Sing mir das Lied vom Leben und vom Tode… by Dagny Juel Przybyszewska

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Now he was dead.

She was sitting motionless, looking curiously down on the pale face with those dead eyes.

How he had loved her! His love had girdled her regally, had put an invisible queen's crown on her head, a crown that all could sense, that all would bow for. The beams of his eyes had spun a diadem over her brow, worn more proudly than any royal ruler. She had been a queen in love's domain, for never had any man loved a woman higer than he had her.

And now he was dead.

Never again would she read in his eyes that she was the pivotal sun around which the earth revolved. Never again would she sense the scent of the flowers that his love cultivated around her. The flowers had wilted, and death's bony hand had torn off the queen's crown.

She was sitting, looking on the departed's quiet face and thought of everything he had given her — and how little she had given him in return.

He was dead, and she was sitting tearless, watching his rigor mortis face that earlier had radiated happiness on her. She felt at ease, almost happy. She stretched her arms out and took a deep breath, as if liberated from an embarrassing thought.

Ah, the flowers of his love's garden had grown too luscious around her, their scent had taken her breath away, the vines had engirdled her waist until her hands and feet were tied.

There were always a thousand questions in his eyes: Do you love me? Do you love me now? Do you love me like this? … She had felt like a debtor who could not pay it off. She had felt humiliated, disgraced by his great, unfathomable passion that she could not feel herself.

And now he was dead, and she delightfully stretched her arms out like someone waking from a nightmare.

He had set an ivy-infested wall around her to make her see only him, him. Now she would tear it down and open up for all winds.

And time passed.

She seldom thought of he who was dead, and longed not for the past. She was young, and her beauty was of that diverse and shifting kind that catches and captures the imagination. Her smiles were full of riddles, and many desired to decipher them.

But her longings travelled wide and far, and her smiles reflected the echoes of her thoughts. She enjoyed the unfettered precariousness of her emotions, the eternal ebb and flow of her thoughts.

No eagle for her, whose proud wings could have taken her to the sky, and no nightingale either, to sing of her beauty. She would rather fill her life with the rainbow-colored cobweb of her own dreams.

And time passed.

And one day her longings began to seek a target, an abyss to delve. Then came a day when her heart began longing for the strong beat of another. And with a wistful fear she would look into any eyes that sought hers.

Then one day she was struck by a gaze. It burned her like a flame. She closed her eyes, confused, dazzled.

She recognized this gaze that forced her to her knees with its heavy tenderness. She had felt this flame around her heart before.

But where? When?

And days and nights she would ponder this riddle, these eyes that filled her with horror, but also a sick longing she had never felt before.

And in a flash she knew… It was his eyes! His! The eyes of the dead! It was the eyes of the man who had loved her so much that the beating of his love's wings had followed her life after his death.

Did he come to ask if she had really let him fall like a wilted leaf, if she had buried her memory of him and his lovemaking along with his stiffened body?

No, she would not return that challenging gaze, she would not be reminded of her debt. And she avoided all gazes so she wouldn't meet this single one with its flaming question she would not seek an answer to.

And time passed.

The questioning eyes had disappeared again from her life. Again they were closed against life's sorrow and wrath. No longer did she ponder the mournful challenge of those eyes.

Then one day she heard his voice.

She turned pale with fear. Whence came this voice? His voice?

No, no, it was not true. It was the somber song of the sea that had awakened a memory in her it in the sea, in the ground beneath her feet, in the big black mountains. And now she sensed his sick heart, filled with love, beating inside her own. And she sensed how he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into this heart that could not die because it was too full of love.

And she heard only him, saw only him, him, everywhere. She felt his hand grip hers, she heard his voice whisper over and over that she was everything for him, that no death, no grave could prevent him from following her forever, into eternity.

She had looked into these eyes that had always sought in her a glow, a passion they had never found. She had felt his feverish pulse in her own veins, his wildly beating heart in her own bosom — and now she was gripped by that same sick, remorseless longing for him, for his physical closeness, his passion, she was gripped by the same unquenchable yearning that had poisoned his life.

She curtsied, then, for his memory, the memory of his great love. She built a shrine for him in her heart, and all her great dreams, her pain and her longing she let like incense engulf his image, the image of the man whose love after death had conquered her heart, that after death had bequeathed her his own yearning's fateful gift.

First published 1899. This translation is based on the text as published in 'Samlede tekster' (1996). June 2024. Contact info: