Thursday 4 June 2020

Hugo Claus: 'Het graf van Pernath'


With snapped trouser legs? Sagging,
as if, tipsy, you had chanced to slip on a sheet of ice?
As if you’d flipped before your last dance?

Still nodding away with those twisted limbs?
No. I want you like a stone, I want you intact
before your eyes broke, wreck -

That repeated fall,
that multiple dying, that late disintegration, -

there lay then with his very last laugh,
with the lips of a dying lamb
behind the recalcitrant and mat glass
what once was PERNATH -

Ah, on waking: our wishes, calendar jokes
battlefield theories about you when
you were still there, balding, cackling.

You sometimes go to bed: like a fridge,
humming, cooing, a curse.

You:                       far away from longing
                                                                 far away from betrayal
                                                                 far away from decline..

We:                        sometimes in dreams just as sharp and beautiful
                                                                 and deaf and dim as you.

You, with your thirst
and your manifold doubt,
you, lucid horror that derides our whining,
you, who now no longer waver
in the days that no longer contort you.

Too late. Too late. Yesterday when he still danced
has become a cautious today
in which this lament sits complaining
about crippled days
with something of his inhibited locomotion.

Clarity he deemed deception, and rightly so,
and it was likewise his right not to accept
that we licked so greedily at the trough of heaven and earth.
Now still.

The military ranks of his infinitives
and imperatives
it is as naked as the fall of a man
in a stairwell.

Too late. Too late. This transparent today,
these verses that are ashamed
in the face of his unclear nudity
it exists, it exists
at times on the beat, at times by the grace
of his clumsy rhetoric.

Women found you womanish
(ah, until they had taken you in
and the courtier became a lover!)

Touched by the itch of love
by the mildew of love,
you sometimes wanted to preserve the stillness,
to preserve the beginning of love, thick ear.

You never got the hang of it.
Just like all of us, you waltzed
between the first communion and the scaffold,
between loathing and adoration.

Why I, peevish, aggrieved,
sit spinning stanzas on your body?

Because it seems I get a grip on you.
While wishing most to hush up the body of PERNATH

that on the edge of its grave
gave no answer

nor does tonight to the question vexing me,
whether he before he left me
was or was not left-handed.

The page commands.
The page commanded. No selection, though exchangeable
                                                                 terms &
articulations until something arose as
itself, an unrecognisable territory.

Itself:                     the vaulting of a cellar full of shavings,
                                                                 sheep, stuttering, stammering.

No world, no dialectic, no food, no children but
itself: stroboscope, larynx, music
once in a while, disguised and packed as itself,
its predicate:
knight and wife and soldier and prelate.

Heave nothing up, heave nothing out the net.
The cords are the law and the language here,
not the sea, not the sea-weed.

His misconceptions roamed and strayed
among tales, sayings, tittle-tattle, unknown magnitudes,
and so he said: ‘You see a hundred gardens’.

Then he invented
a legend for those who did not know him,
a testament for those who do.

His most fiendish invention was
the adoration of joy,
as when he said:  ‘You see a hundred gardens’.

Often his urge was greater than the knowledge of his urge.
sewn up as he was in a bag full of words.
Simplified dream phases and sophisms
he ordered into a syndrome
and trusted in series of credulous prayers
fit for a feast.

But whoever reads him cannot renounce
the other beast. Which sobbed
while it frankly bore its stigmata.

There was no thought which a child could not comprehend
until his idiom fractured grammar
and his largo reached the deafest ear,
his, sometimes ours.

What is true and what not
we have also agreed on in series of idiotically
incredulous habits. As too his verse and his grave,
as a habit, as a chilling word in retrospect.

Your colour: gold and black and gold;
Your taste: almonds, the bitter ones;
Your tone: Wohltemperiert, yes, notwithstanding:
Your sign: a dark moon.

An outpouring in a corset of iron.
Playing patience until dawn.
Fairy tales of an only child that
was at home in lies as in its own clothes.

