Monday, 21 August 2017

Rilke: 'Sei allem Abschied voran' - this year's attempt at translation (2017)


(XIII)

Sei allem Abschied voran, als wäre er hinter
dir, wie der Winter, der eben geht.
Denn unter Wintern ist einer so endlos Winter,
daß, überwinternd, dein Herz überhaupt übersteht.

Sei immer tot in Eurydike -, singender steige,
preisender steige zurück in den reinen Bezug.
Hier, unter Schwindenden, sei, im Reiche der Neige,
sei ein klingendes Glas, das sich im Klang schon zerschlug.

Sei - und wisse zugleich des Nicht-Seins Bedingung,
den unendlichen Grund deiner innigen Schwingung,
daß du sie völlig vollziehst dieses einzige Mal.

Zu dem gebrauchten sowohl, wie zum dumpfen und stummen
Vorrat der vollen Natur, den unsäglichen Summen,
zähle dich jubelnd hinzu und vernichte die Zahl.


(XIII)

Be in advance of each parting, as if unbending
past, like the winter that soon is gone.
For among winters exists one so without ending
that, if well-wintered, despite all your heart will live on.

Be ever dead in Eurydice –, sing while ascending
praise while descending into what’s sheer in its ground.
Here, midst the dwindling, be, in the death that’s impending,
be a clear-ringing glass shattering right in mid-sound.

Be – and know the condition of being’s negation,
the quite infinite source of your own oscillation,
that you completely fulfil this in one single phase.

To what’s been used up and likewise the dull and the numbing
bounty of nature’s great hoard, the unspeakable humming,
joyfully reckon yourself, and that number erase.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

HCA "Allt paa sin rette plads"


‘Everything in its rightful Place’

It’s over a hundred years ago!
Behind the wood near the large lake lay an old manor house, and round it there were deep ditches in which bulrushes, rushes and reeds grew. Close to the bridge of the entrance gate stood an old willow tree that hung out over the reeds.
Down from the sunken road came the sound of horns and horses’ hooves, and so the little goose girl hurried to get the geese away from the bridge before the hunting party arrived at a gallop; it came at such a speed that she quickly had to jump up onto one of the high stones at the bridge to avoid being ridden down. She was still little more than a child, fine and slender, but with a lovely expression on her face and two kind, bright eyes; but these the lord of the manor did not notice; passing at rapid speed, he reversed his whip in his hand, and out of coarse merriment prodded her right in the chest, so that she toppled backwards.
‘Everything in its rightful place!’ he called out, ‘into the dirt with you!’ and then he laughed, for he took that to be highly amusing, and the others laughed too; the whole party shrieked and guffawed and the hounds barked, it really was a case of:

‘Rich bird comes a-tearing past’

