Four Seasons

The text was translated within the seminar Introduction into Czech Literature at Charles University

Through the Gothic stained-glass window of the château shines the moon. Flashes of variegated light fall onto the mosaic floor, glaze the beautiful foliage of the tall rubber plants standing alongside the walls, reflect off the parapets covered with garnet-red samite intertwined with silver.

At the head of the chapel is an altar composed of a sculptural group, created by an artist’s hand, of Carrara marble. It is Christ and Mary Magdalene. Christ, a beautiful, sublime figure, sits swathed in the picturesque folds of a robe flowing downwards. Magdalene, her beauty graceful, kneels snuggled at his feet, with her face, in which boundless love and devotion are revealed, turned to him. Christ’s gaze is fixed on her, in his face commiseration and love are revealed, his lips as though they whisper tender words.

The door opens noiselessly and through them enters a delicate young girl of serene brow and countenanace. Timidly she looks round herself, then, clasping her hands together religiously, with downward eye, she kneels on the ground before the image. – She prays!

At this moment, the warbling of a nightingale in the garden bushes close to the window breaks the silence. He is singing his companion a lullaby. Sweeter and sweeter sounds his song. The leaves of the rubber plants quiver; blood rushes through the cold marble. From the slight bosom of the girl, sighs
are exuded.

Ever more ardently she prays! – These are no longer words contrived, prayers of entreaty or thanks, these are words of the most fervid adoration, which gush out from the quick like seething sources. – To Him her gaze is turned, to Him she raises her clasped hands; ever closer to Him she clings, and now she is on her knees next to Magdalene. Her slender arms wind around the beautiful woman’s inclined neck, her brow, clear, white as a petal from the flower of the water rose, leans on the waves of her abundant hair.

‘Oh Holy One, inspire my heart with your grace, that I might attain His favour!’ she whispers ardently, and it seems to her as though the white arm were given life, as though she were pressed by it to the charming bosom, to the ardent heart of the graceful woman. The girl’s heart trembles, she turns a wistful eye to His sublime countenance. It seems to her as if His lip smiles and His eye lingers on her with unspeakable love. The girl grows pale and blushes, she embraces His knees and under ardent kisses the marble softens.

Her face conceals itself in the picturesque folds of the white robe, bedewing it with tears. Why does the girl weep? – She knows not! – They are the tears of ignorant, sacrosanct craving!

The girl finds no peace in her small room; this entices her out into the silent May night. – Her heart beats intensly, she does not know what it is that weeps and sings within it!

In half-reverie she sits in the garden under the orange-tree, flower among flowers! Her white breast swells like the little breasts of snow-white pigeons nestling up to each other in the shelter of a tree. Her clasped hands lie in her lap, two bright stars observe themselves in her eyes.

And again the song of the nightingale sounds out through the grove; these sweet tones inflame the unspeakable desire in the girl’s heart.

The flowers exude a sweet fragrance, the leaves of trees rustle hushedly, the whorl of the rosebud is bursting with desire. Ever more longingly sings the nigtingale! – The girl leans her head against the tree, her eyes must be deceiving her!

The rose light diffuses around her, the grove and green sward come to life with animated stir. The trees incline towards each other, their sprigs embrace, whispering to each other secret legends of love. The birds awake, the male begins to sing and the female nestles up more closely to him, listening raptly. The playful breeze rouses the wavelets on the lake and the waves, stirred into motion, begin to rock the ‘water maidens’ sleeping in their white berths. – Their little sisters in little yellow skirts, like the ‘flower of the living fire’, soar up above them, dallying with the lightly-attired water dragonflies that had wound their way out of their embrace. At the water’s edge stands a languid willow; long, supple tresses of hair sway over her mournful cheek, her neck, and down to her heel.

What a resplendence of colours over the grass, what a whisper and hum! – This one is dressed up in a cloak glistening like sapphire, that one attired in the colour of gold, another in purple circumambulates and next to him santers a little Capuchin in a brown wing case. Fireflies like little miners put on a display with their little lights during these nocturnal merriments, standing in for the service of torch-bearers. – Light-minded butterflies, those sweettoothed flirts, circle round in courtly manner, in their beautiful, variegated cloaks, round various groups of little girls. Here one kisses, there he kisses, until finally dead-drunk all over with the honey of sweet mouths he lurches onto a green leaf to rest. There lies the devoted companion of his own kind, her head tied up in scarf; in vexation she rails at the happy-go-lucky philanderer. But he says to her: ‘Wish me these sweet delights, sister! Oh, well indeed, how short our life is; and should I not derive pleasure from it?’ – and he starts up to fly off to new delectations.

