Sunday, 5 April 2020

Dan Andersson: 'En spelmans jordafärd'


Ere a rosy dawn starts glowing over Himmelmora’s crest,
see, from Berga a poor corpse is being borne.
O’er the small flowers of the hillside mourners plod on two abreast
’neath the cool and leaden clouds of early dawn.
Heavy boots tread through ploughed plots with the roses’ sprinkled dots.
heavy heads bowed as in prayer are now in view.
From the wasteland’s inner dread glides a dreamer who is dead,
o’er a meadow that gleams green from all the dew.

He was queer and he was lonely, is what four black men explain,
and he frequently lacked shelter and lacked bread. –
See, a king, proclaim the roses and are trampled on again,
see a king as well as dreamer is now dead!
It’s a long way, say the bearers, many miles ahead still lie,
and as day grows hotter wearily we tread. –
Steps grow cautious, tongues speak softly, willows sing and sallows sigh,
it could well be that a flower is what is dead.

But as blackly rocks the coffin through the woods in springtime green
silence moves through farm plots woken by the dawn,
and the west wind stops a moment to make out with senses keen
who through roses took steps heavy and forlorn.
It is only Fiddler Olle, sings the spruce and sighs the pine
he has ceased to chase his years without a home. –
Strange, the wind replies, if I just like a hurricane could whine,
I would play the whole long way he now must roam!

Over yellow bogs and heather hard, dead bones now rock and sway,
rock and sway through the pale quiet of forestland.
But when over stones and berries coolness wafts at end of day,
heavy feet tramp on through Himmelmora’s sand.
Feet of four tired mourning men, tramping homeward now again,
heavy heads bowed as in prayer once more in view.
But deep in rifts so sore, are the roses torn to gore,
in a meadow that gleams green from all the dew.

He is gone now, say the four men, for his mother awful news,
she who in Torberga poorhouse now must dwell. –
Why do trampling heels abuse us, are we trodden on by shoes?
all the roses wail and show their wounds as well.
It is Death that has been dancing on through Himmelmora’s sand,
sigh the thistles at the clover meadow’s rim.
He has worn you down to dirt with his coarse shoes, just as planned,
when he danced and had the dreamer’s bones with him.

Over grass and drab grey houses night is swiftly swishing past,
pallid stars are twinkling like some gutted pyre.
From the west across the heath down to the tarn light moves at last,
and a song moves over water-lilied mire.
The raging storm sings black and white, round Härnaön the air,
foam and waves sing of the wasteland’s need and dread.
Over black and angry waters night strikes up the tune for prayer,
for a fiddler and a dreamer now is dead.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

The Singing Danes


On top of our family piano when I was a boy were two books, one brown one blue, with identical titles – ‘Community Song Book’. They contained a wealth of songs, with classics like ‘My Bonnie lies over the Ocean’ and ‘Pollywolly Doodle’, but also some songs that were good poems set to music, such as ‘Drink to Me only with thine Eyes’ (Ben Jonson’s ‘Song to Celia’ [1616]) and ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ (Yeats [1899]). They seemed esoteric in a way, the sort of song to be sung by a soloist with piano accompaniment, rather than songs for everyone to join in – not the sort of thing people spontaneously sang at social gatherings. And I cannot recall any family occasion where that was the case.

Danes are different. They love to sing together on festive occasions. So the obvious question is: Why do Danes like to sing together? Part of the answer is that the Danes are a clannish people, with a multitude of subclans. Danes will form clubs and associations whenever given the slightest chance. Danes love to meet in different constellations and feel part of something. Family celebrations, birthday parties and wedding anniversaries, though, are where Danes perhaps sing most. Guests come with their own lyrics to well-known tunes, telling stories and anecdotes about those being celebrated, copies are handed round and everyone joins in. But this is only one type of song. For Danes also sing many of their famous poems, since set to music, on such occasions. Poetry and community singing go together in Denmark. But has this always been so?

Until the 19th century, most of the poetic texts were hymns and were sung in church or family. But during the 19th century a tradition for community singing gradually developed that has lasted to the present day.

