O Mother

Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1871)

O mother: you who are without an equal, who stood before all this silence, long ago in childhood. Who took it upon yourself to say: don’t be afraid; I’m here. Who in the night had the courage to be this silence for the child who was frightened, who was dying of fear. You strike a match, and already the noise is you. And you hold the lamp in front of you and say: I’m here; don’t be afraid. And you put it down, slowly, and there is no doubt: you are there, you are the light around the familiar, intimate things, which are there without afterthought, good and simple and sure. And when something moves restlessly in the wall, or creaks on the floor: you just smile, smile transparently against a bright background into the terrified face that looks at you, searching, as if you knew the secret of every half-sound, and everything were agreed and understood between you. Does any power equal your power among the lords of the earth? Look: kings lie and stare, and the teller of tales cannot distract them. Though they lie in the blissful arms of their favorite mistress, horror creeps over them and makes them palsied and impotent. But you come and keep the monstrosity behind you and are entirely in front of it; not like a curtain that it can lift up here or there. No: as if you had caught up with it as soon as the child cried out for you. as if you had arrived far ahead of anything that might still happen, and had behind you only your hurrying-in, your eternal path, the flight of your love.