During the spring of his childhood, Anselm used to run joyfully in the green garden. One of his mother’s flowers was called the blue flag, and he was especially fond of it. He used to press his cheek against its tall bright green leaves, touch and feel its sharp points with his fingers, and smell and inhale its wonderful blossoms. Long rows of yellow fingers rose from the pale blue center and stood erect. Between them a light path ran deep down into the calyx and into the distant blue mystery of the blossom. He loved this flower very much and used to stare inside it for moments on end. At times he envisioned the delicate yellow members like a golden fence standing at a king’s garden, and at other times they looked like a double row of beautiful dream trees, and no wind could sway them. The mysterious path into the inner depths ran between them, interlaced with living veins that were as delicate as glass. The vault spread itself out enormously, and the path lost itself infinitely deep between the golden trees in the caverns. Above the path the violet vault bowed majestically and spread thin magic shadows over the silent miracle that was anticipated. Anselm knew that this was the mouth of the flower, that its heart and its thoughts lived behind the splendid yellow protrusions in the blue cavern, and that its breath and its dreams streamed in and out along this glorious bright path with its glassy veins.
Next to the large blooming flowers stood small blossoms that had not yet opened. They were on firm ripe stems in small chalices with brownish-green skin. The young blossoms forced themselves quietly and vigorously from these chalices, tightly wrapped in light green and lilac. Then the young deep violet managed to peer forth erect and tender, rolled into fine points. Veins and hundreds of lines could already be seen on these tightly rolled young petals.
In the morning, each time Anselm came out of the house, drawn from sleep and dreams and faraway places, the garden stood waiting for him. It was always there and always new. If yesterday there had been the hard blue point of a blossom tightly rolled and staring out of a green husk, there was now a young petal that hung thin and blue as the sky with a tongue and a lip, searching and feeling for its form and arch, about which it had been dreaming for a long time. And right at the bottom, where it was still engaged in a quiet struggle with its sheath, a delicate yellow plant with bright veins, one could sense, was preparing its path to a distant fragrant abyss of the soul. Perhaps it would open at noon, perhaps in the evening. A blue silk tent would arch over the golden dream forest, and its first dreams, thoughts, and songs would emanate silently out of the magical abyss.
Then a day would come when the grass was filled with nothing but bluebells. Then a day would come when suddenly a new tone and fragrance enveloped the garden. The first tea rose would hang, soft and golden-red, over the scarlet leaves soaked in sun. Then a day would come when there were no more blue flags. They would be gone. There would be no more path with a golden fence that led gently down into the fragrant mysteries. Stiff leaves would stand sharp and cool like strangers. But red berries would ripen in the bushes, and new, incredible butterflies would fly freely and playfully over the star-shaped flowers, red-brown butterflies with mother-of-pearl backs and hawk moths with wings like glass.
Anselm talked to the butterflies and the pebbles. The beetles and lizards were his friends. Birds told him bird stories. Ferns showed him secretly the brown seeds they had gathered and stored under the roof of the giant leaves. Pieces of green sparkling glass that caught the rays of the sun became for him palaces, gardens, and glistening treasure chambers. If the lilies were gone, then the nasturtiums bloomed. If the tea roses wilted, then the blackberries became brown. Everything fluctuated, was always there and always gone, disappeared and reappeared in its season. Even the scary strange days, when the cold wind clamored in the pine forest and the withered foliage clattered so pale and dead throughout the entire garden, even these days brought still another song, an experience, or a story with them until everything subsided again. Snow fell outside the windows and forests of palms grew on the panes. Angels with silver bells flew through the evening, and the hall and floor smelled from dried fruit. Friendship and trust were never extinguished in that good world, and when once snowdrops unexpectedly shone next to the black ivy leaves and the first early birds flew high through new blue heights, it was as if everything had been there all the time. Until one day, once again, the first bluish point of the bud peered out from the stem of the blue flag, never expected and yet always exactly the way it had to be and always equally desired.
