Tuesday, 31 October 2017

HCA: 'Et Stykke Perlesnor' in English translation

A string of pearls


As yet, the railway in Denmark only stretches from Copenhagen to Korsør, it is a string of pearls of which there are a great many in Europe, the most precious usually mentioned being such cities as Paris, London, Vienna and Naples – although many people would not choose any of these large cities as their loveliest pearl, but refer instead to a small unobtrusive town as their home of homes, there where their dear ones live; and often it is no more than a single dwelling, a small house, hidden behind green hedges, a point passed in an instant as the train flashes past.
Just how many such pearls are there on the string from Copenhagen to Korsør? We would like to consider six that most people can’t fail to notice – old memories and poetry itself lend these pearls a lustre that makes them light up our thoughts.
Near the hill on which Frederik VI’s palace lies, Oehlenschläger’s childhood home, sheltered by the woodland soil of Søndermarken, lies one such pearl, known as ‘Baucis and Philemon’s Cottage’, in other words, the home of a lovable old couple. Here Rahbek lived with his wife Camma, here, under their hospitable roof, brilliant minds from busy Copenhagen gathered for a whole generation, here there was a home of the intellect, – – and now! do not say ‘Alas, how changed!’ – no, it is still a home of the intellect, a hothouse for the languishing plant! the budding genius that is not yet strong enough to unfold, though concealed it keeps all the shoots needed for leaves and seeds. Here the illuminating sun of the intellect shines into a protected home of the intellect, enlivens and animates. The outside world streams in through the eyes into the unfathomable depths of the soul: the mental hospital, round which human love hovers, is a holy place, a hothouse for the languishing plant that one day will be replanted and flower in God’s garden. Those mentally feeblest now gather where once the greatest and mightiest intellects once met, exchanged thoughts and were lifted aloft – aloft too the soul’s flame still blazes in ‘Baucis and Philemon’s Cottage’.
The City of Royal Graves near Hroar’s spring, old Roskilde, lies before us; the slender spires of the cathedral rise up over the low houses of the city and are mirrored in the Isefjord; one grave only we wish to seek here, gaze at it in the pearl’s lustre – it is not that of the mighty monarch of the Union of Kalmar, Margrethe I, no, inside the cemetery, close to whose white walls we fly past, the grave lies, a simple stone raised above it, the King of the Organ, the reviver of the Danish romance, lies here; the old legends became melodies in our soul, we sensed where: ‘the clear waves rolled’, ‘A king once dwelt in Lejre!’ – Roskilde, City of Royal Graves, in your pearl we wish to visit the humble grave where stone is inscribed with a lyre and the name Weyse.
Now we come to Sigersted, near Ringsted; the river bed is low; the golden corn grows where Hagbarth’s boat used to moor, not far from Signe’s bower. Who doesn’t know the legend of Hagbarth, who was hanged in the oak tree and Signelil’s bower that was set ablaze, a legend of the strength of love.
‘Beautiful Sorø surrounded by woodland!’ your quiet abbey town has been glimpsed among the moss-covered trees; with youthful look it gazes from the Academy out across the lake to the world’s highway, hears the roaring breath of the locomotive’s dragon as it flies through the wood. Sorø, you pearl of poetry, where the mortal remains of Holberg lie! Like a mighty white swan your seat of learning lies beside the deep lake of Skovsøen and up beside it – which is where our eye searches – there gleams, like white stitchwort on the woodland floor, a small white house from which pious hymns sound through the surrounding countryside, words are uttered inside, even the farmer listens to them and recognises times past in Denmark. The green woods and the song of birds belong together, as do the names of Sorø and Ingemann.
Off to the town of Slagelse! what is reflected here in the pearl’s lustre? Gone now is Antvorskov Abbey, gone are the fine halls of the castle, even its solitary, deserted wing; although an old sign still stands there, replaced time and time again, a wooden cross on the hill yonder where in legendary times Holy Anders, the Slagelse priest, woke up, borne here one night from Jerusalem.
Korsør – here you were born, who gave us:

‘Jests combined with gravity
You songs of Knud Sealand’s father.’

