It's easy to say what's become of the snow
where we went skiing only two weeks ago
upstream, past the ruins of Jänese tavern and the railway bridge
where on both sides
there's only forest: some alders and birches
slanting toward the water, earthworks on both banks
probably left from the dredging.
I could say: the snow has gone, melted, flown
to Peipsi lake and farther away, evaporated, soaked into soil.
But I still think of these ski tracks,
of our traces on the snowy river ice ...
What have they become? Do the traces
vanish completely, without leaving any traces? And are we
like this snow or these ski tracks?
Or like neither of them? Something different, something else?
I came from Tähtvere. It was Sunday evening.
I was the only fare to the final stop.
I stepped out. The road was silent - not a single car.
The wind had fallen silent. Only the stars
and the sickle of the new moon were shining above the river.
I felt sorry I had to go. I would have liked to step
aside from the path onto the wasteland and to stay still,
looking at this moon, these constellations, several of whom
I had forgotten again during the winter. But most of all
at the sky itself, the blue of the sky that was nearly
as deep and strange as once long ago,
twenty years ago when we were sitting and drinking wine
around a campfire in the nearby forest, and I came
back to Tartu on a village road with a girl,
arms around each other's necks.
The blue is much easier to remember
than names, titles or faces,
even the faces of those you have once loved.
Once again I think of what I have read: that light and darkness,
good and evil, truth and lies are mixed up in this world. Certainly
for those who thought like that the world was really alive: all things
were or white, God's or the Devil's own.
But what will remain of this world divided into two camps
if everything becomes infinitely divisible, crumbles
into a whirlwind of particles, flickering of fields?
Will every particle contain some dark and light,
will the opposites be there even in the tiniest of them,
even in the zero itself, splitting into what is closer and closer
to non-existence? Will the strange
replace the horrible? Will it be easier
I do not feel at home in this synthetic world
where the good old varnish scent is replaced
by the scent of acrylic and glyphtal paints
I find hard, sometimes impossible to get accustomed to;
where shelves and tables are made
of sawdust and you can play the Ode to Joy
on an plastic flute or listen to it in a recording
by some long since dead conductor. Your environment
consists of dead things, people and voices. The life withdraws
in front of us, until there still is wilderness where to retreat.
Or it survives in hideouts beside us:
in flower-pot, aquarium, wall crack, dustbin.
A student, awake late at night
puts aside the book and kills some bedbugs
who, as always, leave their holes at a certain hour
and creep into the bed.
The spring has indeed come: the willows are in blossom and she-bumblebees
are looking for nesting places; over the bowl with sour milk
some drosophilae are circling, on the kitchen curtain,
a big moth is sleeping just on a red spot.
A mosquito flies into the cellar room and circles with a buzz around my head.
Sitting at the desk I'd been hearing for some time
a strange noise from a plastic sachet hanging on the wall.
Finally I took it down, and had a look: a spider
had fallen into it and was making desperate attempts to get out.
The lilac branches are swaying in the wind and shadows
creep in on the floor from the open balcony door ,
swaying too. Today I washed the windows
and was sad for a long time: suddenly everything
was so close by, so clear, so much here and now,
that my own being distant becomes more evident,
more desolate. Is it really so that only in a forest
in late autumn have I met friends - chicadees and spruce?
Have I met myself there? Where does this sadness come from?
The sun moves on. The wind is dying out.
The shadows of lilac branches are still swaying on the bookshelf,
The morning began with sunshine - we brought the rugs
to be aired, sent the children to the sand pit,
and went ourselves to the garden where
the dandelions and couch grass were already rampant; the strawberry bed
full of flowering corn mint with bumblebees buzzing.
We had to clear everything up, dig the whole ground,
tear couch, horsetail and bindweed out root by root.
It takes a lot of time, surely later on
it will be so nice to think that we have gone through every bit of soil
with our fingers. In the early afternoon
it was so hot that I even took my shirt off, digging. In the west
the clouds were already gathering, and in late afternoon,
when the first beds were ready, it began to rain.
I sowed the carrots and turnips
when it was already raining, with my black waterproof on.
At night, before falling asleep I saw before my eyes
only earth and roots, roots, roots.
I could say: I got out of the bus,
stepping on the dusty roadside where
a young maple and a wild rose bush grow.
In reality, I jumped into silence
and there was no ground where to step on.
The silence closed over my head like water:
I barely noticed the bus leaving
and, as I sank deeper and deeper,
I heard only my own heartbeats,
seeing the way home gliding past
in its rhythm: sprouting lilies in the valley,
wood sorrel already nearly in blossom,
the anthill covered as if by a brownish quivering veil -
the ants themselves. The Big Pine. The Big Spruce.
