To Hélène Lemaire
I still recall the old nag trot its tireless course,
So scrawny when in its harnass, a dream-like horse
Which in a great jangling of nuts and bolts and scrap
And tinkling bells, struck cobbles with its hooves’ hard rap.
See those departing down the early-morning lanes,
The endless silence of the drizzle-misted plains;
And at the verges of moist roads, the glossy hue
Of flowering soon-dried parsnips silvered by the dew,
And see, with their white graveyard walls, their drinking trough,
The place where horses for re-shoeing would stop off,
The villages, the sleeping wells ’neath walnut trees,
And golden slurry that round dung-heaps forms a frieze.
The baleful short-rein twister – addle-pated dolt
That’s seated by a rut that makes the cart wheels jolt –
Whips in the wind a holly branch and lets it fall.
The jangling of the nuts and bolts I then recall
As too the gaunt old horse, its shadow quite insane
Dancing along the ground the sun turns brown again,
The ribs that could be used to mount when breathlessly
It wheezed. The dusty road of Provenchère I still can see
In my mind’s eye, or that which also wound its way
From far Saint-Blin, the poplars in the light of day
Flicking past till the axles’ endless squeak gained hold
And etching on blue sky their arrows of pure gold.
A ploughshare at full tilt unfolds the fertile soil
Pulled by the sturdy, willing horses as they toil
The huge Lorraine man standing out superbly straight
And tall against the sky, urging his team to great
Exertions. – Noon has come, the stop is at the inn,
The kitchen’s dingy, with its serge bed farthest in,
Its great big open fireplace with andirons sooted black
Where, gazing at the cauldron, a grandad leans back.
The men were out at work, the omelette à la crème
You whisk, the soup you soak – and gladly do the same –
And into thickish glasses, rinsed first in the sink,
You pour a heavy purple wine that’s fine to drink.
Soon evening had arrived, ecstatic was the peace
Of October woods, mournful the incense released
By the muddy ditches and the rotting fungi
Which wafted on to hearts that ached so wretchedly.
The beeches shed their leaves. There breathed an untamed soul,
And from the mosses and the rockfoils and the whole
Clusters of thickets excess moisture fell in drips
And a sweet smell of nakedness rose to your lips.
The old horse trotted on; the quivering pale ghosts
Of ewes now crossed our path, abandoning the hosts
Of sodden stubble-fields, drowned by an unsure moon;
Half-open thresholds in the night blazed in the gloom,
With anxious heart you wished the moment would soon come
When you could glimpse far in the distance your old home,
And, straying birds, at last could snuggle down and rest
In – fashioned by your ancestors – your cosy nest.