– God only knows how rich he still was.
The poor goose girl tried to grasp something as she fell, and managed to catch hold of one of the hanging branches of the willow; this saved her from the dirt, and as soon as the fine party and house were well inside the gate, she tried to work her way up, but the branch broke high up, and the goose girl fell back heavily into the reeds, but at that very moment a strong hand from above seized her. It was an itinerant hosier, who had seen the whole incident from a little way off and hurried to the scene to come to her assistance.
‘Everything in its rightful place!’ he said in jest, as the lord of the manor had done, and hauled her up onto dry land; the broken branch he placed back at the point where it had broken, but ‘in its rightful place’ doesn’t always apply! and so he stuck the branch down into the soft earth, ‘grow if you can and provide a good flute for them up at the manor!’ he would happily see the lord and his men ‘run the gauntlet’; and then he entered the manor – but not the hall, for he was of too humble rank for that! – he came with the others into the servants’ hall, where they looked at his wares and haggled; but upstairs from the banqueting hall there was much bawling and squawling that they thought was singing – they knew no better. There was laughter and a howling of dogs, there was guzzling and swilling; wine and old beer foamed in glass and tankard, and the house dogs joined in too; the odd one or two of them kissed by the young noblemen after having its muzzle dried with a drooping ear. The hosier was called up with his wares, but only so that they could make fun of him. Wine had entered and reason exited. They poured beer into one of his stockings, so he could join in the drinking, but quickly! it was so exceptionally ingenious and laughable. Entire droves of cattle, farms and farmers were bet on a single card and lost.
‘Everything in its rightful place!’ the hosier said, when once more he was well outside what he called Sodom and Gomorrah. ‘The open road, that’s my rightful place, up there I wasn’t in my element at all.’ And the little goose girl nodded to him from the gate.
Days passed and weeks passed, and it turned out that the broken-off willow branch that the hosier had stuck in the ground near the ditch was still fresh and green, indeed, it was even putting forth new shoots; the little goose girl saw that it must have taken root, and she was extremely happy about this, for it was her tree, she felt.
Yes, everything was going well for it, but all at the manor was in sharp decline with all the guzzling and gambling: those two wheels are not good to try and stand on.
Less that six years had passed before the lord of the manor was a poor itinerant with a bag and a stick, and the manor had been bought by a rich hosier, and it was precisely the man who had been mocked and derided and offered beer in a stocking; but honesty and industry lead to prosperity, and now the hosier was lord of the manor; but from that moment on, no card-playing was allowed there; ‘it makes bad reading,’ he said, ‘it comes from the fact that when the devil first saw the Bible, he wanted to make a parody of it that was to be just like it, and so he invented card-playing!’
The new lord took a wife, and who should that be but the little goose girl, who had always been good-natured, devout and good; and in her new clothes she looked so fine and beautiful as if she had been born a distinguished young noblewoman. How did that come about? Well, it’s too long a story for our bustling age, but that’s what happened, and the most important part comes after that.
Everything flourished and thrived at the old manor, the mistress was in charge of everything indoors and the master of everything outdoors; it was as if this abundance gushed forth, and where there is affluence, more affluence will take up residence. The old manor was plastered and painted, the ditches cleaned and fruit trees planted; everything looked pleasing and attractive, and the living-room floor was as shiny as a chopping board. In the great hall the lady of the house sat on winter evenings with all her girls and span wool and linen; and every Sunday evening there was a reading from the Bible, and by the counsellor himself, for the hosier had become one, but not before he had reached a ripe old age. The children grew up – more children came – and all of them were well brought up, though they were not equally bright, as is the case in every family.
But the willow tree outside had become a quite magnificent tree that stood there unpollarded on its own, ‘it is our family tree!’ the old people said, and that tree was to be honoured and revered! they said to the children even to those of them that were not all that bright.
And now a hundred years had passed.
