Saturday, 7 February 2009

A poet's garden that never was

When the winter has outlasted its welcome but for a single day - like today - I send my imagination out to graze on greener pastures, to lush gardens, real or metaphorical, that once fed the imagination of others.
But time slips being what they are - unreliable by their very nature, and still considered as a potentially reliable "symptom" of a disintegrating mind - there are still relatively few accounts of this nature about "celebrities" to be found on the internet (or elsewhere, for that matter).

And if it weren't for a hint found by chance on Alfred Ballabene's defunct and sorely missed (but at least partially archived) website, I might have never found the followi
ng, very interesting short account.
»Something marvelous happened to me today:
I had a dream while walking.«

Thus wrote Franz Grillparzer, a well-loved Austrian poet, one summer's day long ago. According to his diary, it was »mid-July – mid-August« of 1852, and he was enjoying a stay in the Bad Tatzmannsdorf spa, where he had gone to regain his health.

»I had got up early, drank the [thermal spring] waters, took a bath, had another glass of water and went for a walk.
All of the sudden I found myself in a part of the park that I had not visited before. It was so lovely, the tree groves were so charming that I could not stop wondering how could have I missed such a sight before. Alas, there were no benches there inviting me to sit down. Having been given the task [sic - those old Austrian spa nurses were to be feared!] to drink another glass of water, I proceeded to do so, with the firm intention of revisiting the spot immediately after having had my glass of water.
I did so [using] a short allée lined with small trees through which I had often walked before, but the garden was nowhere to be found – because it never existed.«

Now, this is somewhat hasty a conclusion, if taken literally (and he did say, literally: it never existed).

But we know better than to take poets' words literally... Besides, the conclusion of this passage sheds some light (however treacherous) on his state of mind and mental processes:

»It is [the fact] that this dream – for I must consider it a dream – happened to me while walking that is marvellous. I am no stranger to dreams or spontaneous visions of sights, especially in the evenings, when I am tired from reading; but during walking, and with such reality-belying force, it never happened to me before."

You see, he is not really interested in establishing the former reality (or the lack thereof) of that garden: he has already assimilated the possibility of what had happened; and he is is too busy marvelling at it all. (And who could blame him?)

The passage above was loosely and hastily – and unpoetically – translated for this occasion from the German original (printed in the Walbaum-fraktur type, to boot). You can find it on pp. 136-137 of the reprint (2003) of his diaries and letters, Briefe und Tagebücher, originally published in 1905.

There is not much on the internet that could serve as a good illustration of how the spa gardens in Bad Tatzmannsdorf must have looked in Grillparzer's day. (I suppose you could always go there and hope for a direct vision...)
The best I could find was this photo:

(As you can see, there are benches there, so it's safe to assume he didn't see this part of the park, at least not as it is today.)

It was taken from the Hungarian version of Wikipedia.
(Surprised? Ha, I can tell you're not a Mitteleuropa native! True to the history of this area, Bad Tatzmannsdorf - Tarcsafürdő in Hungarian - changed national flags more than once during its existence; it once belonged to Hungary; and before that, to Austria-Hungary; and before that to the Austrian Empire; and before that... Well, you get the point. And if not, get thee a good historie booke. :-))

And here is an appropriately stern image of the man himself, cast in bronze – and, even more appropriately, placed in a park or garden:

This was, after all, the man who said (among many other things):

»Friendship and love bestow flowers on us.«

And who saw gardens in all their glory where none existed.


P.S. I'll probably be editing this entry in the next few days. Right now, I am having a waking dream - sans garden - of my own, all due to the painfully prosaic fact that I haven't slept in some 30 hours or so...

If you want to report a perceived dimensional anomaly, please do, but read this first.

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