Friday, October 28, 2016

A Translation of "Die Landschaft der Mutter," a Short Story by Thomas Bernhard

The Landscape of the Mother

There is only one landscape that a human being can truly love: the landscape of the mother.  Wherever in the world I resided, restlessly walking along the road, in terror and in fear of death, in the thousands upon thousands of nights of the metropolis of a forsaken youth, the maternal landscape loomed.  It is always the gently curved hill that affords me a view of the peaceful farms, of the meadows and summer fields shading into the dark mystery-fraught trunks of the fir forest.  There is your homeland, you think, and you stride forward light-heartedly through the brittle fissures of the present age, enfranchised from the ailing worlds of the uneasy distances.  Nothing in the resounding streets consoled you.  They did not squeeze you into the overcoat of their bygoneness.  You still falter at many turns in the road, but not a single worthy thought retreats anymore.  You are all expectation: is the tree still young?  Is the pond still deep?  Are the apples still ripe and sweet?  Do they already have everything, the corn and the wheat, in the house?  Is she, your aunt, still there?      

The most beautiful thing in life is homecoming, returning home to the land of village wind-bands, milk-tables, blackberry vines, and the consoling sun.  How often have you been prey to bitterness; you have left unpaid your debt to a certain person for a veracious saying he passed on to you, to a certain animal for imparting the gesture of protectiveness to your hand, to your mother for a thousand kindnesses, and to your native environs for their love.  

But nothing could be more soothing to you than the little piece of the world belonging to your parents, where you took your first steps from the one thing to the other, from the little kitchen garden to the azure shore of the lake.

All of a sudden you are realizing that everything is changing, and also that you are out of time, that the great hours of Being Here are crowding in on you.  Your life is one great act of passing by, of passing by flowers in bloom, passing by clear and turbid roaring waters, passing by mystical sitting-rooms full of wine and smoke beneath ceiling beams of the lofty centuries ahead of your breath.   To track down meaning, to sacrifice what you are, with all your heart; this is your variation, your Up and Down between morning and evening; and this is your creed.

Life is helpful in its struggle, but today you must put your nose to the grindstone more assiduously than ever, so that you can remain the way you are, and the way your forebears wanted you to be.  Dangers lurk in your world, in all places, within and without, and the dances of the modern age are dances of death, and its images are images of the dead, and its music is a requiem.  Therefore, I say cherish the farmer’s heart in your breast, and don’t let anybody rob you of it.  Conceal yourself and remind yourself of the great duty you assumed on your very first day, when the clockwork in your mother’s bedchamber also imprisoned you in its powerful rhythm.
Beauteous is the landscape behind the hill.  Between Seekirchen and Sieghartstein, beyond the mighty castle on the hillside, lies your unforsaken world.  Henndorf in the Salzburg district is the isolated native town of my father and mother.   Here their house of tuff is still standing, with a garden in front and a garden in back.  How many pieces of fruit have been carried into this house; how many coffins have been carried out of it?  The house of generations of farmers; that is what I will call it.  It has steadfastly outlasted time and the wars.  From it have emerged farmers, craftsmen, poets, and painters; straightforwardly doughty men and women who tilled their own field.  Each of them had a righteous heart and a cheerful disposition, the needful portion of seriousness, two strong hands, and a good, fresh intellect.  In the churchyard above the house their names can be read and their stories seen.—

The sun still rises in the east over the sacred and already aged landscape.  The hens still cluck, the ducks still swim down from the carpenter’s house to the mill.  The children still laugh through the window of the sitting room, the trees still cast shadows on the road, the cider still smells tart to us in the evenings.  The village is more than a homestead and resting-spot to me.  Its inhabitants are genuine human beings.  They create and pray; they say clever things.  Often, too, one of them goes to seed; then he drinks his fill and drunkenly falls into his grave.  They deal well with pigs, and with horses and cows as well.  They know how to bake crullers and how to sweeten pears just the right amount.  They are mistrustful of the new “erudition.”  They don’t allow themselves to be duped.  There are morons in every township, why not here alongside the Roman road as well?  But by and large they are a pithy lot.  The springs on the borders of the village rejoice in a single uninterrupted existence shared with the larks in the wheat-field.

How heartily I enjoy lingering among the trees at evening, then climbing up to the church and listening to the songs of the choir and inhaling the incense!  Rambling by myself through the churchyard in the fog, talking with my people—this gives me strength.  For they, the old people under the ground, have not died; rather, they have long since risen anew in exultant splendor to till all the fields around the neighborhood with the blessing of heaven.  As long as the farmer keeps sowing the grain and the farmer’s wife keeps singing her children to sleep with sweet lullabies before nightfall, we need not fear for the safety of the world.


Source: Thomas Bernhard, Werke 14, herausgegeben von [Works, Vol. 14, edited by] Hans Höller, Martin Huber und Manfred Mittermayer (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003), pp. 500-502. Originally published in Handschreiben der Stifterbibliothek No. 13 (August).  Salzburg, 1954, unpag.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2016 by Douglas Robertson