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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Emile Verhaeren (1855–1916)

The Silence

From ‘Les Villages Illusoires’: Translation of Alma Strettell

EVER since ending of the summer weather,

When last the thunder and the lightning broke,

Shattering themselves upon it at one stroke,

The Silence has not stirred there in the heather.

All round about stand steeples straight as stakes,

And each its bell between its fingers shakes;

All round about with their three-storied loads,

The teams prowl down the roads;

All round about where’er the pine woods end,

The wheel creaks on along its rutty bed,

But not a sound is strong enough to rend

That space intense and dead.

Since summer, thunder laden, last was heard,

The Silence has not stirred;

And the broad heath-land where the nights sink down,

Beyond the sand-hills brown,

Beyond the endless thickets closely set,

To the far borders of the far-away,

Prolongs It yet.

Even the winds disturb not as they go

The boughs of those long larches, bending low

Where the marsh-water lies,

In which Its vacant eyes

Gaze at themselves unceasing, stubbornly;

Only sometimes, as on their way they move,

The noiseless shadows of the clouds above,

Or of some great bird’s hovering flight on high,

Brush It in passing by.

Since the last bolt that scored the earth aslant,

Nothing has pierced the Silence dominant.

Of those who cross Its vast immensity,

Whether at twilight or at dawn it be,

There is not one but feels

The dread of the Unknown that It instills;

An ample force supreme, It holds Its sway,

Uninterruptedly the same for aye.

Dark walls of blackest fir-trees bar from sight

The outlook towards the paths of hope and light;

Great pensive junipers

Affright from far the passing travelers;

Long narrow paths stretch their straight lines unbent,

Till they fork off in curves malevolent;

And the sun, ever shifting, ceaseless lends

Fresh aspects to the mirage whither tends


Since the last bolt was forged amid the storm,

The polar Silence at the corners four

Of the wide heather-land has stirred no more.

Old shepherds, whom their hundred years have worn

To things all dislocate and out of gear,

And their old dogs, ragged, tired-out, and torn,

Oft watch It, on the soundless lowlands near,

Or downs of gold beflecked with shadows’ flight,

Sit down immensely there beside the night.

Then, at the curves and corners of the mere,

The waters creep with fear;

The heather veils itself, grows wan and white;

All the leaves listen upon all the bushes,

And the incendiary sunset hushes

Before Its face his cries of brandished light.

And in the hamlets that about It lie,

Beneath the thatches of their hovels small,

The terror dwells of feeling It is nigh;

And though It stirs not, dominating all.

Broken with dull despair and helplessness,

Beneath Its presence they crouch motionless,

As though upon the watch—and dread to see,

Through rifts of vapor, open suddenly

At evening, in the noon, the argent eyes

Of Its mute mysteries.