"I'd be very pleased if you could see me as something other than a kind of idler.
Because there are quite different kinds of idler. There is the man who is idle from laziness and lack of character, from the baseness of his nature. You can, if you like, take me for one of these.
Then there is the other kind of idler, who is idle despite himself, who is consumed inwardly by a great desire for action, but who does nothing, because it is impossible to do anything, because it is as if he were imprisoned in some way, because he lacks what he needs to be productive, because inevitable circumstances have reduced him to this. Such a man does not always know himself what he could do, but he feels instinctively:for my existence! I know that I could be quite a different man! How could I be useful, what could I do? There is something within me, but what is it?
That is quite a different kind of idler. You can, if you like, take me for one of these.
A bird in a cage in spring knows quite well that there is something he would be good at, he feels strongly that there is something to be done, but he can't do it. What is it? He can't quite remember, then he gets some vague ideas, and says to himself, 'The others are building their nests and producing their young, and raising their brood.' Then he bands his head against the bars of his cage. And the cage is still there, and the bird is mad with grief.
'There's a lazybones,' says another bird who is passing. 'He's comfortably off.' However, the prisoner lives and does not die, nothing shows on the outside of what is going on inside him. He is in good health, he is more or less cheerful while the sun shines. Then the migration season comes, and a bout of melancholy. 'But,' say the children who look after him in his cage, 'he has everything he needs.' Yet for him it means looking out at the swollen, stormy skier and feeling the revolt against his fate within himself. 'I am in a cage, I am in a cage, and so I lack nothing, fools! I have everything I need! Oh, for pity's sake, give me freedom, to be a bird like other birds.'
The idle fellow is like that idle bird.
And men are often faced with the impossibility of doing anything, imprisoned in some kind of horrible horrible, very horrible cage.
There is also, I know, deliverance, eventual deliverance. A reputation ruined rightly or wrongly, embarrassment, circumstance, misfortune, all these make people prisoners. You can't always say what it is that shuts you up, what walls you in, what seems to bury you alive, but you still feel some kind of cars, some kind of cage, some kind of walls.
Is all this imagination, fantasy? I don't think so; and then I ask myself: My God, is it for long, is it forever, is it for eternity?
Do you know what makes the prison disappear? It is every deep, genuine affection. To be friends, brothers, to love, that opens the prison by its sovereign power, its powerful charm. Someone who does not have that remains bereft of life.
But where sympathy is reborn, life is reborn.
Sometimes the prison is called prejudice, misunderstanding, fatal ignorance of this or that, distrust, false shame."
Vincent van Gogh. July 1880