You master of word and wit! the subsiding old ramparts of the abandoned fortress are now the last visible evidence of your childhood home; when the sun sets, their shadows point to the spot where the house of your birth once lay; from these ramparts, looking out towards the high ground on Sprogø, you gazed when you ‘were small’, ‘the moon slides down behind the island’ and your praise made it immortal! , just as you later praised the mountains of Switzerland, you who set off into the labyrinth of the world and discovered that –

‘...nowhere are there redder roses
And nowhere smaller thorns are found,
And childhood’s guiltless head reposes
Nowhere on a softer down!’

Delicious songs of whimsy! we weave a garland of woodruff for you, throw it into the lake, and the current will carry it to the Kiel fjord, on whose banks your mortal remains have been laid; it brings a greeting from the younger generation, a greeting from your native town of Korsør – where the string of pearls comes to an end!



‘There certainly is a string of pearls from Copenhagen to Korsør,’ grandmother said, who had just heard what we have read aloud. ‘It is a string of pearls for me as it already was forty years ago!’ she said. ‘Back then we did not have those steam machines, we spent days travelling what now takes only a few hours! That was back in 1815, when I was twenty-one years old! now that is a delightful age! although it is also delightful to be in one’s sixties, so wonderful! – In my young days, well, it was a quite different thing, a much more rare occasion than it is now, to go to Copenhagen, the city or all cities, as we regarded it. My parents, after twenty years, wanted once more to pay it a visit, and I was to go with them; we had spoken about the journey for years and now it was really going to take place! I felt as if a completely new life was about to begin, and in a way a new life did begin for me.
Much sewing and packing was done and when we were about to leave, well, you can’t imagine how many good friends came to bid us farewell! it was a long journey we had ahead of us! Around mid-morning we set out from Odense in my parents’ Holstein cart, acquaintances nodded from the windows all the way down the street, almost until we had passed through St. Jørgen’s Gate. The weather was fine, the birds sang, all was sheer pleasure, one forgot it was such a long and difficult way to Nyborg, where we arrived towards evening; the mail boat didn’t sail until during the night and before that the ferry did not leave; we then went on board; ahead of us lay the great expanse of water, calm as a mill-pond as far as the eye could see. We lay down in our clothes and slept. When I awoke early the next morning and came up on deck, there was nothing to be seen in any direction, so thick was the mist. I heard the cocks crow, sensed that the sun rose, the bells rang; where were we, I wondered; the mist lifted, and there we were still just off Nyborg. Later in the day a breath of wind at last came, but head-on; we tacked and tacked, and finally were fortunate enough to reach Korsør just after eleven that evening – by then we had spent twenty-two hours covering just under twenty miles.
It felt good to be on dry land once more, but it was dark, the lamps gave only a dim light and everything was so totally strange to me, for I had never been in any other town than Odense.
‘Look, it was here that Baggesen was born!’ my father said, ‘and here Birckner used to live!’
To me it seemed as if the old town with the small house suddenly became brighter and larger; what’s more, we were so happy to have dry land under our feet once more; I couldn’t sleep that night because of all the many things I had already seen and experienced since leaving home two days earlier.
The next morning we had to be up early, we had a hard journey ahead with awful bumps and lots of potholes before we reached Slagelse, and things were not much better on the other side of it either, and we so much wanted to get to The Crayfish Inn in good time, so that while it was still daylight we could reach Sorø and visit Møller’s Emil, as we called him, yes, that was your grandfather, my late husband, the dean, he was studying in Sorø at the time and had just taken his first-year university exams.
