Joseph Conrad and The Romance of Illusions

I was always a little bit in love with the idea of Joseph Conrad. Not only the genius of his writing but the man himself. In reality I would never have got on with him and his atheist convictions. Alas, a perfect example of in his words, ‘the romance of illusions’.

Reading him I have to place him among the writers who cause me to wonder if I am also deluding myself by thinking I could ever attain to such perfection of expression, such poetry.

Having both some knowledge of the sea, of arriving in a strange port and of the Far East his description in the short story Youth, as often in his case, recounted by a narrator it is impossible not to identify with as himself, he writes;

And this is how I see the East..I see it always from a small boat, a high outline of mountains, blue and afar in the morning; like faint mist at noon; a jagged wall of purple at sunset…

Now an old man the narrator tells this story of his youth and first real voyage to old friends. It was here that he captured something which even he may have been surprised to realize originates from a profound source of truth.

I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth, all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, perils, to love, to vain effort – to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires – too soon, too soon – before life itself.

You have to have lived life and to be old to write thus and to conclude the story as he did, with a conclusion wracked with sadness, a poignant reminder of the transitory nature of life.

And we all looked at him; our faces lined, marked by toil, by deceptions, by success, by love;  …  looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, that while it is expected it is already gone-has passed unseen, in a sigh, in a flash together with youth, with strength, with the romance of illusions.

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