Winter Journey
Franz SchubertStanisław Barańczak
New Journey, New Story

Konieczny & Napierała

Franz Schubert – Winterreise Op. 89, new written by Stanislaw Barańczak 
Tomasz Konieczny – bass-baritone
Lech Napierała – piano

“Winter Journey” by Barańczak – lyrics

Winter Journey

24 Poems by Stanisław Barańczak

 

(1994)

 

I

‘You burst in like a whirlwind’,
this wrong world,
inimitably frigid,
has pointed out for years.
‘A whirlwind’? Not exactly,
but we did burst in, it’s true.
‘A whirlwind’? Not exactly,
but we did burst in, it’s true.
And bursting out just wouldn’t do,
one must remember tact.
Bursting out just wouldn’t do;
in any case, we can’t.

With inexplicit menace,
the host of these cold plains
congenially freezes
the blood within our veins.
‘You’ll love the land, the climate’?
Such gall just strikes one dumb.
‘You’ll love the land, the climate’?
Such gall just strikes one dumb.
Surrounded by the winter,
dogs baying to the moon.
Above our heads: the ether,
the surgical new moon.

This should have been a lengthy stay,
but this is just absurd.
Snow for two-thirds of the day,
asleep the other third?
This is not an atmosphere
that reinvigorates;
the Baedeker misled us
with its views of palms and dates.
In such an atmosphere,
the corners of one’s mouth just seize,
the air is no doubt fresh enough,
but we’ll be forced to freeze.

Someone has made fools of us,
or rather crèmes glacées;
huge white flakes fall from the sky,
much to the fields’ dismay.
So clench our teeth and bear it?
The cold will clench them well.
It won’t release our icy breath,
And won’t let us inhale.
So clench our teeth and bear it?
The cold will clench them well.
It won’t release our icy breath,
and won’t let us inhale.
And won’t let us inhale.

II

Antennas twixt the grimy chimneys,
the day’s first draught of yellow smoke:
these roofs and dawns are not behind,
but still above us and within us.

The whitest ocean-going liner,
embarking on a distant cruise,
took us, imbued with the aroma
of those murky, cold locations.

Blow, all ye oceanic breezes;
even in our dreams
that place, too well known,
the yellow smoke and blackened snow
still take our breath away.

Blow, all ye oceanic breezes;
even in our dreams
our breath dies:
we know our place only too well,
we know our place
and the yellow teeth of his laughter all too well.

III

But what if we weren’t destined
at all to rise above
this one, this visible,
this temporary world?
This mediocre world?

Perhaps just growing six feet
above the brittle earth
equates to our ascension?
And only then the grave?

And what if we, our voices still
for three score years and ten,
are singing to these heavens
a rousing, soulful hymn?
a rousing, grateful hymn?

Perhaps the bleak word ‘chilling’,
in wintry poetry,
for ‘thrilling’ and for ‘killing’
would form a proper rhyme?
would form a flawless rhyme?

IV

Clasping the globe on both sides
in pincers of timeless ice,
objectively the court considers
this objective proof;
twixt two icy lines of fire,
a partly hidden hand
grips the oblate spheroid earth
on both its finite sides.

Not a supreme tribunal;
why, nothing of the sort;
this trial is not about
some crime, but only
a minor fault;
with average adroitness,
even a makeshift court
would ascertain who made the slip
– unwittingly –
in this affair.

Who ruled the first conception
ought to remain unchanged:
sheer bliss amid the verdure
and soughing ocean waves?
The gentle sough of greenery,
the rolling ocean waves!
We’re utterly astonished:
was such a template made?

It needn’t be so final,
sound judgment will reveal
the faulty supposition
within the whole ideal;
whose whimsical decision
to have the icy flow
forever circumventing
our promised, longed-for home?

Held on both sides, the planet,
in polar pincers’ clasp,
has no way to seek attention,
to yell out or to gasp;
only a quaking tremor,
a slight tectonic tic.
Rarely does it give the court
a facial hint:
‘it’s each of them;
it’s each of them.’

V

Beside a cooling fountain,
in some old lime tree’s shade,
on sultry days I daydreamed
a hundred summer dreams.

I carved into the tree trunk
a host of tender words;
and still I miss, nostalgic,
that shade and all those dreams.

Today I face the blizzard,
the blinding ice and gloom;
with screwed up eyes I stumble
into the winter cold.

And from afar I capture
the gentle rustling words:

Return to me, recapture
the calming dreams of old.

The biting wind of winter
cuts through me like a knife
and blows away my headgear,
Yet I’ll return no more.

For hours now the echo
of summer’s sultry words:
Return to me, dear friend, redream
the calming dreams of old.

For hours now the echo
of summer’s sultry words:
Return to me, dear friend, redream
the calming dreams of old,
the calming dreams of old.

VI

Underneath the arctic wrapping,
feverish hot sweat runs down.
Something rather out of keeping
with the roguish style of snow –
style that is more cool than hot.

My imagination faltered:
it was such a platitude
that endless frost will dry your throat,
yet a river meets my lips?
Worse than that: it soaks my brain.

Snow, what has become of thee?
A new address, new status, name?
Our fume and smoke, our aerosols:
such trifling things bring so much change?
This conceals some cunning plan.

Do you fear the fate of someone
who has seen too many frosts?
Or, like me, you crave a world
that’s different to what we’ve got?

Or a different you in it.

VII

Did some Great Counterfeiter
forge that intriguing cheque
they gave us in an envelope
of mountain peaks and becks?

Is that bank in the corner
for real or just a fraud?
Is it not just a cover
for some controlling horde?

Did he go wrong on purpose
when signing the amount,
to stop us drawing cash out
from his own bank account?

And did he not on purpose
inscribe our names crosswise,
to signal to the teller:
‘These chaps will stage a heist’?

Believe, if you’re so willing,
safe conduct or a slate
will wait for us in heaven’s
angelic welfare state,
angelic welfare state.

Believe it if you want to,
it’s hard to bear the thought
that our sole consolation
is Everything – and Nought,
is Everything – and Nought,
is Everything – and Nought.

VIII

Whene’er the ground beneath is burning,
by chance a bridge might too be lost;
the notion that we burn our bridges
is quite a classic myth ex post.

That they just burn behind us is but
another common fallacy,
as refugees discover when they drown
an oar’s width from the gleaming quay.
All those rejected by dry moorings
held knowledge most inscrutably.

The pain of just such disappointments
is nought if you avert your gaze
and try to concentrate your eyes
on watching your footfall’s measured pace.

To look ahead is unproductive,
like looking at where you just ran:
two Edens trap us twixt two blazes,
the fiery sword of two dread spans.
Those flaming bellows send a constant
double blaze towards where we stand.

Excluded from the faded moment,
non grata in the one to come,
it’s not in space that we will perish,
for time sets zero as its sum.
That’s one good thing: that within the space
reduced to just the present time
we can proceed not yet undone,
though our undoing may us await.
We can proceed not yet undone,
though our undoing no doubt waits,
though our undoing surely waits.

IX

Into its black kinescope,
the switched-off television
sucks all of our reality
so we might sleep more like a log.
Lighter too reality.

Instantaneous the farewell
spark before the screen falls blank:
Jack-o’-lantern? Wise man’s torch?
Soft the sage is following:

He wants to meet us once at least.
Trail the light into the marshes?
Wait until the gloomy night
reveals to us that dogged truth which
follows at every step?
It is the simplest truth about us:
if it’s known, it’s known to dark.

X

Upon the shoulder, stood stock still:
a Dodge, its hulking trailer.
Steaming urine perforates
the crystal snow and silence.
‘The menace of a sudden calm…’
those words pursue me still.
The driver rubs his aching back,
supported on the grille.
The driver rubs his aching back,
supported on the grille.

