Tuesday 19 June 2012

First part of the 'Susette' cycle by the Flemish writer Erik Spinoy




Wem Sonst als Dir

FRANKFURT (December 1795 - July 1796)

Hotel ‘Zur Post’
Hölderlins dream
The shoes of Hölderlin
4  Cabinet of her dreams
5  Childhood years
The clew of Susette
Wedding march
8  What Suzy saw
9  A nightmare
10  Aurora in autumn
11  A day in the country
12  Hölderlin in summer clothes
13  Pictures of Susette
14  De la musique avant toute chose
15  The great glass

(December 1795 - July 1796)

1        Hotel ‘Zur Post’

Gone is the young man and his fall. All we
have left upon the water is his wing.
A wave of blue, a moistened pen remember
him and drown him. The lead is rusting,

covered up, and deep. So the old year subsides
in flesh and in champagne. A swell of noise,
a dance’s rise and fall. Dance till you spin,
oh self-forgotten artisan, bawl snatches of
a song. I write, remaining lofty, just.
Below is not where life is.

For hark, with every step the party dies away.
Endlessly the stairs surpass the hall - high up
become one flesh with darkness not empirical.
The oak is silent as the grave. The woodwork knows
nothing of height.

Frankfurt is hoodwinked by a silent snow-shower.
A portal opens, a cold star cluster’s shaken
from the sky. Deeply the singing sleeps beneath me.
The glass is matt. No sign of any flash divine.

A charming scene, befitting New Year’s Eve. The gleam
sleeps on no bed. The mirror shows a face that’s been
erased, a thaw is iced to rooftops. The stairs are higher
than the night, the wood immortally weathered.

2        Hölderlin’s dream

Blue grass waves windlessly, the agora is like
a giant’s head with locks of cornflower blue. High up stands
a table, with a top of veined marble, which stares
with cyclops-eye into the welkin, the transcendental.
He keeps watch, old man Socrates. The guests are
celebrating with Morpheus.

Here it took place, beside a turquoise bed
of unreal roses. No woman came that was
of greatest purity. No name that did not
deceive, though she arose first in the naming.

By then the temple was long since a ruin. Next to
a pillar you knelt down and prayed: stay here,
stay always present. At which the wind fell on
this word, a warm rain murmured or cascading water.

Where is she now? She showed herself, and then was gone.
And with her too the agora disappeared. Since Plato
it would seem sadness comes through writing. So
describe her image. It will not be repeated.

3        The shoes of Hölderlin

The moon is up, its gleam seeks in the snow
to be intensified. On every handrail rests a hand.
Lukewarm air billows from the trachea. (No
more thinking, you think. Yet on it streams,
unstoppably, with or without you.) A flower
opens deathly-pale on the pane. You look and
shiver, for all your beaver coat. Your feet are clammy
by the fire. Shiny new leather creaks.

Meanwhile the snow now crunches underfoot.
The moonlight galvanises her young body
and lines that now approach their fate, entanglement.
An owl-screech splits the night. Each roof’s transformed into
a freshly whetted knife.

4        Cabinet of her dreams

And the cabinet shivers with consumptive flush.
The garden lies white, the shrubs covered over
with sheets. And high up in the slate-blue roof there peers an
unimaginable bull’s eye. The cornea binds
in separating room and garden.

The cabinet smells of lime and fungus, squeezed into
cornice and stone gusset. Although a smell of incense,
sanctity, compensates decay. Wallpaper repeats
a wan Arcadia. (A place of origin,
false and joyless. Yellowing, suffering kingly
boredom.) Then, simply by virtue of their German
names, are: a chair, a nut-brown writing-desk. A small pot for
the ink. Lastly a doll. Flesh is like porcelain.
A wig that’s shiny, with a deadly dose of bleach.

What does this prove? Nothing. A door conceals
another door, etcetera. A bridge dissolves into
the ink-black night. The far side waves in silence.

5        Childhood years

The cabinet pines till, in black and white,
it hears her coming. The furniture wood then gleams
enraptured, the wall gazes from some hundred Italian
eyes. She takes the pen that circumscribes a being?
Perhaps some older girl, singing, continues
playing. All at once so much seems possible.

The jealous door now bolts itself, the clock drinks in
her figure. The chair, with sighs of deepest bliss, bears
her thighs. She has an eye for everyone, always.
The ink-pot wants, with dark desire, a touch of wetness.

She sits just like a poppy blooms. Her head
turns like a large marquee, till it takes her
(the pen the hand). Hot flow her tears, as blue
as ink. Warm moisture stiffens to an image.
The page becomes a map and guide, both.

