what was happening, he had grabbed a chair, smashed it in two, and chased the terrified customers into a corner. The three youngsters pressed against the wall like periwinkles in the rain, but at the very last moment, when the man had picked up half a chair in each hand and seemed ready for the kill, he burst into song, and after conducting himself in "Gray Dove Where Have You Been?" he flung aside the halves of the chair, paid the waiter for the damage, and, turning to the still-shaking customers, said, "Gentlemen I am the hangman's assistant," whereupon he left, pensive and miserable. Perhaps he was the one who, last year at the Holesovice slaughterhouse, put a knife to my neck, shoved me into a corner, took out a slip of paper, and read me a poem celebrating the beauties of the countryside at Ricany, then apologized saying he hadn't found any other way of getting people to listen to his verse."

"Today's Gypsies... light a ritual fire wherever they work, a nomads' fire crackling only for the joy of it, a blaze of rough-hewn wood like a child's laugh, a symbol of the eternity that preceded human thought, a free fire, a gift from heaven, a living sign of the elements unnoticed by the world-weary pedestrian, a fire in the ditches of Prague warming the wanderer's eye and soul."

"...the melancholy of a world eternally under construction".

"...and realized that my pitcher was empty, so i stumbled up the stairs on all threes, my head spinning from too loud a solitude"

"These two Gypsy girls, who collected wastepaper and lugged it around on their backs in huge bundles the way women carried grass from the woods in the old days, would waddle their loads along crowded streets, and people had to step aside for them and retreat into doorways, and their packs were so big that whenever they tried to come into our courtyard they clogged the entrance, but they'd squeeze through, make straight for the scale, bend over, turn, and fall into the pile of paper smack on their backs, only then undoing the straps and freeing themselves from their enormous yoke, after which they'd drag the bundle onto the scale and, wiping their sweaty foreheads, look up at the dial, which always showed at least seventy-five, and sometimes a hundred or a hundred and twenty-five pounds of boxes and cartons and refuse paper from various shops and distribution centers."

"I lay there listening to the sounds of the street, the beautiful concrete music of the street, and the dripping and flushing of wastewater that was constantly running through the five-story building above us, to toilet chains being pulled, listening to what was going on below, clearly hearing the far-off flow of wastewater and feces through the sewers, and far beneath the surface╬Ý╬˝now that the flesh flies' legions had beat a fast retreat - the keening and mournful squeaking of the two armies of rats battling throughout the sewers of the capital"

"Yesterday we buried my uncle, who had a stroke on the job, in his signal tower. It's the height of summer and his friends are all off in the woods and streams; he lay there on the signal-tower floor for two hot weeks before one of the engineers found him coated with flies and worms, his body running over the linoleum like an overripe Camembert. The undertakers picked up what had stuck to his clothes, then came and told me what had happened, and I went and got a shovel and trowel and scooped him bit by bit off the floor, fortified by a bottle of rum the undertakers had given me. Humbly and quietly I scraped up the remains of his remains, the toughest part being the red hair in the linoleum╬Ý╬˝it was like the spines of a porcupine run over by a truck; I had to use a chisel on it╬Ý╬˝and when I finished, I stuffed the leftovers under the clothes he had on in the coffin, covered his head with the cap I'd found hanging in the signal tower, and placed a volume of Immanuel Kant in his hands".

"...until suddenly one day I felt beautiful and holy for having had the courage to hold on to my sanity after all I'd seen and been through, body and soul, in too loud a solitude, and slowly I came to the realization that my work was hurtling me headlong into an infinite field of omnipotence."

"Now I am lying in bed crosswise, on my back, and a tiny mouse has just fallen on my chest, slid down to the floor, and scurried for shelter under the bed. I've probably brought home a few mice in my briefcase or coat pocket as well. A toilet-scented perfume drifts up from the yard: we're in for some rain, I tell myself. I'm so worn out from work and beer that I can't move a finger╬Ý╬˝two whole days of cleaning the cellar at the cost of those humble little creatures that wanted nothing more than to nibble at a few old books and live in wastepaper holes, give birth to other mice and feed them in cozy nests, tiny mice rolled into balls the way my tiny Gypsy rolled into a ball next to me on cold nights. The heavens are not humane, but I'd forgotten compassion and love".

"It reminded me of the time I visited the poultry farm in Libun and saw young girls pulling out the innards of chickens hung up live on a conveyor belt, working with the same deft motions the children used to pull out the innards of the books, tossing livers, lungs, and hearts into the proper buckets, while the belt carried the twitching chickens off for further operations, and what struck me most as I looked on was that all those girls in Libun could be cheerful and gay doing what they were doing and doing it in the midst of a thousand cages with ten half-dead chickens in each cage plus a few escapees waddling around or pecking but never thinking to fly away from the hooks awaiting them on the conveyor belt."


Back to the database of writers | Send more quotes | Back to Literature | Home