As I fly past beside him now, he’s
standing in suspension.
He copped my swish, my diesel fumes;
an instant, I was with him.
‘And you, why do you mock this void…’
I still see in the mirror,
the white of repercussing hush
absorbs the early twilight,
the white of repercussing hush
absorbs the early twilight.

XI

I pondered, as the daylight broke,
‘So what if there’s a war somewhere?
Some beast is hunting down some beast,
because that’s all it knows or cares,
because that’s all it knows or cares’.

Elsewhere an early sniper
pulled the trigger of the day;
before the target crumbled,
I realised that I was him.
I’m speaking of the dead man
and that the dead man is me.

But the screen flashed once again:
now time for another hit;
again the screen with no respite
cut up the cake of news,
reports on the day’s entertainment,
the weather report and the sport,
the weather report and the sport.

I pondered, as the morning rose,
‘So what if evil is so rife,
a beast lies dormant in us all?
It can be tamed in any case;
it can be tamed in any case’.

Elsewhere another sniper
pulled the trigger of the day;
before the hit had happened,
I realised that I was him.
I’m speaking of the killer
and that the killer is me.

The compere’s smile informed us
it was not yet Judgment time;
the time for Judgment will come;
but now let’s move on from this
right into the day’s entertainment,
and then to the weather and sport,
the weather report and the sport.

XII

Clearing snow in the morning,
a logician might say,
accepting two assumptions
contained in the word ‘snow’:
one that the fallen angel
won’t get back whence it fell,
the other that remaining
just complicates the world.

Oh crystal whites together,
exactly half and half,
when finally, oh angel,
one can sprinkle salt
into your wounds!

Oh, pragmatic intentions
so blended half and half
with vindictiveness when, angel,
we sprinkle salt
in your open wounds!

XIII

Oh watch of mine, needlessly you scoff:
Tell me what intention now has died
its death.
Tell me what intention now has died
its death,
its death.

Must I take a pill? Send a cheque?
Abolish Evil? Invent a cure
for death,
for death?

Must I take a pill? Send a cheque?
and death? and death?
Conquer Evil, and find a cure
for death?
for death?

Is it an electronic ‘beep’
or is some other language known
to death?
Or is some other language known
to death,
to death?

Whispers, some Wagnerian voice?
And is it worth our listening
to death,
to death?
Does death speak in whispers
or Wagnerially, Wagner-like?
And is it worth our listening
to death,
to death?

XIV

Can somebody be ‘touched with grey’
from one day to the morrow?
Does planet earth get out of sorts
when someone’s head turns speckled?

Metaphor, that iron grip
of lyrically minded pliers,
commits – replacing fact with myth –
a legion of abuses:
half-slips and half-shortcomings.

Our style lets fall a salty tear
of overkill for trifles,
the earth, meanwhile: the crunch of snow
beneath a boot or tyre,
beneath a boot or tyre.

XV

Quality controller jet
draws white lines in the sky.
Earth, have you not had enough?
What more do you require?

You draw for eternity
(putting out a feeler?)
a line that lasts even less
than a sparrow’s faeces.

When Paradise considers
QC jet a reject,
rule yourself out of the show,
evince consistency.

Delete yourself, last a tick:
simple white confession.

XVI

Springs and summers, autumns likewise,
come round besides wintertime,
triggering elation
and a suitably melodious rhyme.

So, all told, the wonders and delights
can last through cold and hot:
we plunge our vision’s spoon into
one enormous honey pot.

First revolving leaf of autumn,
ever do you reach my feet,
e’en somebody saves the planet
once,
once,
once with the entreaty ‘Be’,
once,
once,
once with the entreaty ‘Be’.

