Monday, 26 February 2018

HCA: 'Moster' in English translation


You should have known Auntie! she was delightful! well, she wasn’t delightful in the sense of being delightful to look at, but she was sweet and kind, amusing in her own way, just the sort of person to talk about when someone is to be gently poked fun at, she would have fitted perfectly in a play, and that quite simply because she lived for the theatre and everything that took place there. She was so honest, but Agent Fab, who Auntie called Blab, called her stage-struck.
‘The theatre is my education!’ she said, ‘my source of knowledge, the place from where I have my brushed-up biblical history: ‘Moses’, ‘Joseph and his Brothers’ – now those are operas for you! From the theatre I have my world history, geography and knowledge of the human race! From the French plays I know about Parisian life – salacious, but highly interesting! oh, how I have wept over ‘La Famille Riquebourg’, that the husband has to drink himself to death so as his wife can get her young sweetheart! – Yes, and how many tears have I not spilt in the fifty years I have had a box there!’
Auntie knew every single play, every stage set, every person who performed or who had done so. She really only lived during the nine months of the theatre season. A summer without a summer play was a time that made her grow old, whereas a theatre evening that went on until past midnight was an extension of life. She did not say like other people: ‘spring’s on the way, the stork has arrived!’ ‘the newspapers state that the first strawberries have come.’ She would announce the coming of autumn thus: ‘Have you seen, the boxes in the theatre are to be auctioned off? now the performances will soon begin.’
She rated the value and desirable location of a property by the distance it lay from the theatre. It was a sad day for her when she had to leave the little alley behind the theatre and move to the wide street a little further away and live in a house that had no opposite neighbour.
‘At home my window will have to be my box at the theatre! one can’t just sit there thinking about oneself, one must see people! but now I live as if I had moved out into the country. If I want to see people, I have to go out into my kitchen and climb up beside the sink, only there can I see the neighbours opposite. No, when I lived in my alley, I could look straight into the chandler’s, and then it was only three hundred steps to the theatre, now I have three thousand – and marching paces at that.’
Auntie could sometimes fall ill, but no matter how poorly she felt, she never missed going to the theatre. One evening her doctor prescribed that she should have a poultice of sour dough under her feet, she did as he said, but rode to the theatre and sat there with the sour dough under her feet. If she had died there, it would have pleased her. Thorvaldsen died while at the theatre, that she referred to as a ‘blessèd death’.
She could certainty not conceive the heavenly realm without there also being a theatre there, it had not been promised us, but it was quite imaginable; that the many excellent actors and actresses that had gone before must still have their sphere of activity.
Auntie had her own ‘telegraph-wire connection’ from the theatre to her own living room; the telegram would come every Sunday at coffee time. Her telegraph wire was ‘Mr Sivertsen the theatre technician’. The man who gave the signals for up and down, in and out with curtains and stage sets.
From him she obtained a brief, pithy review of the plays. Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ he called ‘infernal rubbish! there is so much needed, and it starts with water as far as the first side-drop!’, in other words, so far forward were the rolling waves supposed to go. If, on the other hand, the very same living room decoration was used for all five acts, it took care of itself – it took place without any work behind the scenes.
In former times, which is what Auntie called the time thirty or so years earlier, she and the recently mentioned Mr Sivertsen were younger; he was already one of the technical staff and, as she referred to him, her ‘benefactor’. For it was customary back then at the evening performance of the town’s only, large theatre, to have some of the audience ‘up in the cockloft’; every technician had a seat or two at his disposal. It was often crammed up there and extremely good company, it was said that there had been wives of both generals and rank-ranking commercial advisers there: it was so interesting to look down behind the wings and know how people moved and stood when the curtain was down.
Auntie had been there on several occasions, both to tragedies and ballets, for the plays that involved the most performers were the most interesting to watch from the cockloft. It was quite dark up there, most people had some supper with them; once three apples and a few open sandwiches with pressed belly of pork fell straight down into Ugolino’s prison, where the man was supposed to be dying of hunger, which made the audience laugh. That cold cut was one of the most telling reasons why the managers decided to completely do away with the seats up in the cockloft.
But I was up there thirty-seven times!’ Auntie said, ‘and I will never forget Mr Sivertsen because of that.’
Precisely the last time that the cockloft was open to the public, there was a performance of ‘The Judgment of Solomon’, Auntie recalled it well; she had, thanks to her benefactor Mr Sivertsen, managed to get a ticket for Agent Fab, in spite of the fact that he hadn’t deserved it, since he constantly made fun of the theatre and used to tease people; but now she had managed to fix it for him. He wanted to see the theatre inside-out – those were his own words, and they were typical of him, Auntie said.
And he saw ‘The Judgment of Solomon’ from above and fell asleep; one would definitely have thought he had come from a large dinner with plenty to drink. He slept and got locked in, sat there and slept in the dark up in the cockloft, and when he woke up, he told me – although Auntie didn’t believe him – ‘The Judgment of Solomon’ was over, all the lamps and lights were out, everybody was outside, from the stalls and balconies; but it was then that the play really began, the ‘Nachspiel’, which was the best part,’ the agent said. It was not the judgment of Solomon that was passed, no, it was the Day of Judgment at the theatre. And all this Agent Fab had the cheek to try to delude Auntie into believing; that was the thanks she got for having procured him a seat up in the loft.
 So what did the agent relate, well, it was fairly ridiculous to hear, but underneath it all there was malice and teasing.
‘It was so dark up there!’ the agent said, ‘but then the spooky stuff started, a large-scale performance: ‘Day of Judgment at the Theatre’. The ticket controllers were at the doors, and every spectator had to show his moral conduct book, to determine whether he was to be allowed in with his hands untied or tied, with or without a muzzle. Fine folk who came too late, when the performance had already started, as well as young people who were of course incapable of always coming on time, were tethered outside, given felt soles under the feet so they could enter when the next act began, and in addition a muzzle. And then the Day of Judgment began at the theatre!’
‘Mere wickedness, of which Our Lord knows nothing!’ Auntie said.
The painter, if he wanted to enter heaven, had to ascend a ladder he himself had painted, but which no human being could possible clamber up. That was of course only a sin against perspective. All the plants and buildings that the technician, at great inconvenience, had had placed where they did not rightly belong, the poor man had to move to the right place and do so before the cock crew, if he wanted to be admitted to heaven. Mr Fab only wanted to see that he got inside himself; and what he related about the players, in both comedies and tragedies, in singing and dancing, was the blackest humour of Mr Fab, Blab! he didn’t deserve to be admitted to the loft, Auntie refused to repeat what he had said. All of it had been written down, he had said, Blabber-mouth! it would be printed when he was dead and gone, not before; he didn’t want to be flayed alive.
Auntie had only once been in fear and dread in her temple of bliss, the theatre. It was on a winter’s day, one of those days when there are but two hours and daylight and all is grey. It was cold and there was snow, but Auntie insisted on going to the theatre; they were performing ‘Herman von Unna’, plus a small opera and a large ballet, a prologue and an epilogue; it would go on until late at night. Auntie simply had to go; her lodger had leant her a pair of boots with runners ,well-lined both inside and out; they reached well up her legs.
She arrived at the theatre, went into her box; the boots were warm, she kept them on. Suddenly there was a cry of Fire!; smoke starting coming out of one of the wings, smoke came from the cockloft; there was a great commotion. People stormed out; Auntie was the last person left in the box – second floor on the left, that is where the decorations look their best!’ she used to say, ‘they are always positioned so as to look most beautiful from the royal side!’ – Auntie wanted to get out, those in front of here, in their fear and thoughtlessness they had slammed the door; there sat Auntie, she could not get out, nor in either – into the neighbour’s box, that is – the balustrade was too high. She shouted, no one heard her, she looked down at the tier below here, it was empty, it was low, it was close by; in her fear Auntie felt so young and light, wanted to jump down, also managed to get one leg over the balustrade, the other off the seat; there she sat straddled, well covered by her flower-patterned skirt, with one long leg dangling in the open air, a leg wearing a large boot complete with runner – what a sight to see! and when it was seen, Auntie was also heard, and saved from perishing in there, for the theatre was not on fire.
It was the most memorable evening of her life, she said, and was happy she hadn’t been able to see herself, for then she would have died of shame.
Her benefactor from the technical staff, Mr Sivertsen, still came to visit her every Sunday, but it was a long time from Sunday to Sunday; in recent times she therefore used to invite a young child to some ‘scraps’ mid-week, in other words, what had been left over from her midday meal. This was a young girl from the ballet who needed some food. She used to appear on stage both as an elf and a page; her most difficult role was the back half of the lion in ‘The Magic Flute’, but she advanced to the front legs of the lion; for this she used to be paid three marks, the back legs only gave her a thaler, but that meant walking bent double and having no fresh air. That was most interesting to learn, in Auntie’s opinion.
She deserved to live as long as the theatre stood there, but she couldn’t hold out that long; nor did she die there, but properly and respectably in her own bed; her last words incidentally were quite significant, she asked: ‘what are they putting on tomorrow?’
After her death, there remained around five hundred thalers; excluding the interest, which was twenty thalers. Those Auntie had earmarked for a legacy to some deserving old spinster without any family; they were to be used annually to reserve a seat on the second tier, the left-hand side, and on Saturdays, for it was then that the best plays were performed. The one condition was that anyone who gained pleasure from the grant was, every Saturday in the theatre, to think of Auntie, lying in her grave.
That was Auntie’s religion.

