The exquisite ladies of Brandenburg
tried to control Baron Humperdansk’s anger,
though they well knew the reasons for that anger:
the Baroness, who was considered a happy woman in her castle
surrounded by gigantic fir trees,
rose very early at dawn, already dressed as an amazon,
drank her cup of Ethiopian brew standing up,
and said to the groom as her sole farewell:
“When the moment comes tell the Baron I have gone
to see what sort of thing this New World is
about which there’s so much talk now.”
The baron was informed of his misfortune at the precise hour
when each day he authorized his footmen to speak to him:
once the last peal of midday had faded,
from within his secret chamber he shook
a small golden handbell that resounded through the castle,
making the servants’ hair stand on end with terror.
“Give me the news of the day”, said the baron to the bailiff on duty.
The bailiff cleared his throat, stood there rigid, averting
his eyes from the granite face of Baron Humperdansk,
then spat it out:
“Today there is nothing else but to say the Lady Baroness
left at five thirty in the morning
on her sorrel horse Bucephalus, with instructions to tell
Your Excellency she is going to the New World”.
The Baron fixed his eyes on the park of fir trees surrounding the castle;
dumbstruck, with the glass shard of his tears
he pierced the trail open, then followed beyond it,
pursuing the sorrel as it trotted over the Brandenburg plains
and went on till he reached the shores of the ocean, where he unfurled
wide saffron-coloured sails, a boat ready to set sail for the distant islands,
those islands in whose reality only sailors trusting in John Mandeville believed
and Venetian cabin-boys of the well-renowned Lord of the Magic Carpet,
one Marco Polo.
The boat flew towards the islands and with it
Baron Humperdansk was dragged along by his hallucinated gaze.
Stuck like a dead albatross on his wide window above the forest,
the Baron witnessed strange ceremonies:
what an immense temple with white columns crowned in fans of greenery!
What purity of the sky! And how many dazzling regions of light in the clouds!
Is this the land foretold by the haughty navigators of Skaldlandia,
by old star-gazers of Egypt, by Persian augurers?
This delightful picture never seen before of sun on the leaves,
of air brushing the skin of space.
Everything there is made of diamond, everything shatters
into light, everything dazzles.
What island is this from which extraordinary fragrances reach Brandenburg,
and red squawks of unknown birds wake the castle’s fir trees,
and smoke clouds of a new incense rise into the mind, inflaming it?
What shining cathedral towers by the beach?
For it the most exquisite lady in Brandenburg has lost herself in happiness,
revered now among hymns and flowing dances
like a goddess offered by the sea,
revered by strange people, never seen in the forests of Europe?
And who are these naked young warriors endlessly singing such gentle melodies,
and these golden ladies dancing as they strike their tambourines to the beat?
What strange attire is on their heads, and these grooves of morbid flesh
on their sensual bodies, promising the warmth of a caress?
The Baron wept silently day after day, by night and at dawn,
and the exquisite ladies of Brandenburg would come into his room
to listen over and over to the tale of his hallucinations.
He spoke of perfectly crystalline rivers, of melodious red butterflies,
of birds that held conversations with men and laughed with them.
He spoke of types of wood that kept their fragrance forever,
of translucent flying fish, of mermaids,
and described trees that struck the roof of the sky with their trunks
and, transported in his dream to the other world, caught the buzzing
of tunes that had never echoed in the castle’s forests.
And he sang:
Senserení, the colour of water in the palm of your hand,
the taste of alleluia on a silver plate;
Senserení singing all through summer,
its golden feathers, its scarlet beak.
And once more he was wandering lost in his blissful sadness.
There he was, Baron Humperdansk,
glued to the wide window of bright pictures,
contemplating the life of his spouse
in that other distant paradise, surrounded
by lascivious youth, by priestly idols,
by pearl oysters and palm trees.
Till one day suddenly, just as the last peal of twelve died away,
when the footmen came in to sing the day’s news on a lute
(that Lady Mirandolina had miscarried,
that Piccolino Uccello had written a poem),
the joyous voice of the bailiff was heard saying:
“There is news, Lord Baron, that the Baroness is returning”. And next,
louder and louder the trotting of a sorrel horse sounded in everyone’s ears.
And she sped forward, there between the fir trees,
the goddess who had come from the islands.
Happily she rode up to the castle,
this woman who had left to consume herself in flames and be reborn
in the lands of the New World.
She entered the Baron’s chamber,
kissed the astonished man’s forehead, whispered strange words in his ear,
and with great ceremony she went to the window of distant prodigies:
there Baroness Humperdansk called to her
the exquisite ladies of Brandenburg and said:
“Bless me, women of Brandenburg,
look at my womb: I carry from the new World
the heir to this castle.”
And with the utmost courtesy the Baroness
invited the ladies to smoke some dark leaves
she had gathered on the islands.
The smoke clothed the chamber of the happy baron with small silver clouds.
Drunk with happiness,
he shook his small golden handbell, and ordered them to bring
the wines for the greatest feast days. All toasted
the child who soon would make the walls of the castle flourish anew.
Everyone danced, crazed with happiness.
And a strange thing in the forests of Brandenburg:
all remained chastely naked, wrapped in the smoke
brought back from the islands,
and they danced to the sound of an extraordinary music:
a music made with gold tambourines, with palm trees, with perfumes.