Zorba the Greek - by Nikos Kazantzakis

The sea, autumn mildness, islands bathed in light, fine rain spreading a diaphanous veil over the immortal nakedness of Greece. Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea. Many are the joys of this world--women, fruit, ideas. But to cleave that sea in the gentle autumnal season, murmuring the name of each islet, is to my mind the joy most apt to transport the heart of man into paradise. Nowhere else can one pass so easily and serenely from reality to dream. The frontiers dwindle, and from the masts of the most ancient ships spring branches and fruits. It is as if here in Greece necessity is the mother of miracles.

Things we are accustomed to, and which we pass by indifferently, suddenly rise up in front of Zorba like fearful enigmas. Seeing a woman pass by, he stops in consternation. "What is that mystery?" he asks. "What is a woman, and why does she turn our heads? Just tell me, I ask you, what's the meaning of that?" He interrogates himself with the same amazement when he sees a man, a tree in blossom, a glass of cold water. Zorba sees everything every day as if for the first time.

I felt, as I listened to Zorba, that the world was recovering its pristine freshness. All the dulled daily things regained the brightness they had in the beginning, when we came out of the hands of God. Water, women, the stars, bread, returned to their mysterious, primitive origin and the divine whirlwind burst once more upon the air.

The stars were travelling round, the hours were passing -and, when I arose, I had, without knowing how, engraved on my mind the double task I had to accomplish on this shore: Escape from Buddha, rid myself by words of all my metaphysical cares and free my mind from vain anxiety; Make direct and firm contact with men, starting from this very moment. I said to myself: "Perhaps it is not yet too late."

That man has not been to school, I thought, and his brains have not been perverted. He has had all manner of experiences; his mind is open and his heart has grown bigger, without his losing one ounce of his primitive boldness. All the problems which we find so complicated or insoluble he cuts through as if with a sword, like Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian knot. It is difficult for him to miss his aim, because his two feet are held firmly planted on the ground by the weight of his whole body. African savages worship the serpent because its whole body touches the ground and it must, therefore, know all the earth's secrets. It knows them with its belly, with its tail, with its head. It is always in contact or mingled with the Mother. The same is true of Zorba. We educated people are just empty-headed birds of the air.

My life is wasted, I thought. If only I could take a cloth and wipe out all I have learnt, all I have seen and heard, and go to Zorba's school and start the great, the real alphabet! What a different road I would choose. I should keep my five senses perfectly trained, and my whole body, too, so that it would enjoy and understand. I should learn to run, to wrestle, to swim, to ride horses, to row, to drive a car, to fire a rifle. I should fill my soul with flesh. I should fill my flesh with soul. In fact, I should reconcile at last within me the two eternal antagonists.

We were both in a good humour, not so much for having drunk a lot as on account of the indescribable happiness within us. We were deeply aware, each of us in our own way, that we were two ephemeral little insects, clinging tightly to the terrestrial bark, that we had found a convenient corner near the sea, behind some bamboos, planks and empty petrol-cans, where we hung together, and, lastly, that we had before us some pleasant things and food, and within us serenity, affection and security.

"You're young, boss," he said. And suddenly his voice assumed a bitter and angry tone. "You're young and pretty tough, eating well, drinking well, breathing exhilarating sea air, and storing up energy--but what are you doing with it all? You sleep alone, and it's just too bad for the energy! You get along there tonight--yes, lose no time! Boss, everything's simple in this world. How many times must I tell you? So don't go and complicate things!"

This, I thought, is how great visionaries and poets see everything--as if for the first time. Each morning they see a new world before their eyes; they do not really see it, they create it. The universe for Zorba, as for the first men on earth, was a weighty, intense vision; the stars glided over him, the sea broke against his temples. He lived the earth, the water, the animals and God, without the distorting intervention of reason.

The unfailing rhythm of the seasons, the ever-turning wheel of life, the four facets of the earth which are lit in turn by the sun, the passing of life--all these filled me once more with a feeling of oppression. Once more there sounded within me, together with the cranes' cry, the terrible warning that there is only one life for all men, that there is no other, and that all that can be enjoyed must be enjoyed here. In eternity no other chance will be given to us.

I was envious of the man. He had lived with his flesh and blood fighting, killing, kissing--all that I had tried to learn through pen and ink alone. All the problems I was trying to solve point by point in my solitude and glued to my chair, this man had solved up in the pure air of the mountains with his sword.

I, for my part, stayed awake a long time, watching the stars travel across the sky. I saw the whole sky change its position--and the shell of my skull, like an observatory dome, changed position, too, together with the constellations. "Watch the movement of the stars as if you were turning with them…" This sentence of Marcus Aurelius filled my heart with harmony.

"Sea, women, wine and hard work! Throwing yourself headlong into your work, into wine, and love, and never being afraid of either God or devil… that's what youth is!" I kept saying it to myself and repeating it as if to give myself courage, and I walked on.

That is what a real man is like, I thought, envying Zorba's sorrow. A man with warm blood and solid bones, who lets real tears run down his cheeks when he is suffering; and when he is happy he does not spoil the freshness of his joy by running it through the fine sieve of metaphysics.

I felt deep within me that the highest point a man can attain is not Knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory, but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing: Sacred Awe!

"A fresh road, and fresh plans!" he cried. "I've stopped thinking all the time of what happened yesterday. And stopped asking myself what's going to happen tomorrow. What's happening today, this minute, that's what I care about. I say: 'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?' 'I'm sleeping.' 'Well, sleep well.' 'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?' 'I'm working.' 'Well, work well.' 'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?' 'I'm kissing a woman.' 'Well, kiss her well, Zorba! And forget all the rest while you're doing it; there's nothing else on earth, only you and her! Get on with it!'"