simone weil – to accept the void

simone weil gravity and grace‘Tradition teaches us as touching the gods and experience shows us as regards men that, by a necessity of nature, every being invariably exercises all the power of which it is capable’ (Thucydides).

Like a gas, the soul tends to fill the entire space which is given it. A gas which contracted leaving a vacuum—this would be contrary to the law of entropy. It is not so with the God of the Christians. He is a supernatural God, whereas Jehovah is a natural God.

Not to exercise all the power at one’s disposal is to endure the void. This is contrary to all the laws of nature. Grace alone can do it.

Grace fills empty spaces but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.

The necessity for a reward, the need to receive the equivalent of what we give. But if, doing violence to this necessity, we leave a vacuum, as it were a suction of air is produced and a  supernatural reward results. It does not come if we receive other wages: it is this vacuum which makes it come.

It is the same with the remission of debts (and this applies not only to the harm which others have done us but to the good which we have done them). There again, we accept a void in ourselves.

To accept a void in ourselves is supernatural. Where is the energy to be found for an act which has nothing to counter- balance it? The energy has to come from elsewhere. Yet first there must be a tearing out, something desperate has to take place, the void must be created. Void: the dark night.

Admiration, pity (most of all a mixture of the two) bring real energy. But this we must do without.

A time has to be gone through without any reward, natural or supernatural.

The world must be regarded as containing something of a void in order that it may have need of God. That presupposes evil.

To love truth means to endure the void and, as a result, to accept death. Truth is on the side of death.

Man only escapes from the laws of this world in lightning flashes. Instants when everything stands still, instants of contemplation, of pure intuition, of mental void, of acceptance of the moral void. It is through such instants that he is capable of the supernatural.

Whoever endures a moment of the void either receives the supernatural bread or falls. It is a terrible risk, but one that must be run—even during the instant when hope fails. But we must not throw ourselves into it.


Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

molly drake – how wild the wind blows

Molly Drake (1915 – 1993) was Nick Drake‘s mother – clearly his talent was hereditary.

The acorn carries an oak tree
Sleeping but for a little while
Winter lies in the arms of spring
As a mother carries her child
And never knows
How wild the wind blows
A thought carries a universe
A seed carries a field of grain
Love lies in the arms of change
As a joy carries a pain
And no one knows
How wild the wind blows.

molly drake1

And here’s an article in The Guardian.

simone weil – void and compensation

simone weil gravity and graceHuman mechanics. Whoever suffers tries to communicate his suffering (either by ill-treating someone or calling forth their pity) in order to reduce it, and he does really reduce it in this way. In the case of a man in the uttermost depths, whom no one pities, who is without power to ill-treat anyone (if he has no child or being who loves him), the suffering remains within and poisons him.

This is imperative, like gravity. How can one gain deliverance?

How gain deliverance from a force which is like gravity?

The tendency to spread evil beyond oneself: I still have it! Beings and things are not sacred enough to me. May I never sully anything, even though I be utterly transformed into mud. To sully nothing, even in thought. Even in my worst moments I would not destroy a Greek statue or a fresco by Giotto. Why anything else then? Why, for example, a moment in the life of a human being who could have been happy for that moment.

It is impossible to forgive whoever has done us harm if that harm has lowered us. We have to think that it has not lowered us, but has revealed our true level.

The wish to see others suffer exactly what we are suffering. It is because of this that, except in periods of social instability, the spite of those in misfortune is directed against their fellows.

That is a factor making for social stability.

The   tendency   to   spread   the   suffering   beyond   ourselves.   If through excessive weakness we can neither call forth pity nor do harm to others, we attack what the universe itself represents for us.

Then every good or beautiful thing is like an insult.

To harm a person is to receive something from him. What? What have we gained (and what will have to be repaid) when we have done harm? We have gained in importance. We have expanded. We have filled an emptiness in ourselves by creating one in somebody else.

To be able to hurt others with impunity—for instance to pass our anger on to an inferior who is obliged to be silent—is to spare ourselves from an expenditure of energy, an expenditure which the other person will have to make. It is the same in the case of the unlawful satisfaction of any desire. The energy we economize in this way is immediately debased.

To forgive. We cannot do this. When we are harmed by someone reactions are set up within us. The desire for vengeance is a desire for essential equilibrium. We must seek equilibrium on another plane. We have to go as far as this limit by ourselves. There we reach the void. (Heaven helps those who help themselves…)

Headaches. At a certain moment, the pain is lessened by projecting it into the universe, but the universe is impaired; the pain is more intense when it comes home again, but something in me does not suffer and remains in contact with a universe which is not impaired. Act in the same way with the passions. Make them come down like a deposit, collect them into a point and become detached from them. Especially, treat all sufferings in this way. Prevent them from having access to things.

The search for equilibrium is bad because it is imaginary. Revenge. Even if in fact we kill or torture our enemy it is, in a sense, imaginary.

A man who lived for his city, his family, his friends, to acquire wealth, improve his social position, etc.—a war: he is led away as a slave and henceforth for evermore he must wear himself out to the utmost limit of his strength merely in order to exist.

That is frightful, impossible, and for this reason he will cling to any aim which presents itself no matter how wretched, be it only to have the slave punished who works at his side. He has no more choice about aims. Any aim at all is like a branch to a drowning man.

Those whose city had been destroyed and who were led away into slavery had no longer either past or future: what had they with which to fill their minds? Lies and the meanest and most pitiful of covetous desires. They were perhaps more ready to risk crucifixion for the sake of stealing a chicken than they had formerly been to risk death in battle for the defence of their town. This is surely so, or those frightful tortures would not have been necessary.

Otherwise they had to be able to endure a void in their minds.

In order to have the strength to contemplate affliction when we are afflicted we need supernatural bread.