We reached The Crayfish Inn after midday, it was a excellent place back then, the best inn of the whole journey and the loveliest region, well, all of you must surely admit that it still is. Its proprietress was a highly proficient lady, Madam Plambek, everything at the inn was like a well-scoured chopping board. On the wall, framed and glazed was Baggesen’s letter to her – that was well worth seeing! – I found it a great curiosity. – Then we continued to Sorø and met Emil there; believe me, he was very glad to see us, as we were him, he was so kind and attentive. He took us to see the church with Absalon’s grave and Holberg’s coffin; we saw the old monk-inscriptions, and we sailed across the lake to ‘Parnassus’ – the most delightful evening I can recall! I really felt that if there was anywhere in the world where one could write prose or verse, it had to be in Sorø, in the tranquillity and delightfulness of nature. Then we walked in the moonlight along ‘The Philosophers’ Path’ as they called it, the lovely, lonely path alongside the lake and swift-flowing water out towards the highway to The Crayfish Inn; Emil stayed on and dined with us, father and mother thought he had become so knowledgeable and looked so handsome. He promised us that within five days he would be staying with his family in Copenhagen and could be with us, for it was Whitsun. The hours in Sorø and at The Crayfish Inn, well, they belong to the loveliest pearls of my life!
The next morning we set out very early, for we had a long way ahead of us before we reached Roskilde, and we had to be there in good time in order to see the cathedral, and for father during the evening to visit an old school friend; all this we did, and stayed the night in Roskilde, and the next day, though first around midday – for it was the worst, the most heavily used road that still lay before us – we arrived in Copenhagen. We had spent roughly three days from Korsør to Copenhagen, now you are able to do the same trip in three hours. Pearls have not become more precious, they could not do so, but the string itself has become new and marvellous. I spent three weeks with my parents in Copenhagen, we were together with Emil no less than eighteen days, and when we then returned to Funen, he accompanied us all the way from Copenhagen to Korsør, there we became engaged before we parted; so you can well understand me for also calling from Copenhagen to Korsør a string of pearls.
Later, when Emil gained a position in Assens, we got married; we often spoke of the Copenhagen trip, and of repeating it some day, but first your mother came, and then came brothers and sisters, and there was a great deal to see to and take care of, and when father was promoted and became a dean, well, it was all a source of joy and happiness, but we never got to Copenhagen! I never went there again, though we often thought and spoke about it, and now that I have become too old, I haven’t the stamina to travel on the railway, though I am glad the railways exist! It is a blessing that they are there – it brings you to me more swiftly! Now Odense is hardly further from Copenhagen that it was from Nyborg when I was young! You can now be whisked to Italy just as quickly as it took us to travel to Copenhagen! yes, that is really something! Even so, I intend to stay put where I am and let others travel! let them come to me! but you shouldn’t smile even so because I sit here so quietly, I have a big journey of a different kind ahead of me than yours, one that is much quicker than even the railways; when the Lord God wishes, I will travel up to ‘Grandfather’, and when you have carried out your life’s task and rejoiced in this marvellous world, I know for sure that you will come up to us, and then we will talk about our days here on earth, believe me, children! I will also say there as I do now: ‘from Copenhagen to Korsør – it is indeed a string of pearls!’

