The Young Man with a Carnation
A short story for you to read this weekend: Isak Dinesen’s “The Young Man With The Carnation.”
Isak Dinesen’s hero Charlie Despard couldn’t be better named. A successful author dogged by the sure feeling that his second book will be trivial, he is sent reeling by a chance encounter with the eponymous young man, whose “gentle, humble, wild, laughing rapture” rivals the ecstasy of angels. Suddenly he is struck by the folly of his distinguished position: “It was no wonder that God had ceased to love him, for he had, of his own free will, exchanged the things of the Lord—the moon, the sea, friendship, fights—for the words that describe them. He might now sit in a room and write down these words, to be praised by the critics, while outside, in the corridor, ran the road of the young man with the carnation into that light which made his face shine.”
But Dinesen trades in ironies, ironies that somehow fold in on themselves into magnificent strokes of poetic insight. The beautiful irony here is that Dinesen’s words will make you rejoice as the moon and the sea and friends and fights seldom can, only in those blessed moments (which get fewer and fewer as you get older) when they suddenly let their secrets overflow with abandon. In words Dinesen’s Charlie Despard will lead you astray and bring you home again.