Trong một ngôi quán nhỏ tồi tàn ở Paris, lão nghệ sỹ già nói với chàng "họa sỹ" trẻ, rằng thì là mày đã đi xem mấy cái tấm thảm Ba Tư chi chít họa tiết và sắc màu chưa. Ấy đấy ý nghĩa cuộc đời nằm nơi ấy. Mày cứ nhìn mấy cái tấm thảm ấy đi và sẽ nghiệm ra ý nghĩa cuộc đời.
Những lần sau, gã trai có hỏi lại bao nhiêu thì lão vẫn khăng khăng rằng cái điều đó hắn phải tự khám phá, nghe người khác nói thì chỉ vô ích mà thôi.
Gã trai về London. Lão già còn gửi tặng một mẩu thảm - rách rưới bẩn thỉu.
Rồi lão cũng về lại London và chết.
Nhưng cái điều lão khơi ra thì dứt khoát lão không trả lời.
Gã trai đã từ bỏ giấc mơ nghệ thuật, lồm cồm bò lết sống qua ngày vì không xu dính túi. Rất lâu rất lâu, sau nhiều phen bị đời quật cho lên xuống. Một ngày kia gã tìm ra câu trả lời.
Thinking of Cronshaw, Philip remembered the Persian rug which he had given him, telling him that it offered an answer to his question upon the meaning of life; and suddenly the answer occurred to him: he chuckled: now that he had it, it was like one of the puzzles which you worry over till you are shown the solution and then cannot imagine how it could ever have escaped you. The answer was obvious. Life had no meaning. On the earth, satellite of a star speeding through space, living things had arisen under the influence of conditions which were part of the planet’s history; and as there had been a beginning of life upon it so, under the influence of other conditions, there would be an end: man, no more significant than other forms of life, had come not as the climax of creation but as a physical reaction to the environment.
Philip remembered the story of the Eastern King who, desiring to know the history of man, was brought by a sage five hundred volumes; busy with affairs of state, he bade him go and condense it; in twenty years the sage returned and his history now was in no more than fifty volumes, but the King, too old then to read so many ponderous tomes, bade him go and shorten it once more; twenty years passed again and the sage, old and gray, brought a single book in which was the knowledge the King had sought; but the King lay on his death-bed, and he had no time to read even that; and then the sage gave him the history of man in a single line; it was this: he was born, he suffered, and he died.
There was no meaning in life, and man by living served no end. It was immaterial whether he was born or not born, whether he lived or ceased to live. Life was insignificant and death without consequence. Philip exulted, as he had exulted in his boyhood when the weight of a belief in God was lifted from his shoulders: it seemed to him that the last burden of responsibility was taken from him; and for the first time he was utterly free. His insignificance was turned to power, and he felt himself suddenly equal with the cruel fate which had seemed to persecute him; for, if life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty. What he did or left undone did not matter. Failure was unimportant and success amounted to nothing. He was the most inconsiderate creature in that swarming mass of mankind which for a brief space occupied the surface of the earth; and he was almighty because he had wrenched from chaos the secret of its nothingness.
- W. Somerset Maugham,