They say the mountains shiver…

Poussin, Deluge

They say the mountains shiver and the fir trees are enraged
When night crunches up the pegs of the roof-tiles for familiars to enter in
When the swill of hell runs in the froth and trouble of winter streams
Or when the parted hair of the pepper tree becomes a spinning-top for the north wind.

Only the cattle of the Achaeans in the fat meadows of Thessaly
Graze thriving and strong in the everlasting sun that watches them
They eat green grass, leaves of poplar, parsley, drink clean water in the channels
They smell the sweat of the earth and later fall down heavily in the shade of the willow and sleep.

Reject the dead, said Heraclitus, and saw the sky turn pale
And saw two little cyclamens kissing in the dirt
And he too lay down to kiss his own dead body on the hospitable earth
As the wolf comes down from the woods to see the dog’s carcass and to weep.
What is it to me, the drop that runs and glitters down your forehead?
I know the lightning has written his name on your lips
I know an eagle has built his nest in your eyes
But here on the wet bank there is only one road
Only one deceiving road and you must take it
You must dive down into blood before occasion overtakes you
And cross to the other side to rediscover your comrades
Flowers birds deer
To find another sea, another gentleness,
To seize the horses of Achilles by the reins
Instead of sitting dumb to quarrel with the river
To throw stones at the river like the mother of Kitsos.
Because you in your turn will have been ruined and your beauty will have grown old.
On the branches of a willow I see the shirt of your childhood hanging up to dry.
Take the flag of your life for a sheet to wind up death
And let your heart not bend
And let your tear not fall on this unrelenting earth
As the penguin’s tear once fell in the frozen desert
Lamentation is useless
Everywhere life will be the same, with the flute of the serpents in the country of ghosts
With the song of the robbers in the spice groves
With the knife of a sorrow in the cheek of hope
With the grief of a springtime nestling in the heart of the young owl
It is enough if a plough is found and a sickle sharp in a happy hand
Enough if there should flower only
A little grain for festivals, a little wine for remembrance, a little water for the dust…

Text: Nikos Gatsos, Amorgos, translated by Sally Purcell. London: Anvil Press, 2006
Image: Nicolas Poussin, L’Hiver ou Le Déluge, oil on canvas, 1660-1664, Musée du Louvre

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