from Summer in Termuren

Context N°19

by Louis Paul Boon


A letter from you to tippetotje: it’s lonely on chapel road, tippetotje, just as your studio must be lonely now that your baron has died . . . it’s lonely here on chapel road in these march days, when the tender blossom of the approaching spring is already being snapped off by snow and hail and spring storms. March is a strange month, tippetotje . . . it’s the month I was born in, and it gave me something of its capriciousness, its restlessness and instability—it’s the month that presages spring, a new spring and a new sound, but that nips the life out of the first blossoms with ice and snow. It’s the time of march winds—and as you may remember (if you remember anything about termuren), the people of chapel road talk incorrectly of march “swings” instead of winds. And I assume they’re referring to the fact that the month keeps swinging first this way then that. That’s the kind of month I was born in, tippetotje, swinging first this way, then that—oh, my whole life has been 1 march swing, swinging first this way, then that . . . 1 march swing, full of expectancy about something that was always just about to happen, but never materialized: the spring, the earthly paradise, happiness, the golden age . . . I expected them, with my capricious nature, and then with my bitterness snapped off the first blossoms. And so I sit here lonely in this month of march and am writing you a letter because I’ve nothing else at all to write about—my days used to be full of writing . . . I wrote so much that I forgot about you, it escaped my notice when you hooked yourself a baron. Early in the morning the sun came from the north, and towards evening the sun came from the west, the shadows lengthened, and finally the lights had to go on, and I would sit there and write. And now, tippetotje, I stop and look round for the result of all that writing. And there is no result. The only change is that the paper that lay blank on my left now lies on my right covered in dead letters, the corpses of words . . . full of thoughts that are not My thoughts, or which I didn’t intend to write down. And I don’t know how it happened—I sat there and wrote, and whenever I saw the result afterwards I got upset, flew into a rage, stamped my feet and my eyes filled with tears: That’s not what I meant to say! I would cry out. And to myself I would say: that surely wasn’t what I dreamt in my loneliest, bitterest, most painful hours! Surely it was something quite different that I wanted to say! Why on earth is that? And the being hidden deep inside me, the being that’s really me, stamped its feet too and its eyes filled with tears too—and lamp in hand I’d like to climb up into those uninhabited attics, descend into those abandoned cellars, enter those never-visited rooms deep inside myself, would like to return with arms piled high with treasure to be poured out over the blank pristine pages. But lo and behold, as I write I lose everything that I retrieved from the depths and heights of my Self—and if, as I’m writing, I try to return to those rooms in my thoughts, I find all the doors shut. I should have written in a completely different way, tippetotje—and now, now it’s almost too late: now I’ve grown sick of writing, and the march wind of writing has changed . . . now I must tell you that I’m written out, that I don’t have a single thing left to say. Oh, how could that happen, tippetotje? I’ve nothing more to say, and I haven’t said anything yet: can you make sense of that? I sit here lonely, whimsical, full of march winds . . . and I look up and realize that you’ve left me. I’ll close my letter, just as the rooms inside of me have always been closed.

Translation by Paul Vincent


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