Heart of Darkness

by: Joseph Conrad

  Part 2 Page 12

page Part 2: Page 12

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“For the moment that was the dominant thought. There was a sense of extreme disappointment, as though I had found out I had been striving after something altogether without a substance. I couldn’t have been more disgusted if I had travelled all this way for the sole purpose of talking with Mr. Kurtz. Talking with... I flung one shoe overboard, and became aware that that was exactly what I had been looking forward to—a talk with Kurtz. I made the strange discovery that I had never imagined him as doing, you know, but as discoursing. I didn’t say to myself, ‘Now I will never see him,’ or ‘Now I will never shake him by the hand,’ but, ‘Now I will never hear him.’ The man presented himself as a voice. Not of course that I did not connect him with some sort of action. Hadn’t I been told in all the tones of jealousy and admiration that he had collected, bartered, swindled, or stolen more ivory than all the other agents together? That was not the point. The point was in his being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words—the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness. “That was my dominant thought for the moment. I felt extremely disappointed, like I had just found out that what I was searching for wasn’t real. I couldn’t have been more disgusted if I had traveled all this way up the river just to talk to Kurtz. Talk with . . . I flung one shoe overboard and realized that that was exactly what I had been looking forward to—a talk with Kurtz. I hadn’t imagined him doing anything, just talking. In my mind, he was a voice, not a body. I knew, of course, that he did things. After all, everyone talked about how much ivory he collected. That wasn’t the point for me. The point was that he was someone with special gifts, and one of those gifts was his ability to talk, his ability to turn words into illuminating beams of light or deceitful shadows from the heart of darkness.
“The other shoe went flying unto the devil-god of that river. I thought, ‘By Jove! it’s all over. We are too late; he has vanished—the gift has vanished, by means of some spear, arrow, or club. I will never hear that chap speak after all’—and my sorrow had a startling extravagance of emotion, even such as I had noticed in the howling sorrow of these savages in the bush. I couldn’t have felt more of lonely desolation somehow, had I been robbed of a belief or had missed my destiny in life.... Why do you sigh in this beastly way, somebody? Absurd? Well, absurd. Good Lord! mustn’t a man ever—Here, give me some tobacco.”... “I threw my other shoe into that demonic river. I thought, ‘By God, it’s all over. We’re too late. He’s gone. His gift has vanished, destroyed by a spear, a club, or an arrow. I’ll never hear him speak after all.’ I felt an intense sadness, similar to the emotion felt by the savages howling in the bush. I couldn’t have felt worse if I’d missed my life’s purpose . . . Why are you sighing? You think this is absurd? Fine, it’s absurd. Good Lord! Can’t a man—here, give me some tobacco . . .”
There was a pause of profound stillness, then a match flared, and Marlow’s lean face appeared, worn, hollow, with downward folds and dropped eyelids, with an aspect of concentrated attention; and as he took vigorous draws at his pipe, it seemed to retreat and advance out of the night in the regular flicker of tiny flame. The match went out. There was a deep and silent pause. A match flared and Marlow’s face appeared for a moment. It was worn and hollow, but focused. As he lit his pipe, his face moved in and out of the darkness in the flickers of the flame. The match went out.
“Absurd!” he cried. “This is the worst of trying to tell.... Here you all are, each moored with two good addresses, like a hulk with two anchors, a butcher round one corner, a policeman round another, excellent appetites, and temperature normal—you hear—normal from year’s end to year’s end. And you say, Absurd! Absurd be—exploded! Absurd! My dear boys, what can you expect from a man who out of sheer nervousness had just flung overboard a pair of new shoes! Now I think of it, it is amazing I did not shed tears. I am, upon the whole, proud of my fortitude. I was cut to the quick at the idea of having lost the inestimable privilege of listening to the gifted Kurtz. Of course I was wrong. The privilege was waiting for me. Oh, yes, I heard more than enough. And I was right, too. A voice. He was very little more than a voice. And I heard—him—it—this voice—other voices—all of them were so little more than voices—and the memory of that time itself lingers around me, impalpable, like a dying vibration of one immense jabber, silly, atrocious, sordid, savage, or simply mean, without any kind of sense. Voices, voices—even the girl herself—now—” “Absurd!” he cried. “This is the worst part of trying to tell . . . Here you all are, with safe and sound homes and good health. Everything in your life is normal every single day. And you call me absurd! What do you expect from a man who just threw a new pair of shoes overboard? It’s surprising that I wasn’t in tears. I’m proud of how well I held up. I was hurt by losing the chance to hear Kurtz. Of course I was wrong. That chance was still waiting for me. I heard more than enough, and I was right about him being a voice. He was little more than a voice. And I heard it, and other voices too, and they still shake me. Voices, voices . . . even the girl . . . now.”