She seeks an island in the mist, a continent.
The longing stands for genuine youth, Susette,
the native-town. Hides worlds in mist, displays nothing
but unreachability. There, she writes,
sleeps - through sorcery - my Arthur behind thorns.
The writing creates Hamburg, streams that way.
She, listless, almost drowning, drifts with it.

6        The clew of Susette

Around her she seeks galleys now merged into the white.
Her shadow finds but a town, and
colour fading like plush. The street sways
back and forth. A twilight colours the old gables.

Until she sees Papa, her mighty gladiator.
Pitch-black, with deep-notched skin, he curls up on
amphoras. His head is red with hot desire.
His Knossos shoves her Hamburg out of time.

Here, then, he stands - a man. Confuses
rape with tenderness, mingles stuttering
with eloquence. Then bellows huskily.
Reads something of Homer, the blind one.

7        Wedding march

She frees herself from a doorway. He twists
his torso round, with only eyes for her.
Susette, the knitting royal child, remains unscathed
beside him. Wherever her foot passes his
bronze dagger guards.

The way is mire-bound. The horizon’s what she seeks.
Each house spies on her through its wrinkled clay
and oak. Each window stows away a gallery
where webs are as scriptures and He who sees through us
is absent. (A helmet of steel signifies Him.
A cloth conceals His countenance.) Visits are
put off until the breakdown.

He follows. She takes a side-path. Pain clenches
his fleshless fist. The wind gets hold
of her. She wavers, like a weather-vane.

Then she’s kept company by a shepherd:
Gontard appears in Theseus’ guise.
His youth is yellow, like old ivory.
His Greek sounds French, almost.
He draws his sword (a spoke from the
sun), describing a great half-circle.

The ox’s head lies bleeding on the ground.
One eye was good enough, when her
Apollo struck.

8        What Suzy saw

Marie plays mother, dear. ‘Come on, please tell!’
Even a smile though causes pain. Once more
the cherry-mouth says no not me Marie, me and
stories. Susette from now on silent.
This treasure lies in state from long ago.

Can anyone then separate floor and ceiling?
Vaulting in eyes. Lime that cracks, and hail that is white.
Two marbles lie quite still in sombre cavities.
Two jet-black circles stare without awareness.
Mouse-still I count to ten thousand. Will looking be
allowed again?

A broad eye blocks the pane. Decay consumes
the corpse of sound, an echo whispers in the distance.
The starling frequently flies up - to flock
his nature. For all his flying he ends up
dying on the ground. Hello, doctor, hello, little Swiss.
The sound-pill, toneless, stays stuck in your mouth.

This body’s your abode now, witch, so rücksichtslos
bolted and barred. Here are your hands, look, it’s as if
they had been clad with shoes.

Two soles you’re wearing, heavy, copper-red.
Two insteps, cruel, more crooked than Herr Gott.
Two dark cavities, with dead leather on.

9        A nightmare

Cabbage-white, she. A pallid moon reveals what
the night conceals. The air almost unbreathable.
And threadless she walks along the paths of the joyless maze.
And shakes like milk. Loses her way.

Madder roses bloom around the ancient Prachtbau.
In temple-green grape-vines the museum lies hidden.
Red Knossos looks like Guggenheim. A single parasol,
bordeaux in colour, shading Adolf, Plato,
Captain Kirk. A tableau plays in each
and every room which always, on approach,
becomes erased.

Dreamed away this is a firmament. Marie, singing,
draws near. Then he appears on stage: the black Phaeton
in whom her voice expires, after deafening calling.

Is it a sleigh-ride? De Spessart, under fresh-fallen snow.
Through mountain landscape eye-white white. Snowflaking, never
to ascend. Her fear starts to mount: ‘Marie! Marie!
Hold on real tight!’ The voice stands still close to the lips.
A chasm yawns. And down it rushes, suddenly.

10        Aurora in autumn

Not April, and no sign of any fork-tailed bird.
A lock rusts shut, and rain falls. The trace
no proof of her. No marigold or leaf
sets free and binds her too. A yellow jewel
is polished aimlessly. The azure gleams
for nothing.

Nor is it August. No lark soars and
plummets for her sake. She writes. An autumn
starts that crushes her. A spider absent in
the silver thread. A morning’s misty glimmer.
The ferns continue dying.

She writes. Her letter catches what he loses -
the pen repeats: A-way! A-way! She is
Aurora, sister of the moon. Tithonus (the man
from Bern) was consumed like straw by fire. When old
he drank ambrosia till he became a cricket.

(Susette is plagued still by a nameless thirst.
The goblets are all charged with gold. She clasps
a pane of blue, unshatterable glass.)

11        A day in the country

The Whitsun meadow is a spa. Susette awakes
as if she’d never lived. Chiselling once more an Eden
on the Main. Opens the roses round the house, hangs mist
up in the chestnut tree. Gulps in a bashful rest. And eats
a latish breakfast with him, in the jasmine bower.

