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The Literature Collection

Sillanpää, Frans Eemil, 1888-1964 / People in the summer night; an epic suite (1966)

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[chapter 44]

  [p. 141]  


Happy the man who, with set purpose, approaches his home at nightfall, knowing that his wife and children are safely awaiting him; if they have fallen asleep, they at once receive the head of the family into their own warmth when they awake. A man nearing his home like this pays little attention to the conditions or happenings of nature's dream life; his gait is just a little quicker than when he comes in the daytime, but it is quite steady — he is heading for home and he gets there; the open door almost pushes him inside. And after that the walls, windows, doors, and ceilings, the whole dwelling, chimney and all, are like a drowsy mother bird, under whose wing the last errant chick has just crept twittering.

It would be out of place to say of a wanderer in the still, summer night, especially one who is alone, that he is in any way unhappy. If an isolated house, having taken its last inmate under shelter, is like a mother, then so is the whole expanse of the summer night with its earth and sky; in its embrace even the most unhappy mortal, at least if he is alone, will always rest in one way or another. To a northerner, his homeland then wears its dearest expression of all. The ground beneath his feet is mother earth, from which he has come and to which he will return, and in something like the pale, boundless sky above his head he hopes his spirit will   [p. 142]   one day awaken. For a man moving about aimlessly at night, the greatest unhappiness is perhaps if he is not aware of this deliverance from his pain. But then it is seldom that such a person gives his pain to the spirit of the summer night.

There is nevertheless a quiet feeling of sadness about seeing a man who comes home like this at night, only to make his way out again after a moment into that same night and go off roaming, apparently at random. Such a man, however quiet and gentle, is very much more disturbing than one who makes a noise as he returns. Even in the night's waking spirit there is something that sleeps — and it is aroused when such a restless wanderer is abroad. The house he has left seems to gaze after him, and its motherly eye shuts no more in a doze but stays listlessly open to await the morning. Just as active old people, having once been disturbed, cannot get to sleep again that night.

Having got as far as the familiar path that led around the corner of the house where he lived, the artist slowed his pace, yet his progress this time was not aimless. He seemed to be quietly searching for something, though in these woods with their mixed and even growth it seemed unlikely that he would find anything special. He stopped on the path, and his eyes — with the same expression that had seemed to be listening on the lake not long before — were now really watching; watching the floor of the forest, which, covered with moss and fern, stretched away and disappeared somewhere beneath the tangled undergrowth, the mossy stumps, and the trunks of the trees themselves. Damp-smelling, vague in substance, more shadowy than the night without, that same forest floor seemed merely to exist, immovably. It by no means "looked at" the solitary wanderer, nor did it change in the slightest under his gaze. Whoever left   [p. 143]   the road and gave himself up to its power was surely not in the mood to expect anything.

With extended gaze the artist left the path and took several steps into the forest. Then he stopped. His narrow range of vision moved forward in exact proportion to his own advance. Unreflectingly he took a few more steps, stopped, and went on again. He looked behind him — the road was lost to view. He looked about him — saw a distance of several arms' lengths in each direction — noticed that he was standing in the center of a confined circle, bounded vaguely by a gloomy, absolute hopelessness. The piece of sky that gleamed above it was only a tiny patch with ragged edges and gave no conception of the sky as a whole — no more than a patch of skin visible through a tear in a garment, however white and smooth, gives any conception of the divine whole of which it is perhaps a part.

There he stood — and a part of his consciousness was in tune with that gloomy forest floor. "Why are you roaming about like this? What difference will it make? Why, this time you are very puny. You know quite well that you won't set about anything very special in any case. Why do you stand there looking like that in the middle of a half-swampy wilderness?"

Thus spoke one part of his consciousness, and it was as if even the cramped range of vision had this time joined in, had said the same.

The man walked on again; he seemed to be looking for a suitable spot, and having found it, he sat down. Like Mettälä-Jukka recently, the artist sat down on a tussock. There things felt more natural; those recent questions from his own inner self emerged no longer. Merely a quiet awareness of himself, divorced from all happening. Not even a bird was stirring in this kind of forest, not a night moth nor   [p. 144]   any other insect. Only the smell prevailed, the particular damp, earthy smell of the forest. Here one could do anything at all; there was no eyewitness to make one feel shy or ashamed.