(Oh, how we lied together!)

And oh, your violent death-rattle mumble
at the easy sign minus.

So often blinded,
so often overslept.

Sentry that we left in the lurch
stiff with cold in a forest full of rhyme,
in the muggy bushes.

(You eclipsed much, as did we all,
but you, you have eclipsed right up into your rigor mortis

Clerks will compare the end of your consulate
with the death of another poet.
You did not like him. The light of ANDREUS was too light
                                                                 for you,
and he was more believing than his despair
and he got drunk on half a small glass of Johnnie Walker.

For months ANDREUS has lain on his own bier
in the room, his light room.
Then he said to his wife. ‘Go to sleep.
I have to do this alone.’ And died that night
with closed hands.

Clerks will compare and consider,
as if counsel is called for, choosing
whether you swathe yourself in the shroud of a doll
that still weighs the pros and cons till the room
of the light slams,
or that you fall down with that scorching radar,
with that burst of flame in your head.

Clerks, remember in your church full of bones
these two corpses of the Dutch language
with the same little prayer, since for both of them
the bed was a stair to the lightest white
and the stair the most naked of beds.

Your many appearances and emblems
are now as translucent as glass.

Timid at roulette,
striking dumb in all languages,

a born deserter, you made common cause
with common women,

severe uncomplaining servant in the fort,
far from good and better,

astronaut packed in polythene
including your gnashing teeth,

scornful as a stark naked
peevish Holy Ghost,

what you were, your mask
and your helmet and your plumes and your party clothes

has not congealed into the beastly white wax
that we revere
in your bed of mud and grass.

The dead Leo and the dead Cancer in ascendant
have now become a third person, he, singular.

‘Been a wireless operator
been a secretary
been very free in the army’

‘Nothing is true, nothing is pure’
(unless now, gone
in the inaccessible hour: you)

I have been, I have been.
In the dry, dull summer.

Both of us changed truth
according to whether we were judge or accused.
We have the same first name,
the saint of April the First,
day of fools and bad jokes.

I have been.
Against the wooden floor. In that damned summer.

So the dawn sinks into day,
and he sinks in the plural of the words
in which he believed.

Saw you lately, next to me,
deformed, fractured in a mirror
that was carried through the street,
with six dust-covered feet underneath.

Saw you lately, bending forward staring
at a wooden horse on the beach,
with useless wheels,
warped by the sand.

Didn’t hear you.

It is difficult to learn to hear
your silence. So close by
is forsaking
and getting sozzled.

- I did not heard you that much when you were alive
and now you mostly wake me at nights
when I think of myself thinking of you
and of the almost silence of you.

The monotonous sea. Whinnying.
Drip in the cistern.
The cry of a child or a cat.
The silence of your loss I invent.

I also propose this evening like MALLARMÉ at the grave of
an insane toast to the void,
in the artificial fire of our métier.

Your grave contains all of you.
Your dust is the only answer
to the fire of the mortal sun.

Lost in the gardens of this planet
I further honour the calm disaster of this earth
i.a. because I can still hear your ravings
about crystal and diamond and decay and rain.

Your shadow still obscures
(for how much longer?) my narrow belief in for and against,
for example, for the tide
and the time of your life on earth,
and against the furious wind of words
that you did not speak.

What can a person do who is plagued at night
months later by the residue of your dying?
(To kill time, they call it.)

Choose Bordeaux rather than vin du pays from the Grand Bazar?
Put on Albinoni? Pretend to be
what you did? The needle trembles, the wine has gone stale.

Read your goody-goody, decrepit, acid couplets?
I want to, I do so, but, but
with every hour you become a darker dead man, PERNATH,

and you sprinkle more sand in my eyes
with mourning, trust and compassion.

Loss and shame were your tight gowns
and loneliness was the female finery
within your ramshackle figures of speech.

I read you and your vexation, your melancholy,
defencelessly and hideously adequately
transmuted into semantic treachery,

pale into the untrustworthy hours.
Into the morning. Then your desolate singsong
swirls past my cheek and is gone.