Sunday, 29 October 2017

HCA: 'Anne Lisbeth' in English translation

Anne Lisbeth

Anne Lisbeth had a peaches-and-cream complexion, was young and contented, a joy to behold, her teeth gleaming white, her eyes so bright; light on her feet when dancing and her nature yet lighter! And what was the result? ‘The ugly little brat!’ she said of him, well yes, he certainly was not a pretty sight! she had the ditch-digger’s wife take care of him. Anne Lisbeth herself dwelt at the count’s castle, sat in the finest room there and wore silk and velvet; no breeze dared blow on her, no one say a harsh word to her, for that would do her harm and she was not to be exposed to such. She was wet nurse to the count’s child, who was a fine as a prince, lovely as an angel, oh how she loved that child; her own, well it was put out at the ditch-digger’s house, where the pot didn’t boil over but their mouths did, and most of the time there was nobody at home, the boy cried, but what the heart doesn’t hear the heart doesn’t grieve, he cried himself to sleep, and when you’re asleep you don’t feel either hunger or thirst, sleep is such a good invention; over the years – yes, as time goes by – up come the weeds, as people say, Anne Lisbeth’s boy shot up, though he was in fact stunted in his growth, they said; but he had completely become one of the family here, they had been paid money for it, Anne Lisbeth was quite shot of him, she was a city lady, she had feathered her nest and wore a hat whenever she went out, though she never went to the ditch-digger’s place, that was so far from the city and she had no business there either, the boy was theirs and he had a voracious appetite, they said, and was to earn his keep, so he took care of Mads Jensen’s cow for he was able to tend it and get something for doing so.
The watch dog at the manor’s bleaching ground sits proudly in the sunshine on top of its kennel and barks at every passer-by; in rainy weather in creeps inside and stays dry and warm. Anne Lisbeth’s boy sat by the ditch in the sunshine, whittling away at a tethering stake, in the spring he knew of three strawberry plants in blossom that would probably yield fruit, that was his happiest thought, but no strawberries came. He sat in rainy, rough weather, got drenched to the skin, the keen wind then dried the clothes on his body; if he came to the manor house he got shoved and pushed, he was nasty and ugly, the maids and farm hands said, he was used to that – never loved!
How did things go for Anne Lisbeth’s boy? How could they possibly? it was his lot here in life: ‘never loved’.
He was ‘cast overboard’ from dry land, went to sea in an unseaworthy old tub, sat at the helm while the skipper drank; he was filthy and nasty, numb with cold and ravenous – anyone would think he’d never had a full belly, nor had he either.
It was late in the year, rough, wet, windy weather, the chill wind cut through the thickest clothes, especially at sea, and with but one sail there a wretched old craft sailed with only two men on board – well, one and a half you could also say – the skipper and his boy. It had been half-dark all day long, now it got blacker, the air was piercing cold. The skipper took himself a snifter to keep himself warm inside! The bottle was out and the glass too, the top half was whole but the foot snapped off and instead it had a carved, blue-painted wooden block to stand on. A wee dram did you good and two did you better, in the skipper’s opinion. The boy sat at the helm, holding onto it with his rough, tarry hands, he was ugly, his hair wiry, he was cowed and stunted, it was the ditch-digger’s boy, in the church register he was listed as Anne Lisbeth’s.
The wind sliced in its own way, the boat in another! The sail bellied, the wind had caught hold, they shot forward like greased lightning – the going was rough and tough, but still more could come – Stop! – what was that! what thrust, what sprang up, what clutched the craft? it turned around! was a cloudburst on its way, was there breaking sea? – the boy at the helm screamed: ‘Oh Lord save us!’ The ship had struck a great rock on the sea bed and sank like an old shoe in the village pond; sank with all hands, with mice and men as one says, and there were mice all right but only one and a half men – the skipper and the ditch-digger’s boy. No one saw it happen except the screeching gulls and fish down there, and even they didn’t see it properly, for they scurried out the way in fright when the water roared into the sinking craft; hardly a fathom under water it now stood; hidden were the two of them, hidden, forgotten! only the glass with the blue-painted wooden block as its foot didn’t sink, the block held it afloat; the glass drifted and snapped in two and was washed ashore – where and when? Well, it was no use any more now! it had served its term and been loved; the same couldn’t be said for Anne Lisbeth’s boy! though in the kingdom of heaven no soul will ever be able to say ‘never loved!’ any more.