Oh! Who would not lose his heart to such heavenly girls!

What a delightful group of hyacinths in their white, pink and blue skirts full of scent! – Now the white lily raises herself above all her sisters, her majestic figure resembling Pallas Athene.

And the narcissi, they incline their little heads onto their little shoulders, observing everyone only with their round eyes like gazelles. – And whose breast exudes this lovely fragrance of which the grove is redolent? – It is expired from the breasts of the demure girls! – The tender lily-of-thevalley in airy white skirt wrasps itself up in green headcloth and the modest violet gathers all her leaflets onto her head that no one might see her. And yet they have found her! – A firefly comes flying in, lighting up the grove, shining into the girls’ eyes until they drop their gazes in shyness. – But the most delightful of all these girls is surely the rose! – Just look at her! Apparelled in a hundred petticoats, and not one superfluous! And what a color! – And how sweet her lip! – He who kisses it will not wish a sweeter kiss until his death! – See how the rose-chafer rests intoxicated on her breast and the sweet-toothed butterfly flies round her? – Indeed, even the doltish dung-beetle turns his gaze on her amorously! – But not everyone may kiss her with impunity! – Lady Venus, her protector, endowed her not only with intoxicant honey, but sharp thorns too. The wounds of the injured by them do
not heal with ease!

More desirous sounds the nightingale’s song, a higher purple glazes the sky. Stars glitter through the purple like emeralds, diamonds, rubies and topazes. One pursues another, never catching up, in eternal gyrations!

The girl’s breast expands with a longing never yet felt; at this moment an apparition of beguiling beauty reveals itself before her wonder-struck gaze!

A flower grows up before her, a flower of unprecedented beauty; white lashes of anthers like the gushes of a waterfall, the bloom on them the dazzle of diamonds, pour over the leaves, sprigs and stem of silver, gold, of crimson calyces. On the surface of the plant, in the umbel of the ruby flowers, stands a maiden of sublime beauty, enveloped in a white, translucent robe, around her luminous brow glitter bands woven from the stars.

The leaves of the tree sway and issue tones melodic as the sound of a harp, as the songs of angels!

The eulogies of birds blend into these heavenly harmonies, all nature rejoices, the breath of love thrills through it.

‘What wonders are these? – What is happening to me?’ whispers the girl in transportation, throwing herself onto her knees before the serene goddess.

– And the goddess inclines to her, and presses a kiss on her brow. – ‘Yours evermore’, whispers the maiden, blesse, sinking in intoxication into the green sward!

What is the meaning of this clamour and racket, what is this rabble of people? – To where are they leading the maiden in the white dress, the wreath of myrtle? – Why does her family lament her? – Are they perhaps going to burn her at the stake? – Or perhaps in the temple the high priest waits with raised knife, to excise the fervent, vestal heart of the maiden, placing it as sacrifice onto the altar to a cold god?

Perhaps the maiden thinks thus, that her leg, stepping across the threshold of the temple, trembles and her cheek goes pale? – But is a ceremony of love not meant to be performed, the cleaving of two loving hearts?

And in the temple the priest welcomes them in gold-brocade, crowned bridesmaids, sonorous fanfares, a horde of spectators, burning candles, the kneeler enveloped in red! – The bride pales and wanes, her lip languishes!

Beautifully the priest speaks of duties, of matrimonial faithfulness, of subservience, but the bride does not listen; her soul dwells among the high rubber plants, at the feet of the sublime image, which preaches to her a sermon of divine, free love, with which there is no need of promises or oaths!

The priest has finished speaking. From the bride he requests an oath, the oath that she wants, with the man who holds her hand in his, that she wants to go through life with him, to be with him for better, for worse, until death. That she wants patiently to endure whatever he might impose on her, to deny herself at all times, voluntarily to become a slave! –

Through the church resounds a dolorous ‘I do’ – and the gold band, the inseparable band, is turned around the hand of the bride. – Oh bride, alas!