It was now our own age; the lake had become a marsh, and the old manor house was as if erased, there stood a rectangular pool of water, with some loose stonework on one side, it was all that was left of the deep ditches, and here still there stood a magnificent old tree with hanging branches, it was the family tree; it stood there showing just how beautiful a willow tree can be when it is allowed to take care of itself. – Admittedly, there was a split in the middle of the trunk from its root up to its crown, the storm had twisted it slightly, but it stood there, and out of the splits and cracks in it where wind and weather had deposited topsoil grass and flowers grew; especially highest up, where the large boughs separated, there was what was like a small hanging garden, with raspberries and chickweed, yes, even a small rowan had managed to take root and stood so slender and fine up in the middle of the willow tree, which mirrored itself in the black water when the wind had driven the food for the ducks over into a corner of the pool. – A small path, out across the tenant fields, led close by.
High up on the hill by the wood, with a delightful view, lay the new manor, large and imposing, with glass panes so clear that would think there were none there. The large flight of steps at the door looked as if it had a bower there of roses and large-leaved plants. The lawn was such a rich green it looked as if every blade had been seen to both morning and evening. Inside in the hall precious paintings hung, and there were silk and velvet upholstered chairs and sofas that could almost walk on their own legs, tables with gleaming marble tops, and books in morocco and with gilt edges... oh yes, it was rich folk that lived here, people of rank, the baron and his family.
The one thing corresponded with the other. ‘Everything in its rightful place!’ they too said, and therefore all the paintings that had once graced and adorned the old manor had now been hung in the passageway to the farmhands’ room; it was nothing but lumber, especially two portraits, one of a man in a pink coat and wearing a wig, the other a lady with powdered, high-piled hair and a red rose in her hand, but both of them surrounded in the same way by a large garland of willow switches. There were so many round holes in the two pictures, and this was because the small barons always used to shoot arrows from their bows at the two old people. It was the counsellor and his lady wife, from whom the entire family line was descended.
‘But they are not really from our family!’ one of the young barons said. ‘He was a hosier and she a goose girl. They were not like Papa and Mama!’
The pictures were nothing more than lumber, and ‘Everything in its rightful place!’ one used to say, and that meant that great-grandfather and great-grandmother ended up in the passageway to the farmhands’ room.
The vicar’s son was tutor at the manor; one day he was out walking with the young barons and their eldest sister, who had just been confirmed, and they were taking the path down towards the old willow tree; and while they walked, she was making a bouquet out of what grew in the fields; ‘Everything in its rightful place’, and it became a truly beautiful bouquet of flowers. Even so, she listened most attentively to everything that was being said, and she was so glad to hear the vicar’s son talk about the forces of nature and the great men and women of history; she had a healthy, fine nature, was noble in thought and mind, and had a heart well capable of embracing all things created by God.
They stopped down by the old willow tree; the youngest of the barons wanted so much to have a flute carved from it, this had been done before from other willow trees, and the vicar’s son broke off a branch.
‘Oh, don’t do that!’ the young baroness said, but it had already been done. ‘It’s our old illustrious tree! I am so fond of it! yes, I know people laugh at me back home for this, but I don’t care. There is a legend about that tree –!’
And now she told them everything that we have heard about the tree, about the old manor, about the goose girl and the hosier who met here and became progenitors of the fine family line and the young baroness.
‘They refused to be ennobled, the honest old folk!’ she said. ‘They had the saying: “Everything in its rightful place!” and they did not feel it was fitting to be raised to the aristocracy because of money. It was their son, my grandfather, who became a baron, he is said to have been a very learned man, highly respected and fondly regarded by princes and princesses, and to have attended all their festive occasions. He is the one they are most fond of at home, I am not sure myself, for me there is something about the old couple that draws my heart towards them! it must have been so cosy, so patriarchal at the old manor, where the mistress of the house sat weaving with all the girls and the old master read aloud from the Bible!’
‘They were splendid people, sensible people!’ the vicar’s son said; and then they got talking about the aristocracy and the lower classes, and it was almost as if the vicar’s son did not belong to the lower classes, judging by the way he enthused about the aristocracy.
