After finishing the Urquhart biography, I’ve gone on something of a Hammarskjöld kick. I’m re-reading the W.H. Auden translation of Vägmärken, Markings. (This is particularly meaningful because I am reading from the copy I inherited from my maternal grandfather, which he had given to his father-in-law, my great-greatgrandfather, in 1964.) In my previous post I identified Paton, Mullins, and Hammarskjöld as influences on me in my early twenties, but as I’ve thought about dates and events, it must have been my late teens. So on the one hand I have the nostalgia of reading Hammarskjöld’s treatment of categories that became foundational for my thought and self-understanding: maturity, responsibility, integrity, faith, sacrifice. On the other hand I flatter myself that the intervening years have given me some deeper understanding of his writings, and I think I can look forward to a still better understanding after another ten or fifteen years.

Since Auden’s translation has been heavily criticized by some, I was also pleased to find an alternate translation from the Swedish, with additional notes and interpretations, online for free (A Reader’s Guide to Dag Hammarskjöld’s Waymarks).

Less to my credit, I have looked through the recent report of the Hammarskjöld Commission on the various ideas surrounding Hammarskjöld’s death, in which the mutually contradictory, decades-old ramblings of non-credible witnesses are taken to be evidence for any number of conspiracies, again all mutually contradictory, regarding the plane crash. This at least I can appreciate as Fate’s ironic riposte to Hammarskjöld’s own wish: “If even dying is to be made a social function, then, please, grant me the favor of sneaking out on tiptoe without disturbing the party.”

What to say about Markings? I think that really there is no other spiritual autobiography to be written. (That is unjustifiable hyperbole: I have not even read Augustine’s Confessions. But what I wrote, I have written.) The only comparable work that comes to mind is Romans 7. Hammarskjöld knew what he was: strengths, weaknesses, potentials, liabilities. He didn’t just happen to be a man of integrity; it was hard-won.

In the preface Markings, Auden says that Hammarskjöld shows “a narcissistic fascination with himself” (xiv). Part of me says: fair enough. But what other option is there? Is it less narcissistic to leave the soul unexamined? To be unaware of the grounds of one’s own behavior?

Here is what Hammarskjöld has to say about it (writing after he has predicted that his journal would be published):

Not to brood over my pettiness with masochistic self-disgust, not to take a pride in admitting it—but to recognize it as a threat to my integrity of action, the moment I let it out of my sight.

I had not wanted this post to be a mere collection of quotes, but when I was looking for the first that I cited, I found all of these others, and I can’t resist sharing them. The following three are meaningful for reasons I won’t disclose here:

The question answered itself: “I believe that we should die with decency, so that at least, decency will survive.”

It is more important to be aware of the grounds for your own behavior than to understand the motives of another.

While performing the part which is truly ours, how exhausting it is to be obliged to play a role which is not ours: the person you must really be in order to fulfill your task, you must not appear to others to be, in order to be allowed by them to fulfill it. How exhausting—but unavoidable, since mankind has laid down once and for all the organized rules for social behavior.

And finally Hammarskjöld on sacrifice:

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

Smiling, sincere, incorruptible—His body disciplined and limber. A man who had become what he could, And was what he was—Ready at any moment to gather everything Into one simple sacrifice.