At Memphis Station

- 1873-1950
Translated from the Danish by S. Foster Damon

Half-awake and half-dozing,
in an inward seawind of danaid dreams,
I stand and gnash my teeth
at Memphis Station, Tennessee.
It is raining.

The night is so barren, extinguished,
and the rain scourges the earth
with a dark, idiotic energy.
Everything is soggy and impassable.

Why are we held up, hour upon hour?
Why should my destiny be stopped here? 
Have I fled rain and soul-corrosion
in Denmark, India, and Japan,
to be rain-bound, to rot, in Memphis,
Tennessee, U. S. A.?

And now it dawns. Drearily light oozes
down over this damp jail.
The day uncovers mercilessly
the frigid rails and all the black mud,
the waiting-room with the slot-machine,
orange peels, cigar-and match-stumps.
The day grins through with spewing roof-gutters,
and the infinite palings of rain,
rain, say I, from heaven and to earth.

How deaf the world is, and immovable!
How banal the Creator!
And why do I go on paying dues
at this plebeian sanatorium of an existence!

Stillness. See how the engine,
the enormous machine, stands calmly and seethes;
shrouding itself in smoke, it is patient.
Light your pipe on a fasting heart,
damn God, and swallow your sorrow!

Yet go and stay in Memphis! 
Your life, after all, is nothing but
a sickening drift of rain, and your fate
was always to be belated
in some miserable waiting-room or other—
Stay in Memphis, Tennessee!

For within one of these bill-shouting houses,
happiness awaits you, happiness,
if you can only gulp down your impatience—
and here there is sleeping a buxom young girl
with one ear lost in her hair;
she will come to encounter you
some fine day on the street,
like a wave of fragrance,
looking as though she knew you.

Is it not spring?
Does the rain not fall richly?
Is there not the sound of an amorous murmur,
a long, subdued conversation of love
mouth to mouth
between the rain and the earth?
The day began so sadly,
but now, see the rainfall brighten!
Do you not allow the day its right of battle?
So now it is light. And there is a smell of mould
from between the rusted underpinning of the platform
mingled with the rain-dust’s rank breath—
a suggestion of spring—
is that no consolation?

And now see, see how the Mississippi
in its bed of flooded forest
wakes against the day!
See how the titanic river revels in its twisting!
How royally it dashes through its bends, and swings the rafts
of trees and torn planks in its whirls!
See how it twirls a huge stern-wheeler
in its deluge-arms
like a dancer, master of the floor!
See the sunken headland—oh, what immense, primeval peace
over the landscape of drowned forests!
Do you not see how the current’s dawn-waters
clothe themselves mile-broad in the day’s cheap light,
and wander healthily under the teeming clouds!

Pull yourself together, irreconcilable man!
Will you never forget that you have been promised Eternity?
Will you grudge the earth its due, your poor gratitude?
What would you do, with your heart of love?

Pull yourself together, and stay in Memphis;
announce yourself in the market as a citizen;
go in and insure yourself among the others; 
pay your premium of vulgarity,
so that they can know they are safe, as regards you,
and you will not be fired out of the club.
Court the damosel with roses and gold rings,
and begin your saw-mill, like other people.
Yank on your rubbers regularly . . .
Look about you, smoke your sapient pipe
in sphinx-deserted Memphis . . .

Ah! there comes that miserable freight-train
which has kept us waiting six hours.
It rolls in slowly—with smashed sides;
it pipes weakly; the cars limp on three wheels;
and the broken roof drips with clay and slime.
But in the tender, among the coals,
lie four still forms
covered with bloody coats.

Then our huge express-locomotive snorts;
advances a little; stops, sighing deeply;
and stands crouched for the leap. The track is clear.

And we travel onward
through the flooded forest
under the rain’s gaping sluices.

 


 

Paa Memphis Station 

 

Halvt vaagen og halvt blundende,
slaaet af en klam Virkelighed, men endnu borte
i en indre Gus af danaidiske Drømme
staar jeg og hakker Tænder
paa Memphis Station, Tennessee.
Det regner.

Natten er saa øde og udslukt,
og Regnen hudfletter Jorden
med en vidløs, dunkel Energi.
Alting er klægt og uigennemtrængeligt.

Hvorfor holder Toget her Time efter Time.
Hvorfor er min Skæbne gaaet i Staa her?
Skal jeg flygte for Regnen og Aandsfortærelsen
i Danmark, Indien og Japan
for at regne inde og raadne i Memphis,
Tennessee, U. S. A.?

Og nu dages det. Livet siver glædeløst
ind over dette vaade Fængsel.
Dagen blotter ubarmhjærtigt
de kolde Skinner og al den sorte Søle,
Ventesalen med Chokoladeavtomat,
Appelsinskaller, Cigar og Tændstikstumper,
Dagen griner igennem med spyende Tagrender
og et evigt Gitter af Regn,
Regn, siger jeg fra Himmel og til Jord.