‘It is highly fortunate to belong to a family that has distinguished itself! so that one has, so to speak, a line of blood to follow in the pursuit of what is fine. It is delightful to own a family name that grants one admittance to the top families. Nobility means being noble, it is the gold coin that is stamped with what one personally has of worth. – It is a fashionable belief, and naturally many poets adopt it, to state that everything that is noble is bad and stupid, whereas among the poor, the lower down one stoops, the more everything glitters. But that is not my opinion, for it is completely wrong, completely false. In the higher ranks there are many touchingly fine features; my mother has told me one, and I could provide several more. She was visiting a fine house in the town – my grandmother, I believe, had suckled the lady of the house. My mother was standing in the living room with the old master, who was of the high nobility; when he saw that an old woman on crutches came into the courtyard – she used to come every Sunday and was given a few coins. ‘There is that poor old woman,’ the master said, ‘she finds walking so difficult! – and before my mother realised it, he was out of the door and down the stairs, this excellency of three score years and ten, had gone down to the poor old woman to save her the exeertion of going all the wearisome way up for the few coins she was to receive. That is only a small trait, but like the “widow’s mite” it comes directly from the bottom of the heart, from human nature; and it is to this that the poet should point, in our present age it is precisely of what does good, alleviate and reconcile that he should sing! But if a example of mankind, simply because he is of blue blood and has a family tree, stands on his hind legs, like Arab horses, and whinnies in the street, and in his living rooms says “people from the street have been here!” when someone from the lower classes has been there, then nobility has started to decay, has become a mask of the type that Thespis made for them, and one makes fun of the person and exposes that person to satire.’
That was the speech given by the vicar’s son, it was rather long, but after it the flute had been carved.
There was a large festive occasion at the manor, with many people from the local area and from the capital. Ladies dressed tastefully and tastelessly. The great hall was packed with people. The local clergy stood deferentially clustered in a corner, it looked as if a funeral was taking place, but it was festive occasion that was yet to get underway.
There was to be a big concert, and so the young baron had his willow flute along with him, but he could not breathe into it effectively, nor could his Papa, so it was considered worthless.
There was music and singing, of the kind that is most agreeable to those performing it; quite acceptable otherwise.
‘So you too are a virtuoso!’ said a young gentleman present who was very much a child of his parents; ‘You play the flute, you carve it yourself. It is genius that rules – sits to the right – Great heavens! I keep up with the latest fashion, one has to, doesn’t one, you will surely delight us all with this little instrument!’ and so he handed him the small flute that had been carved from the willow tree down by the small pool of water, and in a loud, clear voice he announced that the tutor of the house would give them a solo on the flute.
This was, it was easy to understand, in order to make fun of him, and the tutor was unwilling to blow, although he knew how to, but they pressed him, they urged him, and so he took the flute and put it to his lips.
It was a strange flute! it let out a sound strong and sustained as that from a steam locomotive, even louder in fact; it could be heard everywhere in the manor, the garden and the wood, for miles out into the countryside, and along with the sound there came a roaring gale: ‘Everything in its rightful place! – and then Papa flew off as if borne by the wind, out of the manor, and straight into the cowman’s cottage, and the cowman flew up – not into the main living room, he wasn’t able to get in there, no, up to the servants’ chamber, among all the fine domestic staff that wear silk stockings, and the proud fellows were as if struck down by rheumatics that such a lowly person dared sit at table among them.
But in the great hall the young baroness flew up to the head of the table, where she fully deserved to sit, but the vicar’s son was given the seat next to her, and there they sat the two of them, as if they were a bridal couple. An old count from the oldest family in the land remained firmly in his place of honour, for the flue was just, as one should be. The witty young gentleman who was responsible for the flute-playing, the one who was a child of his parents, flew head-first in among the chickens, but he was not alone.
The flute could be heard a whole league away in the countryside, and there major incidents were reported. A rich merchant’s family, out driving in a coach and four, were blown completely out of it, and couldn’t even get a place at the back; two rich farmers who in our present age had grown taller than their own cornfields were blown down into a muddy ditch; it was a dangerous flute; fortunately the first sound it made caused it to split, and that was a good thing, then it was pocketed again: ‘Everything in its rightful place!’

