I know we are quite past Halloween, but I stumbled on this poem and felt moved by its simplicity. The presentation is culturally rich and I love stories where death is personified.
English translation of the Dutch poem, ‘De Tuinman en de Dood’ by P.N.van Eyck (1887-1954) taken from the theme of Jean Cocteau’s ‘Le grand écart’. Translated by Ronald Langereis © 2009.
A Persian nobleman:
This morning, my gardener pale from fright,
‘Master, one moment, please’, came running inside.
‘In yonder rose-bush I was cutting shoot after shoot
And when I turned and looked, grim Death there stood.
I was appalled and by the other way I fled,
But still descried his hand casting a threat.
Master, your horse, and with godspeed let me ride
To Ispahan, which I may reach ere fall of night.’
This afternoon – long after he had sped –
In the park of cedars, Death it was I met.
‘Why,’ thus I asked, while he stood waiting there,
‘Did you, this morn, give my servant such a scare?’
Smilingly came his reply: ‘No threat, for sure, it was
That sent your gardener fleeing. Surprised I was
To find, in early morn, here still at work a man
Who, this same evening, I am to take in Ispahan.’
There are other translations around the web, with tiny details altered. In one, death is holding a scythe rather than raising a hand in surprise when he encounters the gardener. In another, he is met in the shadow of the cedar tree, his gray cloak peeling away as the narrator approaches. Yet another translation of a Persian parable sets the story in a market, where death is mistaken as a woman. It’s fascinating, how the translation changes.