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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Miller
By Emile Verhaeren (1855–1916)
From ‘Six French Poets’: Translation of Amy Lowell

HE was being buried, the old miller of the black mill, buried in Winter, on an evening of rough cold and bitter North wind, in a ground of cinders and hemlock plants.  1
  The daylight darted its deceiving brilliance at the grave-digger’s shovel. A dog wandered about near the grave, and barked at the brightness.  2
  At each dig the shovel changed like a mirror, shone, took hold, and buried itself in the disturbed earth. The sun went down beneath suspicious shadows.  3
  Against a background of sky, the grave-digger, like an enormous insect, seemed to fight with fear. The shovel trembled in his hands, the ground opened in spite of him, and nothing filled up the hole which, like the night, widened in front of him.  4
  In the village yonder, no one had lent two sheets to the dead.  5
  In the village yonder, no one had said a prayer.  6
  In the village yonder, no one had rung the passing bell for the dead.  7
  In the village yonder, no one had wanted to nail the coffin.  8
  And the houses and cottages along the roads facing the cemetery, all had their shutters closed so as to see nothing.  9
  The grave-digger felt himself alone with this dead man who had no shroud, for whom everyone felt hate and fear in their blood.  10
  Upon his hill, gloomy with evening, the old miller of the black mill had been used to live in harmony with space and distance, and the mad flight of tempests streaming from the flapping mane of the North winds; for long he had listened to what the dark and golden mouths of the stars reveal to those who are attentive to the eternal; the gray desert of austere heather had ringed his eyes with the mystery by which things make souls aware of them, and speak to them and counsel them; the great currents which flow through everything that lives had entered his mind with such power, that, in his isolated and profound soul, this simple peasant had felt the movement and fermentation of the world.  11
  The oldest man did not know how long it was that he had been hiding yonder, far from the village, watching the flight of birds and their journeyings, and the signs of flame in the clouds.  12
  He awed by the silence of which he had noiselessly woven his existence; he awed still further by the golden eyes of his windmill, shining suddenly at night.  13
  No one would have known of his agony and death, were it not for the four wings which he turned, like eternal supplications, to the unknown; were it not that one morning they were absolutely rigid, black and immovable like a cross above a destiny.  14
  The grave-digger saw the surging shadows increase like crowds, and the village and its shut windows fade into the distance and disappear.  15
  The universal disquiet peopled the solitude with cries; in black and brown veils the wind passed by as though it were someone; all the vagueness of hostile horizons became fixed in feverish rustlings, until the moment when, with wild eyes, throwing his shovel no matter where, with the multiple arms of night in menaces behind him, like a thief he fled.  16
  Then came silence, absolute, all about. In the riven earth the hole appeared gigantic, nothing moved any more; and, alone, the insatiable plains in their Northern immensity of shadow absorbed the dead man, whose life had been rendered limitless and exalted to the infinite, by their mystery.  17

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