I am overcome by dread In the face of mysterious heights; I’m satisfied by a swallow in the sky And I love the way a bell-tower soars!
I feel I am the age-old traveller Who, on bending planks, above the abyss, Listens to the snowball grow And eternity strike on stone clocks.
If it could be! But I am not that wayfarer Flickering against faded leaves: True sadness sings in me.
There’s an avalanche in the hills! And all my self is in the bells, Though music cannot save one from the abyss!
I’m not in favour of premeditated happiness: Sometimes nature is a grey blemish And I’m sentenced, slightly tipsy, To taste the colours of impoverishment.
The wind is playing with a tousled cloud, The anchor scrapes the ocean bottom; My mind, lifeless as linen, Hangs over nothingness.
But I like the casino on the dunes: The vast view from the misty window, A thin ray of light on the crumpled tablecloth;
And, with greeny water all around, When, like a rose, the wine is in its glass, I like to follow the sea-gull’s wings!
On a walk I came across a funeral Near the Lutheran church, last Sunday. An absentminded passer-by, I stopped to watch The rigorous distress on the faces of the flock.
I couldn’t make out what language they were speaking, And nothing shone except fine brass And reflections from the lazy horse-shoes On the toneless Sunday side-roads.
In the resilient half-light of the carriage Where sadness, the dissembler, lay entombed, Wordless and tearless and chary of greetings A buttonhole of autumn roses gleamed.
The foreigners stretched out in a black ribbon And weeping ladies went on foot, Red faces veiled; while, above them, Nothing stopped the stubborn coachman.
Whoever you were, Lutheran deceased, They buried you with ease and artlessness, Eyes were dimmed with the decency of tears, Bells rang out with dignified restraint.
I thought – no need for speeches: We are not prophets nor precursors, We do not delight in heaven nor live in fear of hell, In dull noon we burn like candles.
Hagia Sophia – here the Lord commanded That nations and tsars should halt! Your dome, according to an eye-witness, Hangs from heaven as though by a chain.
All centuries take their measure from Justinian: Out of her shrine, in Ephesus, Diana allowed One hundred and seven green marble pillars To be pillaged for his alien gods.
How did your lavish builder feel When – with lofty hand and soul – He set the apses and the chapels, Arranging them at east and west?
A splendid temple, bathing in the peace – A festival of light from forty windows; Under the dome, on pendentives, the four Archangels Sail onwards, most beautiful of all.
And this sage and spherical building Shall outlive centuries and nations, And the resonant sobbing of the seraphim Shall not warp the dark gilt surfaces.
Where a Roman judged a foreign people A basilica stands and, first and joyful Like Adam once, an arch plays with its own ribs: Groined, muscular, never unnerved.
From outside, the bones betray the plan: Here flying buttresses ensure That cumbersome mass shan’t crush the walls – A vault bold as a battering-ram is idle.
Elemental labyrinth, unfathomable forest, The Gothic soul’s rational abyss, Egyptian power and Christian shyness, Oak together with reed – and perpendicular as tsar.
But the more attentively I studied, Notre Dame, your monstrous ribs, your stronghold, The more I thought: I too one day shall create Beauty from cruel weight.
Poisoned bread, satiated air, Wounds impossible to bind. Joseph, sold into Egypt, couldn’t have pined With a deeper despair!
Bedouin, under the starry sky, Each on a horse, Shut their eyes and improvise Out of the troubles of the day gone by.
Images lie close at hand: Someone traded a horse, Somebody else lost his quiver in the sand. The hazy happenings disperse.
And if truly sung, Wholeheartedly, at last Everything vanishes, nothing is left But space, and stars, and singer.
Horses’ hooves… The clatter Of crude and simple times. And the yardmen, in their sheepskin coats, Sleep on the wooden benches.
A clamour at the iron gates Wakes the royally lazy doorman, Whose wolfish yawning Recalls the Scythians
When Ovid, with senile love, Blended Rome and snow, And sang of the ox- and bullock-waggons In the march of the barbarians.
There are orioles in the woods, and length of vowels Is the sole measure in accentual verse. But only once a year is nature lengthily protracted And overflowing, as in Homer’s measure.
This day yawns like a caesura: Quiet since morning, and arduous duration; Oxen at pasture, and a golden indolence To extract from the reed one whole note’s richness.