Uwe Schade – The Harmony Of The World

This is my translation from the German of Uwe Schade’s “Die Harmonie der Welt – Lyrik eines Landstreichers”. Other versions may exist, better or worse. That is irrelevant. I have tried to stay true to the spirit of his work, and to reflect something of the beauty of his words. Like everything else on this blog, the copyright for this translation is mine.   

For some information about Uwe Schade, see my blog post The Vagabond Poet and for the German original, click on one of these links http://www.uwe-schade.herzbild.com or https://satyamnitya.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/uwe-schade-das-hat-mir-der-wind-erzahlt/

I hope that my contribution will help to keep alive the spirit of this Gentleman of the Road, tramp, vagrant, vagabond, wanderer, child of nature, old hippy – whatever label you want to give him – may this lyrical Landstreicher speak to you.

The Harmony of the World – Lyrics of a Vagabond

What The Wind Told Me

Your destiny doesn’t surprise you
For you are your destiny
Your encounters don’t amaze you
For you are not separate from them
Your death doesn’t scare you
For you have died a thousand times.

Your movements are the movements of the world
Your changes are the changes of the world
Your standing still is only illusion
Your dying is only a word.

You think you are something particular
Yet you are only a wave in the ocean of the world
You think you are independent
But you are only a meeting point for a hundred thousand forces.

You think you can direct yourself
Because you don’t see what pushes and pulls you
You think you ought to do something
Yet your effort is only resistance.

If you have pain, don’t run away from it
If you have hope, don’t hang on to it
If you seek freedom, you are bound by your search
If you grasp good, your grasp is evil.

Because you are unhappy, you strive
Because you are afraid, you think
Yet your striving misses happiness
Your thinking brings no peace.

You seek a refuge
But there is no shelter
You seek an escape
But there is no opening.
In your speech, a thousand people speak
In your gait there are toads and horses
Out of your eyes peer bird and deer
The grasp of your hands is that of stone-age man.

Your feeling is truth
Your imagination is illusion
You hunt for illusion
And truth pursues you.

You feel the world’s pain
And seek comfort in pleasure –
They cut through your soul with knives
And comfort you with sweets.

Your eyes turn a thousand rays into a colour
Your ears turn a thousand vibrations into a note
Your feeling hands turn a thousand movements into a body
Your thinking turns a thousand perceptions into an idea.

Your perception is filtered world
Your thinking is filtered perception
Your striving is filtered thinking –
What is it you are trying to grasp?

The circling bird is aware only of its prey
The listening deer is aware only of danger
The snuffling dog is aware only of scents
Your wandering thoughts are aware only of satisfaction.

You go to the pleasure-seekers
But their laughter holds no joy
You seek wealth
But it burdens your soul
You seek success
But its brilliance blinds you
You go to the wise
But their wisdom is a bottomless barrel
You call on your God
And hear only your echo
You flee into silence
Yet no one wants to hear your screams
You seek death
But your search is life –
Whatever you seek, you cannot reach
Whatever you flee, it will not leave you.

When every support is smashed
You do not fall down
When every house is destroyed
Nothing touches you
When every desire is poisoned
Nothing tears you away
When all is lost
The world comes to you.

The world is open
You seek to close
The world is bound together
You seek to separate
The world is change
You seek to mould and form.

In your centre you feel the world
With your senses you change the world
With your thinking you flee the world
In your striving you destroy the world.

You force materials into your mould
Yet they crumble
You force children into your mould
Yet they turn against you
You force society into your mould
Yet it doesn’t bring forth humans
You force yourself into your mould
And it shatters you.

The rays of the world pierce you
The vibrations of the world shake you
The forces of the world move you –
Your talk about freedom deceives you.

You talk about freedom
And your motive is coercion
You talk about safety
Because that is what you seek
You talk about independence
And expect applause –

You cannot do evil
For you are the constellation
Of a hundred thousand constellations.

You have courage to fly into space
Yet you tremble at ghosts
You command atoms and rockets
Yet your thinking is not in control of itself
You order the lives of nations
Yet your thinking is in disorder
You dispose of the death of others
And don’t know whether you are not your own destruction.

The mechanics of your logic deceive you
What lives does not move in straight lines
Matter does not move relative to nothing
If you can understand crooked movement
You can see relativity everywhere
The mechanics of your logic are done with.

