Joy to the World


Dmitri Karamazov, like his father, is a man of deep sensuality and near infinite passion. He drinks the joy of the earth. The joy of sacred nature in all its manifestations. And the joy of God. For Dmitri, sensuality is near divine. It is where his religious quest leads him. Many see the divine and the sensual in conflict but not Dmitri. His religious quest is for the love of Grushenka or is it the love of Katrina? Sometimes it is very hard to tell. He seems to be in love with both women at the same time.


Dmitri is sad for his holy brother, Alyosha, because “it’s such a pity you really don’t know what exaltation is.” I am not sure at all that Dmitri is right about that. I will come back to this after we consider how Alyosha and the young boys held hands at the funeral of their young friend Ilyusha. He came every bit as close to exaltation as Dmitri did, but in a different way. And an important way as well. And he exalted in it too.


Dmitri finds joy in the sensual. Like his father he was deeply sensual.  So, he starts his confession with Schiller’s Hymn or Ode to Joy.  The joy is sacred. This poem was the basis for Dmitri’s strange confession. Many think a sensualist like Dmitri should confess, so in a weird sense he does confess, but he does not regret.

Ivan Karamazov, sees the world through his intellect. He is driven by reason, but in a way that shows reason can be passionate too. In that sense, Dostoevsky is like Saul Bellow.  His brother Dmitri sees the world through the body.  And we will get to Alyosha. He is different than both brothers. He is studying to be a priest.  Alyosha understands and does not disparage or even criticize his brother’s approach to the divine. He is not judgmental.

Reminding me of the spirituality of indigenous North Americans, Schiller in his poem puts it this way:

“Man must enter an alliance

With eternal Mother Earth”


Dmitri starts his “confession” by eliciting Schiller, but as a sensualist he has trouble with this idea of divine. To him the relationship should be more sexual and this confuses him. Dmitri says, “I don’t know how I could possibly enter that eternal alliance with Mother Earth. I don’t kiss Mother Earth.  And in a directly sexual, allusion, he says, “I don’t plow her soil.”  As a result of his confusion, “everything in this world is a puzzle.”

Dmitri then deals with his dilemma in this remarkable way:

“…because I’m a Karamazov, because if I must plunge into the abyss, I’ll go head first, feet in the air. I’ll even find a certain pleasure in falling in such a humiliating way. I’ll even think that it’s a beautiful exit for a man like me. And, so in the very midst of my degradation, I suddenly intone a hymn. Even if I must be damned, even if I’m low and despicable, I must be allowed to kiss the hem of the veil in which my God is shrouded; and even if  I may be following in the devil’s footsteps. I am still Your son, O Lord, and I love You and feel the joy without which the world cannot be”.


Then he adds a verse from Schiller:

“Joy eternal pours its fires

In the soul of God’s creation,

And its sparkle then inspires

Life’s mysterious fermentation…

All things drink with great elation

Mother Nature’s milk of joy.

Plant and beast and man and nation

Sweetness of her breast enjoy,

To man prostrated in the dust,

Joy brings friends and cheering wine;

Gives the insects sensual lust,

Angels—happiness divine.”


As he read this tears were flowing, and even the eyes of his holy brother, Alyosha’s were “glistening.”

Dmitri also realizes that to live like this is difficult and even dangerous. He says he is an insect. One of those filled with what Schiller called “sensual lust.” And he said that lust lives in Alyosha too.  For he is a Karamazov even though he is holy. Even though he is his “angel brother.” Alyosha is more traditionally religious than either of his two brothers or their father, but he is still a Karamazov. That sensual lust is in all of them. That is his confession.

Dmitri warns his brother Alyosha that this will “stir up storms.”  “Because “sensuality is a storm, even more than a storm. Beauty is a terrifying thing.”  Dmitri warns his brother that “a man with a noble heart and a superior intelligence may start out with Madonna as his ideal and end up with Sodom as his ideal.” That is the risk for sensualists like the Karamazovs. All of them.  “What the head brands as shameful may appear as sheer beauty to the heart,” Dmitri tells his brother. He adds, “the terrible thing is that beauty is not only frightening, but mystery as well. That’s where God and the devil join battle, and their battlefield is the heart of man.”


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