Frigyes Karinthy

A Farewell to Melons and Readers

When the hour of parting comes, every man bids farewell to those he holds in great affection: to him, they epitomize life, as well as the link which, beyond the mere life span, binds him to it—the substance of life. (For after all, we are animate beings and no random freaks of nature, like our fellow creatures; we are not content with the bare framework and opportunity of existing alone: we will proudly throw it away if its substance fails to satisfy us.) And as far as I am concerned, of all my fellow creatures of the vegetable kingdom—no point in denying the fact—I like melons best; it is therefore to melons that I am now bidding farewell.

The occasion that prompts me to it is, on the one hand, the rehearsal of falling yellow leaves that have begun in the arbours of garden restaurants. On the other hand, heaven knows what the coming autumn and next winter is bringing us; whether they (melons) and I will ever see each other again: London, and after London, Paris have been proclaiming abroad with much beating of the breast how they collapsed in air-raids they had launched against themselves. Reading which, ingenuous readers are apt to conclude—but only at first—that in that case there’ll be no world war this year after all, as the British and the French aren’t ready for it. (“Owing to bad weather, the war is postponed to next year.”) A second later, however, as a matter of fact, in the course of these manoeuvres, it was against the Royal Air Force and the French Air Force respectively that the air defences of London and Paris—allegedly—proved inadequate; hence London and Paris, far from lamenting, are in fact talking big. They are trying to make Berlin visualize what would happen once the season of iron melons showering from the air began since—well, just imagine—even they themselves are incapable of putting up an effective defence against themselves. (In other words, “Stop me or I won’t answer for my actions!”)

Well, so I am now saying good-bye, lovingly, to my favourite fruit—melons. Cantaloupes and water melons as well as Persian melons—tripartite ornament of my modestly if tastefully appointed Garden of Eden. I am doing so with a clean record and a clear conscience. For if you ask me, I simply don’t know what on earth our venerable first parents could have seen in an apple, of all fruits, when they also had melons in their garden. Apples—I hate the very sight of them. If I had happened to be Adam, the Lord would have had to plant a special melon—tree to tempt me with: for the sake of a melon, I dare say, I should have fallen into sin myself.

Yesterday I said good-bye, separately, to the red-core water melons. St. Lawrence’s Day, the end of the melon season, is still a long way ahead; yet its taste, or so it seemed to me, was no longer what it used to be. . . I rather thought the last portion tasted somewhat flat already.

However, a honeydew melon, cut into a rosette of slices, is lying in front of me, fragrant and inviting, and yet coyly smiling at me: no doubt the little rogue, when it was still green, read the poem I had written about musk melons (“O this abundance of melons, etc . . .”) and is now showing off, playing the coquette.

Stop playing the coquette, my love. . . _

Now we have to say good-bye to each other, I think I’d better tell you the truth.

You’re wasting your time.

Though it is you who are leaving me, not the other way round, yet the parting, I must confess, is by no means as painful as you might have imagined after reading my impassioned paean of praise.

Well, I mean, I am going to eat you—yes. But my eyes will no longer mist over as the sweet flavour of the last mouthful melts on my tongue, and it occurs to me that you and I may not see each other again.

I cannot deny that you no longer mean so much to me as you did in the happy days I wrote poems to you.

Don’t look shocked and disappointed at me. Don’t eye me suspiciously, either. I’m not being reluctant and unresponsive because I’ve fallen in love with some other odalisque in my harem of fruits, have been seduced by the proud White Butter Pear, am pining after the Pineapple or have returned to my old flame, the delicious Peach. That isn’t the case—or if it is. . . the reason is not that I have realized that they are finer than you, whom I have called the Queen of Fruits.

I am growing old, melon darling—that’s all.

Do you know what growing old means?

It’s a funny business. You’ve got to watch closely to be able to notice it. It happens so quietly, so delicately, no hollow knell toll, no mourning choruses lament for it.

There are various minor, fleeting signs, unnoticed at first. You think they were accidental. Or put them down to a fit of bad temper, or indisposition. You got out of bed with your wrong foot foremost—that is why you are so edgy and fussy and critical, and do not like your food.