Drying hurdles. Sand pit. Place with marks of a fire.
White trunks of birches. The Big Boulder.
And many memories. Silence, the inland sea,
nameless background of all these names,
of all our names.
Running for milk I saw wood sorrels in bloom
on the left side of the path, and my mind became restive,
feeling its helplessness in front of something primeval and strange
that sometimes, only furtively, evasively
touches you. In a forest in spring
I feel like a prisoner who has nothing more
than the walls of his cell, scribbled full of words and names,
and memories of free space, landscapes, women
and thirst for all of them. What is it which is there
between me and the forest, between me and the world?
Where is the wall that keeps me apart
from what everything in me is thirsting for, the wall
that separates me from these wood sorrels,
horsetails, cowwheat, wintergreens, from this sprouting
that I always must walk past, that I can never
really touch ...? But still. This time
a new thought woke in my besieged mind:
maybe I have all the time sought and longed for
a reality behind this reality; trying to get closer
I went further away. For the first time
I understood that transparence itself is not less
than what you see through it: the evening sun
shining through the petals of wood sorrel.
I write a poem every day,
although I'm not quite sure if these texts
should be called poems at all.
It's not difficult, especially now,
when it's spring in Tartu, and everything is changing its form:
parks, lawns, branches, buds and clouds
above the town, even the sky and the stars.
If only I had enough eyes, ears and time
for this beauty that sucks us in like a whirlpool
covering everything with a poetical veil of hopes
where only one thing is uncannily sticking out:
the half-witted man sitting at the bus stop
taking boots from his dirty maimed feet,
his stick and his woolen cap lying beside him:
the same cap that was on his head
when you saw him that day standing
at the same stop at three in the morning
when the taxi drove you past him and the driver
said: " The idiot has again got some booze."
We walked the road to Kvissental,
blooming bird cherries on both sides
white as clouds of blossoms in the midst of a willow thicket.
I broke off a twig with blossoms for my son
and showed him the willows: one had vivid green,
another one greyish leaves. "But why do the willows exist?"
he asked, and it was difficult to find an answer.
I told him the trees simply exist without knowing
or thinking anything. Probably he didn't understand
what I thought. But how can I speak
for the trees? We reached the river.
We went to the old pier that was swaying
with waves from passing motor boats;
we sat on an old beam, seeing how glittering blue
was the river that in the north passes through a forest;
seeing how some dandelions, buttercups and ashes
were germinating in the dirt between the pier planks;
we caught some caddis worms and put them back into the river;
we washed our sweaty and dusty faces
in the greenish flowing water, and began our trip back home.
As if my lungs couldn't breathe enough
of your air, spring in Tartu, as if my eyes couldn't
see enough of you, as if feet couldn't walk enough
in the old streets on the other side of the river:
lilacs in courtyards, young grass between cobblestones and slabs,
a young birch that has demolished
a thick wall: the stones are lying there in a heap
around its victorious roots, and nobody
is taking them, putting them back.
Some houses look as if abandoned here
by another time and life: a plastered wall, an iron gate
and a tree of life at the entrance. A small pond,
nearly covered already by duckweed
as every summer. Another wall and behind it
in the humid shadow of maples and linden trees
goutweed, touch-me-not, chickweed, burdock
and under them and under stone slabs,
the rich black soil mingling with what has remained of them
whose names few still can read:
H-a-n-n-a L-i-b-e-s-m-a-n - - - D-a-v-i-d - - -
My aunt knew them well, I know of them
only names and what other people have told me:
tinkers, haberdashers, attorneys, doctors,
Genss, Michelson, Itzkowitsch, Gulkowitsch ...
Where are they now? Some of them were lucky enough
to be buried in this cemetery under a slab with Hebrew letters.
But those my aunt met on the streets of German-occupied Tartu,
with a yellow star sewn to their clothes, and to whom
she even dared to speak to the horror of her friends:
they are not here, they are scattered
into nameless graves, ditches and pits
in many places, many countries, homeless in death
as in life. Maybe some of them are hovering
in the air as a particles of ash, and have not yet
descended to earth. I have thought
that if I were a physicist, I would like to study dust,
everything that is hovering in the air, dancing in sunrays,
getting into your eyes and mouth, into the ice of Greenland
or between the books on your shelf. Maybe one day
I would have met you,
Isaac, Mordechai, Sarah, Esther, Sulamith,
and whoever you were. Maybe even today I breathed in
something of you with this intoxicating spring air;
maybe a flue of you fell today on the white white
apple blossom in my grandfather's garden
on on my grey hair.
