The Hill that Sang

Skalbe Main

(Kalns, kas dziedāja)

The wayfarer had walked over many a country, there had been villages and there had been towns. Dust had gathered on his shoes and clothes, but he did not care. He felt he had seen it all – it did not matter, a hill it was or a valley. Dust-covered, he was rambling through the world, until he came to a place where a wonderful change took over his perception. All the things looked like he saw them for the first time. All seemed to him to be young and new as when he opened his eyes to the world for the first time. Was he approaching his childhood again, or was it something that he had not seen before, something that was more marvellous still, something that a tender sensation was telling him about? All was precious to him, as if it could get lost forever. His steps slowed down; he wanted to caress every grass-blade on the roadside. It was the same way with the others who walked this path. An elderly couple – two grey heads that kept close to each other – stopped by a budding birch-tree, it touched them with its long green hair-twigs, and they were showing the faraway white cloud to each other. They would walk and then sit on the roadside, their faces were lifted towards heaven, and they seemed to be preparing for something, to expect something.

The road climbed uphill with ease, and then broke off. And there lay an abyss, a tiny cloud of haze floating over it.

Whoever came to that place would clap his hands and exclaim – ‘Wonderful!’- And then fall down into the crevasse. Maybe it was a wonderful picture of happiness floating there with the cloud, to confuse the travellers, and everyone would jump without thinking to reach it; maybe that was the delusion of this place, maybe they really saw something there – nobody knows anything about it, because nobody has come back from there.

Following the spring flowers scattered over the hillside, the wayfarer directed his steps along a narrow sandy path leading to the river. The brown waves were throwing golden rings of reflection in the sun.

The wayfarer sat down on a stone and watched the road that went uphill.

A rider at a full gallop disappeared behind the hill as if evaporating: his horse had not seen the abyss underfoot.

Then there came a bride, in her wreath, she extended her arms as if to meet her beloved, and disappeared.

It all seemed so unbelievable, and still it was happening right before his eyes. There was a kind of magic in the hill. It was confusing to the wayfarer.

He stood up from the stone, and then lay down, resting his back against the sun-warmed slope of the hill, covered with tiny blades of mist-like spring grass.

The wayfarer nestled up to the ground that breathed peace, goodwill and the smell of fresh grass onto him.

All the things became live near the abyss; they obtained a new glory there.

He looked at all things with new eyes – at the ladybird that was sitting on his arm and moved its brown wings toward a flight; every little bit of the world spoke to him. He spoke to the butterflies that wove their yellow ribbons of flight around the dark eaves of the forest – so fast and happy was their way.

Happy, he pressed his cheek to the ground, and it seemed to him that the hill was singing. No, it was not his own heart that sung! From the depth of the hill ascended something like song of exultation and groan, the sounds oozed through the soil like honey through the honeycomb. They lured and frightened, and the wayfarer looked round him in alarm.

There he saw an elderly shepherd, coming, grazing his sheep by the riverside on the new grass.

‘Tell me, friend, – where do the sounds come from? They are so sad and so happy. Do you hear them, too?’ The wayfarer asked the shepherd.

‘Yes, I hear them every day, even if it all happened so long ago,’ the shepherd answered, nodding towards the hill. ‘Many years ago, – I was but a lad then, – I was grazing my sheep here by the hillside, as I do today. Then all of a sudden, I look up – there is a harper walking uphill. A golden harp is in his hand, and the wind blows in his hair. He comes to the brink of the abyss and stretches his arms like a swimmer about to dive, his harp falls out of his hands, I hear it fall down into the depth with a twang, and the sounds sadly pass through the hill like pain through my old body. The harper disappears, but – all the summers I have been herding my sheep here – the harp still sings, as if it be immortal.

‘I have time enough to listen to it. Sometimes it sings of boundless happiness, sometimes prays to be let out into the sunlight, and I feel the hill as a heart that wants to break with pain. It sounds sweetest and most painful in spring when all things become alive and lively. Then I take my sheep here. Maybe the harp does not want to be alone and wants to have someone to listen to it…’

The shepherd hung his head and fell silent.

The hill sang.

Skalbe Main


© Translation Lauma T. Lapa