The following day nobody spoke about the incident, which is why one has the saying ‘don’t blow the whistle!’ Everything was as before again, except for the fact that the two old pictures, those of the hosier and the goose girl – now hung in the great hall where they had blown up onto the wall; and since one of the real art connoisseurs said they had been painted by a master, they stayed there and were restored, before then people did not know that they were fine paintings – and how were they to have known that. They now hung in the place of honour. ‘Everything in its rightful place!’ and everything will indeed come to that! Eternity is long, longer than this story!

Monday, 14 August 2017

HCA: 'Aarets Historie'



The Story of the Year

It was the end of January; a frightful snowstorm was raging – the snow whirled and swirled through streets and alleyways; the outsides of the window panes were as if pasted over with snow, it crashed down in heaps from the roofs, and people were buffeted back and forth, they ran, they flew and dashed into each other’s arms, held on to each other for a moment and so managed for a while to gain a foothold. Carriages and horses were as if dusted with powder, the servants stood with their backs to the carriages and pushed backwards into the wind, the pedestrians stayed all the time in the shelter of the carriages, which only slowly slid off through the deep snow; and when the storm had finally died down and a narrow path cleared alongside the houses, people stood still there when they met; none of them felt like taking the first step, by treading to the side into the deep snow so that the other person could slip past. They stood there in silence, until finally, after what was like a tacit agreement, each of them sacrificed one leg and let it sink into the piled-up snow.
Towards evening, everything was completely still, the sky looked as if it had been swept and made taller and more transparent, the stars seemed brand-new, and some of them were so blue and bright, – and it froze so hard that it creaked, – it was quite possible that the uppermost layer of snow would be so strong the next morning that it could bear the house sparrows; they would soon be hopping around down there where the snow had been shovelled, but there was precious little food to be found, and they felt really frozen.
‘Cheep!’ one said to another one, ‘and this is what people call the New Year! – it’s even worse than the old one! so we might just as well have kept that instead. I am discontented, and with good reason!’
‘Yes, people went around celebrating the New Year,’ said a little sparrow, numb with the cold, ‘they banged pots against doors and were beside themselves with joy that the old year was over and done with! and I was pleased about it too, for I expected us to get warm days, but nothing became of that; it’s freezing even harder than before! The humans must have got their timing of the year all wrong!’
‘They must have!’ a third one said, who was old and white on top; ‘they now have something that they call a calendar, it’s something of their own invention, and everything it meant to follow it! but it doesn’t. When spring comes, that’s when the year starts, that’s the way of nature, and that’s how I reckon things!’
‘But when will spring come?’ the others asked.
‘It will come when the stork comes, but the date’s always very uncertain, and here in the town there’s no one who knows anything about it, they know a lot more out in the country; shall we fly out there and wait for it? Out there one is closer to spring.’
‘That’s all very well!’ one of them said that had been cheeping away without really saying anything. ‘Here in the town I’ve certain comforts that I am afraid of missing out there. Nearby in a courtyard there’s a human family that have very sensibly come up with the idea of fixing three of four flower pots to the wall with a large opening inwards and the base outwards, and a hole has been cut in it which is so large that I can fly in and out; there I and my husband have a nest, and from it all our young have flown out. The human family have of course arranged all this so as to have the pleasure of looking at us, otherwise they wouldn’t have done so. They sprinkle breadcrumbs, both for their own pleasure and so that we have food! so one is sort of taken care of: – and so I think that I and my husband intend to stay put! although we are very discontented, – but we’ll stay put!’
‘And we’re flying out into the country to see if spring’s won’t soon be coming!’ and off they flew.
And it was really a hard winter out in the country, a couple of degrees colder that in the town. The sharp wind swept over the snow-covered fields. The farmer, with large mittens on, said on his sleigh and slapped his arms round his chest to get the cold out of them. The whip lay on his lap, the skinny horses trotted so the steam rose from them, the snow creaked, and the sparrows hopped in the tracks and froze: ‘cheep!’ when will spring come? It’s taking so long!’
‘So long!’ it rang out over the fields from the highest hill, covered with snow; and it was possibly an echo one heard, but it could also perhaps be the strange old man who sat on top of the snowdrift in all weathers; he was quite white, just like a farmer in a white homespun coat, with long white hair, a white beard, quite pale and with large, clear eyes.
‘Who’s the old man over there?’ the sparrows asked.
‘I know!’ an old raven said who was sitting on the gatepost and who was condescending enough to recognise the fact that we are all God’s creatures, great and small, and therefore was prepared to enter into conversation with the sparrows and give them an explanation. ‘I know who the old man is. It is Winter, the old man from the past year, he isn’t dead, as the calendar says, oh no, he is actually the guardian of young Prince Spring, who will soon be coming. Oh yes, Winter is the one who rules the roost. Caw! you’re almost creaking with the cold, you small ones!’
‘Well, isn’t that what I was saying!’ the smallest of them said, ‘the calendar is simply a human invention, it’s not in tune with nature! they should leave such things to us, for we’re finer creatures than they are!’
