Elizabeth Bishop, Fers

 
Fers

Sawat sa grut as in âldmodelsk dollarbiljet,
Amerikaansk of Kanadeesk,
meast deselde tinten wyt, griisgrien en stielgriis
– dit skilderijke (in skets foar in grutterenien?)
hat nea yn syn libben jild opbrocht.
Nutteleas en frij hat it santich jier sliten
as in beskieden famyljestik
dat trochjûn waard oan sibben yn de sydline
dy’t der soms nei seagen, of der net nei omseagen.

It moat Nova Scotia wêze; inkeld dêr
sjogge je fan dy houten gevelhuzen
dy’t skildere binne yn dat freeslike brún.
De oare huzen, wat der sichtber fan is, binne wyt.
Ipen, lege heuvels, in smelle tsjerketoer
– dy griisblauwe slanter – of is it dat wol?
Op ’e foargrûn broeklân mei wat lytse kij,
twa pinsielstreken elk, mar ûnmiskenber kij;
twa petiterige wite guozzen yn it blauwe wetter,
rêchlings, foerazjearjend, en in skeane stôk.
Tichterby in swanneblom, wyt en giel,
frissich út de tube kringele.
De loft is fris en kâld; in kâlde, iere maitiid,
helder as griis glês; oardel sintimeter
blauwe loft ûnder stielgrize stoarmwolken.
(Dy wienen de skilder syn spesjaliteit.)
In fûgel – in soarte fan spikkel – fljocht nei lofts.
Of is it in miggepoepke dat op in fûgel liket?

Hearken, ik ken dit plak, ik wit wêr’t it is!
’t Is achter – de namme fan de boer falt my hast yn.
Syn skuorre grinze oan dy finne. Dêr stiet er,
titaanwyt, ien likje. De suggestje fan in toer,
fezeltsjes pinsielhier, amper sichtber,
dat moat de presbyteriaanske tsjerke wêze.
En is dat faaks it hûs fan juffer Gillespie?
Dy spesifike guozzen en kij
binne fansels fan foar myn tiid.

In skets makke yn in oerke, ‘yn ien sike’,
ea út in koffer helle en oerhandige.
Is dit wat foar dy? Ik sil wol nea
plak hawwe en hingje dizze dingen wer op.
Dyn omke George, nee, mynt, myn omke George,
hy is dus dyn âldomke, liet se allegearre by mem
doe’t er weromgong nei Ingelân.
Hy wie hiel ferneamd, moast witte, in RA-lid...

Ik haw him nea kend. Blykber koenen wy beide
dit plak, dit letterlik lytse binnenwetter,
seagen wy, mei jierren tusken ús, der langernôch nei
om it te ûnthâlden. Nuver. En ’t is nóch dierber,
of alteast de neitins deroan (it is grif flink feroare).
Syn en myn eachweid foelen gear – ‘eachweid’ is
te swier oanset – ús blikken, twa blikken:
keunst ‘nei it libben’ en it libben sels,
libben en de neitins deroan sa gearparst
dat sy yn elkoar oergongen binne. Wat is wat?
Libben en de neitins deroan fêstlein,
dimd, op in stik bristolkarton,
dimd, mar hoe libben, hoe oandwaanlik
yn detail – it bytsje dat wy fergees krije,
ús bytsje ierdsk kredyt. Net in soad.
Sawat sa grut as ús tahâld
tegearre mei harres: de kôgjende kij,
de swanneblom, kroes en triljend, it wetter
dat stean bleau nei in maitiidsfloed,
de noch te roaien ipen, de guozzen.

 

Poem

About the size of an old-style dollar bill,
American or Canadian,
mostly the same whites, gray greens, and steel grays
—this little painting (a sketch for a larger one?)
has never earned any money in its life.
Useless and free, it has spent seventy years
as a minor family relic
handed along collaterally to owners
who looked at it sometimes, or didn’t bother to.

It must be Nova Scotia; only there
does one see gabled wooden houses
painted that awful shade of brown.
The other houses, the bits that show, are white.
Elm trees, low hills, a thin church steeple
—that gray-blue wisp—or is it? In the foreground
a water meadow with some tiny cows,
two brushstrokes each, but confidently cows;
two minuscule white geese in the blue water,
back-to-back, feeding, and a slanting stick.
Up closer, a wild iris, white and yellow,
fresh-squiggled from the tube.
The air is fresh and cold; cold early spring
clear as gray glass; a half inch of blue sky
below the steel-gray storm clouds.
(They were the artist’s specialty.)
A specklike bird is flying to the left.
Or is it a flyspeck looking like a bird?

Heavens, I recognize the place, I know it!
It’s behind—I can almost remember the farmer’s name.
His barn backed on that meadow. There it is,
titanium white, one dab. The hint of steeple,
filaments of brush-hairs, barely there,
must be the Presbyterian church.
Would that be Miss Gillespie’s house?
Those particular geese and cows
are naturally before my time.

A sketch done in an hour, “in one breath,”
once taken from a trunk and handed over.
Would you like this? I’ll probably never
have room to hang these things again.
Your Uncle George, no, mine, my Uncle George,
he’d be your great-uncle, left them all with Mother
when he went back to England.
You know, he was quite famous, an R.A. . . .

I never knew him. We both knew this place,
apparently, this literal small backwater,
looked at it long enough to memorize it,
our years apart. How strange. And it’s still loved,
or its memory is (it must have changed a lot).
Our visions coincided—“visions” is
too serious a word—our looks, two looks:
art “copying from life” and life itself,
life and the memory of it so compressed
they’ve turned into each other. Which is which?
Life and the memory of it cramped,
dim, on a piece of Bristol board,
dim, but how live, how touching in detail
—the little that we get for free,
the little of our earthly trust. Not much.
About the size of our abidance
along with theirs: the munching cows,
the iris, crisp and shivering, the water
still standing from spring freshets,
the yet-to-be-dismantled elms, the geese.

 

Ut Geography III, 1976. Mei ‘an R.A.’ wurdt in lid fan de Royal Academy of Arts bedoeld, in eksklusive keunstnersferiening yn Londen. Leden meie de letters RA achter harren namme sette.

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