Imants Ziedonis. Epifānijas. 1978.
this is my contribution to this time of traditional latvian whatever they think is proper to do in the graveyards. a translation with some elements of adaptation, on the revelation of then and there, which somehow also is here and now. epiphanies rule.
Sometimes I feel graveyards need a reform. They look very beautiful in our parts, but their sole purpose is to get people think of the misery of life. What do those numbers of birthdates and deathdates tell you? It is a miserable sum, four-digit numbers minus other four digits. The whole life expressed in two digits: 25, 60, 83; and it does not matter who they were. Could have been and idiot, or a politician, or a fingersmith. So I am told that here lieth Karlis, 52 years, mourned by whomever. Besides him, one can see Justines, Mudites, Alfreds and Michaels, all have lived for a while, and all are mourned. People express their mourning identically, in one sentence, throughout the graveyard. Wherever you look, you read: “Dear deceased will be held in loving memory by the family”. What a faceless and horrible card-index! It appears that people prove the poverty of their memory by creating card indexes on crosses and headstones in their graveyards. Or maybe the dead ones have merited so simple an entry. Imagine a card index, containing only:
1) name, surname
2) years of life
3) in loving memory, mourned by, will be missed etc.
There is no sign, no word, no formula, no code that this is the place where a whole life, a whole encyclopaedia lies buried! Seriously, go home and do your mourning, dear mother.
I wanted to see those distant fields,
I wanted to listen to songs of the lark.
But it got dark.
My heart stopped beating.
He wanted that, all of us want something. Go home and do your mourning, dear mother! But here, put a star on your son’s grave! He must have had one? Put his shout of joy on his grave! He must have had one! If not, put his anger there. This is a public graveyard; I come here to visit my dead. I want to know what made him go off in indignation. Ok, he had no star of joy, no indignation. Maybe he had the fire of a bookworm or football player instead?
This one felt deep, and that one felt strongly. That one had a handsome face, and that one – a heart of gold. That one was a great speaker in his day, make a pulpit his monument, or make a monument that looks like an open mouth, so his followers can put their wreaths and flowers in it. That one collected friends in his life, and this one collected beer labels. So write the names of his friends about the name of the first one on his monument, and his friends will take it easy – unless they are superstitious, that is.
Glue beer labels on the monument of the latter, if this was the essence of his life, and so on. Let us enter the graveyards as if they were an enormous exhibition of passions and thoughts. It is impossible to compare any exhibition on earth with this Exhibition of All Souls, where huge letters upon entrance say: CREDO – they will be pale graveyards of passing, ephemeral, brief things.
This is how I reform graveyards. I erase the names and surnames, mournings and births, and death numbers, because they express nothing – and the entire graveyard becomes uniform. So place your flowers anywhere, on this grave of Janis or Peter or Anderson or Smelev, I tell those that bring flowers – place them anywhere, on any grave in this impersonal graveyard, where zeroes are zeroes even in front of death himself. See, the headstones are empty.
Then write the words there – those words he found himself: words of suffering, happy and unhappy words; but they have to come of his own tablets of law. Those can be lines of music. Maybe formulae. Maybe the signatures of his students, one or two out of a hundred – whatever fits. Write the formula of his personality on that headstone, create his personality code. You don’t now it? Then what is the point in bringing those flowers? Just because it is proper? Then write this on the cross: ‘He taught me to be proper because it is proper,’ – or – ‘He taught me to simulate love.’
But maybe he left his own epitaph in his will, as he knew you would never understand his life, and would not be able to understand his CREDO, nor encode it in a formula. It is not there? The will tells of property, but not movements of soul? Then I don’t know. Then think of your own last will, consider what words you would write on your own headstone. Because it might well be that in 50 years when you last hour will come, sociology will have developed a new branch – epitaphology. It would study the documentation of your life – what social and ethical values could be coded in the ornament of your headstone; they would determine whether you be buried in the graveyard – the great exhibition and library – or outside the wall as a pagan or one soul-less. And you will be awarded eternal rest and eternal life just like today you get special awards or simply retirement benefit. The only thing you will have to prove is – that the next generations will find the inscriptions on your headstone interesting.
I understand you, wife. He was your husband. And that is the only excuse for his life. You loved each other, but your love has no proof; you have no children (and children do not always show love). I know you cannot write this in the cold stone – how you trembled from his touch, how he cared for you all of your days – it is ephemeral indeed, gone, vanished. But then, leave your images in the polished stone – from the bright eyes of the youth, till the despair of his death day on your face. Love has greater value than any nuclear science or astronomy, and love is the hardest to leave, prove or code. Love has no sign of its own. Love is too large for all signs and every sign.
Write simple words, write the truth. If he was a cheat, hide it not. Because he had a truth pf his own, important for the others, when they construct a truth of their own.
“He never returned debts.”
“He had more children than his wife bore him.”
“She did not press the toothpaste from the end, she pressed it in the middle; she put her spoon in the middle of the soup, and all her life had neither end nor border.”
This, too is an expression of a person. A brief summary of life.