IT is an inn there is
At the cross-roads of Chétives-Maisons,
In the land where it is always cold.
Two naked highroads cross.
They never saw the garnering of harvests,
They go beyond the sky-line, very far.
These are the cross-roads of Chétives-Maisons.
There are three cottages,
In the same corner cowering, all the three,
Two of them are uninhabited.
The third one is this inn with heart so sad!
They give you bitter cider and black bread,
Snow wets the weeping fire, the hostess is
A forlorn woman with a smile so sad.
Only the very thirsty drink in it,
Only the very weary there will sit.
And never more than one or two together,
And no one needs to tell his story there.
And he who enters there with chattering teeth,
Sits down without a sound on the bench's edge,
Stretches his chin a little forward,
And lays his hands flat on the table.
One cannot think that there is flesh
In his stiff, heavy clogs;
His sleeves are short, and show
His wrists whose bone makes a red bowl;
And he has eyes like a beaten beast's,
And obstinately stares at empty space.
He eats his bread with leisure,
Because his teeth are worn;
He cannot drink with pleasure,
Because his throat is full of pain.
When he has finished,
He hesitates, then timidly
Goes to sit, a little while,
At the fireside.
His cracked hands marry
The hard embossments of his knees.
His head inclines and drags his neck,
His eyes are ever scared at empty space.
His grief begins to dream, to dream,
And weighs upon his nape and eye-lashes,
And one by one makes wrinkles on his face,
While from the fire comes delicately clear
A new-born baby's weeping, far away.
And now a little girl he had not seen,
Comes from the corner where she sat;
A delicate and pretty little girl.
She has a woman's eyes,
Eyes widened suddenly with tears.
And now she comes anear him, very gently,
And comes to lean upon the stranger's hand
The tender flesh of her mouth;
And lifts to him her tear-filled eyes,
And reaches him, with all her delicate body,
A little flower of winter which she has.
And now the man sobs, sobs,
Holding in awkward hands
The little maiden's hand and flower.
* * * * * *
The forlorn woman with the smile so sad,
Who has been dumb and watching this,
Begins, as though she dreamed, to speak,
Begins to speak with far-departed eyes:
'A man came here who was not one of us ...
He was not old with poverty and pain, as we are,
He was as sons of queens may be, perhaps,
And yet how like he seemed to one of us!
And no man ever spoke to me as he did,
Although he only asked to sit and drink;
He leaned his elbows on the middle of the table,
And all the time he stayed I looked at him;
And when he rose, I could not help but cry,
He was so like the one I loved when I was sixteen years ...
He was opening the door,
To go back into the wind,
But when I told him why
The tears were in my eyes,
He shut the door again.
And all that evening, all that night,
His eyes and voice caressed me,
My folded pains, he stretched them out,
And spite of his young years and of my chilly bed,
Spite of my empty breasts and hollow shoulders,
He stayed a whole day long to love me, yes, he loved me ...
And then this little girl was born
Of the alms of love he gave me ...'
translated by Jethro Bithell
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.