– What have you done in ignorance! – You have sinned! – To another you have given your soul, to another your body, and the devil has folded you whole into his arms! There is eating and drinking, singing and dancing, all for the happiness and prosperity of the husband and wife. – The bride must come into the circle too! – She throws herself into it as though she wants to perish in the wild swirl, as though she wants to escape from herself. – A voice sounds in her ear: ‘Come with me!’

A shiver runs down her, she forgets that she is ornamented with a crown of myrtle, and she says defiantly: ‘I will not go!’ – ‘You must, you are mine!’ sounds the reply. The bride kneels at the window. Behind her stands the bridal bed, the grinning face of the satyr draws back the curtains. – Is the bride listening to the music? – Is she praying? – Does her breast heave with desire?

She does not hear music, she does not pray, her heart hardly beats. The moon and stars shine wanly. – It is sad in the garden! – The bride recollects the resplendent heavens, the May night!

She sees before her the enchantingly beautiful apparition, the nymphlike maiden smiles at her; – but it is another’s lip that inclines to her, into another’s arms she involuntarily falls, and the apparition disappears, the goddess’s starbright headcloth is wrapped up in the grey mist.

In the morning at daybreak she gets up from the bed a wan woman. Confusedly she looks around herself; she sees the virgin bed stained by the man who has remained alien to her soul, she sees the crumpled bridal gown, the withered wreath!

The sky is grey; the landscape is covered in snow, and from the trees the yellow leaves – like the hopes of a disappointmented heart – fall one after another. – The woman shakes, hot tears fall onto the wreath and, bringing herself to her knees, she prays: ‘Holy Mary Magdalene, stand by me!’

Wrapped in a black veil, the woman walks up the hill. The way is steep, craggy, slippery. Het foot is chafed to the blood, her clothes soiled. Beslobbered with the saliva of slinking vermin, – torn by the thorns and thistles.

On the ground there is no green, in the sky there is no light. Heavy gloom surges around the woman, overshadowing her path. Underfoot she sees an abyss and wild currents of a river rolling in it. Tormented to death, she stands weary at the crossroads! – And where is the hand that would lead her, that would show her: ‘This way!’ – Nowhere. – She must proceed alone, and always alone.

Despairingly she looks into the roaring waves. – ‘Would it not be better to cast myself into the cold current, to sate these desires in one stroke, to heal my burning pains and wounds?’ she says to herself. ‘Wherefore creep through life further? – For what? – Where is the goal of my journey? – Where is any satisfaction, coalescence? –

The irresistible desire impels me here and there; I would like to bathe my brow in the fires of the sun’s rays at one turn, immerse it into the depths of the sea at another, and on the pinions of the winds I would like to orbit the world! – With ardent love I embrace the world; I give love to people – and they – with a pin they lacerate my heart! – My veneration of love they call a sin; for my love of freedom – they crucify me, – when I speak the truth, it is evil, and if I tell a lie, they rail at me! – How can I bear it? – My shoulders are not titantic! – I am a weak woman – I am sick, I am a sinner! In ignorance I sinned against you, my holy love! – I did not go unpunished!

– I did penance! – And now, purged through the flame of pain, brought to understand, I throw myself at your feet, almighty, holy love! Accept your child in your mercy! Send me down a star that would illuminate my path!

– Holy Mary Magdalene, entreat for me!’

The woman raises her arms to the heavens, her black veil falls from her head, her brow is lit, the gloom disperses. A pink light diffuses round about, in the sky the sun, the moon and the stars glisten, the earth apparels itself in green, flowers exude a sweet fragrance, from the mountain the harmonious tones of the bewitching tree ring out like the sound of a harp, the sonority of the songs of angels, the warbling of the nightingale!

The nymphlike maiden inclines to the woman, takes her up in her arms and carries her to a luminous throne, where the woman sees her majestic image in its living beauty!

And coming to meet her are beautiful figures with brows bathed in rays, welcoming her, calling her ‘sister’!

And one of them, the most beautiful, enveloped in strands of hair shining like gold, kneels with her at His feet, rejoicing with ardent countenance: This is our God! – This God is Love! Love and you will be saved!

Written to my dear friend Josef Frič from Božena Němcová

For New Year 1856