Tales & Stories

Age quod agis





Once upon a beautiful time in the past, there was a poet who had never written a single poem. Still, in the depths of his soul, he was a true artist: his greatest dream was to play with words, taste them with his tongue like wild strawberries, string them onto a stalk of timothy grass, admiring their sweet succulence. He had been working on his verse for a long time, but every time he felt something was coming on, a sudden pang of fear and self-reproach shot through him, and the seed of a poem floated away.


’Joy and the self.... Is it selfishness... that is the question, unselfish... joyfully selfish, no questions asked.’ He savoured the words quietly, sitting in the twilight of the fireplace’s glowing oak embers. He was anxious; his hands trembled. ‘This is too hard. I should rather be polishing the copperware my uncle left me. He used to polish it every night. It was an honour to him because he loved his copperware.’ Sighing and heavy at heart, the poet let go of his pencil.


On a bright spring morning, he stepped out of his cottage and entered the garden to water his sweet violets, tulips, primroses, and forget-me-nots, which veiled the ground with their delicate light blue shade. But he found he was not able to enjoy them. ‘Forget me not’, he mumbled sadly, glancing at the oval looking-glass in the garden. He trod heavily back into the cottage, stepped in and stopped, deep in thought. But then he packed his copperware, lantern, cape and some bread and started on a journey to look for his lost poems, never looking back.


Time went by, and peonies, larkspurs, and roses came into flower. After the late bloomers, the garden was spotted only with a few frosty buds. Eventually, it became covered with star-shaped snow crystals slowly floating down.


The poet kept treading on in the snowfall, looking for his artistry in faraway places. He had not written a single poem yet, but the copper pot he was carrying shone after industrious rounds of polishing. At the dawn of every new day, he had made a cup of coffee and given serious thought to the beginning of his verse, only to—again and again—slip back to polishing his copper pot, darning his socks or cleaning his cape. ‘What is it I am looking for?’ he now shouted out to the skies. The dark eyes of a crow watched him from above. The ancient forest around him sighed quietly. ‘Answer me, somebody, please!’ The crow cawed and flew away.


Well before the afternoon, the poet climbed an outcrop of rock. In front of him, he saw a woodland pond covered with thin ice and frosted flowers. Hibernating reeds, turned yellow and whispering wistfully, surrounded the pond. The view was full of wintery magic with frozen wetlands and frosty trees spreading around. ‘I hope this beauty will wake up my creativity’, he wished silently.


The outcrop was surrounded by blocks and boulders off the mother rock. Between these stepping stones, caves, and recesses, the poet found a cosy and dry nook with a stunted old pine spreading its crooked branches over the entrance for shelter. There he decided to settle for the winter, hung his lantern on the pine tree and took a rest.


In the last blue rays of daylight, the old, faithful pot hung over the fire. Into the pot, the poet added dark cubes spiced with pinches of cinnamon, almonds, and something very, very fiery. The lovely spicy smell took him back to the past and to reminiscences of his uncle, who had once saved him and prepared this magic potion to cure him from his misery. The poet heard his uncle’s words in his ears: ‘You have lived in fear beyond all measure. But now it’s over, and you are not alone any more.’ The voice faded, and the poet fell in tears.


The next morning, the poet woke up still feeling melancholy. Heavy thoughts filled his mind. I’m scared and alone here in the woods with my empty notebook. It would be much easier and make much more sense to go back home to my everyday chores. He paused for a moment and then went on. But it was I, who dreamed about writing poems. ‘I don’t have a clue of anything anymore!’ he wailed to the crow, scaring it away from its seat on a small rock nearby. The poet, nervous, took to polishing the pot again. He then cleaned one of his two winter gowns, swept the floor three times, collected firewood and cooked a meal. Then, he put out a wooden bowl of sunflower seeds, and a flock of birds flew in at once to feast on them. Finally, the poet returned to his poetry.


What is it the poet learns

from the shine of a copper...?


‘No!’ He was again about to grab the pot but hesitated. ‘What will happen if I don’t polish the pot now?’


It was getting dark; the kaleidoscope in the heavens turned, and suddenly, everything was quite frightening. There’s someone behind the tree, he thought, alarmed, staring at the dark, hooded, hunchbacked figure. It pointed gnarled and threatening arms toward him. Behind the tree! Death is staring at me with its empty eyes and an icy smile... It’s getting closer, pale and bony. Suddenly there was a rustle. The poet put out the lantern at once, squinting at the darkness, his heart pounding hard. He’s been following me all the time and he’s here now. A cold breath smelling of death touched the poet’s neck.


