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Authors: Tarjei Vesaas

The Boat in the Evening

BOOK: The Boat in the Evening
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PRAISE FOR
THE BOAT IN THE EVENING

‘A book of great strength and beauty.' –
The Times

‘A rare kind of masterpiece, and another proof that the spirit that of poetry can find truer expression in prose than verse. If Wordsworth were alive he would be quarrying such veins in such a way.' –
Daily Telegraph

‘A rare mixture of creative vitality, conviction and artistry ... What makes the book for me is the way he [Vesaas] establishes natural presences – trees, wind, water, rocks, ice – as not just characters in their own right but as somehow possessing more right, more reality than the human ones.' –
Guardian

THE BOAT IN THE EVENING

The Boat in the Evening
is the last book by the acclaimed Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas.

A crane colony arrives at its breeding ground to play out a delicately drama that ends with the rarely-observed ceremony of the ritual dance. All is observed by a transfixed child who has frozen into his background and become a piece of nature himself, “a pale tussock in a windcheater”.

In
The Boat in the Evening
the author, with a kind of cinematic impressionism, voyages back to episodes from childhood, adolecence and maturity as well as making speculative forays into the unknown. Unfolding in a series of delicate sketches that record the changing moods of human experience,
The Boat in the Eveningis
at once pervaded by a sense of melancholy and a sensuous appreciation of nature.

A profound and beautiful book, it is the summation of a literary artist's first-hand experience and observation of rural life – of landscape and people.

TARJEI VESSAS was born in his ancestral farmhouse in Vinje, southern Norway, which had been passed down from father to son for 300 years. With little taste for travel, he died there in 1970. A hugely impressive literary modernist he wrote in his native Nyorsk rather than the Danish influenced Bokmål. In spite of his apparent isolation he was a prolific writer, publishing twenty-five novels as well as several volumes of poetry, short stories and plays. His treatment of difficult themes,especially mortality and his magnificent descriptions of the Nordic landscape and society show him to be a writer of great profundity and humanity.

TARJEI VESAAS
THE BOAT IN THE EVENING
Translated from the Norwegian by
Elizabeth Rokkan

PETER OWEN
London and Chicago

First Preface

My first dream.
My delicate dream
of gliding water and my dream.

The heart dwells beside gliding rivers.
The rivers eat into the shores.
Shrinking shores lose their name.

There will always be shores
for a dream
of gliding water and my dream.

That waiting time in the serpent's den,
where children stood anxiously, waiting
for the serpent to come out.

Nothing came out
through all the years.
Never out under Man's heel.

A long time ago.
... Now it is late,
and the serpent's delicate tracery of bones
gleams in the dark,
hidden between the stones,
plucked clean,
polished in the eternal wind.
Never out under Man's heel.

A wind plays there to nobody,
soundless in the filigreed tracery.
A wind plays past the dark eye.
Eye that stills all activity,
and all thought, and all creeping things,
and the snake in its bitter cursing.

Second Preface

about this fragmentary picture from the loitering boat

The heart is split in two, irresolute between its desires. Yet the boat has to advance ... night or day are merely shifting veils to be traversed. Advance with fierce courage. Not for the sake of men. For the sake of insoluble riddles. In utter secrecy the heart is split in two.

There is movement and life in the boat. One by one, pictures appear.

The boat advances with courage that no one understands.

Those on land glimpse the voyage between the sharp outlines of shadows.

Much that is unexpected is mingled with it.

Not new things either; they have been there before.

Is
that
what is coming from the banks, the enticing shores close by?

Not that ... just a quick little greeting:
Hey! comes the barely heard call from the shore.
Hey! comes the soft reply from the boat.
That is all.
As if shifting moments existed no more.

Contents

  1

As It Stands in the Memory

  2

In the Marshes and on the Earth

  3

Spring in Winter

  4

Daybreak with Shining Horses

  5

The Drifter and the Mirrors

  6

The Wasted Day Creeps Away on Its Belly

  7

Washed Cheeks

  8

Fire in the Depths

  9

Words, Words

10

The Dream of Stone

11

The Heart Lies Naked beside the Highway in the Dark

12

The Tranquil River Glides Out of the Landscape

13

Beyond One's Grasp

14

Just Walking Up to Fetch the Churn

15

The Melody

16

The Rivers beneath the Earth

1

As It Stands in the Memory

There he stands in sifting snow. In my thoughts in sifting snow. A father—and his winter-shaggy, brown horse, in snow.

