Paths

by Ivo Andrić


At the beginning of all roads and paths, at the basis of the very thought of them, lies sharply and indelibly carved the path on which I made my first free steps.

It was in Visegrad, on those hard, irregular, like gnawed away roads, where all is dry and grievous, without beauty, without joy, without the hope of joy, without the right to hope, where a bitter morsel, which has never been eaten, quivers in the throat with every step, where heat and wind and snow and rain eat the ground and the seed in it, and everything that still sprouts and is born, gets stigmatized and bent and bowed so much that, only if it was possible, its other end would be stuck back into the ground, only to push it back into the shapelesness and darkness from which it broke away and sprouted.

Those are the endless paths that, like threads and ribbons, streak the hills and slopes around the town, flowing into the white road or disappearing near the water in the green willow groves. Human and animal urge sketched out those paths, and the necessity has beaten them. There, it's hard for one to leave, to go, to return. One sits there on a stone hiding under a tree, in a dry place or in scarce shade, resting, praying or counting the peasant's earnings. On those paths, that are swept by wind and soiled and cleansed by rain, where one meets only tormented cattle and silent, grim faced people, that is where I conceived my idea of the richness and beauty of the world. That is where I, ignorant and weak and empty-handed, discovered the fragrant, swooning happiness, happy for everything that wasn't there, cannot be there and never will be.

And on all the roads and ways that I passed later in my life, I lived only on that poor happiness, on my Visegrad idea of the richness and beauty of the created world. Because, under all the worldly roads, there has always flowed, visible and palpable only to me, the sharp Visegrad path, from the day I left it, up to this day. Actually, I've used it to measure my step and adjust my walk. And all my life it has never left me.

In the moments when I felt tired and poisoned by the world in which, by a bad coincidence, I lived and only miraculously stayed alive, when the sight grew dim and the direction turned uncertain, I would spread before me, like a prayer mat, the hard, poor, divine Visegrad path which cures every pain and nullifies every suffering, because it contains them all and surpasses them all. That way, a couple of times a day, using every calm in the life around me, every pause in a conversation, I would travel a part of that road which should never have been left in the first place. And that is how I will, till the end of my days, invisibly and secretly, still manage to walk the destined length of the Visegrad path. And then, with the end of my life, it will also end. And it will get lost where all the paths are lost, where all the roads and wastelands disappear, where there is no more walk nor effort, where all the earthly roads are tied into a meaningless knot and burned away, like a sparkle of salvation in our eyes that are fading out themselves, because they have lead us to the end and to the truth.

Translated by Lazar Pascanovic