‘Can you feel me... blowing your heart out...?’

‘Uncle, hold me—I don’t want to die!’ His mind pounded with mortifying images, and he trembled in awe. He could hear his uncle’s last words echoing in his ears:

‘You poor boy, too many times frightened... I hope you will dare to become visible one day’.

‘All that you hold dear will freeze and die...,’ Death sighed, taking icy breaths in and out.

‘...visible... to yourself, first of all.’ The dear voice of his uncle faded away.

‘Try to get up and I will blow you down.’


The poet cuddled under his blanket, holding his copper pot, letting go as heavy tears filled his now tightly closed eyes.

‘Why didn’t I just do it? It was my greatest wish to write’, he slurred, frozen by the presence of Death.

But when the night grew older, the brave poet groped for a pencil in the dim candlelight, opened his notebook and with trembling hands poured his soul onto its pages.


Desire and Fear


Must a poet

let go of bliss?

His love is not for the living

but for words that capture his soul.


Must a poet

look down, ashamed,

when he is enthralled

by the verses of his pen?


Must a poet

face terrible vengeance

when he succumbs to words,

his greatest desires?


Must fear of death

exhaust the wretched soul

when the poet, unfortunate,

fears treading the path clearly marked?


That selfish poet who dares,

who has the nerve to follow his passion;

may doom and destruction be his destiny,

sickness and dire demise!


So roared the gaping mouth,

macabre, gruesome,

behind the vulnerable artist,

who the beauty of words


enchanted.


After this, sleep wrapped the poet in its comforting arms.


With the dawn of a new day, something had changed. The poet opened his eyes and wondered, ‘I’m alive’. He could feel his blood rushing in his veins, filling him with a powerful and ecstatic burst of life. He devoured the beauty of his surroundings, its sounds, its fragrances. And so the unfinished poem emerged:


Doubt


What is it the poet learns

from the shine of copper?

It shines and charms;

it shelters and protects.

But why the sadness

and nostalgia for verse?

The mind, its vigour,

at last burst into a song.

Freedom ahead

but, with it, a journey

perhaps going wrong.

The graceful wild strawberries,

how to capture their glowing red?

And the poet for his thoughts—

can he ever find their thread?


‘Ha-ha! Two poems already, and I’m still alive and haven’t polished the kettle even once yet!’ The poet skipped about happily, exultant with joy and laughter. ‘How happy I am to have written a poem and how delighted I am to be me!’


‘Drop into a dead sleep!’ Death, aggressive and agitated, had slithered behind the exhilarated poet. With his notebook, the poet fell on his face and remained lying on the ground, shocked and scared. ‘You pitiful poet, I will blow you down and crush you under my thumb. Don’t you recognise me? It was I who made you suffer. I turned your loved ones against you. Little by little, lie by lie, year by year. Now you are alone, and I have won!’ A disheartening lunatic’s laughter bellowed from under the cape.


‘Who are you?’ the poet stammered. The caped creature kept growing to immense heights, spreading its bony arms under the flowing black cloak as if to grab and devour the poet in a single bite. The poet stared at the approaching enemy, numbed and defenceless. ‘You’re not Death’, he panted.


The ghosts of painful memories started their whirlwind of a dance, with their long skirts swirling around them, teasing, fawning, inducing. ‘Come with us’, they repeated until their voices turned ice-cold and merciless and their skirts started stabbing the poet like daggers or vultures scavenging his sore points.


‘Leave me alone! Why are you trying to destroy me?!’ the poet cried out, weeping and wailing as he protected his head from the jabs.


‘You lowlife, get out of my way! Why don’t you kill yourself right now?’ the hooded creature hissed, now close to him. ‘Look at me... Look at my power and genius.’


The poet did not need to open his eyes to recognize his stepmother’s and her lackey’s features. Sorrow pulled him down like a heavy ceremonial gown.


The crow stood silent, watching. The day was coming to an end. The moon lit the forest, then vanished with the dawn to return again to the starry sky. The poet jerked, stretching his limbs tentatively, and got slowly up, smoothing out the pages in his notebook. He walked back and forth like a ghost, hardly daring to breathe. He didn’t eat or sleep, just kept plodding along in his wrinkled and dirty cape. His copper pot was dim and his notebook forgotten. Should I give in and live an easier life, he thought, numb and disheartened. And dreams can change, can’t they? I bet  s h e  is happy now.


But deep inside, he started getting angry. His anger grew, absorbing all willpower available. And as it happened, he tried again, and again. He learned to eat and take care of himself, cleaned his gown and socks and tidied up his abode. He took peaceful daily strolls in the forest, breathing in the winter’s quiet. He absorbed life—a life of his own.