You maintain your deception
And experience your power
You maintain illusions –
And feel your powerlessness.

You talk of progress
And you are running on the spot
You make revolutions
And repeat oppression
You believe in what’s new
And your thinking is directed by the old
You strain forward
And look backward.

Your living space rises from the darkness of the world
You look at your crown
And feel your roots
Your life stretches taut between the two –
You cling to one
And avoid the other.

If you want to find rest in the world
You must love the taste of the world
If you want to love the taste of the world
You must get to know it
If you want to get to know the world
You must fine-tune your senses
If you want to fine-tune your senses
You must give up all resistance
If you want to give up all resistance
You must stay sitting in one place
You must stay where you are standing –
What you hold tight escapes your grasp
What is suppressed is drawn to you
Your self dies a thousand deaths
The world is born in you.

In your resistance the world grows tense
In your striving the world rises up
In your actions the world changes
In your death the world relaxes

In tension and release you can hear
The harmony of the world.

You reach out for wealth and condemn the thieves
Your resistance acts in both
The tension of the world acts in both
You build atom bombs and condemn their effect
Your resistance acts in both
The tension of the world acts in both
You build a world and fear destruction
Your resistance acts in both
The tension of the world acts in both
A self arises in you and seeks its salvation
Resistance and the tension of the world act in both.

Evil is only an illusion
In the mirror of your morals
Destruction is only an illusion
In the mirror of moulding and forming
Loss is only an illusion
In the mirror of your grasping
Your lingering is only an illusion
In the flow of eternal movement.

The work of your senses is grasping and resisting
Resulting in the beautiful and the ugly
Harmony and disharmony, tasteful and distasteful,
The work of your thinking is grasping and resisting
Resulting in understanding and incomprehension.

Your loving is failure
Your dying is failure
Your openness to the world is failure –
Failure to follow your hidden yearning.

Your cells are permanent exchange
Your blood is permanent flow
Your brain is permanent reaction
Your idea is the attempt to hold back everything.

The foundation of your idea-tower is your resistance
The stones of your idea-tower are your imagination
The cement is your grasping
The spire is your SELF.

In your play opportunities emerge
Your thinking recognises these opportunities
Your striving grasps these opportunities
Your life becomes dependent on these opportunities.

Your thoughts rest in repose
When they are led by a book
When they are amused by a game
When they are disciplined by a task
When they are released in a dream
Your thoughts are in repose
When they are not held fast by you.

When life suffers from itself
Life heals itself
If an idea intrudes
Your suffering remains sterile.

You don’t want to see your pain
For you’d rather look at the remedies
You dare not acknowledge your torment
For you think you have to be its master
You dare not curse your God
For you think he must be your image.
You don’t want to get to the root
For there you are small.

You say you don’t like this food
It’s your taste that you don’t like
You say you don’t like this weather
It’s your expectations that you don’t like
You say you don’t like this company
It’s your attitude that you don’t like
You say, if you dare, you don’t like this world
That is the taste of yourself that you are tasting.

You think you can stay like a little child
The fact you think that shows that you aren’t one
You think you can remain without ideas
What you think is an idea
You think you can stay without disaster
When you hope for that, that’s when it’s close.

In your body, what is alive develops hardness
Then breaks down, returning to you as change
In your ideas what is alive develops confusion
Then breaks down, returning to you as truth
In humanity what is alive develops brutality
Then breaks down, returning as beauty.

You must go terribly wrong
To experience the truth in depth
You must triumph terribly
To experience your nothingness –
Do you believe you can shorten anyone’s journey?

You tidy up matter
And your efforts are endless
You tidy up creatures
And your killing is endless
You tidy up the world
And destruction returns to you.

Can you make a copy of a cobweb?

Just as you experience this moment
Is how what is alive in you wants to experience this moment
Just as humanity experiences this moment
Is how what is alive in humanity wants to experience itself.

If you condemn a thought in yourself
You condemn a living cell
If you curse a feeling in yourself
You curse living blood
If you judge a guilty person
You judge a human being
In whom your thought becomes flesh and your feeling blood.

Your houses lock you in
Your knowledge enchains you
Your wishes pull you hither and thither
Yet life is movement that comes from itself
Your breath is not made by you
Your fire is not kindled by you
Your actions are not caused by you
Your life is movement that comes from itself.

