Leon Denis On Sorrow and Suffering – Part I

To all who ask “Why is sorrow?”

“Why do we polish the gem—sculpture the marble—hammer the iron—melt the glass?” It is in order to build and ornament the magnificent temple full of rays, of vibrations, of hymns, of perfumes, where all the arts combine to express the divine; to prepare the apotheosis of conscious thought—to celebrate the liberation of the spirit.

In man sorrow is used to construct a splendid altar in the heart of man, of moral beauty and eternal truth. In the gross block of marble is hidden the ideal statue, and when man has not the energy, the knowledge, or the will to bring it forth, then comes sorrow. It takes the hammer and the chisel, and little by little, with strokes violent or persistent, the living statue is designed with supple contours and gleaming beauty. Under the broken quartz the glowing emerald shines!

We must know mourning and tears, ingratitude and treason, the deception of friends, and the anguish of disillusionment. We must see cherished forms descend into the tomb—youth depart, and old age come, with its bitter sorrows. Man must suffer, as the fruit of the vine is pressed that its exquisite liquid may be extracted. But because it is good and profitable to suffer, since suffering liberates us, while it executes the verdict of the conscience.

It requires the shock of trouble and sorrow to make him understand the fragility of exterior things and to guide him toward the search of himself—toward the discovery of his spiritual wealth. That is why great souls become more noble and beautiful as their sorrows become keener: with each new blow, they have the consciousness of approaching a little nearer to truth and perfection, and this thought is like a bitter tonic

In minds of high intelligence and culture sorrow sows rich seeds, and every grief is a blade from which springs a harvest of virtue and beauty. At certain hours of our lives—the death of a mother—the crushing of an ardent hope—the loss of a loved one—each time that one of the ties which bind us to this world is broken, a mysterious voice cries from the depths of our souls—a solemn voice which speaks to  us of a thousand laws more august and venerable than those of earth, and an ideal world dawns on us.

Sorrow and pleasure are the two extreme forms of sensation. To suppress one or the other, we must suppress sensibility; they are inseparable in principle, and both are necessary to the education of the being, who in his evolution must drain all the illimitable forms of pleasure and of sorrow.