For Anselm, everything was beautiful. Everything was welcome, familiar, and friendly, but the most magical and blessed moment for the boy came each year when the first blue flag appeared. At one time in his earliest childhood dream, he had read the book of wonders for the first time in its chalice. Its fragrance and numerous undulating shades of blue had been for him the call and the key to the creation of the world. The blue flag accompanied him through all the years of his innocence. It had renewed itself with each new summer, had become richer in mystery and more moving. Other flowers had mouths, too. Other flowers also diffused fragrance and thoughts. Others also enticed bees and beetles into their small sweet chambers. But the boy adored the blue flag or iris more than any other flower, and it became most important for him. It was the symbol and example of everything worth contemplating and everything that was miraculous. When he looked into its chalice and, steeped in thought, followed that bright dreamlike path between the marvelous yellow shrubs toward the twilight deep inside the flower, then his soul looked through the gate where appearance becomes an enigma and seeing becomes a presentiment. Even at times during the night he would dream about the chalice of the flower and see it enormously opened in front of him like the gate of a heavenly palace, and he would enter riding on a horse or flying on swans, and the entire world would ride and fly and glide gently with him, drawn by magic down into the glorious abyss where every expectation had to be fulfilled and each presentiment had to become true.
Every phenomenon on earth is symbolic, and each symbol is an open gate through which the soul, if it is ready, can enter into the inner part of the world, where you and I and day and night are all one. Every person encounters the open door here and there in the course of life, and it occurs to everyone at one time or another that everything visible is symbolic and that spirit and eternal life are living behind the symbol. Of course, very few people go through the gate and abandon the beautiful phenomenon of the outside world for the interior reality that they intuit.
It thus appeared to the young boy Anselm that the chalice of his flower was the open, silent question toward which his soul was moving in growing anticipation of a blessed answer. Then the lovely multitude of things drew him away again, in conversations and games with grass and stones, roots, bushes, animals, and all the friendly aspects of the world. He often drifted off and sank into deep contemplation of himself. He would abandon himself to the marvelous features of his body, feel his swallowing with closed eyes, his singing, the strange sensations as he breathed, the feelings and imaginings in his mouth and throat. He also groped there for the path and the gate through which one soul can go to another. With amazement he observed the meaningful and colorful figures that often appeared to him out of the purple darkness when he closed his eyes, with spots and half circles of blue and deep red and bright glassy lines in between. Sometimes Anselm experienced a glad and shocking jolt as he felt the hundreds of intricate connections between eye and ear, smell and taste, felt for beautiful fleeting moments sounds, tones, letters of the alphabet that were related and similar to red and blue, to hard and soft, or he was amazed upon smelling a plant or peeled-off green bark at how strangely close smell and taste were and how often they fused and became one.
All children feel this way, although they do not feel it with the same intensity and sensitivity. And with many of them all of this is already gone, as if it had never existed, even before they begin to learn how to read the alphabet. For others, the mystery of childhood remains close to them for a long time, and they take a remnant and echo of it with them into the days of their white hair and weariness. All children, as long as they still live in the mystery, are continuously occupied in their souls with the only thing that is important, which is themselves and their enigmatic relationship to the world around them. Seekers and wise people return to these preoccupations as they mature. Most people, however, forget and leave forever this inner world of the truly significant very early in their lives. Like lost souls they wander about for their entire lives in the multicolored maze of worries, wishes, and goals, none of which dwells in their innermost being and none of which leads them to their innermost core and home.
The summers and autumns of Anselm’s childhood came softly and went without making a sound. Time and again the snowdrops, violets, lilies, periwinkles, and roses bloomed and withered, beautiful and sumptuous as ever. He experienced it all with them. Flowers and birds spoke to him. Trees and springs listened to him, and he took his first written letters and his first problems with friends in his customary old way to the garden, to his mother, to the bright multicolored stones alongside the flower beds.
But one time a spring arrived that did not sound or smell like all the earlier ones. The blackbird sang, and it was not the old song. The blue iris blossomed, but there were no dreams and no fairy-tale figures wandered in and out along the golden-fenced path of its chalice. The hidden strawberries laughed from their green shadows, and the butterflies glittered and tumbled over the high lilies, but nothing was as it used to be. The boy was concerned with other things, and he had many quarrels with his mother. He himself did not know what the matter was or why it continued to disturb him. He only saw that the world had changed and that the friendships of earlier times had dissolved and left him alone.