HCA: 'Oldefa'er' in English translation


Great-Grandpa was such a splendid, wise and good-natured old man, all of us looked up to him; in actual fact, as far back as I can remember, he was called Grandpa, or sometimes Grandad, but when my brother Frederik’s little son came into the family, he advanced to Great-Grandpa; higher than that was impossible to get! He was so very fond of all of us, but our present age he found it harder to be fond of: ‘The old days were the good old days!’ he used to say; ‘they were slow and steady! now everything goes at such a gallop and turns everything topsy-turvy. The young people hold forth on everything, speak even about monarchs as if they were their equals. Everyone from the street can sop his cloth in stagnant water and wring it out over the head of an honourable man!’
When talking about such things, Great-Grandpa would go quite red in the face; but soon afterwards his friendly smile would return, with the words: ‘Well, well! perhaps I’m completely wrong about that! I live in an old age and can’t get a proper foothold in the new one – may the Good Lord lead and guide it!’
When Great-Grandpa talked about the old days, it was as if they came back to me. In my mind’s eye I saw myself riding in a golden coach with footmen, saw the guilds moving their signboards in processions with music and banners, took part in the amusing pre-Christmas celebrations where one played forfeits and dressed up. Admittedly, there was also a great deal that was ugly and cruel back then: people broken on the wheel and the shedding of blood, though all that horrible stuff somehow had something enticing and exciting about it. But I also thought about the Danish noblemen who had liberated the peasants, and the Danish crown prince who had abolished slave trading.
It was lovely to hear Great-Grandpa talk about all this, to hear about his days as a young man; but it was the times even before that which were the most delightful of all, so powerful and glorious.
‘They were brutal!’ my brother Frederik said, ‘thank God they are over and done with!’ and he said that straight out to Great-Grandpa. That was unseemly, but I had great respect even so for Frederik; he was my eldest brother, he could have been my father, he said; he said so many queer things. He had passed his university exam with top marks and was so proficient in my father’s office that he would soon be able to become a partner in the business. He was the one that Grand-Grandpa most entered into discussions with, although they always used to end up arguing with each other. The two of them never understood each other and never would do, the whole family said, but no matter how young I was, I soon noticed that the two of them could not do without each other.
Great-Grandpa used to listen with shining eyes when Frederik spoke or read aloud about progress in science, discoveries of the forces of nature, and all the remarkable things of our age.
‘People get cleverer but no better!’ Great-Grandpa would say. ‘They invent the most terrible weapons of mass destruction against each other!’
‘That makes wars end much faster!’ Frederik would say, ‘you don’t have to wait seven years for the blessings of peace! The world is full-blooded, there must be some blood-letting from time to time, it is essential!’
One day Frederik told him about something that had actually taken place in our age in a small country. The mayor’s clock, the large clock at the city hall, indicated the time to the city and its population; the clock did not keep perfect time, but the city went by it even so. Now railways also came to the country, and they were connected to those of all other countries, and for this reason it was necessary to know the exact time, otherwise the trains might collide. The railway was provided with its own chronometer, which kept the exact time but not that of the mayor’s clock, and now all those in the city went by the railway clock.
I laughed and thought this was an amusing story, but Great-Grandpa did not laugh, he became quite solemn.
‘There’s a great deal in what you say!’ he said, ‘and I also understand the reason behind your telling me it.
Your story about the clocks contains a moral. It causes me to think of another clock, my parents’ old, simple grandfather clock with leaden weights; that measured the time in their childhood and in mine; it didn’t keep absolutely perfect time, but it worked, and we looked at the clock face, believed what we saw and didn’t think about all the cog-wheels inside. That was also the case with the machinery of government, we looked trustingly at it and believed what we saw. Now the machinery of the state has become a glass clock, one where one can see all the works inside, see the wheels spinning and turning, it makes you get all anxious about this pivot, that cog-wheel! how can all this end up with exactly the right time, I think to myself, and no longer have my childlike trust. That is the precarious nature of the present age!’
And all this made Great-Grandpa get quite het up. He and Frederik couldn’t get on with each other, but they couldn’t do without each other either, ‘just like the old age and the new age’! – both of them sensed this, as did the whole family, when Frederik was to travel far away, to America. It was on family matters that the trip had to be made. This was a hard separation for Great-Grandpa, and the journey was such a long one, over the entire ocean to another part of the earth.
‘I’ll send you a letter every fortnight!’ Frederik said, ‘and you will be able to hear from me faster than all my letters via the telegraph wire; the days will become hours, the hours minutes!’
A telegraph greeting came when Frederik went on board in England. Earlier than a letter would have done, even if the clouds up above had been the postman, came the greeting from America when Frederik had stepped ashore; that had been only a few hours earlier.
‘What divine consideration has been shown our age!’ Great-Grandpa said; ‘a blessing to mankind!’
‘And it was in our country that the natural forces were first understood and expressed, Frederik has told me.’
‘Yes,’ said Great-Grandpa, and gave me a kiss. ‘Yes, and I have looked into the two mild eyes that first saw and understood this natural force, they were the eyes of a child, like yours! and I have shaken his hand!’ And then he kissed me once more.
More than a month had passed when Frederik mentioned in a letter that he had become engaged to a young, beautiful girl that the whole family were sure to be delighted with.
Her photograph was enclosed and scrutinised both with the naked eye and with a magnifying glass, for it is only such images that can stand being closely observed with the very sharpest glass, indeed, that it actually brings out the likeness even more. No painter has ever been able to achieve that, not even the great masters of earlier times.
‘If only one had known of that invention back then!’ Great-Grandpa said, ‘ we would have been able to look face to face at the benefactors and great men of the world! – How gentle and good the young girl looks!’ he said and stared through the glass. ‘Now I will know her when she comes in through the door!’ But this almost never happened; fortunately we did not hear all that much about the danger back home before it was over.
The newly weds reached England safe and sound, from there they were to travel by steamship to Copenhagen. They could see the Danish coast, the white sand-dunes of West Jutland; then a storm blew up, the ship struck one of the sand bars and was stuck; a raging sea pounded the vessel and sought to destroy it; none of the lifeboats could be used; night came, but in the midst of the darkness a gleaming rocket from the shore shot up over the ship that had run aground; the rocket dropped a rope over it, a link was established between those on board and those on land, and soon in a rescue basket a beautiful, young woman was being pulled alive through the heavy waves; and she was ecstatically glad and happy when, soon afterwards, her young husband stood by her side on dry land. Everyone on board was rescued; and it was not yet dawn.
We lay sweetly sleeping in our beds in Copenhagen, with not a thought of sorrow or danger. As we all sitting round the breakfast table, a report came via a telegram of the loss of a British steamship off the west coast of Jutland. We were all seized with anxiety and dread, but within an hour a telegram arrive from those rescued, the safely-returned Frederik and his young wife, who would soon be with us.
We all wept; I did too, and so did Great-Grandpa, he folded his hands and – I am quite sure – blessed the new age.
On that day Great-Grandpa donated two hundred thalers to the monument to Hans Christian Ørsted. When Frederik arrived home with his young wife and heard of this, he said: ‘That was sell done, Great-Grandpa! and now I will read for you what Ørsted already wrote some years ago about the old age and our own age!’
‘He agreed with you, I suppose?’ Great-Grandpa said.
‘Yes, you can be sure of that!’ Frederik said, ‘and now you are a part of it, for you have donated to his monument!’