Sometimes you break the stone
Sometimes it breaks you
You see your colour standing out from the usual grey
Yet there is no variety in the universal context.

If what is alive is stimulated
Resistance or desire starts to grow
If people are stimulated
The self grows
If the self is strong
Blindness is great
And destruction never ends
Therefore those who wanted to change people
Had to flee from them
Therefore the words of those
Who meant well with people
Became the source of endless destruction –
Because the self was strengthened.

If you have something in your eye, your eye doesn’t see clearly
If your thinking is bound, it is immobile
If your self is strong
Your orientation is weak.

The grace of your sickness is
That it doesn’t let you see you are sick
Thus you are spared great pain
The curse of your sickness is
That it doesn’t let you see you are sick

Thus you remain sick
But when what is alive suffers from being alive
It goes forth out of everything.

When the feeling of want begins to grow in your centre
It makes your edges keen to grasp
Your eyes seek pleasing images
Your ears pleasing sounds
Your palate pleasing tastes
In your mind pleasing ideas spring up
If you stay in your centre
It will satisfy itself.

If carnal pleasures bind you
What is alive will find release in carnal pleasures
If words and books bind you
What is alive will find release in the use of words
If mysticism and faith bind you
What is alive will find release in mysticism and faith
If high and low bind you
What is alive will find release in striving ever higher
If anyone tries to untie your bonds
You will defend yourself
No one likes being robbed of their means of redemption
Yet what is alive seeks release
So it will happen –
Yet you cannot alter the breathing of your soul.

It is so difficult
To climb from the illusion of power
Into the truth of powerlessness
You are as addicted as a mosquito
That risks everything for a drop of blood
You are dazzled because you can say
“Let there be light” when you press the switch
You conquer the highest peaks
Yet your triumphs will run through your fingers
And the valley of pain awaits you
For look, it is easy to recognise your non-existence:

Day and night
Ascent and descent
Growth and decay are reactions
Hunger cold fear are reactions
Seeing feeling recognising are reactions
Understanding and incomprehension
Attraction and repulsion
Opening up and closing are reactions
Devouring and excreting
Grace and curse
Darkness and enlightenment are reactions

Yet you are all of these.

What is alive experiences the illusion of form
In repetitive motion
In cycles of birth
In cycles of feeding
In cycles it experiences the bliss of being-in-the-world
Yet nothing is repeated
The compulsion to recur is in everything you do
And the circles easily turn sterile.

Matter organises itself
Into recurring motion
To experience in tension
Its own form of motion
Its own circling
From mystical energy
To maintain its rhythm
That is the interest of the vital spark
Destruction of the rhythm
Is experienced as death –

When the rhythm of your sterile circles is disturbed
They shatter
And you experience the grace of death.

The new is interference
In the circles of your thoughts
The new is interference
In the direction of your walk
The new is interference
In the doom of your striving –
The world brings back the one who goes astray
Yet you cannot see the door to freedom.

Once you saw the land of nameless beauty
Have you forgotten?
Once your deeds came from the source of innocence
Have you forgotten?
Once the whole world was in your feeling
Have you thrown it away?

It is still all there inside you.


The Vagabond Poet

I have few regrets: life’s too short to waste time contemplating what might have been, murmuring “if only” – and the path not taken may well not have led to better things, or even to anything much different.

However, there is one occasion where I have often wished that I’d had the courage to follow my impulse. Maybe my curiosity would have been satisfied, more likely not – but at least I wouldn’t be haunted by the thought that I missed a golden opportunity.

One wet, windy day about ten years ago I saw an elderly man sitting on the pavement in the old town of St Gallen, with several A4-sized bundles laid out before him, carefully covered in polythene sheeting as protection against the weather. I wasn’t in a hurry, and went over to see what he was selling. “Gedichte,” he said – poems. His poems. I picked up a bundle to see what they were, and he looked a bit irritated that I might get them wet. I reassured him that I would be careful with them, and asked how much he wanted for them. “Whatever you think they’re worth,” was his reply.

I’m ashamed to say that I gave him only five franks – I hadn’t really read them, only glanced at them. He raised his eyebrows as he thanked me, and at that point I went on my way, looking for shelter from the weather. His reaction made me feel uncomfortable: was it ironic? did he expect more? I read the poems on the train going home, and immediately regretted not giving him notes rather than a coin.

