‘Nachbarn’ (‘Neighbours’) by Eduard Graf von Keyserling – Part One

The small valley was filling up with a clear gloaming. The rich meadows stretched out, robbed of colour, and the mountain stream, white in the descending shadows, began to roar more loudly.  It always raised its voice thus at this onset of evening quiet, eventually holding forth alone in the silence of the night.  From the direction of the lake, lying quiet and dark over behind the trees, a cool breeze blew.  Yet up at the mountain top there still hung a reddish evening glow.

The von Bassels, husband and wife, were returning from their walk, slowly, exhausted, their limbs heavy from the long, hot day and their lengthy wanderings.  They were walking not next to each other, but rather one in front of the other.  Oskar was several steps ahead of Dina, then he stopped dead, took his hat off and gazed up at the peak of the mountain, in the attentive manner of one determined to absorb an impression and internalise it.  Here in the country, he had let his blond beard grow out, his hair had also got fairly long.  From this attractive head, generally as carefully groomed as that of a diplomat, something of a poetic countenance had emerged.  Oskar was actually convinced that there was a poet somewhere inside him.  He had had poems published in magazines in his younger days, and now he constantly spoke of the plan for a major work that he carried inside him.  If only life would leave him enough time for it, but there was his position in the Treasury, there was society, he was popular, he was a man about town, he was a sportsman, where was the time for poetry supposed to come from?  But here in the country, this was the place for the poet in him to have his time.

Dina had stopped to look up at the mountains.

“Oh, look,” she said.

“What do you think I’m doing?” Oskar snapped back, and started to walk on.   This brief exchange had repeated itself on many an evening.  Every time the mountain tops grew red, Dina was unable to stop herself from saying: “Oh, look!”, and that put Oskar in a bad mood every time, as if it had ruined the sunset for him.  Yes, it probably did ruin it for him, Dina thought, for whenever they argued, Oskar delighted in saying: “I don’t know, you seem to distort my nature.”  Well, she probably distorted his sunset, too.  Yes, Dina was unhappy and couldn’t understand why that had to be the case.  She wanted so much to be happy, and to make him happy.  Yet it simply wouldn’t happen.  If Oskar’s life left him little time for his great poetic pursuits, it left him even less for Dina.  Everything took priority, his business, his pleasure, his girlfriends, and for Dina there merely remained the odd hour of tetchy, bitter, monosyllabic companionship.  There was nothing Dina could do about the tears and reproach and jealousy this all caused.

There were, of course, occasional scenes of reconciliation, which were wonderful holidays for Dina, yet these were soon forgotten.  It was after one of these scenes that they had decided on this stay in the country.  It was in this solitude, surrounded by the wonders of nature, that they hoped to find each other once more, it was here that Oskar wished to live what he had neglected, his poetry and his wife.  It had even been rather nice at first, although the manner in which Oskar expressed his kindness was slightly discomforting and caused Dina to be self-conscious.  But then Oskar ran into problems with his poem, he became bitter and Dina tearful, they either argued or remained silent, and Dina felt that the happiness she had finally believed to be in her grasp had escaped her once more.

She found everything around her sad and oppressive, these mountains, these sunny days, the strong, sweet fragrance of the meadows and the rich, complacent existence of the cows and people.  Most melancholy of all, though, was always this return stretch of their evening walks, when she and Oskar walked along so silently in single file.  Tiredness weighed heavily on her shoulders, the wild flowers she had picked wilted in her hot hand, and there was nothing, nothing in prospect that might her bring her even the slightest joy.  Back at the small farmhouse, their evening milk and the usual dull plate of cold cuts would be waiting for them, and then they would sit on the balcony, gazing out into the night, listening to its sounds, and Oskar’s silence would afflict her like bodily torture.  As she slowly trudged after him, Dina’s pretty round face, made for contented smiles and laughter, grew sorrowful, and everything young and blooming in it, which usually lent it its beauty, seemed to have vanished.

From the path through the woods, which led up from the lake, a second couple now turned onto the main road.  A youthful-looking man wearing a yellow cycling outfit, as narrow-shouldered as a boy, hat in hand, his thick, black hair blowing around in the evening breeze, had his right arm around a young woman.  She was extremely slim, dressed all in white, her uncovered hair, damp from the evening mist, hung over her brow.  She was leaning heavily on her companion as if she found it difficult to walk without support.

“That’s the couple staying downstairs,” said Dina.

“I can see that.” Oskar replied, eventually adding: “I don’t understand why you feel the need to describe to me everything that happens here.”

“That’s just what people do,” said Dina.

← Introduction     Part Two →

Translation © 2020 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.

The image of the author’s painting (1900), by Lovis Corinth, was sourced from the writer’s German-language Wikipedia page.

6 thoughts on “‘Nachbarn’ (‘Neighbours’) by Eduard Graf von Keyserling – Part One

  1. I just had to check ‘gloaming’. It’s one of those words I kind of knew but didn’t feel confident I was right. I was. As in ‘roaming in…’ What a good word to use at the opening of the story. He’s so good at capturing that mix of fractious and intimate in marriages of this kind; I really feel for poor Dina.


    1. Simon – I think I saw ‘gloaming’ as a possible choice and went for it, even if it’s a bit showy.
      As for poor Dina, well, it doesn’t take much to realise that Oskar’s not the nicest husband around 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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