Anne Lisbeth lived in the city and had done so for many years, was called Madam and held her head especially high when she spoke of old memories, her time with the count, when she rode in a carriage and could speak with countesses and baronesses. Her sweet count’s child was the loveliest of God’s angels, the most lovable soul, he had been so fond of her and she of him. They had kissed each other and stroked each other, he was her joy, half of her life. Now he was a teenager, was fourteen years old, possessed learning and charm; she had not seen him seen she bore him in her arms; had not been at the count’s castle for many a year – it was a long journey away.
‘I really must take the bull by the horns!’ Anne Lisbeth said, ‘I must make the trip to my pride and joy, to my sweet count’s child! ah yes, I’m sure he longs for me too, thinks of me, is fond of me, as when he put his angelic arms round my neck and said: “Ann-Lis” – it was like a violin! yes, I really must take the bull by the horns and see him again!’
She travelled by calf-wagon, she went on foot, she came to the count’s castle, it was large and gleaming as it always had been, the garden looked as before, but the people in the house were all strangers, she did not know a single one of them. One of them knew something about Anne Lisbeth, they didn’t know what she had meant there once, that though the countess would tell them, also her own boy! how she longed for him.
Now Anne Lisbeth was here; she had to wait for a long time and time spent waiting is long! Before the count’s family went to dine, she was called in to the countess, and addressed most kindly. Her sweet boy she would get to see after the meal, then she would be called in again!
How he had grown, was tall and slim, but he still had his lovely eyes and his angelic mouth! he looked at her, but didn’t say a word. He seemed that he didn’t recognise her. He turned round, wanted to leave once more, but then she took his hand and pressed it to her lips! ‘That’s enough!’ he said and then he left the room, he whom she only thought of with love, he whom she had loved and loved more than anyone, he, her earthly pride.
Anne Lisbeth walked outside the castle along the open highway, she was so downcast; he had been so distant towards her, had not spared her a thought, not a word, he who she had once carried in her arms both day and night, and still carried in her thoughts.
A large, black raven landed on the road in front of her, screeched, and screeched again, ‘Aah!’ she said, ‘what sort of a bird of ill omen are you!’
She passed the ditch-digger’s house, there his wife stood in the doorway and they spoke together. ‘You’re stout as they come!’ the ditch-digger’s wife said, ‘you’re plump and dumpy! You’re doing all right!’ ‘Not so bad!’ Anne Lisbeth replied.
‘The boat went down with them!’ the ditch-digger’s wife said. ‘Skipper Lars and the boy both drowned. So that’s an end to that. I had thought though that the boy in time could have helped me out with a penny or two, he didn’t cost you anything any more, Anne Lisbeth!’
‘They drowned, did they’ Anne Lisbeth said, and nothing more was said on the subject. Anne Lisbeth was so disheartened, because the count’s child didn’t feel like talking to her, she who had loved him and had travelled all that way to go there, it had also cost money, the pleasure she had gained from it had not been great, but she didn’t say a word about that here, she didn’t want to get it off her mind by talking about it to the ditch-digger’s wife, she might come to think that she no longer had any standing with the count’s family. Then the raven screeched above her head once more.
‘That infernal black racket,’ Anne Lisbeth said, ‘it’s giving me quite a scare today!’
She had brought some coffee beans and chicory with her, it would be a kind deed to give this to the ditch-digger’s wife so she could make a bowl of coffee – Anne Lisbeth could have a cup too – and the ditch-digger’s wife went off to make it, and Anne Lisbeth sat down on a chair where she fell asleep; then she dreamt of the one person she had never dreamt of, that was rather strange: she dreamt of her own child who had hungered and bawled here in this house, been neglected and left to his own devices, and who now lay in the depths of the ocean, God knows where. She dreamt that she was sitting where she sat, and the that ditch-digger’s wife was out making coffee, she could smell the coffee beans, and in the doorway there stood such a lovely creature, just as handsome as the count’s child, and the young creature said:
‘Now the world is about to end! Hold on to me, for after all you are my mother! You have an angel in the kingdom of heaven! hold on to me!’
And he reached out for her, but there was such a terrible crashing noise, it sounded as if the world was disintegrating, and the angel rose up and held her by the sleeves of her shift, so tightly, it seemed to her, that she was lifted clear of the ground, but something heavy was hanging from her legs, it lay across her back, it was as if a hundred women were clinging onto her, and they said: ‘If you are to be saved, so are we too! hang on tight! hang on tight!’ and all of them hung on. It was too much, ‘rrii-iip! it said, the sleeve tore and Anne Lisbeth plunged downwards so horribly that it made her wake up – and she was on the point of crashing down with the chair she was sitting on, she was so confused in her mind that she couldn’t recall what she had dreamt, but it had been something bad.
They then drank coffee, and talked together, and then Anne Lisbeth went to the nearest town, where she was to meet the carrier and that same evening and night ride home with him; but when she came to the carrier, he said that they couldn’t leave before the evening of the next day, she then wondered what it would cost her to stay, considered the length of the journey and thought of taking the coast road and not take the highway as if was nearly ten miles shorter; after all the weather was fine and there was probably a full moon, so she decided to walk – she could be home the following day.
