in this room
the fair Athenian maid
gave up her ghost
- lying on silken coverlets
her fair hair loose around her waxen head -
while through the open window
could be heard
the bells of Sainte-Sauveur
as on the morrow dawned
the feast
of the Prophet Samuel

within this room
the two terrible monsters had intercourse
and revelled
with wheezing and wild grunting
and ferocious cries
as if Bulgarian woodcutters
were wrestling with giant firs
or as if
(even better)
mountains were crashing down

in this room
the aged miss
spent years and years
of boredom
barely moving her trembling hands
endeavouring in her dim
and clouded mind
to bring back images of her former glory
till the day
when with short steps slowly
she set out
- was led out -
for the old people's home

in here three children were born
- offspring of an honourable and respectable family -
who came to nothing
- none of them made good -
one went to America
one came to a bad end - a drunk -
and the third
is somewhere still
a lighthouse-keeper

here - yes in here, in this room -
an ignoble hand killed that
brave young lad
"to punish - so it goes - anarchy in his person"
and the fir-tree bent and toppled to the ground
and that dull stain
on the floor
over there in the corner
is the blood that streamed from the wound
and nothing ever
was able
to clean it from the boards

yet enough thus far: what am I trying to do?
how fatiguing it would be
perhaps also impossible
at any rate endless
and pointless even and boring
to note now in so much detail
the history
endless as it is
of this room

(sometimes they put in beds
sometimes took them out
sometimes there was a cabinet there
afterwards a cupboard
then a chest
sometimes heavy curtains covered the windows
sometimes the panes were bare with only the shutters
in that corner once they had icons
at other times frames hung everywhere)

so then: all kinds of people passed through and left
and others - many - were born in here
while others again were put in their caskets in here
and what these walls have heard
cries of grief
and cries of joy
they've seen christenings
mute despondency
and wedding rites

(I almost forgot: a piano too resounded in here delicately
playing the Romance du Mal-Aime)

I too - the writer - lived in this room
many years - in poverty - and as always
here too full of passion I concerned myself
with painting with poetry
yet also with philosophy and love
and I spent hours sitting
- smoking -
at that very window
gazing now at the sky
now at the street

and now - alas - I too must leave
- besides it's not impossible that better things await me -

again they're letting the room

Bruges, 1956

Translated by David Connolly

>back to the poetry list<