Hmm. False gratitude because you ‘must’ be grateful for what you have, or the kind of gratitude you have for a moment that you have had with someone and can never have again?
Hmm. Yep. One treasured memory of a clandestine meeting perhaps.
What does it all mean?
What happened between us
In the moonlit confusion,
I gathered together and pressed
Into the bell of a single snowdrop.
So there was one night of being together and all of the memories of that night the writer has gathered together to press, like a flower. It’s interesting this imagery if you think about it, because we take something that is natural and living – a flower – and press it to preserve it for an unnatural length of time. Is that what the writer is doing, preserving the memory long after it should have been let go? Is the snowdrop significant? Snowdrops grow at the end of winter and are somewhat symbolic of hope. So this memory that the author is holding on to is wrapped up in the the hope that it could be something more, a new beginning? Does the ‘single’ snowdrop show the only realism in the situation in that it is but one, small hope that she is keeping alive?
I sealed the petals with my lips
And placed it in the leaves of a book.
This shows the tenderness with which the writer cherishes the memory. Is she preserving the memory by writing it down ‘in the leaves of a book’? Perhaps that is what this poem is, a memory.
When I turn the pages, it opens once more
Rereading the details of the memory? Picking up the ‘flower’ and reliving the moment?
In its dusty cemetery of words,
The words were written long ago and are preserved as if in a cemetery. The writer knows the hope is now dead, perhaps like those who visit gravestones repeatedly wanting to talk to a lost loved one but knowing there’s nothing there to hear anymore.
And rises up, confounding death,
To take the way it only knows.
Her very memory of this clearly cherished moment is kept alive, ‘confusing’ the natural ‘death’ of the memory with time. Is she still saying hope is alive, ‘to take the way it only knows?’
The path is found, can you hear
The belled snowdrop ring in my heart?
She is still looking for the path back to her lover? She is still keeping her love for him alive? Who is she asking if they can still hear her heart racing for him? Is it the lover? Is she sharing her story with someone who is telling her to let go, but she is telling them why she’s still hoping to get what she wants?
See how whitened I walk
And leave prints of golden pollen,
‘Whitened’, so she is pious, pure, waiting for the lover to return? Her love is golden because she has stayed so loyal, so pure, to this person, this moment? Is pollen her way of saying she would have liked to have had a family with this person? Does that mean the writer has never loved anyone else or taken a chance with anyone else since this encounter?
But they do not see or know
the misery that issues from my joy.
This is interesting. Who is ‘they’? People generally, or a specific group of people who have been telling her to let go? Does her undying belief in a happy outcome force her to put on a big, smiley face whilst inside she is sad and alone, and not really able to confide in anyone because they just won’t understand?
Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
The translations I’ve seen of this are all one long verse but that may not be the case for the original – unfortunately when I searched for the original language version an entirely different poem came up.
Wistful, hopeful, longing.
Suggested rhyme scheme
I’ll treat these as free rhyme but again, that is because it’s in English; it could be any sort of rhyme in its original Latvian form.
Similes and metaphors
Snowdrop – new beginnings/hopefulness? The pressing of the flower – an unnaturally long preservation of a memory?
Author’s relationship with their subject
Longing, loving, wistful. There is a sense of understanding this is a false hope and yet she still continues to long for this person.
Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
I’m sure that there are many analyses out there for this poem but unfortunately I do not speak or read Latvian.
Isn’t this a beautiful poem? I mean, it’s sad, really sad that someone is holding on to something that clearly happened a while ago, pinning her future happiness on what can probably never be. But still. Beautiful.
A back story without giving a back story. This poem, at least this translation of this poem, is like a little window into my life. I have been through this exact scenario and spent a long time – too long – living in a memory and pining for something that could never be. There was no happy ending here, and what’s worse, I repeated the mistake later with someone else. I still haven’t learned my lesson. Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to this particular poem.
However. The original memory that I held on to for the longest time was actually the catalyst for where I am today. If things hadn’t turned out the way they did, I likely would never left England. In fact, the following memory that I can’t seem to let go of also has led me to keep running. So even heartache can get you somewhere I guess. I chose this particular poet and poem to celebrate the fact that I am currently in Latvia.
Vizma Belševica was a nominee for the Nobel Prize in literature. She came from very poor beginnings and became a very celebrated author. Her most famous work is a semi-autobiographical book called Bille which was published as a trilogy and considered one of the greatest Latvian works of all time.
Letonika (you’ll need to hit translate!)
When I read this I think of the song… I can’t make you love me