XVII

I flew over cities where millions were sleeping;
I felt out of kilter hunched up by the window:
if on such nights, with a glance, one could tear
the roofs and the sheets from those sleeping below

Ha, if I could… No, no way would I dare:
I know
that then
I would cause offence unto myself,
witnessing
directly
those trivial, anodyne dreams,
those tepid enchantments,
those torpid convulsions,
those insipid terrors.

In each of those sleeping I would have seen
myself, my part and my own allocation,
that to which I am truly entitled,
that which nobody will mythologise.
That to which I am truly entitled –
no, that nobody will mythologise.

XVIII

And yet when icy winter
blows cold into your skin,
the hope returns, the inkling
you’ve got something within,
you’ve got something within.

Those moments at the bus stop
that seem to last till doom,
those days when mornings bring you
just darkness, snow and gloom,

it’s not a broken contract;
it’s just (though winter’s grim)
the granted grace of contact,
the granted grace of contact
with Something More – with Him.

XIX

Dashboard, oh dashboard, with your instruments,
shine bright, like a flute playing in C;
part the night: I assume the role of the drowned,
of a rat, led out of the city.

Frost; spectral drifts along the route;
may your gauges’ light lead us all
across the ice, through the starless night,
may your roaming gauges’ light and
the disc jockey’s warm voice lead us
through starless night, across the ice.

XX

Stationary at a red light,
my eyes drift off to one side.
Parallel four lanes, restrained,
tear off into the night.
Parallel four lanes, restrained,
tear off into the night,
off into the night.

Through the window of the Honda,
in the door the lock is pushed,
in the door the lock is pushed,
blonde locks and a cool left profile:
touching up her lips with gloss,
touching up her lips with gloss.

Yielding to a moment’s coupling
at a silent give way sign,
two remarks we stay within us:
‘So you are here? Well that’s fine’.
Two remarks we stay within us:
‘So you are here, come what may?
Then may you stay’.

In two parallel abysses,
with our gaze reverted back,
we return to falling into
we return to falling into
our own dedicated black.
In two parallel abysses,
with our gaze reverted back,
we return to falling into
our own dedicated black,
our own dedicated black.

XXI

Car graveyards full of wreckage,
a rust and metal stew,
the stench of urban refuse,
a lonely greenhouse roof,

plain wire allotment fences,
some mutt kicks up a din,
soot-covered shop-floor buildings,
the smoke of cinder bins,

a cable’s drooping bracket,
and there, for clouds and hush,
skyscrapingly unfathomed,
a soaring utterance,

from midst the blackened snowfall,
somebody’s – who knows whose? –
crosier, rod or shepherd’s staff
ascends to heaven’s blue.

Crosier, rod or shepherd’s staff
ascends to heaven’s blue.

XXII

Just for once, in the snow,
one might seek retribution,
countering the squalling white
with fierce insurrection.

One more swathe of frost and ice,
whites of flatlands sweeping?
Rather unrelenting, Lord,
Your graces I’m refusing.

Lethal ice and crunching snow,
just another blizzard:
I’ll seek my own cataclysms,
yours are too familiar.

This is no baptism of fire,
scouting trip or recce:
long I’ve known, Lord, what is this
emptiness inside me.

XXIII

When neon signs light up our face,
show magnanimity; don’t tease.

When tumult hides the fear in us,
at least know of our reveries.

When hatred tarnishes our face,
bring us a mirror, bid us see.

When truth’s contradictions bore us,
save us from simplicity.

When we are struggling with our choice
of words, discern our real voice.

XXIV

Standing by a window, suddenly I see,
in its dull reflection: someone just like me!
Just the spitting image, no real difference,
were it not that wrinkled, wizened countenance,
caught upon the threshold of grey eminence.

Wired-up tiny earphones, so he’s got, I see,
music in his pocket – just the same as me.
I could place a wager, with no strings or traps,
that his CD’s playing anything but rap;
Schubert’s much more likely, just that kind of chap.

So it’s true, my brother, truly we can see:
I have got a you here, and you’ve got a me?

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