There are people who live entirely in their minds and are totally impractical, utterly abstract, who can nevertheless, under the sway of some mysterious force, act so decisively even they cannot believe it. One fellow comes home, fearful of bad news, so he paces for a full hour in front of the concierge’s door, too nervous to knock but too irresolute to leave; another one holds onto a letter for a fortnight before he opens it; a third is still wondering, after six months have gone by, whether to do something he should have done a year ago. There are times when even such characters spring into action, rudely propelled by an irresistible force, like an arrow shot from a bow. The moralist and the physician, with their air of infallibility, cannot explain where this energy comes from or how a good-for-nothing idler or voluptuary, ordinarily incapable of running the simplest errand, can somehow tap into that surfeit of bravery that emboldens a man to perform the craziest and most reckless stunts. A friend of mine, as innocuous a daydreamer as has ever lived, once set a forest on fire just to see, he said, whether fire spreads as speedily as people think. Ten times the experiment failed. On the eleventh it succeeded all too well. Somebody else will light a cigar near a powder keg just to see, to know, to tempt destiny, to test his mettle, to gamble, to enjoy the pleasures of anxiety, or for no reason at all, on a whim, a piece of mischief born of idleness. For the twin cause of this energy is ennui and fantasy; and those in whom it manifests itself tend to be, as I have said, the laziest of day-dreaming louts.
For the rest of this extraordinary prose poem, click here for the Antioch Review's poem of the day feature for last Wednesday.