A situation which is too hard degrades us through the following process: as a general rule the energy supplied by higher emotions is limited. If the situation requires us to go beyond this limit we have to fall back on lower feelings (fear, covetousness, desire to beat the record, love of outward honours) which are richer in energy.

This limitation is the key to many a retrogression.

Tragedy of those who, having been guided by the love of the Good into a road where suffering has to be endured, after a certain time reach their limit and become debased.

A rock in our path. To hurl ourselves upon this rock as though after a certain intensity of desire had been reached it could not exist any more. Or else to retreat as though we ourselves did not exist. Desire contains something of the absolute and if it fails (once its energy has been used up) the absolute is transferred to the obstacle. This produces the state of mind of the defeated, the oppressed.

To grasp (in each thing) that there is a limit and that without supernatural help that limit cannot be passed—or only by very little and at the price of a terrible fall afterwards.

Energy, freed by the disappearance of the objects which provide motives, always tends to go downwards.

Base feelings (envy, resentment) are degraded energy. Every kind of reward constitutes a degradation of energy.

Self-satisfaction over a good action (or a work of art) is a degradation of higher energy. That is why the left hand should not know . . .

A purely imaginary reward (a smile from Louis XIV) is the exact equivalent of what we have expended, for it has exactly the same value as what we have expended—unlike real rewards which, as such, are either of higher or lower value. Hence imaginary advantages alone supply the energy for unlimited effort. But it is necessary that Louis XIV should really smile; if he does not, it is an unutterable deprivation. A king can only pay out imaginary rewards most of the time or he would be insolvent.

It is the same with religion at a certain level. Instead of receiving the smile of Louis XIV, we invent a God who smiles on us.

Or again we praise ourselves. There must be an equivalent reward. This is as inevitable as gravity.

A beloved being who disappoints me. I have written to him. It is impossible that he should not reply by saying what I have said to myself in his name.

Men owe us what we imagine they will give us. We must forgive them this debt.

To accept the fact that they are other than the creatures of our imagination is to imitate the renunciation of God.

I also am other than what I imagine myself to be. To know this is forgiveness.


Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

simone weil – gravity and grace

simone weil gravity and grace

All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception.

We must always expect things to happen in conformity with the laws of gravity unless there is supernatural intervention.

Two forces rule the universe: light and gravity.

Gravity. Generally what we expect of others depends on the effect of gravity upon ourselves, what we receive from them depends on the effect of gravity upon them. Sometimes (by chance) the two coincide, often they do not.

What is the reason that as soon as one human being shows he needs another (no matter whether his need be slight or great) the latter draws back from him? Gravity.

Lear,   a   tragedy   of   gravity.   Everything   we   call   base   is   a phenomenon due to gravity. Moreover the word baseness is an indication of this fact.

The object of an action and the level of the energy by which it is carried out are distinct from each other. A certain thing must be done. But where is the energy to be drawn for its accomplishment? A virtuous action can lower a man if there is not enough energy available on the same level.

What is base and what is superficial are on the same level. ‘His love is violent but base’: a possible sentence. ‘His love is deep but base’: an impossible one.

If it be true that the same suffering is much harder to bear for a high motive than for a base one (the people who stood, motionless, from one to eight o’clock in the morning for the sake of having an egg, would have found it very difficult to do so in order to save a human life), a base form of virtue is perhaps in some respects better able to stand the test of difficulties, temptations and misfortunes than a noble one. Napoleon’s soldiers. Hence the use of cruelty in order to sustain or raise the morale of soldiers. Something not to be forgotten in connexion with moral weakness.

This is a particular example of the law which generally puts force on the side of baseness. Gravity is, as it were, a symbol of it.

Queueing for food. The same action is easier if the motive is base than if it is noble. Base motives have in them more energy than noble ones. Problem: in what way can the energy belonging to the base motives be transferred to the noble ones?

I must not forget that at certain times when my headaches were raging I had an intense longing to make another human being suffer by hitting him in exactly the same part of his forehead.

Analogous desires—very frequent in human beings.

When in this state, I have several times succumbed to the temptation at least to say words which cause pain. Obedience to the force of gravity. The greatest sin. Thus we corrupt the function of language, which is to express the relationship between things.

Attitude of supplication: I must necessarily turn to something other than myself since it is a question of being delivered from self.

Any attempt to gain this deliverance by means of my own energy would be like the efforts of a cow which pulls at its hobble and so falls onto its knees.

In making it one liberates a certain amount of energy in oneself by a violence which serves to degrade more energy. Compensation as in thermodynamics; a vicious circle from which one can be delivered only from on high.

The source of man’s moral energy is outside him, like that of his physical energy (food, air etc.). He generally finds it, and that is why he has the illusion—as on the physical plane—that his being carries the principle of its preservation within itself. Privation alone makes him feel his need. And, in the event of privation, he cannot help turning to anything whatever which is edible.

There is only one remedy for that: a chlorophyll conferring the faculty of feeding on light.

Not to judge. All faults are the same. There is only one fault: incapacity to feed upon light, for where capacity to do this has been lost all faults are possible.

‘My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.’ There is no good apart from this capacity.

To come down by a movement in which gravity  plays no part. … Gravity makes things come down, wings make them rise: what wings raised to the second power can make things come down without weight?

Creation is composed of the descending movement of gravity, the ascending movement of grace and the descending movement of the second degree of grace.

Grace is the law of the descending movement.

To lower oneself is to rise in the domain of moral gravity. Moral gravity makes us fall towards the heights.

Too great affliction places a human being beneath pity: it arouses disgust, horror and scorn. Pity goes down to a certain level but not below it. What does charity do in order to descend lower? Have those who have fallen so low pity on themselves?


Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.