Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Tomas Espedal: 'ÅRET vår høst' (opening pages)


spring    autumn


I would like to write a book about the seasons
spring autumn summer winter
the light days in april and june
the darkness in august
describe the months the weeks the days
the hours of the day
and the changes that repeat the same
always in a new way.
Right now the wind is blowing through the tree-tops
in the pine forest
and the trees bend compliantly towards the ground
before rising again
to meet the new gusts of wind
as they always have done
but one of the trees snaps
a short dry sound
as when breath escapes from a lung.
It is the sound of expiry
drowned out by the blowing wind
I want to describe a new season
every single day
for a whole year
but where and when does the year begin
in the kitchen or the living room
in september or november?

Why not begin the year today
sunday the sixth of april?
It has been said
it has been written
that the first human
came into the world on the sixth of april
This is not hard to imagine
the world is already there
with rivers and seas
dry land and mountains
fields and trees
plants and animals
everything is there
and he
the first human being
comes walking along the river bank.
Where does he come from?
We do not know
he does not know himself
perhaps he is looking for somewhere
for someone who looks like himself
he follows the river and finds a glade
an opening in the forest
where the river narrows and grows still
in a small tarn.
Here he wants to rest
he lies down in the sand hollow
feels the warmth of the sand
and falls asleep.
How long has he been sleeping?
When he wakes up a creature
is sitting in the sand staring at him
it is not an animal
not anything he has seen before
and even so he recognises the figure
those eyes that look
they could have been his own
it is like looking at himself in the water
but this is something else
the face is narrower
the mouth broader
the body rounder
the chest softer
the neck long
thin arms small hands
she bends forwards
sniffs at him
he feels no fear
only a strong new unease
his heart beats faster
and his blood spreads through his body
like heat
like happiness
he laughs.
She places her mouth against his stomach
presses her lips against the skin
and cautiously sticks out her tongue
she tries out licking his skin
and he sees his sex rise
for the first time.
She sits down astride him
looks into his eyes
and from that moment
they are inseparable
man and woman.

Monday the sixth of april
in 1327
Francesco Petrarcha sees
for the first time.
In the so-called Laura memorandum
that Petrarch wrote on a loose double sheet
after Laura’s death
he noted: The Laura
who was so famed for her personal qualities
and who has long been glorified in my poems
revealed herself to my eyes for the first time
in my early youth
it was in 1327 in the month of april
during matins in the church of Saint Claire
in Avignon.
And in the same city
in the same month of april
the same sixth day of the month
the same hour of the morning
but in the year 1348
the earth was robbed
of the light of her eyes.
So Laura lived
in Petrarch’s memory
from the sixth of april
to the sixth of april
she lived to be thirty-four.
When he saw her for the first time
she was thirteen
from that day
he loved her and no one
else but her.
Petrarch was twenty-three
and for the next thirty-one years
he was to write his songs to her
but also after Laura’s death
about her memory
in the great work Canzoniere
as it has been called
a long incomparable conversation on the nature of love.
The Canzoniere songs contain 366 poems
one for each day of the year
from the sixth of april to the sixth of april.

Sunday the sixth of april
I travel by train from Nice to Avignon
to walk along the road to L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue
and further on foot towards Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
where Petrarca built the house
to which he retired
in order to write.
I flew to Nice
took a cheap room
at the railway station.
The room was like a prison cell
a blue-grey small room with a bunk
one pulled out from the wall
a handbasin and a window
overlooking the back yard.
When one opened the window the humidity
and smell of cooking fat swirled
into the room
and after a few minutes the walls
were pockmarked with small black specks
that moved
sometimes they flew through the room
towards the naked light bulb above the washbasin
or settled on the wrist or behind the ear
of anyone attempting to sleep there.
The unmistakable sound of mosquitoes
I tried to kill as many as possible
banged the wall hard with a folded-up newspaper
the black specks turned red
thin blood-red streaks above the bed
it was not my blood
whose blood could it be
a man or woman
soon her blood would
mingle with mine.
It was impossible to sleep
in the small room I
lay there listening to the traffic
humming in the night
in the city
the sound of cars and motorcycles
voices and shouts
they died down with the light
that came at daybreak
and that was almost worse
the complete silence
in a closed room.
I must have slept for a few hours
for when I tried to get up
my hands and feet were red
from countless bites
that covered my whole body
so many lumps and bites
that I remained lying  there with a feeling
of my body being in a fever
and after a while the fever also came
I had fallen ill.

I was ill
but had to be in Avignon
on the sixth of april
that had been decided.
For over a year I had read
the songs Petrarch wrote to Laura
and now I wanted to see the place
where Petrach saw Laura for the first time
and I wanted to visit the house he had built
in the closed valley of Vaucluse:
About fifty kilometres from Avignon I discovered
a small forgotten valley called Vaucluse
where the loveliest of all springs
the Sorgue
rises from its source.
Captivated by the beauty of the place
I settled here for a while
with my books.
In this house where Petrarch lived
alone with his dog
so as to live in seclusion and alone
De vita solitaria:
When I approached the age of forty
and was still in possession of the strength and fire
of my youth
I broke so completely with my urges
that I even
extinguished the memory of them
and it was as if I had
never seen a woman.

Was it possible to live alone
was it possible to love one single woman
for all one’s life
also after she was gone
and if it was possible
was it possible to live without other women
without sexuality
was it possible to live in celibacy
and is it possible
to relate to what Petrarch wrote
almost seven hundred years ago.
Sunday the sixth of april
in the year two thousand and fourteen I
have a fever
am tired and exhausted after a sleepless night
but manage to get out of bed before twelve
leave the hotel drenched in sweat
and walk in cold daylight up the streets
of three precincts towards the railway station
where the train is to take me to Avignon.

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