From the Introduction to Freud’s Requiem

In the summer of 1913, Sigmund Freud took a stroll in “a smiling countryside in the company of a taciturn friend and of a young but already famous poet.” That August he was vacationing in the Dolomites, an epic mountain region at the border of Austria and Italy, amid cinematic, archaic promontories whose profiles resembled dragon's teeth. It was a place Freud knew well from his student days in Trieste and from many subsequent holiday rambles. An avid naturalist, who delighted in hunting flowers and mushrooms, he would have reveled in the the hardy mountain flora, in the parnassia and primrose, milkwort and rampion, and the fragile hellebore that poke their way each spring through the rocky soil and receding snows.

As Freud and his companions lingered in the soft light of that afternoon, admiring the surrounding nature, their conversation took a melancholy turn. The young poet was troubled by ghosts. Everywhere he turned he saw beauty, but in this radiance the poet foresaw the coming of sorrow. All these things were transient, fated to extinction; mocked by its own frailty, beauty was eclipsed by its negation, and had no value and no meaning.

The older man was sympathetic to the poet's melancholy (which their silent friend shared), but he could not accept his anguished conclusion. The poet was correct, of course, that all earthly things must pass away, including those in whose qualities we take special pleasure. But rather than subtract from their beauty, Freud protested, this evanescence only added to beauty’s increase. Winter replaces summer, but spring comes again in winter’s wake. The scientist— taken aback, perhaps, by the poet’s remonstrance—suggested that it was beauty’s “scarcity value in time” that gave what is precious its worth. Since beauty was known—could only ever be known—only by the heart and eye and mind of its witness, so long as we live, beauty is with us, passing into nothingness only when we, too, cease to exist.

Freud’s protests found no favor with the poet, or with their companion, the “taciturn friend.” His own conviction, however, remained unshakeable, that the fleeting quality of existence increased, not diminished, its value.

Later, Freud wondered at the source of his companions’ attitude that afternoon. Looking back on their conversation, he recognized in them what he called “a revolt in their minds against mourning.” They recognized in the transience of these beautiful things the essential mortality of life, and of their own lives; this knowledge so disturbed them that they could no longer appreciate beauty except as something already lost. In the process, life lost for them its luster and meaning.

Freud himself was puzzled by mourning, which he considered love’s rebellion against loss. When we love, he said, our love goes out from us to the object of our affection, where it dwells in the beloved as if in ourselves—much like an embassy which, though in a foreign land, is said to stand upon the soil of the native country. When we lose a loved one, our love is drawn back again into us. But this process of recall is arduous and painful. Our love strives to inhabit the dwelling it has built in the heart of our lover, even when that heart no longer beats or is no longer near. And so, losing love, we suffer, and in that suffering we experience our love once more, in parting.

After their conversation, one assumes, the wanderers went their separate ways, each of them confirmed in their own opinion of life's fleeting blessings. We can do no more than assume, though, since here our knowledge of that afternoon ends, and the companions disappear from view with the last mountain light.