Then, suddenly, one day, you wake to the realization that the whole scheme of things has changed. Not the outside world, however, as poets might suppose, only your way of looking at things.

You’ve been discovering the world too long—that’s all. Nothing new happens to you.

And as things keep recurring again and again you begin more and more frequently to compare them. An increasing number of things resemble one another: as your experience grows in depth, everything comes closer and closer to the common root of all things—the very spot where you will have to stop one day, on your way back, because you also grew out of that very same root.

When I had my first taste of you, oh fragrant honeydew, I was aware of the difference between you and the other fruits; I was aware of what is different and distinctive in you—your individuality. Enraptured, I extolled it as something that expressed you alone, and I never even noticed the rest of them. . .

That was in the days of youth.

For the first time ever this past summer the waiters had trouble with me; they never complained before.

“Take this melon away,” I said angrily. “Why, man, it tastes like pumpkin.”

“That’s not possible,” said the waiter. “The gentlemen at the next table ate part of this same melon and liked it very much. May I suggest, sir, you might sprinkle it with sugar.”

“It’s no use sprinkling it with sugar: I’m telling you that’s not what’s wrong with it. The trouble with it is—it’s just plain pumpkin.”

And then, recently, following a serious argument, I suddenly saw the light—and a right melancholy light it was. It was not the melons: they weren’t any worse this year than the years before. No, it’s I who take things more seriously now, am more honest with myself and with the world at large. It was not that that particular melon tasted like pumpkin, it was that melons in general do taste a little bit like pumpkins—necessarily and logically, for the simple reason that melons are quite closely related to pumpkins and gourds, ant their humble origins must show through all the improvement of many years. And the fact that of late I have been conscious of this in every melon I have eaten, not only in poor, degenerate species of melon, only goes to show that I’ve been alive for too many years: my experience and learning are no longer just a matter of intellect aloneI’ve become, as it were, conditioned to recognizing the origins of things, it’s a faculty that’s under my skin and in my palate. Illusion, which enables one to relish delicate nuances—the mainspring of all delight and beauty—is no more of any avail.

Art, ever young, dies at the approach of wisdom, ever old.

Tense, finicky wisdom, looking for laws and relationships, common roots and resemblances in all things—a sour recompense for the loss of sweet surface happiness.

That’s how we lose our chances in life, according to the laws of diminishing geometrical progression as we move in double quick time; the double speed withdraws us from life. As your faculties steadily weaken and your appeal to life steadily lessens, you become more fastidious, more hypercritical: you want nothing but the finest and most perfect. We need to find a wider and wider circle from which to choose our friends who less and less incline to choose us.

Maybe the only good thing about it is, perhaps, that you yourself are less and less interested in life.

Why should you be interested in it? It has nothing new to offer you.

A radiant, beautiful girl? You used to know her mother. The white chin of hers very strongly suggests the double chin it is sure to develop into one day: you know it, because you saw the original.

You see more and more hair in your soup: they are invisible, but you see them: you remember the hairy animal from which it was made.

And if, just occasionally . . . How does Heine put it? Und wenn ich den Sieg genisse,fehlt das Beste mir dabei.* And Endre Ady: “Fame and pleasure—they’re just headaches.”

I am sorry, my dear melon. I am only suggesting that you taste, ever so slightly, like pumpkin. You can’t help it. Don’t get hurt. I’m not being rude, believe me. After all, pumpkins aren’t nearly as foul and loathsome as the thing on which they thrive . . . Believe me, I am only too gallant, with my taste-like-pumpkin claim. I know a man, an old vegetarian, who says he has abstained from meat for ten years now because he became aware that all meat tastes of carcass.

And now-—farewell.

Even if you would have meant life itself—well, I shall have to bid life farewell one day as well; yawning, grumpy, because I have learnt how similar it is to death.

* When I enjoy my victory, the best of the pleasure is missing.

SOURCE: Karinthy, Frigyes. “A Farewell to Melons and Readers” (Búcsú a dinnyétől és az olvasótól), translated by István Farkas, in Grave and Gay: Selections from His Work, selected by István Kerékgyárto, afterword by Károly Szalay, binding and jacket by István Bányai, 2nd ed., (Budapest: Corvina Press, 1973), pp. 233-238.

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