Brazil (I)

The first section in Epitaph of a Small Winner by Machado de Assis. (Read the last section here.)

I hesitated some time, not knowing whether to open these memoirs at the beginning or at the end, i. e., whether to start with my birth or with my death. Granted, the usual practice is to begin with one’s birth, but two considerations led me to adopt a different method: the first is that, properly speaking, I am a deceased writer not in the sense of one who has written and is now deceased, but in the sense of one who has died and is now writing, a writer for whom the grave was really a new cradle; the second is that the book would thus gain in merriment and novelty. Moses, who also related his own death, placed it not at the beginning but at the end: a radical difference between this book and the Pentateuch.
Accordingly: I expired at two o’clock of a Friday afternoon in the month of August, 1869, at my lovely suburban home in Catumby. I was sixty-four, sturdy, prosperous, and single, was worth about three hundred contos, and was accompanied to the cemetery by eleven friends. Only eleven! True, there had been no invitations and no notices in the newspapers. Moreover, there was a fine drizzle, steady and sad, so steady and so sad, in fact, that it led one of those faithful friends of my lats hour to work this ingenious thought in the discourse that he offered at the edge of my grave: “You who knew him may well affirm with me that Nature herself appears to be weeping her lamentation over her irreparable loss, one of the most beautiful characters that ever honored humanity by his presence in our poor world. This sombre air, these drops from heaven, those dark clouds covering the blue like a crepe of mourning, all manifest the harsh and cruel grief that gnaws at her deepest entrails and the praise that heaven itself bestows upon our great and dear departed.” Good and faithful friend! I shall never regret the legacy of twenty government bonds that I left him.
And thus I arrived at the end of my days; thus I started on the road to Hamlet’s “undiscovered country,” with neither the anxiety nor the doubts of the young prince, but slow and halting, like a person who has lingered in the theatre long after the end of the performance. Tardy and jaded. Some nine or ten people saw me go, among them three ladies: my sister Sabina, who was married to Cotrim; her daughter, a real lily of the valley; and . . . Have patience! In a little while I shall reveal the identity of the third lady. Be content for the moment to know that this anonymous lady, although not a relative of mine, suffered more than the relatives. You must believe me: she really suffered more. I do not say that she tore her hair, nor that she rolled on the floor in convulsions. For there was nothing dramatic about my passing. The death of a bachelor at the age of sixty-four does not take on the proportions of high tragedy. And even if it did, nothing could have been more improper than that this anonymous lady display the intensity of her sorrow. Standing at the head of the bed, eyes glazed and mouth half open, she could hardly believe I had gone.
“Dead! Dead!” she repeated to herself.
And her imagination—like the storks that a famous traveler saw setting out in flight from the Ilissus to the African shores, heedless of the times and of the ruins—her imagination flew above the desolation of the moment to the shores of an ever youthful Africa.
Let her go; we shall go there later. We shall go there when I return to my early years. At present, I wish to die calmly, methodically, hearing the sobs of the ladies, the soft words of the men, the rain drumming on the taro leaves, and the piercing noise of a razor being sharpened by a knife-grinder outside in front of the door of a leather craftsman. I assure you that the music of this orchestra of death was much less sad than may appear. After a certain time, it was actually pleasurable. Life was shaking my body with the force of a great wave, my consciousness was fading away, I was descending to a physical and mental state of utter immobility, and my body was becoming a plant, a stone, clay, nothing at all.
I died of pneumonia; but, if I were to tell the reader that the cause of my death was less the pneumonia than a great and useful idea, possibly he would not believe me, yet it would be true. I am going to explain the matter to him briefly. Let him judge for himself.