From the sunny gold surroundings
Laugh the violet mountain highlands,
On the slope there clings a hamlet,
Like a bird's nest, pert and saucy.
As I clambered there, I found that
All the elders long had flown, and
All that had remained behind were
From the younger brood, still fledglings.
Pretty lads and little maidens,
Almost mummed in scarlet red, or
White wool caps; and so they played at
Honeymoon there at the market.
They'd not be disturbed while playing,
And I saw, how the belovéd
Prince of mice did kneel, pathetic,
Down before the cat-king's daughter.
Poor old prince! He soon is wedded
To the lovely. First she bickers,
Then she bites him, and she eats him;
Poor dead mouse, the game is over.
Almost all day long I lingered
With the children, and we chattered
Confidentially. They asked me
Who I was and what I wanted.
"Dearest friends" - I said -, "a land called
Germany is where I come from;
There are multitudes of bears there,
And so I became a hunter.
Oftentimes I pulled the hides from
Over many bearish ears.
In the process I myself was
Roughly tousled by some bear paws.
Yet, from all the daily tussle
With these badly licked-up° yokels
In my dear old homeland, I at
Length grew sick and tired of it.
And so I came here, in hopes to
Find myself some better hunting;
I would like to try my prowess
On the mighty Atta Troll.
He's a noble adversary,
Worthy of me. Ah! I have in
Germany seen many battles,
Where I was ashamed of winning." --
As I took my leave, around me
Danced the little creatures, and they
Danced a rondo, and they sang it:
Pert and dainty came before me,
Finally, the very youngest,
Curtsied twice, and thrice, and four times,
And with pretty voice she sang it:
"When I meet the king, then I shall
Make for him two reverences,
And if by the queen encountered,
I make reverences three.
But if I should meet the devil,
Coming toward me with his horns, I
Curtsy twice, and thrice, and four times -
So repeats the chorus, teasing,
Swirling all around my legs
With a ring-dance and a sing-song.
While descending to the valley
Lovely, waning sounds pursued me,
Evermore, like birds a-twitter:
Massive blocks, gigantic boulders,
All misshapen and distorted,
Gaze at me like monstrous creatures,
Petrified, from times primeval.
Strange! How grayish clouds are sweeping
Overhead, like doppelgängers;°
They're a zany counterfeit
Of the savage fossil-figures.
In the distance speeds the torrent,
And the wind howls in the pine trees!
It's a noise, implacable and
Fatal, just like desperation.
Darksome flocks of daws are sitting
On the rotten, weather-beaten
Firs, with their lame wings a-flutter.
Next to me there goes Laskaro,
Pale and silent. I myself may
Very well resemble Madness,
With vexatious Death his escort.
Such an ugly desert region.
Lies a curse thereon? I seem to
See some blood upon the roots of
Yonder tree, that's stunted, crippled.
There's a hut it overshadows,
Halfway hidden in the earth as
If ashamed; the sorry thatched roof
Looks as if it's fearful, pleading.
This poor hut's inhabitants
Are Cagots°, the sad holdovers
Of a breed, that deep in darkness
Drags on its oppressed existence.
In the hearts of the Basque people
Rankles yet today abhorrence
For Cagots. A legacy most
Dismal, from a dismal time.
The cathedral at Bagneres°
Has a narrow grated portal,
This, as told me by the sexton,
Was the door for the Cagots.
Sternly 'twas denied to them, in
Those days, any other entrance,
And they came most furtively to
Slink into the house of God.
There upon a lowly footstool
The Cagot sat lonely, praying,
And apart from all the rest, as
If he were contaminated. -
But the consecrated candles
Of the epoch gaily flicker,
And the light doth put to flight the
Wicked and medieval shadows! -
So outside remained Laskaro,
As I stepped into the lowly
Little hut of the Cagots. I
Gave my handshake to the brother.
And I kissed as well his child, that
At the bosom of his wife was
Clinging, nursing greedily;
It was like an ailing spider.
If thou seest these mountain summits
From a distance, they are gleaming,
As bedecked with gold and purple,
Princely proud in solar brilliance.
But at close inspection, dwindles
All the splendor - as it is with
Other earthly loftiness, it
Seems the light effects deceived you.
What to you seems gold and purple,
Ah, that's merely idle snow,
Idle snow, that, daft and rueful,
Bores itself in solitude.
