Landscape :: Louise Glück


The sun is setting behind the mountains,
the earth is cooling.
A stranger has tied his horse to a bare chestnut tree.
The horse is quiet — he turns his head suddenly,
hearing, in the distance, the sound of the sea.

I make my bed for the night here,
spreading my heaviest quilt over the damp earth.

The sound of the sea —
when the horse turns its head, I can hear it.

On a path through the bare chestnut trees,
a little dog trails its master.

The little dog — didn’t he used to rush ahead,
straining the leash, as though to show his master
what he sees there, there in the future —

the future, the path, call it what you will.

Behind the trees, at sunset, it is as though a great fire
is burning between two mountains
so that the snow on the highest precipice
seems, for a moment, to be burning also.

Listen: at the path’s end the man is calling out.
His voice has become very strange now,
the voice of a person calling to what he can’t see.

Over and over he calls out among the dark chestnut trees.
Until the animal responds
faintly, from a great distance,
as though this thing we fear
were not so terrible.

Twilight: the stranger has untied his horse.

The sound of the sea —
just memory now.



Time passed, turning everything to ice.
Under the ice, the future stirred.
If you fell into it, you died.

It was a time
of waiting, of suspended action.

I lived in the present, which was
that part of the future you could see.
The past floated above my head,
like the sun and moon, visible but never reachable.

It was a time
governed by contradictions, as in
I felt nothing and
I was afraid.

Winter emptied the trees, filled them again with snow.
Because I couldn’t feel, snow fell, the lake froze over.
Because I was afraid, I didn’t move;
my breath was white, a description of silence.

Time passed, and some of it became this.
And some of it simply evaporated;
you could see it float above the white trees
forming particles of ice.

All your life, you wait for the propitious time.
Then the propitious time
reveals itself as action taken.

I watched the past move, a line of clouds moving
from left to right or right to left,
depending on the wind. Some days

there was no wind. The clouds seemed
to stay where they were,
like a painting of the sea, more still than real.

Some days the lake was a sheet of glass.
Under the glass, the future made
demure, inviting sounds:
you had to tense yourself so as not to listen.

Time passed; you got to see a piece of it.
The years it took with it were years of winter;
they would not be missed. Some days

there were no clouds, as though
the sources of the past had vanished. The world

was bleached, like a negative; the light passed
directly through it. Then
the image faded.

Above the world
there was only blue, blue everywhere.



In late autumn a young girl set fire to a field
of wheat. The autumn

had been very dry; the field
went up like tinder.

Afterward there was nothing left.
You walk through it, you see nothing.

There’s nothing to pick up, to smell.
The horses don’t understand it —

Where is the field, they seem to say.
The way you and I would say
where is home.

No one knows how to answer them.
There is nothing left;
you have to hope, for the farmer’s sake,
the insurance will pay.

It is like losing a year of your life.
To what would you lose a year of your life?

Afterward, you go back to the old place —
all that remains is char: blackness and emptiness.

You think: how could I live here?

But it was different then,
even last summer. The earth behaved

as though nothing could go wrong with it.

One match was all it took.
But at the right time — it had to be the right time.

The field was parched, dry —
the deadness in place already
so to speak.



I feel asleep in a river, I woke in a river,
of my mysterious
failure to die I can tell you
nothing, neither
who saved me nor for what cause —

There was immense silence.
No wind. No human sound.
The bitter century

was ended,
the glorious gone, the abiding gone,

the cold sun
persisting as a kind of curiosity, a memento,
time streaming behind it —

The sky seemed very clear,
as it is in winter,
the soil dry, uncultivated,

the official light calmly
moving through a slot of air

dignified, complacent,
dissolving hope,
subordinating images of the future to signs of the future’s passing —

I think I must have fallen.
When I tried to stand, I had to force myself,
being unused to physical pain —

I had forgotten
how harsh these conditions are:

the earth not obsolete
but still, the river cold, shallow —

Of my sleep, I remember
nothing. When I cried out,
my voice soothed me unexpectedly.

In the silence of consciousness I asked myself:
why did I reject my life? And I answer
Die Erde überwältigt mich:
the earth defeats me.

I have tried to be accurate in this description
in case someone else should follow me. I can verify
that when the sun sets in winter it is
incomparably beautiful and the memory of it
lasts a long time. I think this means

there was no night.
The night was in my head.



After the sun set
we rode quickly, in the hope of finding
shelter before darkness.

I could see the stars already,
first in the eastern sky:

we rode, therefore,
away from the light
and toward the sea, since
I had heard of a village there.

After some time, the snow began.
Not thickly at first, then
steadily until the earth
was covered with a white film.

The way we traveled showed
clearly when I turned my head —
for a short while it made
a dark trajectory across the earth —

Then the snow was thick, the path vanished.
The horse was tired and hungry;
he could no longer find
sure footing anywhere. I told myself:

I have been lost before, I have been cold before.
The night has come to me
exactly this way, as a premonition —

And I thought: if I am asked
to return here, I would like to come back
as a human being, and my horse

to remain himself. Otherwise
I would not know how to begin again.


[From Averno]

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