Friday, 23 February 2018


La Fontaine: 'Le Corbeau et le Renard' in English translation

le corbeau et le renard

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
     Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l'odeur alléché,
     Lui tint à peu près ce langage :
Et bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau,
     Que vous êtes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
     Sans mentir, si votre ramage
     Se rapporte à votre plumage,
      Vous êtes le Phénix des hôtes de ces bois.
À ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie,
     Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
   Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
   Le Renard s'en saisit, et dit : Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
      Vit aux dépens de celui qui l'écoute.
   Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage sans doute.
     Le Corbeau honteux et confus
   Jura, mais un peu tard, qu'on ne l'y prendrait plus.

the crow and the fox

Master black crow on a branch perched up high
     Held tight in his beak some fine cheese
Master sly fox by its smell tempted nigh
Him tendered these words aimed to please:
Well, good day to you, Mister Crow,
     Oh, how handsome you look! With health you seem to glow!
     I would claim that should your singing
     Match pinions ideal for winging,
     You are the Phoenix of all who here reside.
At these words the black crow almost bursts with pride,
     And so as to let his voice sound
His beak opens wide – his prey falls to the ground.
     The fox grabs it at once and says: Ah, Mister Crow,
Each flatterer, as you should know,
     Depends on the ear of him he seeks to please.
     This lesson I think you must deem worth a cheese.
     The crow, now ashamed and confused
     Although a trifle late, swore no more to be used.