… It is too late, says the clock.
This is from ‘The Road in Art’ found in The Eye Listens by Paul Claudel (1950):
The road is the material expression of a relationship between distant points, the permanent means of communication and invitation to go forward toward an end or in a certain direction. The mind, in a sort of instantaneous metaphor, finds itself face to face with two ideas at once, but all the resources of patience and syntax are necessary for it to lay down a practicable ribbon of writing between them, by artfully following all the stopping-places of punctuation.
[line break added] Need, with a pick, a shovel, a lever, a hatchet, and often a sword in his hand, leads the way for Humanity along the line that the eye intelligently taking cognizance of the horizon, has recognized beforehand. Often it is nature spreading out at our feet a whole system of declivities, hills, and level spaces who urges us, it might rather be said, than forces us along, and she is not to be gainsaid.
… What is to be said of man? His duty is not to remain motionless. He has, as a principle, a starting point. From the bed to the table, from the table to the workshop, from the lover to the wife, and from the cradle to the tomb, there is an essential and inescapable road for which his feet itch.
… I have never looked, without a palpitation of the heart, at that Dutch painting representing nothing but a very straight, ugly road passable only for a man on foot or horseback, an ugly straight road in flat country between two rows of hideous trees twisted and torn by winter, but possessing that incomparable charm of terminating in the infinite and of ending at nothing visible whatever.
[line break added] Oh, I recognize it! It is the one I followed many a time in my youth, all alone in the rain, and perfectly happy to be all alone with my heart filled with a kind of wild cheer! And today when I am old, it is with the same surge of approval and fierce satisfaction that I look at the trace I left behind me, which went around the entire earth.
… Up to now I have spoken only of the road suited to the feet, but there is also (and I could not leave out this road adapted to the mind that guides it by logical steps or carries it away on the wings of analogy and comparison) an inductional arrow of the eye that is called perspective. One can understand the delight it inspired in its inventors when, for the first time, the impenetrable wall armored with mosaics opened halfway and made a gift to the eyes of progress and distance.
[line break added] Oh divine perspective! cried Paolo Ucello, which is prolonged in time as in space, and which unites by the sharpening of desire, the immediate with the eventual, the present with the future, and the reality with the dream.
Paolo Ucello, St. George and the Dragon
… The road, the real road of souls, is the quadruple string on the crossbar, held out to the fingernail and the bow; it is the parallel of pain and love, of life and chanterelle; it is also the keyboard; it is the horizontal stairway with its black and white steps; it is the sensitive ivory that spreads out from octave to octave, and breaks loose under the untold thunder of the virtuoso …
[ … ]
… It is too late, says the clock. Having arrived at old age, we feel that we have covered the greater part of our route with our ears shut and eyes wandering. All sorts of opportunities offered to us mysteriously to the right and to the left, have escaped us. All sorts of priceless passers-by have crossed our path, whom we have not recognized.
[line break added] All sorts of words have been addressed to us, which we have not understood; and again, when it is too late we perceive if not their meaning at least their inflection. It is in this land of memory that music inviting us to close our eyes, directs its explorations; it is there that she finds our footsteps obliterated and stirs up a sickly flame from the ashes of our burnt out encampments. Aeneas vainly holds out his arms to this shade that is given back to him only to fade away again.
[line break added] It is the bitter poetry of return that Beethoven has expressed in one of his most melancholy sonatas; it is that which from beginning to end, inspires the poem of the aged Homer, that Nostos whose relentless footstep every one of us has retraced in turn. Thus the soldier after the World War who comes back to his village and, in the nighttime embraces that wife, his own, who refuses to speak, and whose face is covered with tears! The same, and yet no longer the same.