And one week passed and almost two; the wood was black, the frozen lake lay there so heavy and looked like lead that had set; the clouds, well, they weren’t clouds, they were damp, ice-cold mists that hung over the countryside; the large black crows flew in flocks, without uttering a cry, it was as if everything was asleep. – A ray of sunshine glided across the lake, and it gleamed like molten tin. The layer of snow over the fields and up on the hill did not glisten as before, but the white figure, Winter himself, was still sitting there gazing constantly southwards; he didn’t notice at all that the carpet of snow seemed to sink into the ground, that here and there a small patch of green emerged, and that there then were crowds of sparrows.
‘Chirrup! Chirrup! is Spring now on its way?’
‘Spring!’ it rang out over field and meadow and through the black-brown woods, where the moss gleamed freshly green on the tree trunks; and through the air, from the south, the first two storks came flying; on the back of each there sat a lovely little child, a boy and a girl; and they kissed the earth in greeting, and wherever they placed their feet, white flowers grew up out of the snow; hand in hand they walked up to the old ice-man, Winter, lay down at his breast as a new greeting, and immediately all the three of them were hidden and the entire landscape hidden; a thick, damp mist, so dense and heavy, enveloped everything. – The wind rushed off, with strong gusts, and chased away the mist, the sun shone so warmly, – Winter itself had vanished, the lovely children of Spring sat on the throne of the year.
‘Now that I call New Year!’ the sparrows said. ‘Now we’ll once more enjoy our rights and compensation for the harsh Winter.’
Wherever the two children turned, green buds burst forth on bushes and trees, the grass grew taller, the cornfields were an increasingly vivid green. And all around her the little girl threw flowers; she had a profusion of them in her skirt, they seemed to thrust themselves forward, her skirt was always full, oh how eager she was to scatter them, – in her hurry she shook a whole flurry of flowers over apple trees and peach trees, so that they stood there in all their glory even before they had really got green leaves.
And she clapped her hands and the boy clapped, and then out came birds, one didn’t know where from, and all of them chirruped and sang: ‘Spring has come!’
It was lovely to see. And many an old woman came out of her door in the sunshine, shook herself, looked over at all the yellow flowers that the whole meadow was resplendent with, just as in her own young days; the world became young again, ‘it’s a wonderful day outside here!’ she said.
And the wood was still brown-green, bud by bud, but the woodruff was out, so fresh and so fragrant, the violets were in full bloom, and there were anemones, primroses and cowslips, yes, in every blade of grass there was vigour and vitality, and it was a magnificent carpet on which to sit, and there sat Spring’s young pair and held each other’s hands and sang and smiled and grew more and more.
A gentle rain descended from the sky over them, they didn’t notice it, the raindrop and the tear of joy merged into one and the same drop. The bride and bridegroom kissed each other, and in a trice the wood came into flower. – When the sun rose, all the woods were green!
And hand in hand the bridal couple walked under the roof of freshly hanging leaves, where only the rays of sunlight and the deep shadows offered alternatives to the green. A virginal purity and a refreshing scent were in the fine leaves! brightly and vivaciously river and stream purled among the velvet-green reeds and over the mottled stones. ‘It is utterly eternal and everlasting and so it will remain!’ all of Nature said. And the cuckoo sang and the lark called, it was lovely Spring once more; although the willow trees wore woollen mittens around its flowers, for they were so terribly cautious, and that is boring! And days passed and weeks passed, the warmth almost seemed to tumble down; waves of hot air passed through the corn, which grew more and more yellow. The white lotus of northern climes in the woodland lakes spread out its large green leaves across the surface of the water and the fish sought shade under them; and on the leeside of the wood, where the sun scorched down on the farmer’s wall and thoroughly warmed through the roses already in bloom, and the cherry trees hung heavy with juicy, black, almost sun-hot fruit, there sat the lovely lady of Summer, she who we saw as a child and as a bride; and she looked across at the rising, dark clouds that, in wave-like shapes, like mountains, black-blue and heavy, lifted themselves higher and higher; from three sides they came; more and more, like a petrified up-turned sea, sank down towards the wood, where everything – as at a touch of a wand – had fallen silent; every light breeze had dropped, every bird said not a sound, there was a solemnity, an expectation in all of Nature; but on the roads and paths people hurried, driving, riding and walking, to get a roof over their heads. – Then suddenly there was a gleam, as if the sun were coming out, blinking, blinding, consuming everything, and it turned dark once more in a rolling roar; the water poured down in torrents; it became night and it became light, silence and thunder. – Grass and corn lay as if flattened, washed away, as if they would never raise themselves again. – Suddenly the rain was no more that single drops, the sun shone, and from blade and leaf the drops of water sparkled like pearls, the birds sang, the fish frisked in the river water, the mosquitoes dances, and out on the stone in the briny, whisked sea-water sat Summer himself, the powerful man with strong limbs and dripping-wet hair, – rejuvenated by his fresh bath, he sat there in the warm sunshine. All of Nature around him was also rejuvenated. Everything stood luxuriant, strong and beautiful; it was Summer, warm, delightful Summer.
