Wednesday 17 January 2018

Johannes V. Jensen: 'På Memphis Station'

On Memphis Station

Half awake and half dozing,
Struck by a drear reality, but still lost
In an inner sea fog of Danaidean dreams
I stand teeth chattering
On Memphis Station, Tennessee.
It is raining.

The night is so desolate and extinguished,
And the rain flays the ground
With a senseless, dark energy.
Everything is clammy and impenetrable.

Why does the train wait here hour after hour?
Why has my lot ground to a halt here?
Am I to flee from rain and mind-numbingness
In Denmark, India and Japan
Only to be rained in and rot in Memphis
Tennessee, U.S.A.?

And now the day is dawning. Light dismally
Seeps in over this wet prison.
The day exposes mercilessly
The cold rails and all the black mud,
The waiting room with the chocolate vending machine,
Orange peel, cigar stubs and burnt-out matches,
The day gapes through with spewing gutters
And an eternal grid of rain,
Rain I say from heaven to earth.

How deaf and irremovable the world is,
How devoid of talent its creator!
And why do I keep on paying my dues
To this plebeian water cure of an existence!

Quiet! See how the engine,
That enormous contraption, stands calmly seething
Enveloping itself in smoke – it is patient.
Light your pipe on an empty stomach,
Curse God and swallow your pain!

Go on then and stay in Memphis!
After all, your life is nothing else
Than a soggy downpour, and it was always
Your lot to hang around delayed
In some miserable waiting room or other –
Stay in Memphis, Tennessee!

For inside one of these poster-yelling houses
Happiness awaits you, happiness,
If only you can devour your impatience –
Here too a curvaceous young maid sleeps
With her ear buried in her hair,
She will come to meet you
One fine day in the street
Like a wave of perfume
With a look as if she knew you.

Isn’t it spring?
Doesn’t the rain fall lushly?
Doesn’t it sound like an amorous murmuring,
A long muted billing and cooing
Mouth to mouth
Between the rain and the earth?
The day dawned so mournfully,
But look – the rainfall gleams now!

Do you grudge the day its right to fight?
After all, it is light now. And the smell of soil
sets in between the rusty iron struts of the platform
Mixed with the rank breath of the rain-dust –
A hint of spring.
Isn’t that consoling?

And see now how the Mississippi
In its bed of flooded forests
Wakes to the day!
See how the huge river enjoys its winding!
How regally it gushes in curves, swinging flotillas
of trees and tattered driftwood in its eddies!
See how it leads a huge paddle steamer
Into its Deluge-embrace
Like a dancer that masters the dance-floor!
See the sunken headlands – Oh what a vast calm
Over the landscape of drowning forests!
Can’t you see how the morning waters of the current
Dress themselves a mile wide in the day’s paltry light
And soundly journey under the rain-heavy clouds!

Compose yourself, you too, implacable one!
Will you never forget that eternity was promised you?
Do you withhold from the earth your poor gratitude?
What do you want then with your lover’s heart?

Compose yourself and stay in Memphis,
Seek citizenship on the market square,
Go in and take out a life insurance among the others,
Pay your premium of meanness,
So that they can feel secure,
And you won’t be thrown out of the association.
Court that maid with roses and a gold ring
And set up a sawmill like everyone else.
Look around, smoke your pipe of wisdom
In sphinx-abandoned Memphis,
Hitch up your rubber boots without a qualm...

Ah, there comes that miserable freight train
That we have waited six hours for.
It comes in slowly – with crushed sides,
It whistles feebly, the cars limping on three wheels,
And the stove roof dripping with earth and mud.
But on the tender among the coals
Lie four motionless figures
Covered with blood-drenched coats.

Then our great express train snorts,
Moves slightly forwards and stops with a deep sigh
Ready to leap forward. The track is clear.

And we journey on
Through the flooded forests
Beneath the gaping floodgates of the rain.

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