Some of the reasons are historical. Denmark has changed shape considerably over the years, but the period from 1773 to 1921 is particularly interesting in explaining the Danes’ deep interest in their identity. What makes a Dane? What does it mean to be Danish?

From the Reformation to the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1536-1814) Denmark ruled Norway, along with its former possessions of Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Until the mid-17th century, it also owned parts of southern and western Sweden. When Norway was handed over to Sweden in 1815, in exchange for land in Pomerania and Rügen, its kingdom to the south included all of Schleswig-Holstein, i.e. Denmark stretched down past Kiel and nearly included Hamburg and Lübeck. It held both duchies until 1864, when they were lost to Germany. This situation lasted until after the Second World War, when a referendum was held and northern Schleswig voted to return to Denmark. It is now called Sønderjylland.

Why mention all this? Because Schleswig-Holstein was an area with two languages, two cultures. To the north, Danish speakers were in the majority; to the south, German speakers. Even today you find German schools in Sønderjylland and Danish schools in Südschleswig. But in the first part of the 19th century, after the education act of 1814, which had been influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment, children were to taught to read – and to read poetic texts. During that period there was also more focus on the concept of the fatherland and an upsurge of National Romanticism.

By far the most important hymn and song writer of the 19th century in Denmark was the vicar, theologian, thinker, writer and poet N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872), a man of innovative and sometimes polemical views who was sentenced to life-censorship in 1825, but granted a royal reprieve by the absolutist king Christian VIII in 1837. By then, people in northern Schleswig were beginning to call for a free constitution. In 1840, the king made Danish the official legal language in the areas where it was used in churches and schools and also made it an official spoken language. This led in 1843 to public meetings being held at a hill, Skamlingsbanken, which lies on the border with Schleswig. Grundtvig was an active supporter of the mother tongue, since all Danes should use their own language and, like birds, ‘sing with their own beak’, as he put it. For the second meeting he wrote a song, a community song for all to sing. And this song is the first one we are going to look at, since, set to music by Erik Grip in 1983 and included on an LP (in those days) devoted to Grundtvig songs, it has become one of the best-loved community songs Danes have, now included in the Folk High School Song Book – to which I will return in a moment. What present-day singers may not realise, for only six of the eight verses are normally sung, is that this song is an impassioned plea for the Danish king to allow all Danes to learn and use their language, and thereby find their true identity as thinking human beings and not mere subjects who blindly obey their king. He has to tread warily in the song, for the king is an absolute ruler until 1849, when the Danes get their constitution.


Thrice welcome to the leafy grove (1843) [HSSB 155]

Thrice welcome to the leafy grove,
where birds are sweetly singing!
Let too the Danish tongue now prove
its song can set things ringing.

For all in all we’re well off here,
like those of old who bore us
God willing, may the day be near
when more still lies before us.

Our king, a trusty friend is he,
his words like gold we treasure:
‘Come hither, good Danes, tell to me
where you’ve been served short measure!’

If we could all our mouths command
to more besides just eating,
Each second child in Denmark’s land
would grasp what won’t need speaking.

Not much is needed joy to share 
and present lacks to banish,
a little though, both here and there,
that’s what is truly Danish.

On Skamling hill the other day
a little bird sang clearly,
and ’twould be shame to hide away
the thoughts that all felt dearly.

Proud lions adorn the Danish shield
bestrewn with hearts unshrinking,
since days of old they hold the field,
not miming apes unthinking.

Each bird its special song must find,
for life would without singing
be merely drudgery and grind.
So welcome, hear it ringing!

At precisely this period, the first Danish Folk High School came into being, followed by many more in the following half century. It was the realisation of Grundtvig’s dream of popular education, for he strongly believed that true democracy could only come if Danes were freed from an elitist education for the few and all, especially those in rural areas, were given a chance to become enlightened individuals. His poems and hymns, of which there are a vast number, have three main strands: the Dane as a thinking individual, the Dane as a Christian, the Dane as a proud member of the nation. This last strand is of course very much in evidence in songs written after the loss of much Danish territory in 1864 – a traumatic event for Denmark. This was summed up in 1872 by a Dane by the name of Holst: ‘Hvad udad tabes, skal indad vindes’ (What is outwardly lost must be inwardly won). In other words, the way to recover a Danish identity was to immerse oneself in Danish culture.