When this final life has died
infinite life is utterly dissolved,
by child nor crow identified
and no one ever once absolved.

You smashed to pieces your own throne
when falling into the cold ground,
reckless, spotless and wan
you drained away from your own wounds.

They closed your hazel eyes now you’d expired
against the mutilating sun
and still at last and stiff and tired
by your own shadow you were overcome.

VONDEL’s convinced that what as spray
has been dispersed on earth it seems
will be made whole on God’s Glorious Day
VONDEL wished to dream of dreams.

The union of All in One?
You knew, an exiled man at every move,
that here below of rest there’s none
nor any homeland up above.

With your distracted compass in your hand
you foundered in the agony of death
so long, so long, till after your own dust and
ashes in barren regions with no breath
of thought, where there’s no evil and no good
in times when recollection’s banned
your memory was drained of all its blood
in the grass of a plastic pastureland.

You put up with sufficient humility.
In earthly mists you lost your way awhile.
You were obsessed with law and the futility
of human faults that cramp our style.

Was your breath intercepted by a god?
Your being no balm may defy.
From every god of pain your lot
that’s self-defined, your best part, can still fly.

I crown you, my friend, my corpse most dear,
against the still-living blocks of stone
that wade through all the mire that with a sneer
forms ever-greater heaps around your bones.

Many longstanding loves of mine
I’ve freed myself of without further ado.
I cherish your fall and your decline
as if I’d found a love anew.

The belief in your soul’s immortality
I wish to maim and to benumb.
My hope and belief’s the eventuality
that falling through my arms you would succumb.

I’ve just seen your name in the paper.
According to the Talmud there are three things
that weaken a man:
fear, sin and travel.

Your anxious beauty was frozen in photos
and films, or - quite literally -
devoured by the worms and the dust.

Please forgive our sinful prayers in this respect.
We, later mortals, cannot manage without
a song, and what do we sing? - ‘Have mercy upon us.’

And travel? You said: ‘I, mate, have seen Poland.
(A mountain of shoes and teeth.)

Paper is patient. Yet, when I just now saw the letters
of your name in print, carelessly
like the other letters of your leprous songs,
this weakness seemed to me to be despicably splendid.

(Here and there)

Here:                     the subdued song of sorrow
                                 human dread of light
                                 the system’s good conscience
                                 daily provision of customers

Here:                     walking over the corpses beneath the paving stones
                                 bewildered by so much inexhaustible generation
                                 eager for happiness

Here:                     yawning for the end
                                 with a rustling of preferential votes
                                 breathless fanfares, ordered pleasures

Here:                     incense and flag-waving
                                 about something Flemish like the IJzer pilgrimage
                                 or something strong like iron-man Eddy Merckx

Here:                     the voices of poets as the weather forecast,
                                 lisping and timorous, corny anecdotes

Here:                     the stuffiest room in the house of the world
                                 children in quarantine
                                 that moulder into pictures of their models

Here is where I live, here I have known you,
Filipino among the albinos,
mercenary of some other power
in the drizzle of the night of the children of clay,

here you have warned me,
my diplomat without manners,
of meaningless screwing, of premature subsiding.

‘Nothing can grow out of something which in itself comprises nothingness.
So are our boundaries, so do our fruits abound.
Everything that receives and conceives seed must be of one and the same seed’
And this seed is the darkness, HUGUES, is the darkness
of you, skin and all, there.

So, then. That was that. Suddenly even
without you it is a quarter to nine.

You, seduced,
you, surprised
by the darkness of time.

(You also embraced stupid men too much
thick ear).

Now day in day out
I pretend to reject
what I had gladly granted you
in virtue and vice, what is called: the autumn of life
travelling, and travelling indoors, the scythe swishes.

You are ahead of me. Therefore you are the overture
that keeps on playing,
that keeps on choking in the dust,
by that window pane, in that stairwell.

No comments: