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An Evening Question

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An Evening Question

When the evening, this softly covering
black velvet coverlet is hovering
over the cherished earth, so gently laid,
as though spread by a giant nursery maid,
so carefully that every blade of grass
remains erect below that shroud so vast,
that the petals of flowers won’t wrinkle and
the fragile wings of utterflies won’t lose
the scales that make a rainbow-coloured blend,
and in the shade of this veil they repose,
of this smooth velvet veil that’s light so much
that they can’t even sense its gentle touch –
then wherever you’re roaming in the world,
or crouching in your room in sadness furled,
or sitting in an old café to stare
at the gas lamps alight with daylight’s flare,
or weary, on a hillside, with your dog,
through the leaves at the lazy moon you’re gazing,
or driving on the road through dust or fog
while on the box your sleepy coachman’s dozing,
or staggering on a boat’s swaying deck
or on a railway couch you’re leaning back,
or wandering across some alien town,
stopping at corners to look idly down
the long threads of the distant streets in it,
the double lines of street lamps slowly lit,
or in the sea-born town of gondoliers,
where flames in tarnished opal mirrors break,
you’re musing on the distant past in tears,
whose memories in you so sweetly ache,
on distant past which, like a picture of
the magic lantern, there’s not, yet there is,
whose memory can never more cool off,
whose memory is burden and is bliss­ –
there toward marble pavements, sour and sad,
you may hang down your memory-laden head:
there, while at beauties and delights you stare,
you none the less will wonder in despair
to what these beauties and delights avail?
you none the less will ask: wherefore is there
this silken water and that marble stair,
what is the eveneing for, that winged veil?
wherefore the hill, oh and wherefore the willow,
wherefore the sea where seeds are never sown?
wherefore have ebbs and tides been ever made,
wherefore the cloud, that sad Danaid maid,
and Sun, that burning Sisyphean stone?
wherefore the memories and days of past,
wherefore the lamps, the moons, the leaves at last,
and wherefore Time that seeks its end in vain?
Or take the wee blade of grass and consider:
why does it grow if it is doomed to wither?
why does it wither if it grows again?

by Mihály Babits

2 Responses to “An Evening Question”

  1. Jill says:

    I keep returning to read this poem. It grows lovelier each time. 🙂

    • Hevel says:

      I think it’s a great translation, but doesn’t give all the beauty of the original back. In the video the poet was reading his own poem, and while it’s not the most beautiful recitation out there, it’s still powerful.

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