In 1894, the first Folk High School Song Book was published. Up to the latest edition, it had sold 2.4 million copies. The new edition (the 18th) has once more taken certain songs out and put new ones in. This book is so popular that copies are normally available for many social occasions and gatherings. It has the songs arranged according to themes, so Danes always know where to look when they want a song about, say, ‘Life’, or ‘Morning’.

The next song has music by Carl Nielsen, Denmark’s most famous composer. Nielsen set many poems to music, some of which have become much-loved community songs. One of the best-known is that of Jens Roadman, a propagandist poem, requested by the author of the newspaper Politiken and printed in it on 22 June 1905. The music for it was written by Carl Nielsen the following year.

Jens Roadman [HSSB 100]

Who’s sitting by the shelter
with hands where rags do cling,
with eye-patch made of leather
and shoes held on with string?
It’s no one but Jens Roadman
who must, shall he be fed,
transform with his own hammer
the hard stones into bread.

And should you wake one morning
as dawn begins to soar
and hear a hammer clanging
once more, once more, once more,
It’s no one but Jens Roadman
on old legs once so true
who sends wild sparks a-flying 
from stones now wet with dew.

And should you travel townwards
behind the farmer’s mares,
and pass beside an old man
eyes watering with tears –
It’s no one but Jens Roadman,
straw-clad round legs and knees,
who seeks in vain for shelter
so he won’t have to freeze.

And should you journey homewards
while showers and gales molest,
the evening star a-trembling
from cold in due southwest,
and hear the hammer singing
behind you close somewhere –
It’s no one but Jens Roadman 
who still is sitting there.

And so he smoothed for others
the road that’s hard to go,
but when it came to Christmas
his arm said to him ‘No.’
’Twas no one but Jens Roadman,
his hammer fell from sight,
they bore him o’er the heath on
a cold December night.

There stands within the churchyard
a board now half-decayed;
that skews obliquely sideways,
its paintwork faint and frayed.
It’s no one but Jens Roadman,
his life was full of stones,
but on his grave they gave him
not one to mark his bones.

One of the things that can be noticed here is praise of the common man, a theme also present in the last song I have chosen, but now with a self-ironic twist so typical of Danes, who like to insist there is nothing special about them but that even so they have a capacity to enjoy the simple things in life.

The last song has text and lyrics by one and the same man, Benny Andersen, who is one of the most popular poets in Denmark. He was born in 1929 and has been publishing collections of poems since 1960. One of his biggest hits was a slim book published in 1972 called ‘Svantes viser’ (Svante’s Songs), purportedly written by a semi-drunken Swedish cynic called Svante. The songs were recorded by Poul Dissing and the LP released the following year.


They were a huge success. And the song that has really become a classic, which is sung by young and old alike, is one where Svante, content for once, contemplates his naked wife Nina after her shower, consumes his breakfast and looks forward to his coffee, which is almost ready. The refrain is part of the common consciousness in Denmark: Livet er ikke det værste man har, Og om lidt er kaffen klar!

Svante’s happy day [HSSB 21]

See how the day’s begun!
Warm is the round red sun.
Nina is showering at ease.
I’m eating bread and cheese.
Life’s not the worst thing around so they say
and the coffee’s on its way.

Flowers start to flower once more.
Spiders run down the door.
Birds fly in flocks through the air
when there are birds to spare.
Joy’s not the worst thing around so they say
and the coffee’s on its way.

Green is the grass and wet.
None of the bees need fret.
Suck in the air till it’s spent.
Oh, get that bindweed scent!
Bliss’s not the worst thing around so they say
and the coffee’s on its way.

In wafts a shower-time song.
She’s really going strong.
Outside the sky is quite blue.
I can approve that too –
Joy’s not the worst thing around so they say
and the coffee’s on its way.