Damask, that calls out for a silver gleam.
A look, petrified at her entrance. She,
though, avoids his eye, enters the room more slowly.
Her crinoline weighs like zinc, as she takes in:
a warm and sun-drenched bower, with curtains waving
through the glacier-blue day. Paper-thin Meissner
china tinkles on the table. She sits, scoops
three spoonfuls of sugar in her tea. What’s sweet
seems, by definition, good for her.

‘You’re writing, Sir?’ A mere youth still
in Frankfurt’s middle class, a poet with
the marble (body and nature) of a Phidias.
A red mist slowly swirls before her eye.
Yet he seems scared, and with no thought of her.

Although good company. No Klopstock, Schiller
can hold a candle to him. Above the stars the
surge of battle’s silent. For centuries he’d known
her from afar. For him she is Urania. And this
exchange of words: the Rhine that breaks its banks.
Well, then, that doesn’t sound too bad.

12        Hölderlin in summer clothes

Palace of red, blood-red horns. Old Knossos
rests in unsubstantial concrete. Brand-new paint
is keeping dolphins in the megaron. The monarch
died. The maze is looking for a spot.

So is Susette now without trace. The Main’s lost
in liquidity, and at the bed the
raven time escapes. Writing creates her,
making her unattainable.

Where is the night in spring that was hotter
than Africa? The jackdaw knew no sleep.
The night was for the garden a blue skin.
And then in sight Susette’s dress. Willing, perhaps.

Gone too her sewing-room, in which she read the stars.
Once she arranged the cosmos, forced moon and sun to
observe a Swiss precision. Unlocked his eye and ear.
Took care of him, so doleful on the grass.

Began a flood of words, in which the moon
was lost and with the moon each constellation.
What is preserved in ink?
Who here is real?

13        Pictures of Susette

A drawing that almost floats and reels with
haziness. An oval face that stiffened
into death. One bust is still empirical.
A second, mislaid because of war, left
but its reflection in a camera.
They are fragmented, pictures of Susette.

The echo lasts, in song and antiphon. In marble
she looks Greek and lifeless: with a mouth too small,
too little chin. The waves that grace her hair like lilies have
wilted. Lit up she wears a tunic with
shoulder-stud and edged with lace. And yet I never
saw an emptier eye, in such white features.

Whereas the small portrait cannot but enchant.
She moves in secret in a cloud of hair,
reflected in horse-chestnuts. She wears it loose,
untied and in confusion. Her dress, made of
blue velvet, merges into a green ground.
Her neck is hugged by strange, unheard of fur.
A sharp profile points arrow-like
at what, elusive, lies elsewhere.
And all is covered in a twilight glow.
A tint that’s Titian-like, a veil with
the colour of palest red roses.

This is how far one can persist,
and yet exist.

14        De la musique avant toute chose

Planet and constellation, listless and
silent, revolve around her. Perusing their laws,
she holds a globe carelessly in her hand.
Not of music is she the muse.
Her deeds are those of harmony.

When the season of the salon started, she was
caught in a maelstrom of velvet, silk and wigs.
From far there resounded buzzing, stifled in
the tapestry, and heavy damask of hangings.
She knew the winter round the house, inside the
smoky twilight. On each and every chair
shone icy grease and thick, wilted fabric.
She sat then at the piano, and strummed and sang
her song till it was done, received applause,
performed a révérence. And Cobus saw
and nodded, pulling at his favoris.

She sometimes played alone, or with Marie
and Hölderlin. Then roguishly
pulled up her skirts, she was still young,
and sang as if it could never fade.
She gave her heart to the piano.
Marie talked sweetly to her lute and
Fritz blew gamely on his flute.
He was indeed a Phaeton!

(An unknown wind ascended from
her lips, now blossoming in song.
Fear was at once a bed of roses,
pain was deserved and needed.)

15        The great glass

Susette sings. Her mouth grows wider and
gives voice. Susette sings, as did the sirens
at Salerno, once. He is enticed by that
high mouth to silence. A key she gives, where
there was no way in. He is as in a bell-jar
with her, fashioned of unblown glass.

The room resembles now a yellow ward.
He rests upon a bed of milk-white steel
until she mounts the stairs and full of longing
grants him life. He lives once more.
(Susette reflects.)

A vein sinks bluely in his skin.
Its colour fades, the forehead
crumpled like paper. Maybe he
writes a love-letter to her?

‘I give you roses, madam.
Throw those shoes away.’


John Irons said...

The other parts of the Susette cycle are available on the following day's blog. I can't see that anyone has consulted them recently, which is odd, seeing the vast number of hits for this Part I.

John Irons said...

OopS! I thought the 19.06.12 was being used. The other parts are available at the 20.06.12.