The sun had set, the vesper bells were still ringing – no, it wasn’t the bells, it was the fire-bellied toads croaking in the ponds. They now fell silent, everything was quiet, there was not a bird to be heard, they had all gone to rest, and the owl was not yet home; the woods and the shore where she walked were hushed and still, she could hear her own footsteps in the sand, no lapping of the waves could be heard, everything out there in the deep water was soundless; down there all was mute, both the living and the dead.
Anne Lisbeth walked along her mind empty, she was absent-minded as one says, but her thoughts were not absent from her, they are never absent, they simply lie there dozing, both the thoughts which have been brought to life that have gone to sleep and those which as yet have not stirred. But the thoughts are sure to arrive, they can move in our hearts, move in our heads or fall down on us!
‘A good deed bears the fruit of its own blessing!’ it is written; ‘in sin is death’ it is also written. A great deal is written, a great deal has been said, one does not know this, one does not remember it. As was the case for Anne Lisbeth; but can possibly come into one’s mind without one realising it!
All vices, all virtues lie in our hearts! in yours, in mine! they lie there like small invisible seeds; then a sun’s ray comes from without, the touch of an evil hand, you turn a corner, to the right or the left, yes, that can decide things, and the small seed gets shaken, which causes it to swell, it bursts, and spills out its juices into your entire bloodstream and then you are on the move. They are alarming thoughts, those one does not have when one is dozing, but they are in motion: Anne Lisbeth moved in a doze, her thoughts were in motion! From Candlemas to Candlemas the heart has chalked up much on its slate, it has the year’s accounts, much has been forgotten, sins in word and thought against God, our neighbour and our conscience; we don’t think about this, nor did Anne Lisbeth, she had done nothing contrary to the laws of the land, she was extremely well regarded, worthy and honest, she knew that. And as she walked down by the shore – what was it lying there? She stopped; what had been washed up? a man’s old hat lay there. Where could he possibly have gone overboard. She went up closer, stood and looked at it, Aah! what was lying there! she was badly frightened; but it was nothing to get frightened about, it was only seaweed and rushes that lay tangled round a large oblong stone, it looked as if it was the entire body of a human being, it was only rushes and seaweed, but she was frightened and as she passed on, so many things came into her thoughts that she had heard as a child, all those superstitions about ‘the shipwreck spectre’, the ghost of the unburied person who lay washed up on the deserted beach. The ‘shore-washer’: the dead body that did no harm, but its ghost, the shipwreck spectre, would follow the lone wanderer, hold on to it and demand to be carried to the cemetery so as to be buried in consecrated ground. ‘Hold on tight! hold on tight!’ it said; and as Anne Lisbeth repeated these words to herself, she suddenly recalled her entire dream, as large as life, recalled how the mothers had clung to her with this cry: ‘hang on tight! hang on tight!’ how the world sank, the sleeves of her shift tore and she fell away from her child, who at the hour of judgment would have held her up. Her child, her own flesh and blood, the child she had never loved, indeed, not even thought about, this child now lay on the sea-bed, it could come like a shipwreck spectre and cry out: ‘hang on tight! hang on tight! carry me to consecrated ground’ and as she thought this, fear nipped at her heels and she walked faster; fear came like a cold, clammy hand laid itself on her heart, so that she began almost to feel pain, and as she now looked out over the sea, the air grew thicker and denser; a heavy mist rushed forward, laid itself around bushes and trees, lending them a strange appearance. She turned round to look for the moon that was behind her, it was like a pale disc that emitted no rays, it was as if something heavy was weighing down all her limbs: hang on tight! hang on tight! she thought, and when she once more turned round and looked at the moon, it seemed to her that its white face was right close to her, and the mist draped like a sheet of linen round her shoulders: ‘hang on tight! take me to consecrated ground!’ she thought she heard, along with a sound so hollow, so strange – it did not come from the toads in the pond, not from ravens or crows, for such she could not see, ‘bury me! bury me!’ it sounded so clearly! yes, it was the shipwreck spectre of her child that lay on the sea-bed, that would know no peace before it had been carried and its grave dug in consecrated ground. That was where she would to, where she would dig; she went in the direction of the church, and then she felt as if her burden grew lighter, it disappeared, and so she wanted to turn round again to reach the shortest way home, but then the leaden weight returned: hang on tight! hang on tight! – it sounded like the toads croaking, it sounded like a plaintive bird, it sounded exactly like ‘bury me! bury me!’
The mist was cold and clammy, her hands and face were cold and clammy with dread! around her there was this squeezing, inside her there was endless room for thoughts she had never sensed before.
In out northern climes, a beech wood can come into leaf in the space of a spring night, stand there in young, light-green splendour in the day’s sunlight – in one single second the seed of sin in the life we have led is sown; it swells and unfolds in a single second when our conscience is aroused; and the Lord God wakens it when we least expect it; then there are no excuses: our deeds bear witness, our thoughts find words and the words ring out clearly over the world. We are appalled at what we have borne within us and not smothered, appalled at what we have scattered around out of arrogance and thoughtlessness. The heart stores away all virtues but also all vices, and they are able to thrive in even the most barren soil.