Now Nina comes right in,
naked, with moist warm skin,
kisses me fondly, still bare 
goes off to do her hair.
Life’s not the worst thing around so they say
and the coffee’s on its way.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Erik Knudsen: 'En hare'

A hare 

A hare runs over the lawn
I see it
because I’m staring at nothing.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

I nattens dybe stille ro...

I skovens dybe, stille ro,
hvor sangerhære bo,
hvor sjælen lytted mangen gang
til fuglens glade sang,
der er idyllisk stille fred
i skovens ensomhed,
og hjertets længsler tie her,
hvor fred og hvile er.

Hør landsbyklokken lyder ned,
bebuder aftenfred,
småfuglen, før den går til blund,
end kvidrer lidt en stund.
I mosen kvækker højt en frø,
stærkt damper mark og sø,
nu klokken tier, - aftnens fred
sig stille sænker ned.

I forest depths where quiet reigns
in songbirds’ prized domains,
where troubled soul could listen long
to joyous warbling song,
there is idyllic peacefulness
within the forest’s loneliness
and all heart’s longings quite subside
where rest and peace reside.

Hear how the village bell rings clear,
announcing evening’s near,
small birds, before they go to sleep
give one last final cheep.
A frog from bogland croaks out loud,
field, lake wear steamy shroud,
and evening peace, when bell’s chime ends,
now tranquilly descends.

Man antog tidligere at teksten var skrevet af H. C. Andersen, men det er mere sandsynligt at den er forfattet af komponisten Fritz Andersen, som i 1864 udgav en samling sange til skolebrug. Heri findes sangen, men uden angivelse af forfatter. Melodien er en gammel folkemelodi, sandsynligvis fra Langeland.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Erik Knudsen: 'Fisk'


Strange fish from imagination’s freshwater:
Tiny à la fireflies, large grey
                      porous as pimpstone,
Yellow, spotted,
                      some violet with a prayer on their lips,
One brown and quivering like calf’s liver, another
Pink and transparent, its own x-ray photograph –
Yes, it’s exciting to drag for them
Completely alone in the forbidden forest,
Where one can calmly glide in one’s boat
And make friends with dragonflies
and opulent blond clouds –
See how they squirm in the net, the strange creatures!
Inedible – but I haven’t the heart to throw them out.
I’ve an old aquarium at home,
Model 1804 or thereabouts…

Ingemann: 'Tit er jeg glad'

(Based on the Swedish).

La bienséance est la moindre de toutes les loix & la plus svivie. 

I’m often glad, although I feel like weeping;
For no heart shares the joy in my sole keeping.
I’m often sorrowful, though laugh with glee,
So no one all my frightened tears may see.

I often love, although I feel like sighing;
For my heart needs be mute and hid from prying.
I’m often angry, though must wear a smile;
For those who anger are but fools that rile.

I often burn, yet in such heat I shiver;
The world’s embrace is like an ice-cold river,
I’m often cold, yet sweat stands on my brow;
For many tasks lack love it seems somehow.

I often speak, though would refrain from prating,
Where mindeless words for thought need not be waiting.
I’m often dumb, and would to ease my breast
Have thund’rous voice when it is most oppressed.

Oh! You alone who can my joy be sharing,
You at whose bosom I can weep uncaring,
Oh! dearest, if you knew me, loved me true,
I could be always as I am – with you.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Erik Knudsen: 'Schack Staffeldt'

Schack Staffeldt

You light candles in all the windows
So as not to see the grinning predators.
But the daughters of the night call you out, lure you 
with golden apples and shameless orchids.
Your shadow grows fantastically, skims
the Milky Way, swings across the moon’s torso.
An organ plays in soughing deciduous trees.
You listen in close to your naked heart
And hear an echo from memory’s mountain caves.
The stars laugh with delighted eyes.
One of them is you. But which?
A fever in the blood. A longing for home. – If only you could
be free of your dead weight! pull your thoughts up by the root!
Calmly in the distance
An objective mainland sways. – If only you dared
Leap out of your damned volcanic island!
Your breast is heavy with lava.
No delivery, no flight.
You are sore constricted between heaven and earth,
Groan under the weight of a thousand atmospheres.
The candles flicker behind the wet window-panes.
You have no tears, no reality.
The dream is your only element.
But you are alert and lucid.
Without a telescope
you find yourself:
An extinguished planet in a sea of fire.

