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Once last spring, shortly before lunch and setting off for town, I stood halfway up the mountain where one enjoys a beautiful view of the country. The damp earth was fragrant with spring; I had just stepped out of the fir forest and I now stood unmoving next to a shrub or bush on whose thorny branches perched a small bird with its beak wide open like a pair of scissors about to cut something. Apparently the delicate little fellow on the branch was trying to practice its singing, endeavoring to loosen its throat. Everything around me was so beautiful, so sweet, so friendly. A delicate, joyous presentiment, an exultation, a not yet released delight, a still unheard and not yet liberated jubilation made itself felt and heard everywhere. I saw spring in the tiny open beak of the bird, and as I walked on a few steps, because it was already ringing twelve down below, I saw the sweet, dear, heavenly spring in a different, altogether different form. A poor, old woman, crushed and bent with years, sat on a wall and gazed quietly before her as if sunk in deep reverie, so soft was the air, so mild the kind sun. The ancient little mother sat there sunning herself. “Spring has returned,” sang through the air, here and everywhere.

—1915

Excerpted from Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories, forthcoming from New York Review Books Classics.

Robert Walser (1878-1956) was a German-speaking Swiss writer.

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