Had I only stayed a little longer, invited him out of the rain and wind to a warm drink or even a meal! We were only a few metres from one of my regular haunts, a small, cosy Greek restaurant run by a big-hearted couple and their sons who treated all their guests like extended family. If this vagrant poet had accepted my invitation, he would have received a welcome as warm as the food. And perhaps I could have found out more about him, who he was, where he came from, how he lived, what inspired him to write …

He was not unkempt, though his clothes were obviously well worn, and all his worldly goods were neatly piled up on his bicycle that was propped against the wall where he was sitting. But he wasn’t a beggar. Also, there was something in his self-assured manner that didn’t encourage familiarity, and I was too shy to intrude into his privacy.

I looked out for him whenever I was in town, but never came across him again.

The poems – or rather, poem, as the stanzas actually form one long lyrical piece – were entitled “Die Harmonie der Welt – Lyrik eines Landstreichers” (The Harmony of the World – Lyrics of a Vagabond) and I passed them on to my granddaughter as a birthday present.

Since then, I have found out a little about this man through the Internet. It seems that many other people had a similar encounter to mine, including one man who sent the verses to a publisher. They were released anonymously in a 56-page illustrated edition, which sold very well. A television appeal brought this fact to the attention of the poet, who identified himself as Uwe Schade and informed the publisher that he didn’t want the royalties or the copyright: the money should be given to people who were in real need. He was content with his way of life, and saw no need for any more than he already had.


Photo credit: tyamnitya.wordpress.com/uber-mich/

How did he come to write this lyrical poetry? He claimed that he had a vision, and wrote it all in one nocturnal burst of creativity, having never written anything before or since.

Who was Uwe Schade? Google brings up very little. It seems he was a typesetter from the GDR, born in 1923, who set off on his travels with his bike after the Berlin Wall came down. There are Internet accounts of meetings with this real-life Steppenwolf in towns throughout German-speaking lands. He died in Schleswig in 2009. If 1923 is correct for his year of birth, he was already around 80 when I met him. And still cycling his way around Germany and Switzerland.

The published edition of his work is now sadly out of print, but can be found second-hand. There is no copyright, and so many people copied the photocopies they bought from him “for what it’s worth to you” that it is hardly surprising to find the full version – usually with an account of meeting the author – on several web sites, for instance here and here.

Why do I come back to Uwe Schade today? Because I came across another vagabond poet this morning, this time in Brazil. Though this is a slightly different story, and hopefully with a happy ending because someone did have the courage to stop and spend time with him.

Must Read: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

My apologies to anyone who has been peeking in here to see if they have missed anything. You haven’t. I just haven’t posted anything in the last 3 weeks. Life took over, inspiration dried up, and I’ve been reading rather than writing.

My reading has included some of the best I’ve come across for a long time: a casual recommendation by an old friend of an author I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of, and I deeply regret this Bildungslücke which I am eager to fill.

Patrick Leigh Fermor is the name to remember. An enfant terrible, a gifted linguist, lover of literature, extremely intelligent, adventurous – and according to a school report “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness” – he was expelled from schools where his individuality caused upheavals, nevertheless acquiring an admirable education en route. He must also have possessed tremendous charm, something that was far better appreciated in continental Europe than in the stifling atmosphere of the English educational institutions he attended.

In December of 1933, two months before his 19th birthday, and long before the gap year had been invented, he set off on a lone hike from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, taking only essentials in his rucksack, including Horace’s Odes and The Oxford Book of English Verse. His only financial support was the promise of an envelope from his mother containing £4 awaiting him at pre-arranged post offices spaced at monthly intervals. His account of his journey, mostly on foot, is multidimensional, told not only from the perspective of the eager young adventurer, but also with the insights and wisdom of the mature man he later became and who finally wrote down this remarkable story many decades after the events. His all-encompassing curiosity and willingness to share the everyday lives of all he meets on his journey – from respectable burghers and innkeepers to monks, drop-outs and gypsies, from peasants to barons, counts and princes, and  whether sleeping in a hayrick or in a mediaeval castle – make his story one that you don’t want to interrupt. Start reading after a hearty breakfast because you won’t want to stop for lunch, tea or dinner! Unputdownable!

There are historical digressions woven into the narrative that bring century-old events into the present, and of course there is the inevitable bittersweet awareness that the world he experienced in the years between 1933 and 1935, with its unique culture and centuries-old traditions, was doomed, and would never, ever be the same again.

The author, sadder, wiser, older, leaps ahead occasionally with forays into his experiences during the Second World War, with unexpected encounters and links with people and places that figure in his earlier travels.

His gift for story-telling and incomparable command of language, his knack of bringing characters to life with a few strokes, and his fascinating summaries of deep research into whatever caught his interest, make Patrick Leigh Fermor into one of the greatest twentieth-century travel writers. Richard Woodward, a BBC journalist, described him as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”.

I am wondering how I managed never to have come across him before! These are most definitely my books of the month: A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, available in hardback, paperback and – in my case – downloaded as e-books for Kindle. The end of this journey is told in the book he failed to finish before his death, published as The Broken Road and based on his draft. That treat still lies in store for me, but in the meantime I am reiterating the old saying: Es ist die Reise und nicht das Ziel – the journey, not the destination.

PS: I have just discovered that Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods & the Water and The Broken Road by Nick Hunt, (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) has been shortlisted for the 2015 Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year.

The Man Who Missed The Boat: A Modern-day Candide

Should we try to steer the course of our ship of life ourselves, or simply let it drift with the tides as they ebb and flow? Do our decisions really influence events the way we want them to, or will it all turn out as the fates have predestined it? Simon Baxter, The Man Who Missed The Boat, is probably the most indecisive character in literary history, but no decision is also a decision, as he suddenly finds out one Saturday morning.

Peter Wells tracks the events that sweep Simon along in their flow, with unexpected and life-changing consequences due to his innate good manners and inability to say no to anyone. This gentle, self-effacing protagonist (he can hardly be termed a hero) gains our sympathy as we follow his passage through a short but significant period of his existence, buffeted by the storms in other people’s lives that impact on his own. From tiptoeing over the surface where he can avoid any involvement in other people’s affairs, he suddenly trips and falls into a deep hole that turns him into a key player.

Told in Peter’s inimitable style, with humour, wit, compassion, and some very neat turns of phrase, this carefully woven story offers well-observed insights into Simon’s mind and its workings. As the narrative progresses, Peter also opens up to us the dreams, desires, aspirations and regrets of a multitude of other highly credible characters. Eventually, this tale of a man who has no desire to be master of his fate confronts us with the eternal question: would it make any difference if he did try to control his destiny? Read and find out.

You can sample the flavour of Peter’s writing at his blog Counting Ducks, where you can also meet a few more of the weird and wonderful inhabitants of his imaginary world. Or are they real?

Students And Nelly Sachs

All of a sudden yesterday there were over 500 hits on my Nelly Sachs site, and more than a dozen comments. Intrigued, I checked to see what was happening and discovered that the comments were clearly by students in the USA who must have been given an assignment by their teacher to choose a poem and comment on it.

Whilst I am pleased to see that my versions of Nelly Sachs’ poems are being read and the students are trying to figure out what they are about, it is also rather disappointing to see how facile and wide of the mark most of these comments are. My knee-jerk reaction was to trash them, but then I decided to click the “approve” button after all: not that I approve of the comments themselves, but of the intentions behind them. Thank you to the teacher who found my blog and pointed the class to it, and thank you to the students who actually sat down and struggled through these poems until they found one that appealed to them.

Mine are translations, not interpretations. I am no wiser than the next person about what was going on in Nelly Sachs’ head when she wrote her original works. Naturally I have my ideas, and since I also wrestled with her words, symbolism and ambiguity as I sought to render the German into English, I have perhaps delved more deeply into them than these teenage students are able to. Plus I am so much older than they are, and have so much more experience of life, as well as having been alive – though a small child – at the time of the Holocaust. I have met survivors of those horrors, and am thus much closer to them than sixteen or seventeen-year-old American High School students. So I apologise to my young readers for my hasty judgement and initial dismissal of their comments.

I don’t know why they have posted these on my blog: it would have made more sense – assuming this was a homework assignment – to present them in class so everyone can express their views, and the teacher could guide them into a better understanding of the aspects they have missed. Perhaps they are doing that, too, and it is simply a courtesy on their part to have shared their reactions with me? Is the generation gap simply too wide between us? I am, after all, old enough to be their grandmother.

I would like to be able to enter into a real discussion with them and their teacher (who has all my sympathy in her desire to acquaint her class with Nelly Sachs and the Holocaust: it can’t be an easy task) and point out a few things that to me are as plain as a pikestaff but which they have missed. Alas, any exchange of comments on my website is going to remain very superficial, and would I fear be even more frustrating for all concerned. I want to encourage my young readers, not deter them from making the effort to get to grips with difficult poetry or to understand what went on in the Third Reich. So perhaps I should, after all, respond individually to each one and offer a little food for thought, more easily digestible than the morsels they have chosen. I just hope I don’t end up making Nelly Sachs even more unpalatable.

Le Grand Meaulnes and The Lost Domain

Before Dr Spock inspired Americans to invent teenagers about 60 years ago, there were children and adults – plus those awkward creatures caught up in a fairly short, shadowy, confused, intermediate phase known as adolescence. Young people in earlier times remained childish longer than they do nowadays, and then they had to grow up fast. Adolescent (nineteenth century) is not synonymous with teenager (twentieth and twenty-first century).

This was brought home to me as I re-read Le Grand Meaulnes. First published a century ago, this haunting story has become a legend embedded in French literature. Its anniversary was marked by the release of the centenary edition of Frank Davison’s excellent translation entitled The Lost Domain, with a well-written foreword by Hermione Lee.

I must have read this book around the time Davison’s version was first published, although I had never come across his translation till now. In our Lower Sixth French class, we had an extract from Le Grand Meaulnes to deal with as an “unseen” (the term used in those days), a passage which intrigued me and led me to the book.

I struggled through the original novel, dictionary to hand, floundering in the foreign culture of a rural French school depicted in such detail, and lumbering like a bear in a ballet as the story switched seamlessly from realism to fantasy and back, full of improbable coincidences; yet, despite these alienating obstacles, I was fascinated by this tale of a quest for the lost love, seen once and become an obsession.

Today, this quest risks being labelled stalking! But given the innocence – and that is, I think, the key element in this story – of the protagonists, we accept the desperate yearning of this rebellious, gawky schoolboy hero and want him urgently to find his way back through the wilderness to his true love.

I was reminded of the young Chevalier des Grieux in Manon Lescaut, written a century and a half before. It seems each century needs its questing lover, mortally wounded by Cupid. I remember reading Manon with a group of British sixth-formers as one of their A-level set books. I had been captivated by these charming lovers a decade earlier, when I was 18, and so was startled to find that my students were highly disdainful of des Grieux, dismissed as “a wimp”, and extremely deprecating of Manon, condemned as “a slut” and “a whore”.  And their disgust on learning that the novel was written by Abbé Prévost, a priest, was the last straw. Nothing I could do would persuade my young puritans that the book had any merit whatsoever.

Both of these stories of adolescents falling desperately and fatally in love have remained stalwarts of French literature, both internationally read and loved today as much as ever in the past, in spite of their flaws.

Le grand Meaulnes poses an enormous challenge to the translator, starting with the untranslatable title. It’s a book that really needs to be read in its original version, for the poetry and beauty of its cadences and for the solid, realistic setting in late nineteenth-century provincial everyday schoolboy life that can only truly be rendered in French. Davison’s version is superb, although even he admits defeat a couple of times.

The storyline is improbable, the protagonists barely credible and not particularly attractive or lovable in their strange mixture of puerility and chivalry, at times the author appears to take the reader for an obtuse moron when identities are suddenly revealed as… the obvious. Yet it remains a delight to read. Like all good literature, it delves far deeper than the superficial tale it tells, and has the ring of truth, of an eternal truth, that touches a universal nerve.

Reading it for the first time when I was of an age with Meaulnes and his narrator friend, I was irritated by my incapacity to identify with these adolescents. I realise now that this was partly because I was a teenager, not an adolescent!  In a sense, I was too close in age to them, yet too far removed from their era, from their social and cultural mores, just as my sixth-formers were in respect of Manon Lescaut. These are both books that should be enjoyed at leisure with the indulgence of maturity, and if possible in the original French as their authors conceived and delivered them. Failing that, you can hardly do better than read Davison’s The Lost Domain and maybe enjoy the forthcoming production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Roya Opera House.