A year went by like this, and then another, and Anselm was no longer a child. The brightly colored stones around the flower beds bored him. The flowers were mute, and he stuck the beetles on pins in a box. His soul had taken the long hard detour, and the old joys were vanquished and withered.
The young man rushed impetuously into life, which now seemed to him to have really begun. The world of symbols was blown away and forgotten. New wishes and paths enticed him. An aura of childhood could still be seen in his blue eyes and soft hair. However, he did not appreciate being reminded of it, and he cut his hair short and assumed as bold and worldly a posture as he could. His moods kept changing as he stormed through the scary pubescent years, at times a good student and friend, at other times lonely and shy. During his first youthful drinking bouts, he tended to be wild and boisterous. He had been compelled to leave home and saw it only when he returned on short visits to his mother. He was changed, grown, well dressed. He brought friends with him, brought books with him, always something else, and when he walked through the old garden, it appeared to him to be small and silent as he glanced about distractedly. He no longer read stories in the colorful veins of the stones and leaves. He no longer saw God and eternity dwelling in the mysterious blossoms of the blue iris.
Anselm went away to high school and then college. He returned to his home city with a red cap and then with a yellow one, with fuzz on his upper lip and then with a young beard. He brought books in foreign languages with him, and one time a dog. Soon he carried secret poems in a leather case in his breast pocket, then copies of ancient proverbs, and finally pictures of pretty girls and their letters. He came back from trips to foreign countries and took voyages on large ships across the sea. He returned and was a young teacher, wearing a black hat and dark gloves, and the old neighbors tipped their hats to him as he passed and called him professor, even though he had not yet become one. Once again he returned wearing black clothes, slim and somber, and walked behind the slow hearse upon which his old mother lay in the coffin adorned with flowers. And then he rarely returned.
Now Anselm lived in a big city, where he taught students at the university and was regarded as a famous scholar. He went about, took walks, sat and stood exactly like other people of the world. He wore a fine hat and coat, was serious or friendly, with lively and sometimes tired eyes. He was a gentleman and a scholar, just as he had wanted to become. But now he felt the exact same way that he had felt when his childhood came to an end. All of a sudden he felt the impact of many years sliding by that left him standing strangely alone and discontent in the middle of the world that he had always strived to attain. He was not genuinely happy as a professor. He was not deeply gratified to be greeted by the people of the city and the students who showed him great respect. Everything seemed dull and lifeless. Happiness lay once again far away in the future, and the way toward it seemed hot and dusty and ordinary.
It was during this time that Anselm made frequent visits to the house of a friend whose sister attracted him. He no longer felt at ease running after pretty faces. Here, too, he had changed, and he felt that happiness had to come for him in some special way and did not lie waiting for him behind each and every window. He liked the sister of his friend very much, and he often suspected that he was truly in love with her. But she was an unusual girl. Every one of her moves and words was unique and marked in a certain way, so that it was not always easy to keep pace with her and find the same rhythm. Sometimes in the evening, when Anselm walked back and forth in his lonely apartment and listened attentively to his own footsteps echoing through the empty rooms, he would argue with himself about this woman. She was older than the wife he had desired. She was very peculiar, and it would be difficult to live with her and to pursue his scholarly goals, for she did not like to hear anything about academics. Also, she was not strong and healthy and could not put up with parties and company very well. She preferred most of all to live with flowers and music and to have a book, in quiet solitude. She waited for someone to come to her, and she let the world take its course. Sometimes she was so fragile and sensitive that when anything strange happened to her, she easily burst into tears. Then there were times when she would glow quietly and softly in happy solitude, and anyone who saw this felt how difficult it would be to give something to this strange beautiful woman and to mean something to her. Sometimes Anselm believed that she loved him, and at other times it seemed to him that she did not love anyone. It appeared that she was just tender and friendly with everyone and wanted nothing from the world but to be left in peace. However, he wanted something more from life, and if he were to marry, then there had to be life and excitement and hospitality in his home.