Eventually, he felt strong enough to meet the frightful powers of his past. They gathered in front of him, intoxicated and neglecting, blaming and lying, thinking only of themselves, and denying everything without scruples. His uncle sat next to him, holding the pot. All of a sudden, the poet grabbed his pen, held it like a baton and started to conduct the assembly like an orchestra.


‘We’ll start in a nonchalant mood. Then longing sighs in a slow crescendo. Please pay attention to the agogics. And now, at last, empty your glasses of grog—in unison, mind the synchronics. A bit more intensity now then down to misterioso and some scheming in pianissimo, now a clear accent!’


‘This is mine!’ a loud voice screeched just on time.

‘You two ladies, a bit more amoroso, please, a bit warmer and more loving, tempo sostenuto, sustained’, the conductor instructed.

‘I’m an angel’, a high, drunken voice shrieked.

‘A varied sequence a third up, and now more intensity.’

‘I’m an angel with a heart of gold’, another voice of steel imitated.

‘Here we have a molto crescendo toward a forte energico—mind the gradual increase’, the conductor continued. Wine and ale began to flow, lies and problems began to grow, bitterness and disappointment began to show. ‘Climax and rinforzando!’ the conductor cried out.

‘It’s all your fault! Haven’t you dropped your pen already? It doesn’t seem to suit you! Come down from your ivory tower, prince!’ mocked and ridiculed the voices.

‘Horns and trombones, il più forte possibile!’ the conductor went on.

‘There’s nothing wrong with us!’ The choir rose to an ear-bursting howl and bellow accompanied by drunken grunts and slurps.

‘The timpani, their paralyzing strikes!’ the conductor cried out.

‘You’re a waste of space, you scumbag!’ the tenor howled, trying, unsuccessfully, to hit the right notes. Blind accusations crossed the air above the cacophony of the deafening sounds.

The conductor lowered his forceless arm and watched quietly the bellowing choir of lunatic angels, shaking his head in disbelief. Time stopped.


But then...


‘STOP! SUBITO!’ the conductor roared in a voice that stopped him, too, in surprise. The assembly, dumbfounded, fell silent. ‘Your vigour is up to me. And now... Solo.’ He continued in a frightening tone that hardly disguised his wrath. He looked at the ensemble, straightened up and confirmed: ‘A general pause except for me—is that clear?’ The ensemble sat in silence, and the uncle smiled for the first time.


The poet sat down on a rock, trembling, and tried to gather his strength. He put his hand on a piece of paper to write, gradually becoming more focused and stable. He glanced around him once more and started to scribble down the words... until he forgot about everything else.


The artist and Existence


An artist’s life,

a mystery for the artist.

What is the sense in this work

that creates and gives birth?

But oh! What is the significance of The Art

that melts the human heart!


A grail so passionate

and powerful to sip from,

and to fill him with its glow.

Life distilled is close by,

within the reach of the blinding first sight,

in genuine encounters,

thoughts, fears and hopes,


of your own.


‘The human being is entitled to joy over himself and life’, the poet mumbled, glancing at the hooded creature and the rest of the ensemble that sat restless but quiet in front of him, and started writing again.


The artist and Happiness


The Poet and Lady Fortune,

are they meant to meet?

Behind the portal closed,

is there life, in fantasy?

A restless and lonely heart, forgotten,

but what an incomparable ecstasy!

Oh! Is there peace to be found,

after the wanderer’s long round,

in acceptance of the past,

at last?


And the poet continued writing through the shiny months, snowfalls, and dusky silence of winter, until the spring with the sun rising higher and higher in the sky, snow melting into a glimmering diamond field and the ensemble from the past, unnoticed, slipping away. Eventually, a small robin sat down next to his book of poems and started its joyous song for the spring.


The poet watched the pond, now free of ice, and squinted in the sun. ‘I think it’s time to move on’, he said, looking gently at the songbird. ‘Your song will always remind me of my fulfilled dreams’, he said, placing his poems carefully inside his bag. ‘But before I go, a dip in the lake is what I need!’ he cried out and dashed happily toward the lake, stripping off his clothes and scattering a cheerful trail of garments behind him.


Then, his hair dripping with water, the true poet made dark and savoury chocolate for himself and, to celebrate, poured it into a valuable silver goblet. ‘To my dear uncle’s memory, and poetry’, he whispered, clinking the goblet against the copper pot.


-JF

English translation by Päivi Tikkanen










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Tales & Stories