Thursday 27 May 2021

Dan Andersson: 'En svart ballad'


A black ballad


Half-dead he was found near the meadow stream

by Marsh-Dame from the moor – and her son he became

and he ate of her meagre coarse bread,

a thrall and workhand his lot was to be,

the meadow was known as the Foundling’s Lea

and Marsh-Dame she tired and was dead.


As a serflike thrall he bore resigned

the yoke of his toil, and in body and mind

though still young grew old and less spry.

A helpless ache in his eye I once spied

to escape earth’s constraints that were tightly tied

and a thirst to first tire and then die.


No laughter came from him, to speak he was slow,

and like falling stones were his yes and no

if spoken to – always the same.

He dug the earth, carried sand and stones

and never rested his aching bones

until, sunless and cool, evening came.


He would huddle then on his tattered old bed

and hide from the dark in mortal dread

and bathed in a smothering fear.

He often woke up in a beady sweat

and quaked at something he only had met

like an asp though no wind is near.


So day after day and year after year

so bloodless, so cold, with no joy nor tear

I saw how he lived out his life.

And if he thought something, then nobody knows

within reach of his heart no one came close

with prayers, cunning or knife.


One evening then as it grew late

a stone from a rockface fell on his pate

and his evening turned into night.

Since when confused and red was his eye,

he dragged his feet, his mind was awry

and his speech in a sorry plight.


No more did he toil among earth and carts

but roamed along roads that no one charts

night and day, in shadow and light.

And one evening when rainclouds filled the sky

I’ve heard to his childhood home he came nigh

and his mother’s house sought for the night.


And he found it – deserted, empty and locked,

its window with rags and with planks quite blocked,

its garden with weeds everywhere.

And he smashed the planks until all was bared,

then through the window panes wildly stared

and saw his own face there.


’Is it mother? Dear mother, please let me in!

Can you hear the thunder making that din,

see the lightning in the north sky?

Aren’t you there – where are you then today?

It’s not you, it’s me who’s been away –

mother’s ill, she is weak and may die!


She’s unable to walk – she is old and blind,

maybe in the cold attic I her can find –

come – Marsh-John, smash these glass panes!’

And with bloody hands he battered apace,

and a terrible draught swept in through the space

past the window’s shattered remains.


He stormed up the stairs to the loft so bleak

now crimson with fever and blood on his cheek

and eagerly searched straight away.

But nothing he found, only paper and junk

and heard only the western wind’s crashes and thumps

among planks and old things in decay.

And he then rushed downstairs amid shouts and tears

and wet ash had lain in the stove for years

that was swirled by the storm wind’s play.


Through the wide-open hole the rain now swept:

‘Why did you leave your home?’ he wept,

‘Did you stray out on Foundling’s Lea?

The Lord is my father – you, mother, are earth,

and your son’s crowned in blood, of little worth

at your bed as empty can be.’


His brain spun round as if in a sling

with ghosts and trolls in a howling ring,

till he gave out, both tired and ill.

In a rag-strewn corner he made a bed

with sacks as blankets and mumbling said:

‘Now, mother, let’s sleep our fill.’


By a wooden church under distant skies

the Marsh-Dame’s son in a poor man’s grave lies

and wild flowers spread without cease.

Deep under the grass is his quiet berth,

he is now at rest with mother and earth

in a lightless and endless peace.



To see the original ballad, go to here

No comments: