The pathway

The hardness and smell of oakwood began to speak more distinctly of the slowness and constancy in the tree’s growth. The oak itself spoke: Only in such growth is grounded what lasts and fructifies. Growing means this: to open oneself up to the breadth of heaven and at the same time to sink roots into the darkness of earth. Whatever is genuine thrives only if man does justice to both—ready for the appeal of highest heaven, and cared for in the protection of sustaining earth.

Again and again the oak says this to the pathway passing securely by. The pathway collects whatever has its being along the way; to all who pass this way it gives what is theirs. The same fields and meadows accompany the pathway through each season with an ever-changing nearness. Whether the Alps above the forests are sinking away into the evening twilight, whether there where the pathway swings over the rolling hill the lark climbs into the summer morning, whether the East-wind approaches in storm from over where mother’s home lies, whether a woodsman as night nears drags his bundle of brushwood to the hearth, whether a harvesting wagon sways homeward in the pathway’s tracks, whether children are gathering the first flowers at meadow’s edge, whether fog for days moves its gloom and burden over the fields—always and everywhere the message of the same rests on the pathway:

The Simple preserves the puzzle of what remains and what is great. Spontaneously it enters men and needs a lengthy growth. With the unpretentiousness of the ever-same it hides its blessing. The breadth of all growing things which rest along the pathway bestows world. In what remains unsaid in their speech is—as Eckhardt, the old master of letter and life, says—God, only God.

But the message of the pathway speaks just so long as there are men (born in its breeze) who can hear it. They are hearers of their origin, not servants of their production. In vain does man try with his plans to bring order to his globe if he does not order himself to the message of the pathway. The danger looms that today’s men are hard of hearing towards its language. They have ears only for the noise of media, which they consider to be almost the voice of God. So man becomes distracted and path-less. The Simple seems monotonous to the distracted. The monotonous brings weariness. The annoyed find only the uniform. The Simple has fled. Its quiet power is exhausted. Certainly the number of those who still recognize the Simple as their hard-earned possession is quickly diminishing.

[…]

In the pathway’s seasonally changing breeze this knowing serenity (whose mien often seems melancholy) thrives. This serene knowing is ‘das Kuinzige’. No one wins it who does not have it. Those who have it, have it from the pathway. Along its path winter’s storm encounters harvest’s day, the agile excitation of Spring and the detached dying of Autumn meet, the child’s game and the elder’s wisdom gaze at each other. And in a unique harmony, whose echo the pathway carries with it silently here and there, everything is sparked serene.

This knowing serenity is a gate to the eternal. Its door turns on hinges once forged out of the puzzles of human existence by a skilled smith.

From Ehnried the way turns back to the park gate. Over a final hill its narrow ribbon runs through moorland until it reaches the town wall. It shines dimly in the starlight. Behind the Schloss the tower of Saint Martin’s church rises. Slowly, almost hesitatingly, eleven strokes of the hour sound in the night. The old bell, on whose ropes boys’ hands have been rubbed hot, shakes under the blows of the hour’s hammer whose dark-droll face no one forgets.

With the last stroke the stillness becomes yet more still. It reaches out even to those who have been sacrificed before time in two world wars. The Simple has become simpler. The ever-same surprises and frees. The message of the pathway is now quite clear. Is the soul speaking? Is the world speaking? Is God speaking?

Everything speaks abandonment unto the same. Abandonment does not take. Abandonment gives. It gives the inexhaustible power of the Simple. The message makes us at home after a long origin here.

— Heidegger, ‘The Pathway’, 1949 (trans. O’Meara)

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