“Iris,” he said to her, “dear Iris, if only the world had been differently arranged! If there were nothing at all but a beautiful, gentle world with flowers, thoughts, and music, then I would wish for nothing but to be with you my entire life, to listen to your stories, and to share in your thoughts. Just your name makes me feel good. Iris is a wonderful name. But I have no idea what it reminds me of.”
“You certainly know,” she responded, “that the blue flag flower is called iris.”
“Yes,” he responded with a feeling of discomfort. “Of course, I know it, and just that in itself is very beautiful. But whenever I say your name, it seems to remind me of something else. I don’t know what it is, but it’s as if it were connected to some very deep, distant, and important memories, and yet I don’t know what they could be and haven’t found the slightest clue.”
Iris smiled at him as he stood there helplessly, rubbing his forehead with his hand.
“That’s how I feel,” she said to Anselm in her voice that was as light as a bird, “whenever I smell a flower. Then my heart tells me each time that a memory of something extremely beautiful and precious is connected to the fragrance, something that had been mine long ago and became lost. It’s also the same with music, and sometimes with poems — all of a sudden something flashes, just for a moment, as if all at once I saw my lost home below in a valley, and then it immediately disappears and is forgotten. Dear Anselm, I believe that we are on earth for this purpose, for contemplating and searching and listening for lost remote sounds, and our true home lies behind them.”
“How beautifully you put all this!” Anselm complimented her, and he felt something stir in his own breast almost painfully, as if a hidden compass there were pointing persistently to its distant goal.
But that goal was completely different from the goal he sought, and this hurt. Was it worthy of him to gamble away his life in dreams by chasing after pretty fairy tales?
One day after Anselm had returned from a lonely journey, he found the stuffy atmosphere in his barren study to be so cold and oppressive that he rushed over to his friend’s house and asked the beautiful Iris for her hand.
“Iris,” he said to her, “I don’t want to continue living like this. You’ve always been my good friend. I must tell you everything. I must have a wife, otherwise I feel my life will be empty and without meaning. And whom else should I wish for my wife but you, my dear flower? Will you accept, Iris? You’ll have flowers, as many as I can find. You’ll have the most beautiful garden. Will you come and live with me?”
Iris looked at him for a long time, calmly and straight into his eyes. She did not smile or blush as she answered him with a firm voice.
“Anselm, I’m not astonished by your proposal. I love you, although I had never thought of becoming your wife. But look, my friend, I’d make great demands on the man I marry. I’d make greater demands than most women make. You’ve offered me flowers, and you mean well. But I can live without flowers and also without music. I could do without all of this and much more if I had to. However, there’s one thing I can’t and won’t do without: I can never live, not even just for a day, if the music in my heart is not at the core of everything I do. If I am to live with a man, then it must be one whose inner music harmonizes perfectly in a delicate balance with mine, and his desire must be to make his own music pure so that it will blend nicely with mine. Can you do that, my friend? If you do, you’ll probably not achieve fame and reap any more honors. Your house will be quiet, and the wrinkles that I’ve seen on your forehead for many years will have to be erased. Oh, Anselm, it won’t work. Look, you’re one of those who must study so that more and more wrinkles appear on your forehead, and you must constantly create more and new worries for yourself. And whatever I may mean and am, well, you may certainly love and find it pretty, but it is merely a pretty toy for you, as it is for most people. Oh, listen to me carefully: Everything that you now consider a toy is for me life itself and would have to be the same for you, and everything about which you worry and for which you strive, I consider a toy and not worth living for. I’m not going to change, Anselm, for I live according to a law that is inside me. Will you be able to change? And you would have to become completely different, if I were to become your wife.”
Anselm stood and could not utter a word, for he was startled by her willpower, which he had thought was weak and whimsical. He was silent, and without realizing it, he crushed a flower he had picked up from the table with his shaking hand.
When Iris gently took the flower out of his hand, it felt in his heart like a severe reproach, but then she suddenly smiled brightly and lovingly as though she had unexpectedly found a way out of the darkness.
“I have an idea,” she said softly, and blushed as she spoke. “You’ll find it strange. It will seem like a whim to you. But it’s not a whim. Do you want to hear it? And will you agree to follow it and allow it to decide everything between you and me?”
Without understanding her, Anselm glanced at Iris with a worried look in his pale features. Her smile compelled him to trust her, and he said yes.
