Mihály Babits (1883-1941), “Evening Question”

As evening’s soft blanket,
smooth silken blanket of blackness
spread out by some monumental nursemaid
slowly envelops its beloved earth
and with such care that each single blade of grass
stands straight up in its gentle wrap
and not a wrinkle frights the petals of flowers
and the shiny rainbow-glaze shows still
on butterflies’ fragile twofold wings
who rest so in the shadow of this veil,
this light, smooth, silken veil,
that it burdens them not:
Then wherever you be in the world’s wide dome,
perhaps at home in your sad, brown room,
or watching in wonder at the coffeehouse table
as the sunlight-gas lamps are fired up one by one,
or, weary on the hillside, gazing with hound
through branches at the lazy moon;
or on the dustveiled highway,
as your sleep-eyed coachman
noddingly drives the steed along;
or dizzy on a ship’s swelling deck,
or seated perchance on a rolling train;
or, wandering through an unknown town
you stop at a corner to wonder
at the filament threads of distant streets,
at the street-flames’ double line;
or even on the Riva’s waterfront bank
where dull opal mirror dices flame –

Then descend into a watery ache for long ago,
whose memory pains so sweetly, long
for your days that have passed, that are,
and are not, like the water-light of that magic lamp,
whose memory cannot leave you cold,
whose memory’s a burden, yet pure gold:
There may you droop your remembrance-laden head
down to the marble earth:
Then, as you drift through beauty’s lambent glow,
a cowardly thought will seize you there:

Wherefore this beauty in such abound?
A desperate thought will seize you there:
This silky water, dappled marble – Why?
Why the winged blanket of evening?
Why the hills’ sloping, branches’ coping
and the sea that receives no sower’s seed?
What good the currents and their tides
and those downcast Danaïd clouds
and Sisyphus’ burning stone, the Sun?
What serve memories and all times past?
Why the moon, why the lamps?
Wherefore the endless stream of time?
Or consider the tiniest blade of grass:
Why would it grow only to dry and pass?
Why would it dry only to grow again?

(Hungarian original here)


About ophis

All photographs on abstractbudapest and all translations on onewideexpanse by Jim Tucker, and may be freely shared. Please include a link to this page. If you would like a TIFF file for enlarged printing, just drop me an email.
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