Anne Lisbeth contained in her thoughts what we have said here in words, she was overwhelmed by them, she sank to the ground, crawled along it for a short distance. ‘Bury me! bury me!’ it said, and she would most liked to have buried herself, should the grave grant eternal forgetfulness of all things. – It was a moment of serious religious arousal full of horror and fear. Superstition caused her blood to go hot and cold, and so much she never wished to speak of came into her mind. Soundlessly, like the shadow of a cloud in bright moonlight, a vision passed before her eyes that she had heard of earlier. Close to her, four whinnying horses rushed by, fire blazed from their eyes and nostrils, they were pulling a gleaming coach in which sat the wicked squire who more than a century earlier had caused havoc in the region. Every midnight, it was said, he drove into his courtyard and immediately came out again he was not white as one says a dead person is, no, he was as black as coal, a burnt-out coal. He nodded to Anne Lisbeth and waved: ‘hang on tight! hang on tight! then you can ride once more in a count’s carriage and forget your child!’
In greater haste still she hurried off and reached the cemetery; but the black crosses and the black ravens mingled in front of her eyes, the ravens screeched like the raven that day had screeched, though now she understood what it was it said: ‘I am a mother raven! I am a mother raven!’ each one of them said, and Lisbeth knew that the name also applied to her, since it also meant an unnatural mother, and so she might well be transformed into such a black bird and constantly have to screech what it was screeching, and then she would never get the grave dug.
And she threw herself down onto the ground, and with her hands dug a grave in the hard earth till the blood spurted from her fingers.
‘Bury me! bury me!’ came the constant cry – she was afraid of hearing the cock crow and of seeing the first red streak of light in the East, for if either came before her work was complete, she would be lost. And the cock crew and dawn broke in the East – the grave was only half-dug, an icy hand glided over her head and face down towards her heart. ‘Only half a grave!’ it sighed and drifted away, down to the bottom of the sea, yes, it was the shipwreck spectre; Anne Lisbeth sank overwhelmed and exhausted to the ground, with no thought or sensation in her mind or body.
It was broad daylight when she came to her senses, two young men lifted her up; she was not lying in the cemetery but on the sea shore, and in front of her she had dug a deep hole in the sand and cut her fingers till they bled on edges of a broken glass the sharp stem of which had been pushed down into a blue-painted wooden foot. Anne Lisbeth was ill; conscience had shuffled the cards of superstition, dealt them and from reading them had found out that she now only had half a soul, the other half her child had taken with it down to the bottom of the sea; she would never be able to fly up to the mercy of heaven before recovering the other half, which was being kept down in the depths; Anne Lisbeth came back home, she was no longer the human being she had been previously; her thoughts were tangled like yarn that gets tangled, she had only teased out one thread – to carry the shipwreck spectre to the cemetery, dig a grave for it and thereby regain all of her soul.
Many a night she was missing from her home and then she was always found down on the beach, where she was waiting for the shipwreck spectre; a whole year passed in this fashion, then one night she went missing and could not be found; the following day was spent searching for her to no avail.
Towards evening, when the parish clerk entered the church to ring the vesper bells, he saw Anne Lisbeth lying in front of the altar; she had been here since early that morning, her strength was almost gone, but her eyes were bright, her face had a rosy gleam to it; the last rays of the sun where shining down on her, across the communion table onto the gleaming clasps of the bible that lay open at a page of the Book of the Prophet Joel: ‘Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God!’ – ‘that was merely a coincidence!’ people said, just as so many other things are mere coincidence!
In Anne Lisbeth’s face, lit up by the sun, one could read peace and mercy. She felt so well! she said. She had now recovered herself! that night the shipwreck spectre, her own child, had been with her, it had said: You only dug half a grave – for me, but now you have completely buried me for a year and a day in your heart, and that is where a mother keeps its child best! and then it had given her back the lost half of her soul and led her into the church here.
‘Now I am in God’s house!’ she said, ‘and in here one is blessed!’
When the sun had completely set, Anne Lisbeth’s soul had completely risen to where there is no fear when the battle has been fought and won, and this Anne Lisbeth had done.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

A poem by Elly de Waard



I once heard a wise man
remark (it was
the poet Leo Vroman)
it makes no sense to
spend time bemoaning your fate
since nature knows nothing
of justice whatsoever.

I’d like to put
this more concisely. To
begin with he is quite right.
Although it might well be that
nature knows what is just
in the sense that she strives
for balance. The scales
of Lady Justitia

have for her no
moral values, but rather
the gravity
of the earth and the utter
velocity of light.
She is the weighing process
as it were: she sets aright
but she holds her tongue.