Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ingrid Kunschke: LOSE ME AND YOU’RE LOST

Once upon a time —When was it? Ah, when was it not!— there was a young man who roamed the world making his living with stories and songs. One day, it must have been around the eighth month, he happened to hit upon the oddest place. He’d asked for shelter for the night at a little house surrounded by some birches and pines. It turned out to be the home of a tired old man. Obviously somebody looked after him once in awhile, for the touch of a woman still showed around the place. But the old man lived there all by himself, spending his days on a bench under a birch tree. He didn’t care to hear stories, said the night would be short enough and they’d better go to sleep before the moon would rise and keep them awake.
That night the roamer dreamt of a track in a nearby forest, which he followed for a while, now jumping over a puddle, now ducking to avoid the lower branches.
His host however had sneaked out at the dead of night. Sad at heart he sat on his bench, playing on a flute. And in bright moon light a nymph with golden hair stood behind him, her slender arms wrapped gently around his shoulders. In a heavenly voice she sang

when, oh when
did you grow old?
what good
is my youth,
my hair of gold?

Hearing this, the young man awoke with a start, leapt to the window, and saw him sitting on his bench, the old chap. But he couldn’t discern anything else—save a birch, for a cloud had veiled the moon, forcing the nymph to reassume her guise of a tree. Puzzled he went back to sleep.
As soon as day broke, he got up and found some bread and cheese on the table. The little house looked clean and tidy and was perfumed with the scent of flowers in a vase. There it was again, that touch of a woman... And when he tied up his knapsack, he noticed a hand-carved flute had been slipped among his belongings. It bore an inscription, which read
Lose Me and You’re Lost,
Find Me and You’re Free.

Well, I’ve always been free, the reckless fellow said to the flute, but thank you all the same. As he hit the road he waved his hat at the old man on the bench, who barely nodded a vague goodbye. Poor old chap, the young man thought. But what could he do about it?

for the world
must be sung into being
time and again
with songs of longing
and remembrance

Within sight of this place was a forest, where he turned his steps, recalling his dream of that night. Indeed he found a track, which he followed for a while, now jumping over a puddle, now ducking to avoid the lower branches. The young man had walked a few miles, playing his new flute along the way, when he realized something had changed. At first he thought it was the breeze. As he had set out that morning it had been toying with his hat and now there wasn’t the slightest breath of wind, not even in the tree tops. Nor could he hear any birds. But it wasn’t just that: the light had changed as well. Slowly it had become silvery, as if the moon were shining. How very strange, he thought, and when he heard


from somewhere ahead, he was filled with even more wonder. It clearly was a song, sung to a most plaintive melody, though he could make no sense of it. Twice, thrice did it sound, before he traced the singer: a young and slender pine that stood at the edge of a clearing. Well have you ever, he thought, and eager to get to the bottom of it, he attuned his ears to this unfamiliar pitch. And this is what he made of it after a while:

how sad
to bide my time
in frrt—
would he came
to rlt-t me home

I must be dreaming, the roamer said to himself, for even if he made up stories with great ease whenever it came down to earning a meal, he wasn’t the man to believe in miraculous things. Perhaps his imagination played him a trick? Yet he was so much taken in by this simple melody, he couldn’t help but put the flute to his lips and repeat it. To his utter astonishment the flute set words to the tune:

how sad
you bide your time
in woods—
would you were
to follow me home
And before his very eyes the little pine turned into a young nymph. Dropping his flute in awe he stood and gaped at her. Oh, she was beautiful beyond words! Dressed in darkest green and with dew, still fragrant with needles, glistening in her deep brown hair, she looked bashfully at the ground and then dashed off to hide in the thicket. But the young man had caught a glimpse of her amber eyes and was already under her spell. Desperate to get his nymph he ran after her, blundering into every puddle, scratched by countless branches.

oh, those eyes
as timid as a fawn’s,
still deeper
they lure you
into the woods

For such is the nature of nymphs. And had he not been a roamer, accustomed to walk freely off the road, he’d never have caught sight of her. And had he not lost his flute, his fate might have taken a turn for the good. His clothes in tatters, bark growing over muscles that had obeyed him only a moment ago, the poor fellow felt roots shooting from his feet as soon as he got hold of his nymph. In a last effort to cry out his love, he opened his mouth — a hollow, already inhabited by a family of titmice.
The nymph however went around the mighty oak the young man had turned into, caressed its bark and kissed it goodbye. Then she picked a single acorn as a keepsake. A little later at the clearing she found the flute. What a lovely day it was! She heard the birds twitter and was delighted to feel a gentle breeze toy with her hair as she followed the track out of the forest, now jumping over a puddle, now ducking to avoid the lower branches.

oh, those feet
as swift as a deer’s,
so eager
to enter into
uncharted worlds

Within sight of the forest was a little house surrounded by some birches and pines, where the nymph turned her steps. She found out it was deserted. Surely it would make a perfect lodging for a night, once she’d have aired the rooms. But in her ardor to get started she dropped the acorn and a mighty oak sprung up where it had touched the ground. And then, as if on cue, there was this old bench she could place near her tree. All day the nymph sat there, imagining what she’d do with her newly gained freedom.

for life
is fleeting,
a dream
to be lived
to the full

That night the moon peeped through the clouds and found her seated on the bench under her oak. She had put the flute to her lips and was about to play a most bewitching tune.

by Ingrid Kunschke
Porta Westfalica, Germany

No comments: