Ivan Cankar: Saying So Much with So Little

Making my way through Great Short Stories of the World, a collection first published in 1920, I ran across a brilliant story by the Slovene writer, Ivan Cankar, a playwright, novelist, poet, essayist and political activist who died in 1918. Children and Old Folk was part of Cankar’s most significant work, Images from Dreams, and recounts the immediate effect a soldier’s death has on his children and his parents. The entire story is barely a thousand words and yet the writing, both strikingly poetic and emotionally intense, succeeds in capturing so much with so little. The following excerpt is from a translation by Helen P. Hlacha. “Each night, before they went to bed the children used to chat together . . . . They spoke of whatever came to their minds, but to their minds came only pleasant stories of sunlght and warmth interwoven with love and hope. The whole future was one long bright holiday; no Lent, between Christmas and Eastertide. Over there, somewhere behind the flowered curtain, all life, blinking and throbbing, silently poured from the light into light . . . . That evening, something unknown from an unknown place reached with violent hand into that heavenly light and struck pitilessly among the holidays, the stories, and legends. The post had brought tidings that the father ‘had fallen’ on Italian soild. Something unknown, new, strange, entirely incomprehensible rose before them. It stood there, tall and broad, but had neither face, nor eyes, nor mouth . . . . It was nothing joyful, but neither was it particularly sorrowful, for it was dead; because it had no eyes that it might by their look reveal wherefore and whence, and no mouth that it might explain by words. Thought stood humbly and timidly before that enormous apparition as before a great black wall, motonless. It approached the wall, and stared dumb and ponderous. . . . . At the same time on a bench before the cottage sat the grandfather and grandmother. The last red rays of the sun glowed through the dark foliage in the garden. The evening was silent except for a smothered prolonged sob, already grown hoarse, which came from the stable. In all probaility it was the wail of the young mother who had gone there to tend the livestock. The two old people sat deeply bowed, close to one another, and held each other’s hands as they had not done for a long time. They gazed into the heavenly afterglow with eyes devoid of tears, and did not speak.”

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  • Copyright © 2011-16, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff. All Rights Reserved.
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