And delicious and sweet too was the scent that came from the lush field of clover, the bees hummed there around the former moot; the brambles twined up around the altar stone which, washed by the rain, gleamed in the sunlight; and out it flew the queen bee with her swarm and produced wax and honey. No one saw this except Summer and his buxom wife; for them the altar table was decked with Nature’s votive offering.
And the evening sky gleam as if of gold, no church dome has so rich a glow, and the moon shone between sunset and sunrise. It was Summer.
And days passed and weeks passed. – The shiny scythes of the harvesters glinted in the cornfields, the branches of the apple tree were bowed low with red and yellow fruit; the hops smelt delightful and hung in large bunches and under the hazel bushes, where the nuts sat in heavy clusters, the man and his wife rested, Summer with his solemn wife.
‘What richness!’ she said, ‘around the abundant harvest, home-grown and good, and yet, I don’t know quite why, I long for – rest, – quietude! I don’t know the right word for it! – Now all the fields are being ploughed again! More and more people wish to make the land yield! – See the storks arriving in large numbers and following the plough at a distance; the bird of Egypt that once bore us through the air! Do he remember when both of us as children entered these countries of the North? – We brought flowers with us, lovely sunshine and green woods, those the wind has now treated badly, they are turning brown and darkening like the trees of the South, but do not, as they do, bear golden fruit!’
‘Do you want to see such?’ Summer said, ‘then rejoice!’ and he raised his arm and the leaves of the wood were coloured with red and with gold, a magnificent of colour came over all the woods; the rosebush gleamed with its bright-red hips, the elder branches hung with large, heavy umbels of black-brown berries, the wild chestnuts fell when ripe out of their black-green shells, and within the wood the violets flowered a second time.
But the Queen of the Year became more and more quiet, more pale. ‘There’s a chill in the air!’ she said, ‘the night has damp mists! – I long for – the Land of Childhood!’ –
And she saw the storks fly away, each and every one! and she stretched her hand out after them. – She looked up at the nests, which stood empty, and in one of them the long-stalked corn-flower grew and in another the yellow wild radish, as if the nest existed simply as a protection and a fence for it; and the sparrows came up there.
‘Cheep! where’s fine folk got to! they can stand being blown on, so they’ve left the country! Have a good journey!’
And the leaves of the wood turned deeper and deeper yellow and one after the other drifted down, the autumn gales roared, it was now late Autumn. And on the bed of yellow leaves the Queen of the Year lay gazing with mild eyes at the twinkling stars, and her husband stood beside her. A gust of wind caught the leaves – it subsided again, then she was gone, but a butterfly, the last one of the year, flew through the cold air.
And the damp mists came, the biting wind and the dark, longest nights. The King of the Year stood with snow-white hair, but he was unaware of this, he thought it was the snowflakes that were falling out of the clouds; a thin layer of snow lay over the green fields.
And the church bells rang out Christmastide.
‘The birth-day bells are ringing!’ the King of the Year said, ‘soon the new pair of rulers will be born, and I, like her, will be granted rest! Rest in the twinkling star!’
And in the fresh green pine wood, where the snow lay, the Christmas angel stood and consecrated the young trees that were to be at its celebration.
‘Joy in the home and under the green branches!’ the old King of the Year said, the weeks had aged him into a snow-white old man, ‘the time approaches for me to rest, the young pair of the year are now to have crown and sceptre!’
‘Though the power is yours!’ the Christmas angel said. ‘Power and not rest!’ Let the snow lie like a warm blanket over the young seed! learn to put up with another being praised while you are yet ruler, learn to be forgotten and yet to be alive! your hour of freedom will come when Spring comes!’
‘When will Spring come!’ Winter asked. ‘It will come when the stork comes!’
And with white locks and a snow-white beard Winter sat there, ice-cold, old and bent, but strong, like the winter storm and the power of ice, high up on the hill’s snowdrifts and looked out towards the South, just as the previous Winter had sat and gazed. – The ice creaked, the skaters wove their way on the gleaming lakes, and the ravens and crows were a fine sight against the white background, no wind stirred. And in the still air Winter clasped his hands, and the ice between the countries became fathoms deep.
Then the sparrows came back again from the town and asked: ‘Who is that old man over there?’ And the raven sat there again, or one of his sons, which is exactly the same, and it said to them: ‘it is Winter! the old man from the previous year. He isn’t dead, as the calendar says, but guardian of the Spring that will come!’
‘When Spring comes!’ the sparrows said, ‘we will have plenty of time, and a better regime! the old system was no good.’
And in silent thought Winter nodded to the leafless, black wood, where every tree shows the lovely form and contours of the branches; and under the winter nap the ice-cold mist of the clouds descended, – the ruler dreamt of the time of his youth and manhood, and when dawn came, the whole wood was coated in beautiful hoar frost, it was Winter’s dream of Summer; sunshine caused the frost to sift down from the branches.
‘When will Spring come?’ the sparrows asked.
‘Spring!’ rang out like an echo from the hills where the snow lay. And the sun shone with more and more warmth, the snow melted, the birds chirruped: ‘Spring is coming!’
And high through the air came the first stork, the second followed it; on the back of each there sat a lovely little child, a boy and a girl, and they descended onto the open field and kissed the earth, and the kissed the old, still man and, like Moses on the mountain, he vanished, borne off in a cloud of mist.
The Story of the Year was over.
‘That’s all most correct!’ the sparrows said, ‘and all very beautiful too, but it’s not according to the calendar, which means it’s all wrong!’