The Gardener and Death

A Persian nobleman speaks:

Early today, my gardener, terror-struck,
Rushed in and cried, ‘Alas, my cursed luck!

was at work, pruning the rosary;
turned, and there stood Death and stared at me.

was afraid and ran, in a cold sweat,
But saw him make the gesture of a threat.

Master, give me your horse, let me be gone!
Before nightfall I’ll be in Ispahan.’

He fled. And I, before the day was dark,
Met Death a-strolling in the cedar park.

He said no word, waiting what I should say.
‘What meant that threat you gave my man today?’

He smiled and said, ‘That gesture meant no threat
To scare him, but surprise at finding yet

Him busy at his task at early dawn
Whom I must seize at night in Ispahan.’

From Coming Hither (Herwaarts, 1939)
By P.N. van Eyck (1887-1954)
Translated by A.J. Barnouw (in ‘Lyrical Holland’, Amsterdam, 1954)

First published in The Low Countries, 1995