His brown horse and his face. His sharp words. His blue eyes and his beard. The beard with a reddish tinge against the white. Sifting snow. Blind, boundless snow.

Far away, deep in the forest. Sunken roads in the drifts, gullies dug out of the drifts, logging roads walled in by snow.

Blind, boundless forest—because the horizons have disappeared today in the mild, misty snowfall. Here everything is silent, no sound is made on the logging-road in the loose snow as it piles higher and higher.

What is outside?

Nothing, it seems.

There is something outside, but it's a boy's secret, deeply concealed.

He shivers occasionally and glances at the wall of snow and mist. Of course he knows what ought to be there, but it is easy to imagine very different things when you are a child, or half-child, and too young to be with a sharp-tongued father, among heavy, soaking wet logs and a horse strong as iron.

Why think about what's outside all the time?

Only more snow.

And hillsides that I know out and in, every hollow and cliff.

No use saying that.

I'm here to clear the snow. To make a logging-road.

No use saying that either.

It's not so certain that there is anything outside. During the first hours you spend digging, before you're too tired to think and imagine anything, life starts teeming outside the ring of mist and the wall of snow. Animals crowd round in a ring, their muzzles pointing towards me. Not ordinary animals. Animals I've never seen before. They're as tall as two horses one on top of the other, and they lower red muzzles and strike at the wall of mist while they are thinking. They switch at the snowflakes with long tails, as if it were summer and there were flies. There are so many of them that they can stand side by side in an unbroken ring—and they have small eyes that they almost close as they stand wondering and thinking.

Supposing the snow suddenly stopped falling—would they stand there exposed?

What would they do then?

What will they do anyway?

I want them there, that's what it is.

So there they are. All day long.

Yes, they stand there thinking—while I clear the logging-road, digging and digging and thinking and thinking too. In the snowfall in a blind forest.

The shovel becomes idle in my hands.

Supposing it stopped snowing, supposing they were standing there.

What would they want?

They are so real that they have a slight smell that reaches me. It is probably much stronger close to them, and a little of it reaches me. Perhaps it is not a smell; it is not easy to decide what I sense it with. They stand side by side in a single ring of flesh—but between them and myself there is the wall of mist and the falling snow.

Much too tempting to think about them. The snow collects on their muzzles, and their tails wave, raised as if in fight.

There is a sharp, ‘What is it?'

The boy starts.

What a question!

What is it? he says, that one over there with his heavy shovelfuls of snow. An odd question when you can see that splendid ring of strange creatures. What is
he
thinking about over there? Must be thinking about something, he too. But you can't ask him about it.

The question only meant that the shovel had been idle too long. He has a watchful eye for such things, and for many others, that one over there.

This is the toilsome daily round.

The man and the horse have hard tasks. The logs have to be taken the long way through the forest to the river. All the bad weather this winter makes such work endless drudgery.

The stern man gets no answer to his question. But the shovel moves into action again, so all is well. It always goes as that one over there wishes. The gully in the snow has to be opened up farther, to fresh piles of logs lying deep in the snow. There
was
a road here, a gully, but now it is completely wiped out by the storm and the wind. The horse is sent ahead, and he wades through the snow and finds the road again with some delicate instinct of his, then the two of them follow him with their shovels and tramp about, widening the track the horse has made. So it goes, piece by piece.

Endless drudgery.

Don't think about it.

Think about the solid ring of big animals close by in the twilight. Curious creatures that have not been seen in any book.

That's not thinking, it's resting.

Breathe in what must be their smell. Here as everywhere else there is a smell of the hanging weight of fresh moisture. Wet snow, and snow melting on your face.

Restful to think about. Exciting to think about.

*

Everything will be gathered here.

The horse, you and I, gathered here.

But we are inside a ring of something no human being has ever seen. He ought to have known it, that one over there. He of the few and sharp words.

BOOK: The Boat in the Evening
5.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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