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Published: Wed Oct 15 1975
The Traitor

He is a librarian well-read in the art of deception. For centuries he has concealed the fact that all his books have blank pages. Kliest, Kafka and Michaux all dared to argue with him, but it was Coleridge who knew him the best. On many nights he wandered through his library, choosing books at random and opening them to any page. At first the pages of those books always appeared to be blurred, and only when he focused on them line by line could he bring them into being. But by then the assassin was already beside him, disguised as a critic or brother or beautiful woman—in his most famous role he appeared as a stranger on business from Porlock. And only when the book had been closed and restored to its rightful place, only when the poet was well on his way, did he recall the poem his vision had burned into that blank page, and curse the traitor who serves so well his jealous god of silence.

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Howard Schwartz was the winner of the 2005 National Jewish Book Award for Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, reissued with annotations in 2007 by Oxford University Press. He teaches English at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. (updated 7/2010)

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