Up above nearby, I hear it,
How the poor white snow is crackling,
Of its misery complaining
To the cold and heartless winds.
"Oh, how slow" - it sighs - "are creeping
In this barren land the hours!
Hours and more hours, never-ending,
Frozen cold eternities!
Oh, poor snow, poor me! If I were
Elsewhere than these mountain highlands,
If I in the vale had fallen,
In the vale, with flowers blooming!
Then I'd melt away into a
Little brook, and from the village
The most lovely maid would, laughing,
Wash her face amidst my ripples.
Yes, perhaps I would be swimming
To the sea, where I could change to
Pearls, and I would end my story
As a kingly crown's adornment!"
As I heard these speeches, then I
Answered: "Dearest snow, I doubt that
Such a lustrous destiny should
So await thee in the valley.
Be consoled. It's only few that
Turn to pearls below, and maybe
Thou hadst fallen in a puddle,
Only adding slush to mire!"
As I thus conducted such a
Conversation with the snow, I
Heard a shot, and from the air came
Plunging down a brownish vulture.
'Twas just joking by Laskaro,
Hunters' joking. Yet his visage
Stayed, as always, grave and rigid,
Just the musket barrel smoked.
Silently he tore a feather
From the vulture's rump, and stuck it
Up upon his bowler hat, and
Then strode further on his way.
Truly eerie was the sight of
How his shadow with the feather,
Black and long, reciprocated
On the white snow of the summits.
It's a valley like an alley,
Haunted Gully is the name;
Craggy rocks vertiginously
Loom above on every side.
On a slope so steep and scary,
Like a sentry peeps into the
Vale Uraka's little dwelling;
There I went behind Laskaro.
With his mother he conferred, in
Very secretive sign language,
As to how our Atta Troll
Could be lured, enticed and slain.
For we'd tracked his many travels
Very well. No longer could he
Possibly outrun us now. Thy
Days are numbered, Atta Troll!
As to whether old Uraka
Really was a most distinguished,
Mighty witch, as many people
In the Pyrenees maintained,
I will not be passing judgement.
This much do I know, that on the
Outside she looked quite suspicious.
Weeping crimson eyes, for instance.
Mean and squinting is her gaze;
And 'tis said, that when she casts her
Eyes upon a cow, its udder
Suddenly goes dry for milking.
Everyone assures me, that by
stroking with her scrawny hands, she
Killed fat swine in goodly number,
And as well the strongest oxen.
Now and then she was accused of
Misdemeanors of this nature,
To the magistrate. But this one,
He was a Voltairean°,
Yes, a modern, vapid worldling,
With no faith and with no substance,
And the plaintiffs were dismissed with
Skepticism, almost mocking.
For the record, this Uraka
Had an honorable business;
For she dealt in mountain herbs, and
Also various stuffed birds.
Full of such organic products
Was the hut. It smelled so frightful,
Reeked of henbane, cuckoo flowers,
Mandrake roots, and dead-man's-lilacs.
Prominently on display was
Her collection of stuffed vultures,
With their wings outstretched for flying,
And their beaks, so large and monstrous.
Was the smell of crazy plant life
What I found so stupifying?
I began to feel so wondrous
At the sight of all these vultures.
Maybe they're accurséd people,
Who, through means of magic potions,
Find themselves unfortunately
In this sad stuffed bird-condition.
Gazing at me, pained and rigid,
At the same time so impatient;
Often they did seem to shyly
Squint back at the witch behind them.
She, however, this Uraka,
Crouches down next to her offspring,
Son Laskaro, at the chimney,
Heating lead and pouring bullets.
So they cast that fateful bullet,
By which Atta Troll did perish.
How the flames flared up abruptly
Over that old witch's visage!
She doth keep her thin lips moving
Constantly, but also soundless.
Murmurs she the druids' blessing,
For the bullet-mold to prosper?
Now and then she snickers, nodding
To her son. But he goes on to
Expedite his business, ever
Grave and silent, just like death. -
Downcast by these ghastly scenes, I
Went for some fresh air, and standing
At the window, I looked over
That wide valley down below.
What I saw, upon that hour -
Right from midnight until one -,
I'll report it truly, neatly,
In the chapters yet to follow.
Posted by permission of the
translator ~ © 2005