Hvor Verden er døv og uflyttelig,
hvor Skaberen er talentløs!
Og hvorfor bliver jeg ved at betale mit Kontingent
til denne plebejiske Kneippkur af en Tilværelse!

Stille! Se hvor Maskinen,
den vældige Tingest, staar rolig og syder
og hyller sig i Røg, den er taalmodig.
Tænd Piben paa fastende Liv,
forband Gud og svælg din Smærte!

Gaa saa dog hen og bliv i Memphis!
Dit Liv er jo alligevel ikke andet
end et surt Regnvejr, og din Skæbne
var altid at hænge forsinket
i en eller anden miserabel Ventesal
Bliv i Memphis, Tennessee!

For inde i et af disse plakathujende Huse
venter Lykken dig, Lykken,
hvis blot du kan æde din Utaalmodighed
ogsaa her sover en rund ung Jomfru
med Øret begravet i sit Haar,
hun vil komme dig i Møde
en fin Dag paa Gaden
som en Bølge af Vellugt
med en Mine som om hun kendte dig.

Er det ikke Foraar?
Falder Regnen ikke frodigt?
Lyder den ikke som en forelsket Mumlen,
en lang dæmpet Kærlighedspassiar
Mund mod Mund
mellem Regnen og Jorden?
Dagen gryede saa sorgfuldt,
men se nu lyser Regnfaldet!

Under du ikke Dagen dens Kampret?
Det er dog nu lyst. Og der slaar Muldlugt
ind mellem Perronens rustne Jærnstivere
blandet med Regnstøvets ramme Aande—
En Foraarsanelse—
er det ikke trøstigt?

Og se nu, se hvor Mississippi
i sin Seng af oversvømmende Skove
vaagner mod Dagen!
Se hvor Kæmpefloden nyder sin Bugtning!
Hvor den flommer kongeligt i Bue og svinger Flaader
af Træer og laset Drivtømmer i sine Hvirvler!
Se hvor den fører en uhyre Hjuldamper
i sin Syndflodsfavn
som en Danser, der er Herre paa Gulvet!
Se de sunkne Næs—Oh hvilken urmægtig Ro
over Landskabet af druknende Skove!
Ser du ikke, hvor Strømmens Morgenvande
klæder sig milebredt med Dagens tarvelige Lys
og vandrer sundt under de svangre Skyer!

Fat dig ogsaa du, Uforsonlige!
Vil du aldrig glemme, at man lovede dig Evigheden?
Forholder du Jorden din arme Taknemlighed?
Hvad vil du da med dit Elskerhjærte?

Fat dig og bliv i Memphis,
meld dig som Borger paa Torvet,
gaa ind og livsassurer dig imellem de andre,
betal din Præmie af Lumpenhed,
at de kan vide sig sikre for sig,
og du ikke skal blive hældt ud af Foreningen.
Gør Kur til hin Jomfru med Roser og Guldring
og start et Savskæreri som andre Mennesker.
Hank rolig op i Gummistøvlerne . . .
Se dig ud, smøg din vise Pibe
I sphinxforladte Memphis . . .

Ah, der kommer det elendige Godstog,
som vi har ventet paa i seks Timer.
Det kommer langsomt ind—med knuste Sider,
det pifter svagt, Vognene lammer paa tre Hjul,
og de’ sprængte Ruf drypper af Jord og Slam.
Men paa Tenderen mellem Kullene
ligger fire stille Skikkelser
dækket af blodvaade Frakker.

Da pruster vor store Ekspresmaskine,
gaar lidt frem og stanser dybt sukkende
og staar færdig til Spring. Sporet er frit.

Og vi rejser videre
gennem de oversvømmede Skove,
under Regnens gabende Sluser.

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My laughter rings in the highest mountains,
My mockery echoes vividly over the peaks,
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Like derisive imps… But my soul never speaks.

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And remotely overwatches the world;
My pain stays forever in that cave
Where the ragged ends of life come unfurled.

My love cuts downward between mountains
Like a torrential, cataract, to the deeps,
For love, like life, is a down-going.
But my soul is like a thing that sleeps.

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It is speechless because it knows all speeches,
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It waits sphinxlike, and I myself
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    Night, smoky-scarv’d, with thousand coloured eyes

Glares the imperious mystery of the way.
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As a man, caught by some great hour, will rise,
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Sure as a flood, smooth as a vast wind blowing;
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Unstumbling, unreluctant, strong, unknowing,
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Is hung with steam’s far-blowing livid streamers.
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Crawling out of their green shirts . . . 
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Coughing a little in the dawn . . . 
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That’s where they whisper: 
Tzz-tzz . . . tzz-tzz . . . tzz-tzz. . . .
How many codes for a wireless whisper—
And corn flatter than it should be 
And those chits of leaves
Gadding with every wind? 
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