And gradually, gradually the face of the man sitting on the tussock began slightly, slightly to twist, while the widened, childish gaze stared fixedly at something nonexistent. At one point one might have thought the facial expression to be a crazy grin; had one known nothing of what went before and after, one would have taken the man for a half-wit. Now and then the face relaxed, the imagination exerted itself; with all his strength the man tried to make everything more important than he felt it to be. . . . He thought of his children, whom he had just seen in their tumbled beds; he was all too well aware of their obvious defenselessness, their utter insecurity on life's path — which he had started them off on. He imagined each one of them, just as they were now, asleep in those rooms of gloomy memory; thought too of their familiar natures with all their failings and the little bright spots that were so touching yet sufficed to move only the mind of the father that watched them — the father who knew and felt only too well how fragile and helpless everything was, how haphazard the fate of the brood left at home. To say nothing of his own — he who had come here and was sitting on this hummock.

Already he felt faint sobs, like bitter laughter, the kind that a man himself desires and calls forth. His face was distorted again; his mind groped for new props to support him toward his goal. Youth, over and gone, grants them in plenty at that age. Is it possible that anyone is satisfied with his own youth? — any more than with the rest of his life? The pain of knowledge is in the awareness of one's own imperfection.

The man sitting deep in the forest had tears in his eyes.   [p. 145]   The golden images of youth — or maybe fancies which had changed to images — were at last so insistent that the tears came. Twenty years ago they had flowed much more copiously and much more scaldingly; they had burst out under pressure from a real, living pain; they had been the outpouring, the release, the bliss of a noble ardor.

Now the man who would soon be getting old managed somehow or other to call forth a few tears, but in his sobs there was deliberate laughter rather than a man's genuine, violent weeping. However, he pressed his head against the tussock, as he had done long ago when he was twenty-four. For a moment or two those few beautiful, pure pictures of his youth remained in his closed eyes. But even the relief afforded by his crying was somewhat feeble — the smell of the tussock very soon absorbed his attention; his intellect analyzed it and at the same time once more made those inquiring observations.

He stood up and looked about him, as though he had awakened from a doze. In the meantime, the light on the floor of the forest and in the patch of sky had changed. Morning reached even here. Just as God follows the movements of every human soul, good and bad, so does the sun, as it rises, also find its children, whether they are in a prison cell or under a fir in the forest. Very few reach so great a darkness that the sunlight does not find them out — and if they do, then even God is unlikely to seek out their souls.

The artist started to make his way toward the road. He thought quietly of the loved one of his youth; he wanted to climb a hill from which the view opened out in that direction. He felt ashamed of his recent self-imposed fit of crying; he remembered his visit at home and felt a calm superiority about everything he had seen and experienced there. The higher he climbed the slope of the hill, the more the sky   [p. 146]   widened and the brightness of the morning increased. Although he had not slept all night, when he got to the top of the hill he again found himself humming. This time it followed no particular melody. It went on rising higher and higher — and for that reason sometimes had to let itself drop. He stood at the top of the hill, turned in the direction that his steps had so often taken him in his youth. His humming grew louder; he ventured even to sing a nonexistent tune born of the moment; he sang facing the sun, which as yet was so low that he could just look toward it without dazzling his eyes too badly. There was still enough of the earth's dust between the sun and the human eye.

The beautiful fancies and images of youth — seen from this distance they were veritable treasures, which he owned all the more surely because they were gone forever. . . . Of what account were one generation and its descendants? Innumerable ones had sprung up and died away. From here I can see tilled fields and farmhouses; I can see forests melting into the morning haze on the horizon; I can see an intricate pattern of lakes and streams with ridges in between, all created together. Mother earth, whose surface a man has cleared with his axe, then furrowed with his plow, and at last sown with seed, before gathering the harvest and then dying. So what am I worried about!

From there the artist also saw the roofs of Teliranta. He thought of old Manu, whose charcoal pit must be almost burned out. "I'll go off and see Manu. It's been a long time since I rowed that way."

He went down the hill, his face softly radiant from the rising sun. He passed the cottage where he lived as though he had nothing to do with it, came to the water's edge, and once more pushed his boat out onto the lake.

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