“I’d like to set a task for you,” Iris said, and she became serious again very quickly.
“Very well, do it. It’s your right,” her friend conceded.
“I’m serious about this,” she said. “And it is my final word. Will you accept it as it comes straight from my heart and not haggle and bargain about it, even if you don’t understand it right away?”
Anselm promised. Then she stood up and offered him her hand as she said, “You’ve said to me many times that whenever you speak my name, it reminds you of something that you’ve forgotten, something that was once very important and holy to you. That’s a sign, Anselm, and that’s what has drawn you to me all these years. I also believe that you’ve lost and forgotten something important and holy in your soul that must be wakened again before you can find your happiness and attain your destiny. Farewell, Anselm! I’m giving you my hand and asking you to go and find whatever it is in your memory that is linked to my name. On the day that you rediscover it, I’ll become your wife and go with you wherever you want, and your desires will be my very own.”
Anselm was dismayed and confused and wanted to interrupt her and reproach her for making such a whimsical demand. But with one clear look, she admonished him and reminded him of his promise, and he kept quiet. He took her hand with lowered eyes, pressed it to his lips, and departed.
Anselm had undertaken and completed many tasks in his life, but none had been as strange and important and thus as discouraging as this one. Day after day he ran around and thought about it until he became tired, and time and again he would arrive at a point when he cursed the entire quest and angrily and desperately tried to dismiss it from his mind as the whim of a female. But then something deep within him would oppose this, a very slight mysterious pain, a very soft, barely audible warning. This faint voice in his own heart conceded that Iris was right, and it made the same demand that she did.
But this task was much too difficult for the learned man. He was supposed to remember something that he had long since forgotten. He was supposed to rediscover a single golden thread from the cobweb of buried years. He was supposed to grasp something with his hands and bring it to his beloved, something that was nothing but a drifting bird call, something like a pleasant or sad feeling that one has while listening to music, something thinner, more fleeting and more ethereal than an idea, something more transitory than a nocturnal dream, more shapeless than a morning mist.
Sometimes when he despairingly tossed his search to the winds and gave up in a terrible mood, he would unexpectedly be stirred by something like a breath of air from distant gardens. He would whisper the name Iris to himself, ten times and more, softly and playfully, like one testing a note on a taut string. “Iris,” he whispered, “Iris,” and he felt something move within him with a slight pain, as in an old abandoned house when a door opens and a shutter slams without cause. He examined memories that he thought he had ordered neatly within himself, and he made strange and disturbing discoveries in the process. His treasure of memories was infinitely smaller than he had imagined. Entire years were missing and stood empty, and when he tried to recall them, they were like blank pages. He found that he had great difficulty conceiving a clear picture of his mother once again. He had completely forgotten the name of a girl whom he had ardently pursued for one year during his youth. He recalled a dog that he had once bought on an impulse during his student years and that he had kept for some time. It took him some days before he could remember the name of the dog.
With growing sorrow and fear, the poor man painfully saw how wasted and empty the life that lay behind him had become. It no longer belonged to him but was strange and disconnected, like something once memorized that could be recalled only with difficulty in the form of barren fragments. He began to write. He wanted to write down, year by year, his most important experiences in order to get a firm hold on them again. But what were his most important experiences? Becoming a professor? Receiving his doctorate? His high school or university days? Forming short attachments and liking different girls in forgotten times? Terrified, he looked up. Was that life? Was that all? He slapped his forehead and could not stop himself from laughing compulsively.
Meanwhile time flew. It had never flown by so quickly and relentlessly! A year was gone, and it seemed to him that he was in exactly the same position that he had been when he left Iris. However, he had changed a great deal during this time, something that everyone saw and knew except him. He had become both older and younger. He had become practically a stranger to his acquaintances, who regarded him now as absentminded, moody, and odd. He gained the reputation of a strange eccentric, and people said it was a shame about him, but he had remained a bachelor too long. Sometimes he forgot his responsibilities at the university, and his students waited for him in vain. Sometimes, steeped in thought, he would meander down a street and walk by houses, brushing the dust from the ledges with his tattered coat as he passed. Many thought he had taken to drink. Other times he would stop right in the middle of a lecture in front of his students and try to remember something. Then his face would break into a childlike smile that was very soft and unusual for him, and he would continue his lecture in a warm and moving tone that stirred the hearts of many of his students.
