When evening came with soft-singing trees in a cool wind that sought to dictate,
Arnold the pilgrim came down the highway and sat at my cowshed gate.
And under the clatter of aspen he rested his tired, dusty legs all alone
before me a silent dusk figure as large as a Buddha statue of stone.
I asked him: Tell me, homeless old friend, who the dust of the road has turned grey,
just why is it you fear to make the leap that to rest would lead the way?
Is your love of the meadow’s fair roses and dew in the moonlight’s muted tones
so strong it stops you from tripping with joy to the home of the mouldering bones?
And isn’t it tiring to roam through the world and yet never to leave if you will, -
and are you not tempted as I am at times by the peaceful quiet-flowing rill?
With water-lily-lit banks brown with gravel that steeply rise from the stream,
to drink your death in God’s crystal water in moonlight’s gilding gleam?
He told me: “I once had a dream I died ‘neath a roof made of birch bark and earth
when the vicar had given me bread and wine and the everlasting word.
And I heard a strong wind like a near-starving dog that round the shack blew shrill,
and the naked walls they listened intently until my heart fell still.
I saw how my body was gently washed in the kitchen of merciful folk,
through a chink by a window I then slipped out like dissolving wisps of thin smoke.
I felt that I fumbled away from my corpse, left an unknown house as in shrouds,
and with wild-swirling leaves in a rising wind I was lifted towards the clouds.
I felt that my heart was driving me forward across the heavens’ vast sea,
and storms from the mountains within the star world from bitterness it set free.
From the body’s joys and life’s delights and splendours of every kind,
from my pain and my virtue I moved away as from muck that I’d left behind.
I encountered a storm that was like a god and which had its inner light,
like a gleam that reveals the poverty of one’s heart abode outright.
And when I’d gazed at its chamber’s gloom I fled from the sky once again,
and sank down onto my childhood’s hills to roam every valley and glen.
To the world I’m ill-suited yet even so too soon I did heavenward soar,
and therefore, therefore all I can do is walk and walk as of yore.
But bliss ’twill be when I am deemed fit to die in a ditch by and by,
while flowers are nodding and cowbells lulling to sleep when evening’s nigh.”
He ceased to speak, got up and left and his brow was as white as snow,
he said: “Learn from my wisdom, my friend. Don’t die before it is time to go!”
To the evening sky, where the sun now sank into cloud like a strong-walled fief,
he turned his face completely calm, with a gaze like stiffened grief.
To see the original poem, go to here.