The sky is overcast. The warm wind is creeping under your shirt.
A spotted cat is walking slowly toward the dusk.
The dusk is moving slowly toward the spotted cat.
A neighbour's wife is taking clothes from the line.
I don't see her, I see only the clothes vanishing
one by one. I see the white lilacs.
Narcissi and carnations. And lights
shining far away on the other side of the river. One recorder.
One radio. One reed warbler. And many,
It's already dark, but my eyes still see
black on white, although the poem
lingers with its coming: the senses are full of
green, the lush big green
our lawn, grass up to my waist,
cow parsley and dandelions I mowed
the whole afternoon, full of ashes and elms,
of the cork tree, honeysuckle and guelder rose
full of caterpillars who had gnawed its leaves
into withering lace. And what remained
of the flowering bush was only bare black twigs
on a green background. Almost like this poem here.
Silence is always here and everywhere;
sometimes we simply hear it more clearly:
fog is covering the meadow, the barn door is open,
a redwing is singing over there; a white
moth is circling incessantly around the elm branch;
and the branch itself is still swaying imperceptibly
on the background of the evening sky.
The dusk robs us all of faces and names,
only the difference between light and dark remains.
The heart of a midsummer's night:
the old watch on the desk
is suddenly ticking so terribly loudly.
This other life only begins in the evening,
when the wind dies down, the clouds
gather on the horizon waiting for tomorrow,
and the aroma of honeysuckle is flooding
the courtyard and the garden.
The heron alights at the pond, and stays still
waiting. Through the bird cherries
I see only something light
close to the water, and somehow it is hard
to believe it is something other than
just a spot of bright evening sky
reflected on the still surface whose peace
is disturbed only by some water insect
or a line drawn by the dorsal fin
of a carp.
I don't want to write courtly poetry any more,
poetry of a horseman who sees the world only
from the eye-holes of my helmet
and in whose mind and language the horse-trot has left
its indelible tata-rata, tata-rata,
and who is always racing over and past everything.
In my life and poetry I have always wanted
to be a pedestrian, a wandering scholar who can
sit down on every hillside that's to his liking
look at everything he wants to,
look at the bumblebee who searches in turn
all the blossoms of the red clover, and then
follow it with his eyes, until it vanishes
in the blue of the summer sky, to stay for a while
without thinking, just like that
enjoying all this transient beauty
until the cool shadow of a cloud
falls upon me, reminding me
that it's time to stand up and go - the evening
is approaching, I must find acommodation somewhere
and tomorrow at daybreak start again, to reach
the town before the gates close:
maybe I will find some work there
writing letters, composing verse
and teaching latin to boys (and even girls)
of the better families.
However, a reminescence of this hillside, this bumblebee
and this shadow of a cloud will remain, and will sometimes
sound in the background of my songs about summer,
about birds singing and, of course, about Venus
and about some buxom tavern-maid who was ready
to share with a poor scholar, free, just for a song he made,
what they call love. Yes
in one of my songs I spoke of the bumblebee
on the red clover-blossom and of the cool shadow
of the cloud on the face of the wanderer
who suddenly thought he didn't know
how one must write about it all in Latin ... And now,
seven hundred years later all I remember
are these lines:
Qualis in aestivo sudo
nova, mira pulchritudo
subito in omnibus
rebus ,avibus, insectis;
novis, laetis et perfectis
patet mundus sensibus.
Only in the dusk do eyes really begin to see,
the colours of flowers become lucid and bright
before the night extinguishes them. The carnations, yellow roses,
meadow-vetchlings and buttercups.
The wind has died down, and the sky
the faded, nearly invisible
background of all our comings and goings
is suddenly here, just above the treetops and pylons,
shining through the foliage and through the roof of the house
in all its depth and blueness; behind the outhouse
Venus appears - to the right of the pole of the well - Jupiter,
once two gods, now two stars.
A last cloud goes over the sky from West to East.
A last bee alights on the flight board of the hive.
A last bird flies over the garden into the spruce hedge.
I see only its hurrying silhouette
on the background of the sky and a swaying branch
there where it vanished. Has it a nest there?
The voice of the corn crake comes nearer and nearer.
Now it is just behind the fence. Another crake
answers it from the roadside field. Maybe
they will meet one another to-night. Maybe tomorrow night.
Translated by the author with Fiona Sampson