After years of searching hopelessly for the fragrances and scattered traces of his remote past, Anselm had developed a new sensitivity that he himself could not recognize. It seemed to him more and more frequently that behind what he had previously called memories were even more memories, like an old painted wall where sometimes even older pictures lie concealed behind the old ones that have been painted over. He wanted to recall something like the name of a city where he had once spent some days as a traveler, or the birthday of a friend, or anything at all, and as he now dug up and rummaged through a small piece of the past as though it were debris, something entirely different occurred to him in a flash. A breeze surprised him like an April morning wind or like a misty day in September. He smelled a fragrance. He tasted a flavor. He felt dark tender sensations here and there on his skin, in his eyes, in his heart, and gradually it became clear to him: There must have been a day one time, blue and warm, or cool and gray, or some kind of day, and the essence of this day must have been caught within him and clung there as a dark memory. He could not determine exactly the spring or winter day that he distinctly smelled and felt in the real past. He could not name or date it. Perhaps it had been during his student days. Perhaps he had still been in the cradle, but the fragrance was there, and he felt something within him that he did not recognize and could not name or determine. Sometimes it seemed to him as though these memories reached back beyond life into a previous existence, although he smiled at the thought.
Anselm found many things during his helpless wanderings through the caverns of his memory. He found many things that moved and gripped him, and many things that scared him and made him anxious, but he did not find the one thing that signified the name Iris for him.
One time, in the midst of his torment over not being able to find his goal, he went back to visit his old home city, saw the woods and streets, the paths and fences again, stood in the old garden of his childhood, and felt the waves surge over his heart. The past enveloped him like a dream. Sad and silent, he returned to the city and told everyone that he was sick and had all visitors sent away.
However, one visitor insisted on seeing him. It was his friend, whom he had not seen since the day he had asked Iris to become his wife. This man came and saw Anselm sitting in a neglected condition in his dismal apartment.
“Get up,” he said to him, “and come with me. Iris wants to see you.”
Anselm jumped up.
“Iris! What’s wrong with her? Oh, I know, I know!”
“Yes,” said his friend. “Come with me. She’s going to die. She’s been sick a long time.”
They went to see Iris, who lay on a sofa, light and slender like a child, and she smiled cheerfully with magnified eyes. She gave Anselm her soft white child’s hand, which lay like a flower in his, and her face was as though transfigured.
“Anselm,” she said, “are you angry with me? I set a hard task for you, and I see you’ve kept your pledge. Keep searching and keep going until you reach your goal! You thought you were doing it for my sake, but you’ve really been doing it for your own. Do you know that?”
“I suspected it,” Anselm replied, “and now I know. It is a long way, Iris, and I would have turned back some time ago, but I can no longer find my way back. I don’t know what will become of me.”
She peered into his sad eyes and gave him a slight and consoling smile. He bent over her thin hand and wept for a long time, so that her hand became wet from his tears.
“What will become of you?” she said with a voice that was only like a glimmer of memory. “You must not ask what will become of you. You have searched a great deal in your life. You have sought honor and happiness and knowledge, and you’ve sought me, your little Iris. All these things were only pretty images, and they abandoned you as I must leave you, I, too, have experienced this. I always searched, and I kept finding lovely and beautiful pictures, and they kept fading and vanishing. Now I have no more pictures. I’m no longer searching. I’ve returned home and have only one more step to take, and then I’ll be home. You, too, will arrive there, Anselm, and you won’t have any more wrinkles on your forehead.”
She was so pale that Anselm cried out in desperation. “Oh, wait, Iris! Don’t go yet! Give me a sign that I won’t lose you entirely!”
She nodded and reached into a glass next to her bed and gave him a fresh blue iris in full bloom.
“Here, Take my flower, the iris, and don’t forget me. Search for me, search for the iris. Then you’ll come to me.”
Weeping, Anselm held the flower in his hands. And weeping, he took his leave. When his friend sent news of Iris’s death, he came again and helped adorn her coffin with flowers and lower it into the earth.
Then his life fell to pieces around him. It seemed impossible for him to continue spinning his thread. He gave everything up. He left his position at the university and the city and vanished. He was seen here and there. One time he appeared in his home city and leaned over the fence of the old garden, but when the people asked after him and wanted to look after him, he disappeared into thin air.
He continued to be fond of the blue flag. Whenever he saw these flowers growing, he bent over one, and when he stared into its chalice for a long time, it seemed as though the fragrance and presentiment of all the past and future fluttered toward him out of its blue depths. But he would sadly continue on his way because fulfillment did not come. It was as though he were listening at a half-opened door and heard the most lovely secret breathing behind it, and just when he thought that everything would now be given to him and fulfilled, the door slammed shut, and the wind of the world swept coolly over his loneliness.
His mother spoke to him in his dreams, and now for the first time in years, he felt her body and face very clearly and nearby. And Iris spoke to him, and when he awoke, something continued to ring in his ears, and he would try to recall it the entire day. He did not have a permanent home. He traveled as a stranger through the land, slept in houses and woods, ate bread or berries, drank wine or the dew from the leaves of the bushes.
He was oblivious to everything. Many people considered him a fool. Many thought he was a sorcerer. Many feared him. Many laughed at him. Many loved him. He learned to do things he had never been able to do before — to be with children and take part in their strange games, to talk to a broken twig and a little stone. Winters and summers flew by him. He looked into the chalices of flowers and into brooks and lakes.
“Pictures,” he sometimes said to himself. “They’re all just pictures.”
But he felt something essential inside him that was not a picture, and he followed it. And at times this essence within him would speak, and its voice was that of Iris and that of his mother, and it was consolation and hope. He encountered miracles, and they did not surprise him. And one winter he walked in the snow through a field, and ice had formed on his head. And in the snow he saw an iris stalk standing stiff and slender. It was bearing a beautiful solitary blossom, and he bent over it and smiled, for now he realized what the iris had always reminded him of — he recognized the childhood dream again and saw the light blue path that was brightly veined through the golden pickets leading into the secret heart of the flower, and he knew that everything he had been seeking was there, that this was the essence and no longer a picture.
And once again he was struck by memories. Dreams guided him, and he came upon a hut, where he found some children who gave him milk, and as he played with them, they told him stories. They told him that a miracle had occurred in the forest where the charcoal burners worked. These men had seen the gate of spirits standing open, the gate that opened only once every thousand years. He listened and nodded while envisioning the lovely picture and continued on his way. Ahead of him was a bird singing in the alder bush. It had a strange, sweet voice like the voice of the dead Iris. He followed the bird as it flew and hopped farther and farther over a brook and deep into the forest.
When the bird stopped singing and could no longer be heard or seen, Anselm stopped and looked around him. He was standing in a deep valley in the forest. Water ran softly under wide green leaves. Otherwise everything was quiet and full of expectation. But the bird kept singing inside him with the beloved voice and urged him on until he stood in front of a stone wall covered with moss. A small, narrow gap in the middle of the wall led into the interior of the mountain, and an old man was sitting in front of it. As soon as the man saw Anselm approaching, he stood up and yelled, “Go back! Go back! This is the gate of the spirits. No one has ever returned after entering it.”
Anselm looked up into the rocky entrance. He noticed a blue path that lost itself deep inside the mountain, and golden pillars that stood close together on both sides. The path sank downward as though into the chalice of an enormous flower.
The bird was singing brightly within his breast, and Anselm walked by the guard into the gap between the golden pillars, into the blue mystery of the interior. He was penetrating into Iris’s heart, and it was the blue flag in his mother’s garden into whose blue chalice he floated, and as he quickly approached the golden twilight, all memory and knowledge came to him at once. He felt his hand, and it was small and soft. Voices of love sounded nearby and familiar in his ears, and the glistening golden pillars sparkled as they had in the remote past, during the spring of his childhood.
And the dream that he had dreamed as a small boy was also there again, his dream about entering into the chalice, and behind him the entire world of pictures came and glided with him and sank into the mystery that lies behind all images.
Anselm began to sing softly, and his path sloped gently down into home.