From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 1, pages 61-66


we were going around in a circle and that the arbor surrounded yet another, perhaps more impressive circular room. We had made our way back to the gateway and it seemed the old man was about to escort me out. My eyes were still drawn to a golden fence, which lay at the center of this wondrous garden and to which I assumed we would eventually arrive, yet the old man confined our tour to the wall and blocked our passage to the center. As he was about to open the gate I respectfully said to him, you've been exceedingly kind to me but may I make one final request before I leave? May I see the golden fence, which seems to take up a broad inner circle within the garden? — "I'd be most happy to take you there," he responded, "but I must set down a few conditions." — And what are those? I replied hastily. — "You must leave your hat and sword here and you must not withdraw your hand from me as I lead you." I will gladly comply, I stated. I laid my hat and sword on the first available stone bench. He firmly took my left hand in his right and led me forward with a certain amount of force. As I approached the fence my wonder turned to astonishment. I had never seen anything like it before. On a high marble base stood countless spears and pikes, which because of their strangely designed upper edges joined together to form a circle. I peered through this grating and saw gently flowing water confined on both sides by marble. In the clear depths I saw a large number of gold and silver fishes,


which swiftly appeared then disappeared, darting about individually and then forming schools. Now I wanted to look past the canal to see what the heart of the garden was like. To my great distress I found that there was a similar fence on the other side of the water but this time there were ornaments fitted between the spears and pikes in such a way that one could not see through to the other side no matter where one positioned himself. Moreover the old man hindered me by holding on to me firmly, thus restricting my ability to move freely. My curiosity was aroused by what I had already seen. I gathered my courage to ask the old man if I could go over there. — "Why not?" he replied. "But there are new conditions." — As I asked him what they were he informed me I would have to change my clothes. I was happy to comply. He led me back to the wall and a small, clean room where various pieces of clothing, resembling oriental costumes, were hung. I changed quickly. To my utter shock he beat the powder out of my hair before placing a net on it. Now I stood before a large mirror and saw how handsome I looked in my costume. It pleased me much more than my stiff Sunday outfit. I made a few gestures and leaps as I had seen them performed by dancers at the festival theater. I looked in the mirror and saw a niche behind me. On its white base hung three green cords interlaced in a pattern I could not discern from this distance. I turned around


somewhat quickly and asked the old man about the niche and the cords. He graciously brought one of the cords down and showed it to me. It was green silk of firm heft connected at both ends by a green leather band with two slits cut through it. It looked to be a tool for an unwelcome task. It gave me pause and I asked the old man what it was for. He answered openly and good naturedly. It's used on those who betray the trust given to them so readily. He replaced the cord in its niche and requested that I follow him. This time he did not grasp me so I was free to step along side him.

My curiosity was piqued to see where the gateway was through the fencing and where the bridge was so we could cross the canal. Up to this point I had not been able to figure it out. I got a good look at the fence as we stood before it but then my eyes seemed to deceive me. The spears, lances, halberds and pikes began to rattle and shake as their points came together in the way they would have when two ancient armies opposed one another. I could hardly bear the visual distortion and the sound of clanging, which ended abruptly as the weapons collapsed around the canal to form the most wondrous bridge anyone could imagine. Now I was able to see the magnificent colors of a garden parterre. There were intertwining paths of greenery which led one to think of a labyrinth.


The borders contained short, woolly, mature plants, which I had never seen before. All had flowers with every section displaying a different color, outlining a path which was easy to follow. It was a delicious sight which held my eyes as I enjoyed full sunshine. However I wasn't sure where I should step. The winding paths were clearly marked off with sand as blue as a dark sky or a sky reflected in water. Thus I walked with my eyes directed towards the ground, close to my guide until at last I was in the middle of a beet and flower circle filled with cypress or poplar-like trees. One couldn't see past these trees because their lowest branches seemed to hang close to the ground. Without having to urge me on, my guide led me to the center. I was surprised as we stepped past the trees to see the colonnades of a beautiful garden structure with symmetrical facades and entrances on either side. What impressed me even more than the beauty of the building was the heavenly music coming from it. I believe I first heard a lute, then a harp, then a zither, however it soon sounded like a strumming different from any of those three instruments. The gate through which we entered opened with the old man's lightest touch. I was astonished as I saw the female gatekeeper step out. She looked just like the small maiden who danced on my fingers in my dream. She greeted me as though we were already acquainted and asked me


to come in. The old man remained behind and I entered with her into a beautifully decorated short hallway to a central room with a magnificent cathedral arch ceiling which drew my eye and filled me with wonder. But my eyes couldn't stay there long because they were attracted to a charming stage. On a carpet right under the middle of the dome sat three women in a triangle, each dressed in different colors - one in red, one in yellow and the third in green. The chairs were gilded and the carpet was a complete flowerbed. In their arms were the three instruments I heard outside. Disturbed by my arrival they had stopped their performance. — "Welcome!" said the middle woman facing the door in the red dress with the harp. "If you are a lover of music, have a seat next to Alerte * and listen." Now I saw a somewhat long bench on which a mandolin lay. The spritely girl picked it up, sat down and drew me to her side. Then I saw the second woman to my right. She wore the yellow dress and had a zither in her hand. The harp player had a dignified appearance with broad features and majestic demeanor. In the zither player one could perceive a light and cheerful being. She was slim and blond while the other had dark brown hair. The complexity and melodious nature of their music could not keep me from noticing the third beauty in the green dress, whose lute playing elicited touching and enticing feelings in me. She was the one who had paid the most attention to me and she seemed to direct her performance towards me now.


Only I couldn't figure her out. First she seemed tender, then strange, candid and then stubborn as her demeanor and her playing changed. First she wanted to entice me and then to tease me. She could have sat anywhere she wanted but she would have gotten little from me because my small neighbor sat elbow to elbow with me, keeping me all to herself. Plus when I recognized each of the three women clearly from the sylphs of my dream and the color of the apples I knew that I had no reason to engage them. I might have been happy to embrace the pretty girl had I not remembered all too well the slap she gave me, which woke me from my dream. Until now she had quietly held her mandolin but once her mistresses ceased playing they ordered her to play a lively little tune. Scarcely had she finished strumming some rousing dance melodies when she sprang into the air. I did the same. She played and danced and I was encouraged to follow her footsteps. We danced a kind of small ballet and the women seemed pleased with it. When we stopped the women ordered the girl to provide me with some refreshment until dinner was ready. I had completely forgotten that any other place existed outside this paradise. Alerte led me back to the door through which I had entered. To the side were two well-furnished rooms. In the one in which she resided she provided me with oranges, figs, peaches and grapes. I enjoyed these fruits of foreign lands and even ate those not yet in season with great relish. There were sweets everywhere and she filled a goblet of polished crystal with sparkling wine, however


Go to pages 67-72


Text provided by the Lockwood Library, State University of New York at Buffalo.
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks