There was a house here. They recently dismantled
the upstairs for firewood, leaving just the rough
lower stonework structure. I go there
often of an evening to relax. The open sky
and green trees in the little courtyard
rise up so fresh from all that's fallen,
and there's the clear outline of the wide
window-frames. A tumbled beam resembles
a column. A musty chill is coming
from the piles of rubble and debris
filling up the rooms, where once
the people nested...
Where they quarrelled, they reconciled, they
stored up greasy money in a stocking
for a rainy day; where in the stuffy dark
spouses embraced; where they sweated
in a fever's heat; where people were born
and died in private - all of it now
open to the passer-by. O, blessed is he
whose untrammelled foot treads cheerfully
on this dust, and whose indifferent staff
can knock against the abandoned walls!
The royal palace of great Rameses
or an unknown labourer's shack, they're
equal to the wanderer, taking the same
comfort in the song of passing time; whether
ceremonious ranks of columns, or gaps
from yesterday's doors, much the same
they lead the traveller from one emptiness
With a pattern of broken banisters
the stairs are walking up into the sky,
and where the landing has been interrupted
seems to me like an elevated podium.
But there's no orator. And in the sky
the evening star has started shining,
instigator of high-flown meditations.
Yes, Time: you are so good. It's good
to inhale your awful spaciousness.
Why hide the fact? The human heart
is playing like an infant fresh from sleep,
when war, or famine, or civil turmoil
swoop down suddenly, and shake the earth;
the times like opening skies will gape apart
and man will throw himself, and his ever -
unsatisfied soul, longingly into the deep.
Like a bird up in the air, a fish in the ocean,
a slippery worm in a damp layer of earth,
like a salamander in flames - man lives
in time. A half-wild nomad, using the moon's
changes and sketched-out constellations,
he makes attempts to measure the abyss,
with his unpractised letters noting down
events like islands plotted on a map...
But son displaces father. Cities, empires,
scriptures, truths - they pass away. And man
breaks and builds up again with equal joy.
He has invented history - what a pleasure!
And with both horror and a secret lust
the madman watches how, somewhere between
the past and the future - like clear water
slipping between the fingers - unceasingly
life is trickling away. And the heart flutters
like the flag aloft on the mast of a ship,
between the recollection and the hope
- that memory of a future... But here -
the rustle of footsteps. A hunched old woman
carrying a big sack. With a wrinkled hand
she's ripping down old oakum off the walls,
pulling out laths. I go up silently
to help her, and in pleasant harmony
we do some of the work for time. It's darker:
out from behind the walls a green crescent rises,
its feeble light, like a little stream, flows
over the glazed tiles of the collapsing stove.