Markings

by Dag Hammarskjöld

Dag HamerDag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld was unanimously elected Secretary-General of the United Nations from April 1953 until September 1961, when he met his death in a plane accident while on a peace mission in the Congo. He was born on July 29, 1905 in Jonkoping in south-central Sweden.

After his death, the publication in 1963 of his “journal” entitled Markings revealed the inner man as few documents ever have. Hammarskjöld wrote in a cover letter to his literary executor, “the entries in this manuscript constitute a sort of White Book concerning my negotiations with myself-and with God.” There is a delicate irony in this use of the language of the diplomat. The entries themselves are spiritual truths given artistic form. Markings contain many references to death, perhaps none more explicit or significant than this portion from the opening entries, written when he was a young man:

“Tomorrow we shall meet,
Death and I-
And he shall thrust his sword
Into one who is wide awake.”

It is remarkable that in the entire book there is not one reference to his career as an international civil servant, to any persons he met, or the historical events of his time in which he played an important role. In this solitary record, there are profound and timeless messages especially relevant in the events unfolding in the world today.

Thus it was

I am being driven forward
Into an unknown land.
The pass grows steeper,
The air colder and sharper.
A wind from my unknown goal
Stirs the strings
Of expectation.
Still the question:

Shall I ever get there?
There where life resounds,
A clear pure note
In the silence.

Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step: only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road.Never measure the height of a mountain, until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.

Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible-not to have run away.

To be sure, you have to fence with an unbuttoned foil: but, in the loneliness of yesterday, did you not toy with the idea of poisoning the tip?

We carry our nemesis within us: yesterday’s self-admiration is the legitimate father of today’s feeling of guilt.

On the bookshelf of life, God is a useful work of reference, always at hand but seldom consulted. In the whitewashed hour of birth, He is a jubilation and a refreshing wind, too immediate for memory to catch. But when we are compelled to look ourselves in the face—then He rises above us in terrifying reality, beyond all argument and “feeling,” stronger than all self-defensive forgetfulness.

The road to self-knowledge does not pass through faith. But only through the self-knowledge we gain by pursuing the fleeting light in the depth of our being do we reach the point where we can grasp what faith is. How many have been driven into outer darkness by empty talk about faith as something to be rationally comprehended, something “true?”

Our secret creative will divines its counterpart in others, experiencing its own universality, and this intuition builds a road towards knowledge of the power, which is itself a spark within us.

Never let success hide its emptiness from you, achievement its nothingness, toil its desolation. And so keep alive the incentive to push on further, that pain in the soul which drives us beyond ourselves. Whither? That I don’t know. That I don’t ask to know.

God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.

There is a point at which everything becomes simple and there is no longer any question of choice, because all you have staked will be lost if you look back. Life’s point of no return.

Around a man who has been pushed into the limelight, a legend begins to grow as it does around a dead man. But a dead man is in no danger of yielding to the temptation to nourish his legend, or accept its picture as reality. I pity the man who falls in love with his image as it is drawn by public opinion during the honeymoon of publicity.

In what dimension of time is this feeling eternal? It was, it filled me with its treasures. Born in me, known to none, it fled from me-yet was created, beyond space and time, from a heart of flesh and blood which shall presently become dust.

The stream of life through millions of years, the stream of human lives through countless centuries. Evil, death and dearth, sacrifice and love-what does “I” mean in a perspective? Reason tells me that I am bound to seek my own good, seek to gratify my desires, win power myself and admiration from others. And yet I “know” know without knowing-that, in such a perspective, nothing could be less important. A vision in which God is.

To say Yes to life is at one and the same time to say Yes to oneself. Yes-even to that element in one which is most unwilling to let itself be transformed from a temptation into a strength.

To be governed by that which comes alive when we have ceased to live-as interested parties or as know-it-alls. To be able to see, hear, and attend to that within us which is there in the darkness and the silence.

There is a pride of faith, more unforgivable and dangerous than the pride of the intellect. It reveals a split personality in which faith is “observed” and appraised, thus! Negating that unity born of a dying-unto-self, which is the definition of faith. To “value” faith is to turn it into a metaphysical magic, the advantages of which ought to be reserved for a spiritual elite.

Really, nothing was easier than to step from one rope ladder to the other-over the chasm. But, in your dream, you failed, because the thought occurred to you that you might possibly fall.

In a dream I walked with God through the deep places of creation; past walls that receded and gates that opened, through hall after hall of silence, darkness and refreshment-the dwelling place of souls acquainted with light and warmth-until, around me, was an infinity into which we all flowed together and lived anew, like the rings made by raindrops falling upon wide expanses of calm dark waters.

“The Uncarved Block”-remain at the Center, which is yours and that of all humanity. For those goals which it gives to your life, do the utmost which, at each moment, is possible for you. Also, act without thinking of the consequences, or seeking anything for yourself.

Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.

You wake from dreams of doom and-for a moment-you know: beyond all the noise and the gestures, the only real thing, love’s calm unwavering flame in the half-light of an early dawn.

August 24, 1961

Is it a new country
In another world of reality
Than Day’s?
Or did I live there
Before Day was?
I awoke
To an ordinary morning with gray light
Reflected from the street,
But still remembered
The dark-blue night
Above the tree line,
The open moor in moonlight,
The crest in shadow.
Remembered other dreams
Of the same mountain country:
Twice I stood on its summits,
I stayed by its remotest lake,
And followed the river
Towards its source.
The seasons have changed
And the light
And the weather
And the hour.
But it is the same land.
And I begin to know the map
And to get my bearings.

From Markings, by Dag Hammarskjöld. Copyright © 1963 by Albert Bonniers Förlag AB. All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement with Knopf Publishing, New York.

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