Alder Catkin


Whenever the wind
drops an alder catkin into my palm,
or a cuckoo calls merrily,
with trains screaming by,
I fall to reflecting,
and struggle to grasp life’s meaning,
and, as usual, arrive
at the place where it slips from my grasp.
Reducing oneself
to a speck of dust in a starry nebula
is an old way out,
but wiser than trumped-up grandeur,
and it’s no degradation
to realize one’s own insignificance,
for in it we realize sadly
the implicit grandeur of life.
Alder catkin,
weightless as down,
only blow it away
and all changes utterly,
and life, it appears,
is not such a trifling matter,
when nothing about it
seems merely a trifle.
Alder catkin,
loftier than any prophecy!
The person who silently
pulls it to pieces is changed.
So what, if we can’t
change the world in a flash, as we’d like-
when we change,
the world changes too!
We’re then transported
into a kind of new quality
as we sail into the distance
to a new unknown land,
and we don’t even notice
the rocking’s strange rhythm
on new waters,
and a completely different ship.
When there suddenly wakes
the starless feeling of being a castaway
from those shores
where you greeted the dawn with such hope,
my dear companion,
there’s no need, take it from me, to despair-
Trust in the unknown
alarmingly black anchorage!
What often alarms from afar
seems hardly perturbing in close-up.
There too are eyes, voices,
the minute glow of cigarettes.
But as you grow used to it,
the creak of what seems like a haven
will murmur to you
that no single haven exists.
Translucent the soul
that can’t be embittered by change!
Forgive the friends who’ve misunderstood
or even betrayed you.
Forgive, understand,
even if your lover stops loving you!
Set her free from your palm
like an alder catkin.
And don’t trust a new haven
that starts to enfold you;
your vocation is
the havenless far-off distance.
Break away from the morning
if you become moored by habit,
and cast off again
and set sail for a different sorrow.
Let people say:
‘Really, when will he get some sense! ‘
Don’t worry!
You can’t please them all at one time.
What base common sense:
‘It’ll all blow over, it’ll all come right in the end…’
When it all comes right in the end,
there’s no point in living.
And what can’t be explained
is in no way nonsensical.
All reassessments should not worry one in the least-
since the value of life
won’t be lowered
or raised:
the worth of what’s beyond value
isn’t subject to change.
…Why am I saying all this?
Because one stupid
chatterbox of a cuckoo
predicts a long life for me.
Why am I saying all this?
Because an alder catkin
lies in my palm,
and quivers, as if living..

Translated by Arthur Boyars and Simon Franklin

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