When Goethe as a young student visited
the city, he still found sad ruins 'Von der Kuppel der Frauenkirche sah ich these leidigen
Triimmer zwischen die schone stddtische Ordnung hineingesat; da riihmte mir der Kiister
die Kunst des Baumeisters, welcher Kirche und Kuppel auf einen so uneriiinschten Fall
schon eingeyichtet und bombenfest erbaut hatte. Der gute Sakristan deutete mir alsdann
aufRuinen nach alien Seiten und sagte bedenklich lakonisch: Das hat her Feind Gethan!'
The two little girls and I crossed the Delaware River where George Washington had
crossed it, the next morning. We went to the New York World's Fair, saw what the past
had been like, according to the Ford Motor Car Company and Walt Disney, saw what the
future would be like, according to General Motors.
And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much
was mine to keep.
I taught creative writing in the famous Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa for
a couple of years after that. I got into some perfectly beautiful trouble, got out of it again.
I taught in the afternoons. In the mornings I wrote. I was not to be disturbed. I was
working on my famous book about Dresden.
And somewhere in there a nice man named Seymour Lawrence gave me a three-book
contract, and I said, 'O.K., the first of the three will be my famous book about Dresden.�
The friends of Seymour Lawrence call him �Sam.' And I say to Sam now: 'Sam-here's
It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say
about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want
anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it
always is, except for the birds.
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like Too-tee-
I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in
massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction
I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and
to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.
As I've said I recently went back to Dresden with my friend O'Hare. We had a million
laughs in Hamburg and West Berlin and East Berlin and Vienna and Salzburg and
Helsinki, and in Leningrad, too. It was very good for me, because I saw a lot of authentic
backgrounds for made-up stories which I will write later on. One of them will be Russian
Baroque and another will be No Kissing and another will be Dollar Bar and another will
be If the Acciden t Will, and so on.
And so on.
There was a Lufthansa plane that was supposed to fly from Philadelphia to Boston to
Frankfurt. O'Hare was supposed to get on in Philadelphia and I was supposed to get on in
Boston, and off we�d go. But Boston was socked in, so the plane flew straight to
Fra nk furt from Philadelphia. And I became a non-person in the Boston Fog, and
Lufthansa put me in a limousine with some other non-persons and sent us to a motel for a
The time would not pass. Somebody was playing with the clocks, and not only with the
electric clocks, but the wind-up kind, too. The second hand on my watch would twitch
once, and a year would pass, and then it would twitch again.
There was nothing I could do about it. As an Earthling., I had to believe whatever
clocks said-and calendars.
I had two books with me, which I�d meant to read on the plane. One was Words for the
Wind, by Theodore Roethke, and this is what I found in there:
I wake to steep, and take my waking slow.
I feet my late in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
My other book was Erika Ostrovsky's Celine and His Vision. Celine was a brave
French soldier in the First World War-until his skull was cracked. After that he couldn�t
sleep, and there were noises in his head. He became a doctor, and he treated poor people
in the daytime, and he wrote grotesque novels all night. No art is possible without a dance
with death, he wrote.
The truth is death, he wrote. I've fought nicely against it as long as I could ... danced
with it, festooned it, waltzed it around ... decorated it with streamers, titillated it...
Time obsessed him. Miss Ostrovsky reminded me of the amazing scene in Death on the
Installment Plan where Celine wants to stop the bustling of a street crowd. He screams on
paper, Make them stop ... don't let them move anymore at all ... There, make them freeze
... once and for all! ...So that they won't disappear anymore!
I looked through the Gideon Bible in my motel room for tales of great destruction. The
sun was risen upon the Earth when Lot entered into Zo-ar, I read. Then the Lord rained
upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; and
He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that
which grew upon the ground.
So it goes.
Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The world was better off
And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their
homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.
She was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes.
People aren't supposed to look back. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore.
I�ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun.
This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt. It begins
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
It ends like this:
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has
walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back
through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he
says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.
Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren�t
necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows
what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.
Billy was bon in 1922 in Ilium, New York, the only child of a barber there. He was a
funny-looking child who became a funny-looking youth-tall and weak, and shaped like a
bottle of Coca-Cola. He graduated from Ilium High School in the upper third of his class,
and attended night sessions at the Ilium School of Optometry for one semester before
being drafted for military service in the Second World War. His father died in a hunting
accident during the war. So it goes.
Billy saw service with the infantry in Europe, and was taken prisoner by the Germans.
After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, Billy again enrolled in the Ilium
School of Optometry. During his senior year there, he became engaged to the daughter
of the founder and owner of the school, and then suffered a mild nervous collapse.
He was treated in a veterans� hospital near Lake Placid, and was given shock
treatments and released. He married his fiancee, finished his education, and was set up in
business in Ilium by his father-in-law. Ilium is a particularly good city for optometrists
because the General Forge and Foundry Company is there. Every employee is required
to own a pair of safety glasses, and to wear them in areas where manufacturing is going
on. GF&F has sixty-eight thousand employees in Ilium. That calls for a lot of lenses and
a lot of frames.
Frames are where the money is.
Bill became rich. He had two children, Barbara and Robert. In time, his daughter
Barbara married another optometrist., and Billy set him up in business. Billy's son Robert
had a lot of trouble in high school, but then he joined the famous Green Berets. He
straightened out, became a fine young man, and he fought in Vietnam.
Early in 1968, a group of optometrists, with Billy among them, chartered an airplane to
fly them from Ilium to an international convention of optometrists in Montreal. The plane
crashed on top of Sugarbush Mountain, in Vermont. Everybody was killed but Billy. So
While Billy was recuperating in a hospital in Vermont, his wife died accidentally of
carbon-monoxide poisoning. So it goes.
When Billy finally got home to Ilium after the airplane crash, he was quiet for a while.
He had a terrible scar across the top of his skull. He didn�t resume practice. He had a
housekeeper. His daughter came over almost every day.
And then, without any warning, Billy went to New York City, and got on an all-night
radio program devoted to talk. He told about having come unstuck in time. He said, too,
that he had been kidnapped by a flying saucer in 1967. The saucer was from the planet
Tralfamadore, he said. He was taken to Tralfamadore, where he was displayed naked in a
zoo, he said. He was mated there with a former Earthling movie star named Montana
Some night owls in Ilium heard Billy on the radio, and one of them called Billy's
daughter Barbara. Barbara was upset. She and her husband went down to New York and
brought Billy home. Billy insisted mildly that everything he had said on the radio was
true. He said he had been kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians on the night of his daughter's
wedding. He hadn�t been missed, he said, because the Tralfamadorians had taken him
through a time warp, so that he could be on Tralfamadore for years, and still be away
from Earth for only a microsecond.
Another month went by without incident, and then Billy wrote a letter to the Ilium
News Leader , which the paper published. It described the creatures from Tralfamadore.
The letter said that they were two feet high, and green., and shaped like plumber's
friends. Their suction cups were on the ground, and their shafts, which were extremely
flexible, usually pointed to the sky. At the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green
eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They
pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to
teach Earthlings, especially about time. Billy promised to tell what some of those
wonderful things were in his next letter.
Billy was working on his second letter when the first letter was published. The second
letter started out like this:
�The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he
only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to
cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will
exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can
look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how pennanent all
the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an
illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a
string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
'When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad
condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other
moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what
the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is "so it goes."�
And so on.
Billy was working on this letter in the basement rumpus room of his empty house. It
was his housekeeper's day off. There was an old typewriter in the rumpus room.