Schack von Staffeldt (1769-1826). 'Staffeldt was not held in high regard in his own time but is acknowledged as one of the most important Romantic Danish poets by later generations' (Wikipedia).
Check the index for translations into English of poems by him. Here's one to start with.

Erik Knudsen: 'Horbelev'


When we buried my aunt
and stood in the graveyard in black clothes
I suddenly saw the land of the living:
The wood down there by the Baltic
blue in the shimmering heat
blue as when we ran along the shore
and built rafts out of planks and
jerry cans
and dived and saw the world from the inside
clear as glass, green with sun.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Erik Knudsen: 'Min Lundbye rus'

J. Th. Lundbye (1818-48). Danish painter, drawer and graphic artist

My Lundbye ecstasy

I was not myself, I was Lundbye,
sat securely on a child’s stool in mid-nature,
happily alone in the open landscape.
The low-lying plain, the sky’s oceans
were noted down and on the paper filled
as little as the shadow of a clover leaf.
And I gained eyes. Everything flew open like doors –
I drew away and wrote, I did not want
the dream to fly away. I was stubborn.
I held on tight. There I sat, twelve years old
with the world like a dog at my feet.

Ragnar Thoursie: 'Kråkorna skrattar' (The crows are laughing)



Chorus of crows’ and old men’s voices:
Motto from Esias Tegnér’s ‘Spleen’, 1825

I                    (To annihilation)
II                  (November)
III                (Hearing of prayer)
IV                (Death unavoidable)
V                  (Death’s kiss)
VI                (The crow and the old man)
VII               (The old man and the swallows)
VIII             (Downwards)
IX                (The final room)
X                  (The waiting)
XI                (Tired of life)
XII              (Wordless poem)
XIII            (Repairing tailor)
XIV             (Washing day at the old-man poet’s)
XV               (Poet at twilight)
XVI             (Madman’s guard)
XVII           (The devil’s mirror)
XVIII         (The harangue)
XIX             (Cancer’s secret)
XX               (The old man’s complaint)
XXI             (The mark)
XXII           (Alone)
XXIII         (On sight and care)
XXIV         (Cold)
XXV           (Understand first now)
XXVI         (Lamentation)
XXVII       (Blessed beverage)

Seductive voices

The view of the old man
The young woman
‘Die Frau und der Greis’
Love’s last act
Among the rejected
Eddies in Norrström
Poised for flight
Poor old man

Dies advesperascit
Motto taken from the title
of a lecture by Krister Stendahl
published in his book ‘Opinions’, 1986

A new earth
Stretch out your hand
The word of the Bible
The prayer
Eternal landscape
Ancient Chinese motif
The grove of wisdom
The greatness of the perishable
The poet and the mirror
Journey in the memory
The old man and Time
Poem with needle and thread
The while with Jesus
The Hyacinth and the Eternal
The lion’s voice
The graphic artist
The thankless old man
The blind crow

Ragnar Thoursie

The crows are laughing

Late poems


Crows around Tegnér

Crows in sleet;
black limes against the white sky of the episcopal
residence. The scavengers flock together, laugh
at Death, the Right Reverend,
my torment. And under the Cathedral’s double spire – a
skyward claw – the scrawny city huddles.

In broad daylight, shamelessly to any eye-
witness, he comes in the litter, ‘The Old Man on the Hill’;
crows escort him – they start their
day’s work. Soon as witnesses they sit wide-eyed in a row on a roof-edge
resemble poorly-paid clergymen; black
cloaks folded on their backs and stained waistcoats.
Along with co-opted house-sparrows: peck at horse droppings
on Main Street.
                                           All this while Doctor Selldén’s wife lifts her chemise
                                                                                                   for the great man.

They believe they have seen what ought not to be seen.
They believe they have heard what ought not to be heard.
They believe something has happened anew that ought not to happen.
They caw indignantly their message
with cracked voices into the late-winter day.

. . .

What is the more shameless? To caw
like crows in Växjö – every morning the gossip
becomes World History. Or to make love
to Emili and subsequently mount a pulpit.

What does the early-bird crow care about the night’s
torment. What do those that yawn and gossip,
that flutter their black wings at the sky in the daytime
matter to you when you alone
                                                         are to meet our Lord and Maker.

of crow and old men’s voices

Earthly lamentation

‘Tell me, you watchman, how the night progresses!
Is it unceasing, will it never end?
The moon, half-eaten, through the sky’s still presses,
The tearful stars still through the heavens wend.
My pulse beats fast as in my youth’s successes,
Hours of affliction though it cannot mend.’


Today myriads of vermin, small black
bugs: on my profusely flowering Hibiscus.

And in my life they also gush forth – unexpectedly
myriads of black memory-bugs: fierce small
nips, poisonous words, mortal stings, hordes of secret signs
of hatred... Time to put an end to this, my Hibiscus!


Darkness slowly descends
over my garden. Soon only black
contours visible: the juniper on its lonely
watch in the snow, and the impenetrable hedge.
Night grows more compact around my life, what is past.
Only the longing for You lights with a flickering flame.


Else I’d expected on life’s last slope.
Carnations, not hatred’s envelope.

Clothes black as night. Faces veils are concealing.
Guests sadly gliding, with shoes that are gleaming.
Then she thanks God, who has answered her prayer.


Death unavoidable
is blocking my path.
With an evil grin,
the keen scythe
laid over his knee.

Doesn’t budge this time.
Wants to see me give way.


Don’t believe Death –
not mild, but scrawny.
No, He hacks
hungrily with the axe.

Gauges exactly
the depth of your torment.


Spruce forest snow-laden
mile upon mile.
Such is the path

up to the old one’s meeting.


Poor my preparation.
Woe, alas and dread in my soul.
It most resembles a rag in shreds.
No plucky resolve to stay silent
and suffer. No, a coward’s
moaning, when night tightly holds me.
       A kiss so cold, a claw-like toe.
       What use is welfare on
       a farewell journey. No son, no sister
       allays death’s pain,
       now numbing my heart.


Dirty grey, ruffled by rain,
heavy with years, despised.
- Crow in the courtyard. Attempts a dignified walk:
teeters, totters, scouts (like a weather-vane);

laboriously takes off, a crash,
                                           to another corner of the yard.

. . .

Behind the curtain a pop-eyed old man.
Scratches his beard-stubble, his nails cracked,
nasty taste in his mouth: lonely
                                                                the final years.


Close to the heavy front-door of my rented lodgings
       (that will be my last)
swallows have built their airy nest, briefly,
       in a ventilator eaten by rust.

Old man thinks every morning: - Ah, if only my soul
       could leave earthly life as lightly as those on the wing!


Sixteen stairs. Heavier each
time; hand on banister. Somewhere
memory fails. Seventh stair
and the old man’s forgotten:
Why did I set out? Thinks: count-
less rounds, up – and down.
Up to carry out,
down to recall. What.
Slowly life passes. Downwards.


Four walls limit
my field of vision, the ceiling a lid:
a box, rented from co-op housing.
Wait and see – when the contract
the white one signed by the Lord
may expire and the box be nailed shut again...

like a coffin – it soon shall be closed, and reassured
I once more whisper through my evening prayer.


Precisely, almost scientifically
pedantically I keep the ledger of my
nonsensical life. In so doing
bring order into what it is meaning-
less. While waiting.


Lion in cage.
Three paces, satiated with power.
And back. The broad nose
kisses the steel wall.

I likewise in my final
asylum: lap upon lap
my thoughts take
the last paces. In vain

searching for an exit.


Old poet writes poems
                                           about death.
As if discovered first now
                                           where life is heading.
Astonished the eye blinks at the inexorable.
No longer a play on words – no
                                           a wordless while
when you conclude your last poem.


Old trousers as if new – before
when they were turned inside-out.

But the known, accustomed
and much-turned words: turn them
around and inside out. But no
more meaning came out of that!


Old-man poet much to do:
Mops up a drop, dirty behind.
Darns a stanza that’s got a hole.
- White as a sheet, I grassp my penn.
Oh, what laundrying it would need
were I to wash my past until
clean! Here all that’s to be done is
to darn and mend and wash one’s life’s
most noticeable stains.


Seven lines, seldom more.
And yet too much.

So little his day’s work
and yet immense:

                      to find
                      the final


The deranged, demented, debilitated
deservedly guarded.

Arrogantly rattling heavy
key-bunches of prohibitions.

. . .

But no longer do the
keys fit his existence.

Seeks in vain to guard
over his own insanity.


Pointed nose, varicosed legs.
paunch heavy and ditto pouch.
Memory poor – for injusticies ever young.
Coquettish: wig awry and a wine-
red swearing to the black ulster.
Look in the mirror: Who are you like,
old man? Oh yes, the Evil One himself;

friendly smile he still bestows
on your world whose end near grows.


Like an intractable old crone:
knows plenty, has learnt little.
shuts her dentured mouth up tight
except when it ought to stay silent.
Blue veins, red eye-slits,
strands of beard – and yet coquetting
with her conceit. Boasts
of her age, insists on respect
for her ailments. Sucks on her
lump of sugar. Such is

Humanity’s last madness: wrangles with death.


Grey-stony. Stock-still. Mute.
So does the old man seem: Seals off his mind
from the world. Broods on himself;
remembers. And all the while the cancer

grows in his flesh, incessantly: The only thing
that lives – works indefatigably towards death.


Give up! All time’s no longer yours.
Your time is up! Always you
hope in vain. The Angel’s
revelation came to pass too late.
A grave prepared! From blackest soil grows
                                    worms’ yellowest rose.


Today – how far away
the present is for sure.
       How unreal
       How uncertain
the only certain thing.


All the temporary
seems permanent.
All our efforts, so futile
       richly rewarded!
All our striving, so absurd,
       the only noble thing!


The present,
the real,
the only certain thing: –
       my limbs’ mark,
       the sign of putrefaction!


Of love the grown-ups do not speak
to the lad who is in anguish.

The path to death the old man
takes alone in torment.

       Yes, all the gravity of life
       must be learnt alone.


Misty my gaze:
looks away
ever further away.

As if earlier
clear-sightedness had been
in what was closest?

No, I see
I’ve never seen –
never perceived

what is closest to me.


Crow on chimney presses.
       Seeks a smidgin of warmth.

I have recourse to the same
       in memory of you.


Understand first now
what I’ve always known.

       To live
       Is to be crushed.

       To live on –
       become whole anew.


Good thing no one can hear me – except the Lord
on high! From where he has seen so much devilry.
Buchenwald, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua and Gulag.
The question is whether he is in the slightest bit
interested in me lying here in Växjö
awake in my white nightshirt and howling soul.


                                                                Inspection of Granhult’s old church

‘The evil elf bit without warning deep into my heart.’
Then did I flee to the Lord’s sacred sanctuary –
but found here too a place full of Devils painted on wood
in great magnificence, in green and gold, with jowls
run red and venom running down for a hundred years.
What succour came from the Vicar’s words and Dove above his head!
I was tormented by endless singing, from old crones with dragons’
necks and old men like me on the edge of the grave.
Only a deceased field-mouse under the pew kept my heart
awake. Finally the litany was over. We trooped out like
criminals. Though in the parish house the soul felt freer.
– God’s word is great; but its light does not light up our dead bodies
until after talk of this and that and several cups of coffee.

Seductive voices

and other indecencies

The view of the old man

‘Les Maîtres de l’Affiche’

Shifts a tray to lap height.
Shoulders narrow, hips broad, head dexterously
                                                                covered by a dreamcloth.
Then she comes forward: ‘Prenez du Cacao!’
Rowan-berry necklace, rosy lips, sleep-drowsy eyes.
Over over-ripe breasts a gleaming shawl
                                                                of flowers,
Ankle-length scented skirt, feet wheaten-bread-white.

