by HANS CAROSSA, translated by Elizabeth Mayer and Muriel Rukeyser
TO KEEP and conceal may be, in times of crisis,
a godly service. No one's too weak for this.
I have heard often about our ancestress,
who was a stupid child, learning her lessons
slowly. In time the village turned
the cattle over to her, and she loved her labor.
Until, in a darkened spring, the war-ghost came.
The arrogant strange leader rushed with his army
across our country and over the frontier.
One evening they heard distant insistent drums.
The farmers ran and stared at each other in the road.
The girl was silent; but her still spirit planned
the act which reaches our village now as legend.
She stole by night from farm to farm unchaining
in every stable the finest most perfect beasts
and led them from that village, chained in dreams.
Not a dog barked; animals knew the girl.
She drove the herd through town and off the highway
past fragrant reaches to the mountain pastures'
deep meadows; and she talked to her animals;
they were quieted by the voice of the wise child.
A bellow would have betrayed their hiding place;
they were never betrayed to the terrible enemy
ransacking their village. And for a long time
she lived in this way, on milk and bitter berries.
At home they listed her among the missing,
lost in the meadows of the underworld.
One day the last of the soldiers left the land,
the soft land lay, green in the light of peace.
And then she gathered her leaves and flowers, and singing
led the wreathed marvellous herd down from the forests;
and the new-born calves leapt along in the field.