February 4, 2019

SONG FOR THE QUIET DEATH

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Yannis Ritsos
SONG FOR THE QUIET DEATH

(Simply and indeterminately)

Death stands beneath the streetlamp,
he rolls a cigarette and smokes,
the smoke comes from his mouth.
We watched him smoking
and he had spittle in his mouth
and a tongue in his mouth,
and he had fingers.
He rolled his cigarette quietly.
He watched nothing. He smoked.

Quiet death, beneath the streetlamp –
his clothes were made of glass,
his body and his breath were glass,
his desolation was of glass.
And behind that glass could be seen
as through a window-pane
the pick and shovel,
our kitchen’s hearth,
even our broom.

Behind the window-pane, the gamekeeper walked down.
Shouting women washed laundry in the river.
No voice could be heard.
The verger picked up his straw pallet,
carried it to the other room,
and locked the door. And you could see
the pallet and the verger;
his body’s vapour as he lay upon the pallet
fashioned another body in the air.

And behind the locked cupboard could be seen
the shotgun and the shirt,
patched at the elbow –
a white shirt, white, whiter even than white
like Sunday at a mirador,
like moonlit marble.
Death wore a white shirt,
white as mute daybreak
after a crime.

As for death, he was a white shirt;
no bloodstain darkened it –
an empty shirt, spread on the line,
dried by yesterday's heat,
gleaming in moonlight, stiff as bone,
like a laid table white upon the terrace.
No one sat down to eat. A white night.
And the table stood there, laden, unwavering
as a lake in the night.

A knife walked upright through the night
along the table’s edge
like a sleepwalker on a roof;
- it did not fall; it was not sorrow.
An empty balance, poised in vacuum, weighed itself,
weighed emptiness though without weights;
silence weighed both pans equally
like the two shoulders of the shadow wandering
inside the shuttered shop.

It was so quiet behind death,
behind his window-panes -
a quiet sea at sunset.
Then three men came in with their caps,
with their big feet,
with beetled brows.
They broke bread on their knee.
They did not cross themselves.
They sat and ate.

Γιάννης Ρίτσος, «Τραγούδι για τον ήσυχο θάνατο», από τη Γενική Δοκιμή
Μετάφραση Γιάννης Σταθάτος

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