Stefan Zweig
Beware of Pity

In my youth and comparative inexperience I had always regarded the yearning and pangs of love as the worst torture that could afflict the human heart. At this moment, however, I began to realize that there was another and perhaps grimmer torture than that of longing and desiring: that of being loved against one's will and of being unable to defend oneself against the urgency of another's passion. Of seeing another human being seared by the flame of her desire and of having to look on impotently, lacking the power, the capacity, the strength to pluck her from the flames. He who is himself crossed in love is able from time to time to master his passion, for he is not the creature but the creator of his own misery; and if a lover is unable to control his passion, he at least knows that he is himself to blame for his sufferings. But he who is loved without reciprocating that love, is lost beyond redemption; for it is not in his power to set a limit to the other's passion, to keep it within bounds, and the strongest will is reduced to impotence in the face of another's desire. Perhaps only a man can realize to the full the tragedy of such an undesired relationship, for him alone the necessity to resist it is at once martyrdom and guilt. For when a woman resists an unwelcome passion, she is obeying to the full the law of her sex; the initial gesture of refusal is, so to speak, a primordial instinct in every female, and even if she rejects the most ardent passion she cannot be called inhuman. But how disastrous it is when Fate upsets the balance, when a woman so far overcomes her natural modesty as to disclose her passion to a man, when, without the certainty of its being reciprocated, she offers her love, and he, the wooed, remains cold and on the defensive! An insoluble tangle this, always; for not to return a woman's love is to shatter her pride, to violate her modesty. The man who rejects a woman's advances is bound to wound her in her noblest feelings. In vain, then, all the tenderness with which he extricates himself, useless all his polite, evasive phrases, insulting all his offers of mere friendship, once she has revealed to him her weakness! His resistance inevitably becomes cruelty, and in rejecting a woman's love, he takes a load of guilt upon his conscience, guiltless though he may be. Abominable fetters that can never be cast off! Only a moment ago you felt free, you belonged to yourself and were in debt to no one, and now suddenly you find yourself pursued, hemmed in, prey and object of the un-welcome desires of another. Shaken to the depths of your soul, you know that day and night someone is waiting for you, thinking of you, longing and sighing for you-a woman, a stranger. She wants, she demands, she desires you with every fibre of her being, with her body, with her blood. She wants your hands, your hair, your lips, your manhood, your night and your day, your emotions, your senses, and all your thoughts and dreams. She wants to share everything with you, to take everything from you and to draw it in with her breath. Henceforth, day and night, whether you are awake or asleep, there is somewhere in the world a being who is feverish and wakeful and who waits for you, and you are the centre of her waking and her dreaming. It is in vain that you try not to think of her who thinks always of you, in vain that you seek to escape, for you no longer dwell in yourself, but in her. Of a sudden a stranger bears your image within her as though she were a moving mirror-no, not a mirror, for that merely drinks in your image when you offer yourself willingly to it, whereas she, the woman, this stranger who loves you, she has absorbed you into her very blood. She carries you always within her, carries you about with her, no matter where you may flee. Always you are imprisoned, held prisoner somewhere else, in some other person, no longer yourself, no longer free and light-hearted and guiltless, but always hunted, always under an obligation, always conscious of this 'thinking-of-you' as though it were a steady devouring flame. Full of hate, full of fear, you have to endure this yearning on the part of a being who suffers on your account; and I now know that it is the most senseless, the most inescapable, afflic- tion that can befall a man to be loved against his will-torment of torments, and a burden of guilt where no guilt is.

Not in the most fleeting day-dream had it ever seemed conceivable to me that I too could be so boundlessly loved by a woman. I had, it is true, heard my friends brag how this woman or that 'ran after' them; I may even have joined in the general amusement aroused by such indiscreet revelations of female importunacy, for at that time I had had no idea that every form of love, even the most ridiculous and absurd, is the destiny of someone, and that even by one's indifference one can incur a debt to love. But all that one has heard and read passes one by; it is only from personal experience that the heart can learn the true nature of its emotions. I had to experience for myself the burden of misery that the hopeless love of another imposes on one's conscience in order to feel pity with either the woman who forces her love upon a man, or the man who vigorously defends himself against her unwelcome passion. But how inconceivably greater was the responsibility that had fallen to my lot! For if in itself it is cruelty, brutality almost, to disappoint a woman where her emotions are concerned, how much more horrible, then, was the 'No' that I should have to utter to this passionate child. I should have to hurt a cripple, to wound more deeply than ever one who had already been grievously wounded by Life, to snatch from one who was inwardly unsure of herself the last crutch of hope with which she kept herself erect. I knew that by fleeing from her love I should perhaps imperil the life and the reason of this girl who had aroused in me so pure an emotion of pity. I was gruesomely aware of the monstrous crime that I should, against my will, be committing if, incapable though I was of returning her love, I did not at least make some show of responding to it.

But I had no choice. Even before my mind had consciously realized the danger, my body had revolted against that sudden embrace. Our instincts are always more prescient than our waking thoughts; in that very first moment of horror, when I had torn myself away from her violent caresses, I had dimly foreseen this, known that I should never have the selfless strength to love the crippled girl as she loved me, and, probably, not even enough pity simply to bear with this unnerving passion. At the first recoil I had divined that there was no way out, no middle course. Either the one or the other of us, perhaps both, was bound to be made unhappy by this futile love.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.