The Orphans' New Year's Gift

Arthur Rimbaud

The room is full of shadow; you can hear, indistinctly, the sad soft whispering of two children.
Their foreheads lean forward, still heavy with dreams, beneath the long white bed-curtain
which shudders and rises... Outside the birds crowd together, chilled;
their wings are benumbed under the grey tints of the skies; and the New Year,
with her train of mist, trailing the folds of her snowy garment,
smiles through her tears, and shivering, sings...
But the little children, beneath the swaying curtain, talk in low voices as one does on a dark night.
Thoughtfully they listen as to a far-off murmur... They tremble often at the clear golden voice of the
morning chime repeatedly striking its metallic refrain beneath its glass dome...
And then, the room is icy... you can see, strewn here and there on the floor round the beds,
mourning clothes: the bitter blast of winter which moans at the threshold blows its melancholy
breath into the house! You can feel, in all this, that there is something missing...
Is there then no mother for these little children? No mother full of fresh smiles and looks of triumph?
Did she forget, last night, stooping down by herself, to kindle a flame saved from these ashes,
and to heap up the blankets and eiderdown on them before leaving them,
calling out to them: forgive me! Did she not forsee the chill of the morning?
Did she forget to close the door against the blast of winter? A mother's dream is the warm coverlet,
the downy nest, where children, huddled like pretty birds rocked by the branches,
sleep their sweet sleep full of white dreams. -- And here? -- it is like a nest without feathers or warmth,
where the little ones are cold, do not sleep, are afraid; a nest that the bitter blast must have frozen...
Your heart has understood: -- these children are motherless. No mother in the place any more!...
and their father is far away!... -- An old servant woman, then, has taken them under her care.
The little ones are alone in the icy house; four-year-old orphans, see how in their thoughts,
little by little, a smiling memory awakes... It's like a rosary which you tell, praying: --
Ah, what a beautiful morning, that New Year's morning!
Everyone had dreamt of his dear ones that night,
in some strange dream where you could see toys, sweets covered with gold, sparkling jewels,
all whirling an echoing dance, and then disappearing beneath the curtain, and then reappearing!
You awoke in the morning and got up full of joy with your mouth watering, rubbing your eyes...
You went with tangled hair and shining eyes, as on holiday mornings,
little bare feet brushing the floor, to tap softly on your parents' door... You went in!...
And then came the greetings... in your nightshirt, kisses upon kisses, and fun all allowed!
Ah how charming it was, those words so often spoken! -- But how the old home has changed!
There used to be a big fire crackling bright in the grate, so that the old bedroom was all lit up by it;
and the red reflection from the great hearth would play over the gleaming furniture... --
There was no key in the cupboard!... the big brown cupboard with no key!...
You kept looking at the dark brown door... No key!... That was strange!...
you kept wondering about the mysteries sleeping within its wooden sides; and you seemed to hear,
from the bottom of the huge keyhole, a far-off sound, an indistinct and joyful murmur...
Their parents' bedroom is quite empty now: there is no red reflection shining under the door;
there are no parents, no fire, no hidden keys; and so there are no kisses either,
or pleasant surprises! Oh how sad their New Year's Day will be! -- And sadly,
while a bitter tear falls silently from their big blue eyes,
they murmur: 'Oh when will our mother come back?'...
Now the little ones are dozing sadly: you would say, to see them,
that they are crying in their sleep, their eyes are so swollen, their breathing so painful!
Small children have such sensitive hearts! -- But the guardian angel of the cradle comes and
wipes their eyes and puts a happy dream into their heavy slumber, such a joyous dream that
their half-open lips seem, smiling, to murmur something. They are dreaming that, leaning
on their small round arms, in the sweet gesture of awakening, they lift their heads and gaze
mildly about them... They seem to have fallen asleep in some rose-coloured paradise...
The fire crackles merrily in the bright hearth... Through the window you can see a lovely
blue sky over there; nature is awakening and becoming drunk again with sunlight...
the earth, half-bare, happy to be alive again, trembles with joy beneath the sun's kisses.
In the old home all is warm and flushed: no longer are there mourning garments strewn on the floor,
and the draught has at least ceased to moan under the door... You would say that a fairy
had passed this way!... The children, full of happiness, give two cries...
Here, near their mother's bed in a beautiful rose-coloured ray of light,
here on the big carpet, something shines... It is two silvery plaques, black and white,
glittering with mother-of-pearl and jet; little black frames and wreaths of glass,
with three words engraved in gold: 'TO OUR MOTHER'...

Last updated July 05, 2015