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The Landau Pulled Up in the Night

by Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz-Milosz

Translated by Michael Wooff

While we’re waiting for the keys
— he’s no doubt rummaging
Among the clothes
Of Thekla dead these thirty years —
Listen, madam, listen to the old, subdued,
nocturnal whisper on the path.

As you’re so small and weak,
twice wrapped in my cloak.
I’ll carry you through the brambles and the nettles
of the ruins to the high and dark gate of the castle.

This is how the ancestor of old returned
from Vercelli with the dead woman.
What a mute and dark distrustful house
for my child!
You know this already, madam,
it’s a melancholy tale.

They sleep diasporized in far-off countries.
For a hundred years
their place has awaited them
at the heart of the hill.
When I die, their race will be extinct.

Oh Lady of these ruins!
We shall see the fair chamber of childhood:
the deep supernatural silence
is the voice of obscure portraits.
Propped up on my bed at night
I heard as if from hollow space in armour,
in the noise of the thaw behind the wall,
the beating of their heart.

What a savage homeland for my timorous child!
The lantern is extinguished; the moon wears a veil.
The screech owl calls to its woodland daughters.
While we’re waiting for the keys,
sleep a little, madam. Sleep, my poor child,
sleep, quite pale, your head upon my shoulder.

You will see how the anxious forest
takes on beauty during June’s white nights, arrayed
with flowers, oh my child, like the favourite daughter
of the mad queen.
Wrap yourself up in my travelling cloak.
The great autumn snow melts on your face,
and you are sleepy.

In the ray of the lantern it revolves, revolves
with the wind
as in my dreams when a child:
the old lady — you know — the old lady.

No, madam, I can’t hear a thing.
He is very old,
He’s not right in the head.
I bet he’ll be drinking.
Such a dark house for my fearful female child!
In deepest, deepest Lithuania.

No, madam, I can’t hear a thing.
House black as black can be.
Locks rusted,
vine shoots dead,
doors locked,
shutters closed,
a century of leaves piled on leaves on the paths.
All the servants have died.

Me, I no longer remember.
For a trusting child such a dark house!
I still remember only my great-great-grandfather’s
orangery and the theatre.
The owlets there would eat out of my hand.
The moon gazed through the jasmine.
That was then.

I can hear now a footstep at the end of the path,
see a shadow. Here comes Witold with the keys.

Copyright © 2020 by Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz-Milosz

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