Once Upon Our Time

Young Beautiful Girl Playing Piano

“In the tall main wing of the convent, which overlooks an immense landscape of hills and valleys, there is a long gallery with a black and white marble floor.

 

On the walls of the gallery, side by side, hangs a long row of heavy, gilt frames, each of them adorned with a coroneted plate of pure gold, on which is engraved the name of a princess: Donna Christina, Donna Ines, Donna Jacintha Leonora, Donna Maria. And each of these frames encloses a square cut from a royal wedding sheet.

 

Within the faded markings of the canvases people of some imagination and sensibility may read all the signs of the zodiac: the Scales, the Scorpion, the Lion, the Twins. Or they may find there pictures from their own world of ideas: a rose, a heart, a sword – or even a heart pierced through with a sword….”

 

….But in the midst of the long row there hangs a canvas which differs from the others. The frame of it is as fine and as heavy as any, and as proudly as any carries the golden plate with the royal crown. But on this one plate no name is inscribed, and the linen within the frame is snow-white from corner to comer, a blank page.

 

I beg of you, you good people who want to hear stories told: look at this page, and recognize the wisdom of my grandmother and of all old story-telling women!

 

For with what eternal and unswerving loyalty has not this canvas been inserted in the row! The story-tellers themselves before it draw their veils over their faces and are dumb. Because the royal papa and mama who one this canvas to be framed and hung up, had they not had the tradition of loyalty in their blood, might have left it out.

 

It is in front of this piece of pure white linen that the old princesses of Portugal — worldly wise, dutiful, long-suffering queens, wives and mothers — and their noble old playmates, bridesmaids and maids-of-honour have most often stood still.

 

It is in front of the blank page that old and young nuns, with the Mother Abbess herself, sink into deepest thought.

From The Blank Page , by Isak Dinesen (Out Of Africa)

It is the most divine & poignant short story & you can read it at the above link…

11 thoughts on “Once Upon Our Time

  1. I visited Isak Dineson`s home in Denmark one summer….she had an ” Afrika room ” where she wrote ” Out of Afrika “….with Tribal spears and shields, etc. on the wall near her writing desk.

  2. When one reads the story through, the last sentence is actually quite humorous….She almost lost me there a second what with hanging the linen out after the wedding night (to prove one was a virgin…please..that cuts too close to “middle eastern” experience, thank you….).

    Good to see that and would expect no less from Isak Dinesen.

  3. Dear me, this resonates. The contemplation of that blank page indeed, how many women in how many past centuries have contemplated their lives viewing such a thing. I believe it, that truly that silence speaks of all the things that could have been as well as the muted, dignified quiet of all a woman’s heartbreaks and pain.

    Isek Dinesen is truly a weaver of stories. I do miss that, the oral traditions of women passing on their love and wisdom to others, lately there’s been a terrible tendency to speak in bitterness, not out of malintent but out of the bone weariness of pain and struggling with that crossroads of either succumbing to cynicism or refreshing one’s innocence despite of history to the contrary.

    I still remember my mother forewarning me, “Men only want one thing…” even if it is true, I wish she spoke of other things, really I wish she COULD have. That she didn’t makes me feel sad. Still, the fact that my father and her got closer as the twilight of life dawned upon them quietly spoke far more volumes than what she had verbally passed on to me.

    It is hard in our society to balance our memories with not just words, but the moments of peace and action belying things beyond what was just said. And this is a beautiful reminder.

  4. Isak Dinesan, what a story teller and what a renaissance woman! Must look at her chart. She won the Nobel Prize for literature BTW.

    I love that scene in Out of Africa, where Meryl, playing Karen Blixen, tells stories after dinner by candlelight to Finch Hatton (Robert Redford!)

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