A Little Impromptu in Autumn
At the time I believed bad fortune stalked me. I believed it for a moment, for the decisive. So it remained unrealized, for it doesn’t want to be seen before it strikes. Quietly, it stole away from its wondrous transformation, from this big clump of red heather at my feet. But shouldn’t it have been my bad fortune? I don’t know. At least that is how it went. I was traveling during the autumn. But I must first explain myself and the autumn. I must first say that autumn is the greater joy. Beside it the eternal makes a poor stand. How can we make the most of happiness if we know it will be there again tomorrow and each day forward? The joy of autumn is like this: You go through air that is infinite. You breathe it in and yet it connects you to distant and purple mountains. It carries within it the atoms of your body. It pours into you and fills you with itself, into this immeasurable thing. You reach into the glass blue of the sky. Cascades of light flow through you. The unbelievable color of the leaves runs through your blood. You savor the distant emptiness of the fields and the far rising smoke of burning potato tops. You hear the sound of the ocarina that a herdsman plays in his lonely pasture, lamenting to his cows. You praise life, this life, oh, you who are shaken by life, and you breathe in the immense lust of decay within you, around yourself, death. But you live, and you live only now, surely only for the moment . . .
But I wanted to explain this bad fortune, how it lurked inside a clump of heather. It was red and tempting. I am a lonely person and a pagan. I could never kneel and worship contentedly in worship. What intoxicates me is that which I wish to be a part of me, such that my loneliness is numbed by love. I desire to be what inflames me: this autumn, like a child, say, like I felt today. I would have preferred being a leaf, a red and yellow leaf. I would have drifted away just as gently and lilted in circles to the ground. How heavy my body felt, as all it could do was fall. And because my body was so unhappy and ashamed of its cumbersome prudence, I wove it a colorful robe of maple leaves, pinned together with pine needles, a robe of hundreds of colorful leaves that dragged the ground. Thus, like a child, I became autumn. Thus, did I walk like a child across the empty meadow wrapped in autumn, overwhelmed by autumn. Shouldn’t I, today, be allowed to reach for this little clump of flowers at my feet? But, as I said, I was going somewhere. I stood on the observation platform of the train for this air that is infinite and yet connects you to the distant and purple mountains, because you have them, only now, only in this moment for certain . . .
I don’t know why the train stopped at this exact spot. It may have been the guiding force of bad fortune that sought to meet me here, that forced the train to suddenly stop where the heather grew between the ballast stones. I couldn’t find any other reason for the hold up. The region was lonely and uninhabited. There was a pine forest that stretched along one side of the railway embankment. As it does in summer, it stood serious and unmoved, knowing nothing of the autumn. But thick at my feet—I only had to bend over—the heather bloomed. It bloomed burning red and tempting. It was only this one clump that, probably as a seed, sunk its roots into the soil between the jagged stones, but it displayed the redness of an infinite heath. It was complete. I thought that I had never before seen such beautiful flowers. The narcotic scent of their honey rose up to me. My soul trembled. Faithless, it violated the countless desires for which it longed and clung to but one: the desire for this flower. What was left of my body, of my awkward limbs, save for the need to satisfy their pleasure?
The train was at a standstill. I folded the accordion gate. I started to climb down the steps. On the lowest step I leaned forward and stretched out my hands. That is when I saw my bad fortune. In the middle of that beautiful bouquet of flowers, ever so slightly, it opened a whitish eyelid. It may have been a stone, shaped like a dead eye, that frightened me. I saw my grated hands, my bleeding feet, my breath drifting in a ring of sighs. I reached for the grab iron, trembling, pulled myself up, stood up saved—like before. The train had stopped. The heather bloomed at my feet.
And so now I stand in this air that is infinite. I breathe it in and it still connects me to the distant and purple mountains. It carries the atoms of my body inside it. It has poured itself into me. It fills me with itself, into this immeasurable thing. I reach for the glass blue of the sky. Cascades of light course through me, oh, and I desire nothing but what my hands could have almost reached: these handfuls of flowers at my feet.
But I don’t lean out anymore, you see, and the train still stops. I stand and look at these flowers that might possess ecstasy or death—then the quickly trundling wheels suddenly transport me further into autumn, into the distant sound of the ocarina. Who can decide whom I passed by?
Note: The German word for heather is Erika.
—translated from the German by James Reidel
Maria Luise Weissmann (1899–1929) was a German poet and translator during the First World War and Weimar periods. “A Little Impromptu in Autumn” is from an unpublished manuscript, The Early Ripened, translated from the German by James Reidel. A selection of her poems was published in The Abandoned Playground.
James Reidel’s latest book is Manon’s World: A Hauntology of a Daughter in the Triangle of Alma Mahler, Walter Gropius and Franz Werfel (Seagull Books, 2021).
Maria Luise Weissmann, about 1925
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