Happiness (Kuprin)

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Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A tzar asked various people about the meaning of happiness, punishing those who gave unsatisfactory answers, until a wise man claimed that happiness lies in the charm of human thought.

A great tzar once gathered the poets and sages of his country and asked them about the nature of happiness. The first one claimed that happiness was to always see the tzar's face and feel his presence, but the tzar ordered his eyes to be put out. The second one said happiness was power, but the tzar disagreed, citing his own suffering. The third one claimed happiness was wealth, but the tzar, being rich himself, dismissed this idea and had the man thrown into the sea with a heavy gold wedge.

The fourth man, a hungry beggar, asked for food and claimed that satiety would bring him happiness. The tzar ordered him to be fed and informed when he died of overeating. Two others came forward, one an athlete who believed happiness was in creation, and the other a poet who believed it was in health. The tzar dismissed both of them, predicting that they would soon be unhappy with their own desires.

The seventh man claimed that happiness was in nonexistence, but when the tzar ordered his execution, he begged for mercy and changed his mind. The tzar said, "The tzar’s word is hard as agate."

The tzar’s word is hard as agate.

Another man claimed happiness was in women's love, so the tzar gave him a hundred beautiful women and a goblet of poison. Yet another man said happiness was in having all his wishes fulfilled, but when the tzar asked what he wanted, the man couldn't answer and was buried alive.

Finally, a wise man claimed that happiness was in the charm of human thought.

The Wise Man — prisoner who claimed happiness lies in human thought; calm, compassionate, and insightful.

The tzar, angered by this answer, imprisoned him in a dark, soundless cell for a year. When the man was brought back, blind and deaf, he still claimed to be happy because his thoughts had given him everything he desired.

Happiness lies in the charm of human thought.

The tzar asked where his thoughts would be when he was hanged, and the wise man calmly replied that thought was immortal.

Fool, thought is immortal.