Thursday 22 September 2016

A Ballad by Lars Gustafsson

Ballad on the paths in Västmanland

Beneath the visible writing of small roads,
gravelled roads, farm tracks, often with a comb
of grass in the middle between deep wheel ruts,
hidden beneath clear-felling’s tangle of brushwood,
still legible in the dried-up moss,
there is another script: the old paths.
They go from lake to lake, from valley
to valley. At times they deepen,
become quite distinct, and large bridges
of medieval stone carry them over black streams
at times they are dissipated over bare flat rocks,
one easily loses them in marshy ground, so
imperceptible that at one moment they are there,
the next not. There is a continuation,
there is always a continuation, as long as
one looks for it, these paths are persistent,
they know what they want and with their knowledge
they combine considerable cunning.
You walk eastwards, the compass persistently shows east,
the path faithfully follows the compass, like a straight line,
everything is in order, then the path swings northwards.
In the north lies nothing. What does the path want now?
Soon you come to a huge bog, and the path knew that.
It leads us around, with the reassurance of one
who has been this way before. It knows where the bog lies,
it knows where the rockface gets far too steep, it knows
what happens when it goes north instead of south
of the lake. It has done all of this
so many times previously. That is the whole point
of being a path. That it has been done
before. Who made the path? Charcoal burners, fishermen,
women with skinny arms collecting firewood?
Outlaws, timid and grey as the moss,
still in their dream with the fratricide blood
on their hands. Autumnal hunters in the wake
of trusty foxhounds with their frost-clear bark?
All and none of them. We make it together,
you too make it on a windy day when
it is early or late on the earth:
We write the paths, and the paths remain,
and the paths are wiser than we are,
and know all we wanted to know.

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