“The Life Unlived” is a poem, or a dramatic sketch, that revolves around a new era. It focuses on what is happening inside those who populate the text and inside us readers as we watch the ballet the poem describes. Perhaps we’re longing to do something real. Perhaps we’re longing for our own lives.
In the poem, Isaac and Ishmael meet again. I imagine that these brothers have spent a long time missing each other. I’ve been thinking about them for years. They speak of doves and death, the mighty condor, all while watching the ballet.
I want to believe that this text is an embodied response to the question of what’s possible, even in a year like 2020.
The Life Unlived
An open-air stage, dawn,
All movements keep the beat, a fixed choreography, the dancers are dancing ballet
A man holds a clock, in the end all we hear is the clock’s ticking (A transition from the dancer’s choreographed movements to the clock’s simple ticking)
I have asked for a new age to begin
Here among us
Lightning strikes (Shows itself)
You may choose one piece of knowledge to take with you
You may choose as you see fit, the freedom is yours, but if limitations are what you want
they’re available (Wind the clock)
What will die becomes a beginning, leave everything
Yes, them too. Remembering won’t be possible. You die. We all die
Just like that?
Yes, in a way, in a way not
You won’t be able to choose when
But it will happen
What do you know of the new age?
You do have experience. What you see in front of you.
It’s no use being afraid.
Good, good, that’s right
Greet the new with confidence, be fair
Who are you, the one who will explain it all to us?
Never, no such thoughts, change the melody and listen to what is barely audible
And yet it grows
The dead: It grows, it grows, it grows
Rise up when I speak to you
Are you a man of violence?
I have ideas, thoughts.
Which, if I may ask?
How do you rule without violence?
Everything rests on you believing me, my every word
Don’t think for a moment that I’ll reveal to you anything about me
The dead: About me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me
The man who spoke of a new age walks his clock offstage
There, off they go, fools all
They’re not coming back, we’re alone here, we’re free, and yet not
I don’t understand a thing, now say what you mean
Life, it passed, it’s not coming back
Now everyone must heal themselves
Are we already dead?
The murmur of the dead lies behind it, under it, murmur freely
How many, two, or three, fifty, hundred thousand, sevenhundredthousandthirty?
Go ahead, just lie down, over there.
He points to the dead, their murmur
Your sleep will be dreamless
I love my dreams
So stay right there, there you’ll get to dream
Is it that easy, but a few words, he laughs
Everything begins again. Isaac, Ishmael, the sacrifice and the desert
The dead murmur: Isaac, Ishmael, the sacrifice
Thunder rolls, lightning flashes, in its flash we see the dancers’ ballet
Everyone watches as they dance, each in his own mind, thoughts, if we could hear them
Isaac and Ishmael embrace, share laughter
Isaac: Look at the ballet. They’re dancing
Ishmael: It delights me to see it, delights me
Isaac: So you’re secure, only the secure can delight in watching dance
The man with the clock enters.
The Man: Time is passing. Don’t forget.
Isaac: We meet and already must part
Ishmael: So it is written
Ishmael kisses his brother farewell, must go, at once
Will we miss each other?
Through the millenniums
Farewell. Isaac and Ishmael fall into each other’s arms
Watch the ballet again
The ballet again in broad daylight
Ishmael: What does watching them dance do to you?
Isaac: It makes me ache
Isaac: Truly, I ache, I ache
Ishmael: That’s the longing for the life unlived
An eternity later
Hear this, spare no detail, they whisper to each other, the landscape of their thoughts is projected behind them.
A bird flies through the landscape, falls down before Isaac and Ishmael.
It is death, the condor, death’s proud emissary.
It’s just a bird.
A bird you say, had it been a dove we’d already be celebrating, but the condor, with wings
to carry it from hell and back
So quick to cleave thoughts, Ishmael my brother
What are you thinking of?
The meadows I rode through as a child. Thoughts, hope perhaps as simple as this
Yes, hope and longing
Those who long live.
Yes. Just them.
Linda Bostrom Knausgard is a novelist and poet. Her most recent novel is Welcome to America. This text was translated by Saskia Vogel from the Swedish.