Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Translation of "Unter dem Faulbaum" by Paula Modersohn-Becker

A Page from the Author’s Diary
Beneath the Buckthorn Tree
I lay beneath the buckthorn tree.  My entire soul was in the possession of a magic spell.  I gazed up into the tree’s leaves.  The sun dyed them a luminous yellow.  And so they stood erect on their slender red stems and laughed up at the sky.

The sky was of a deep blue with a single tiny cloud.  This blue stood out quite charmingly against the yellow of the leaves.  The wind came along and played with them and spun them round, revealing to me their upper sides.  And it also came down to me and brought me armfuls of sweetly fragrant air.

The buckthorn tree was in bloom, and that was the loveliest thing about it.  For its fragrance suffused the pliant breezes and dreamishly, gently, lay down to rest on me and sang me a fairy ballad hailing from ages in which I had not yet been and no longer was.

And the most wondrous and delightful mood came over me.  I was thinking nothing, but every artery and vein in my being surged with emotion.

I lay there like that for a long time.  And I came back to myself and to the sun and to the gladsome buzzing of the insects all around me.

Yes, they, too, loved the buckthorn tree and its blossoms and whirred around them.  And there were honey bees there with their sedulous humming; they diligently flew to and fro. And there were golden brown bumble bees there.  They murmured above my head and snuggled in their warm little pelts.  And there was quite a big crowd of fruit-flies. They stretched out many a little black proboscis and whetted and stretched their slender little legs.

And many a merry midge buzzed there and fiddled away at its high little fiddle for sheer joy.

And amid the warmth of the sunlit blossoms seesawed the dragonflies and damselflies with their slim bodies and iridescent wing-cases.

Meanwhile from time to time a tuft from the willow tree on the riverbank wafted over.  This tuft laughed as it shimmered, and was so shimmeringly white against the blue sky, just like a tiny cloud.

Yes, and before I forget: I heard the great river as well, for it was behind the willow.  I did not hear its mighty, placid gliding procession, but I heard when it sputteringly crashed into a rock or rippled among the parti-colored pebbles at its edge.

And everything together performed a concert of joy, peace, and blissfulness that was so graceful that my soul spread wide its wings and was borne along by the mighty universal joy of all creation.



Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait with Necklace, ca. 1903

Source: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Briefe und Tagebuchblätter (Berlin: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1920), pp. 52-53.

I thank flowerville for introducing me to Paula Modersohn-Becker's work and advising me on this translation.

Translation Copyright ©2016 by Douglas Robertson

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