Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Green Diary

I found today that the National Library of Scotland has digitized the surviving diary from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trek across Europe. I’ll try tomorrow to find the section in A Time of Gifts where he touches on the loss and decades later recovery of the thing but for now I was delighted enough to find on its inside cover (and exactly as described in A Time of Gifts) a lovely poem he’d included in his final work:

Prompted by my recent preoccupations, perhaps, the conversation veered to Charles V’s grandfather, the first Maximilian: The Last of the Knights, as he was called, half-landsknecht, and, until you looked more carefully at Dürer’s drawing, half playing-card monarch. Someone was describing how he used to escape from the business of the Empire now and then by retiring to a remote castle in the Tyrolese or Styrian forests. Scorning muskets and crossbows and armed only with a long spear, he would set out for days after stag and wild boar. It was during one of these holidays that he composed a four-line poem, and inscribed it with chalk, or in lampblack, on the walls of the castle cellar. It was still there, the speaker said.

Who told us all this? Einer? One of the Austrian couple who were with us? Probably not Robin or Lee or Basset…I’ve forgotten, just as I’ve forgotten the place we were coming from and the name of the castle. Whoever it was, I must have asked him to write it out, for here it is, transcribed inside the cover of a diary I began a fortnight later—frayed and battered now—with the old Austrian spelling painstakingly intact. There was something talismanic about these lines, I thought.

Leb, waiss nit wie lang,
Und stürb, waiss nit wann
Muess fahren, waiss nit wohin
Mich wundert, das ich so frelich bin.*

*Live, don’t know how long,
And die, don’t know when;
Must go, don’t know where;
I am astonished I am so cheerful.

Stop press! I’ve just discovered that the castle is called Schloss Tratzberg. It is near Jenbach, still standing, and not very far from Innsbruck.

Continuation here – Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Green Diary pt.2

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