Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve 1954

[Very rough version of poem by Gunnar Ekelöf]

    To Evert Taube

    Christmas Eve 1954
    I had come into town to get some money for the holiday
    just sitting waiting for the end of siesta
    not thinking of anything
    Then I heard them again as for the first time

    On the piazza which turns into alleys
    with its decayed arsenals and shabby Admiral's Palace
    poor folk had flocked to
    a market selling cheap presepe figurines
    toys made of pink and light-blue plastic
    and everything for a crib
    some carried bagpipes slack under the arm
    on every corner stood the idle

    Then all at once from the alley came
    wildly and yet steadily
    magnified by the alley (yet distant, like an echo-organ)
    a melodious wailing

    Bagpipers I had heard before
    in high Scottish dales
    but these grew in a different wilderness
    a place of ruins crept over by roses

    They went one by one
    from one street-door to the next and along each alley
    shepherds from the hills
    and it was Corybantic flutes I seemed to hear
    each of them approaching like a temple procession
    with a wild player in the lead and from the crowd that followed
    a shuffling chorus of lament
    a chorus of lament that was also of shrill joy

    Wanderer in our road
    you that pass by
    spare a glance for the Madonna of our town!

    Which Madonna should I think of
    and which is the child she has in her arms?
    Is it she who weeps in a fruiterer's window
    in cheap reproduction, in a street full of kneelers?
    Is it the black Madonna
    or she of the Sorrows?
    Is it the Madonna of the Pomegranate?

    Is it she who still has the luxury of a fluttering oil-lamp
    or she who has only a tiny red electric bulb?
    And which is the child she has in her arms?

    I think of the mothers of them all!
    Argive Hera, Magna Mater, oh Madonna of Paestum!
    You with the pomegranate and the child
    white-armed
    I think of Capaccio Vecchio
    your place of refuge in the hills
    where yet your altar-procession takes place
    just as round the temple that Jason founded
    with votive boats adorned with candles
    boats filled with flowers

    Wanderer in our road
    wanderer passing through
    spare a thought for the Madonna of our town:
    the Great Pan is born anew!

    (On every corner stood the idle
    and the fair of the poor folk carried on in the market-square
    but I followed the pifferai up through Italy
    through Naples right up to Rome
    right up to Etruscan lands
    where other gods are)

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