Then she comes forward in gold-print: a Van Houten’s advert.
Memory and dream all in one, a drink for the feeble old man.

The young woman

Turns towards him: bites into
his loneliness. Suddenly
death gives a start. The many meaningless years
rise up defiantly: head of rose petals.

Fingers that are covered in emeralds and kisses.
And how obscene her guileless gesture.

‘Die Frau und der Greis’

Hamburger Kunsthalle

With her gaze she measures dispassionately
but insatiably his sex. Hung
up in the Seventh salon. She sees
as in her memory a husband, a lover,
a stranger always present. A gaze,
a hand that lends a shimmer to the painting
                                    of timeless security. – Oh, futility!

Love’s last act

Two nymphs by the Neva, the one skinny as death,
the other chops-smackingly fat with piggy-pink skin.

To their concealed retreat they invited The old man,
tasted his sex, opened their double

heat with the fat one, snow with the thin one,
two laps in one. Half-erect he sought his pleasure;

in vain, in despair, on stained
slavish slavonic sheets already soiled by others.

Among the rejected

At the teeming bottom among the swollen
bellies jostles also the often

practised flight, thrusts deeper
into the alienation, joyously.

. . .

Is rejected and born anew
tastes the loneliness immeasurably

squeezed in the cold
sea of power-gorged bellies.

Eddies in Norrström

Feb. 1989, à propos PM 100

A little finger, lifted at the Devil:
transparent bustling shrimp in suddenly deep water
with Fi – the Evil One, himself invisible,
close by. Neon strip provides moonlight
in the night and computer screens blink. When day

breaks: in a neat unprofitability
estimate Welfare lined up
for execution by Expressen, a
placard. Trippingly arriving the grizzled

Poised for flight

A crow flew out
the small holes’s nook.

On his bent toe
its landing took.


And on a pine-branch it then sat.
– This life is oh so grey and matt!

She waits, she waits while time now flies 
the pale old man’s demise.

Then flew off with a wave
and laughs upon his grave.

Poor old man

Poor Old Man, why your striving?
Scatter your silver; give the young
Nymph sex’s pearls; dry away
your nose’s tears! Be glad that the hour
is still in place – soon another Guest will arrive!
Soon you will rest bloodless and pale, and but
four planks’ eye-porch see you!

Dies advesperascit

Signs of insight

‘Immortality is something far too large
and something far too small.’

A new earth

2 Peter 3: 13-14

Is it the heavens that have made earthly life
worth living? The heavens with angel-like
cloud-wings. The heavens with their gleaming hem
now in an incipient autumn: perhaps the last.

All of them looked up to the heavens –
father and mother, their fathers and mothers:
casual labourers, crofters, enslaved smiths

Yes, over all the earth’s people in need arches incomprehensibly
a heavenly assurance: of another life –
a life, worth living.

Stretch out your hand

Just trifling matters – trifles! That
is what I busy myself with while waiting
for the great matter, for death.

It would be better for me to calm down,
cross my legs, close my eyes
like the all-wise Buddha

. . .

No, think, take yet one more step
on the long road to life –
the greatest:
that which time after time today is denied
millions who hunger and thirst!

Open your eyes, stretch out your hand!

The word of the Bible

Such is the Word:
a necessary commodity! A bowl
of rice to hold in the hand.
A cup of hot tea with honey.
A piece of meat for one who is hungry.
Consolation to the one asking
       for justice.

The prayer

Who can I speak to?
To you, who are not here
       and yet present.
You who without touching me
       takes hold of my hand.
You who lead me
       where the eye cannot see. To you

I whisper in the dark.

Eternal landscape

They still speak to me,
       the trees, the clouds, the blood-
red houses: ever eternal.

       Transient am only I who observe.
Soon it will be over – my time.

       To others they will then speak.

Ancient Chinese motif

Defiantly at the sky
the water buffalo turns its muzzle.
There is power in his loins
       though his sex is maimed.
Lyrically curved his horns.

Humbly though the old Chinese
peasant pauses; reins in his hand.
Wordlessly he asks the highest of the gods,
Buddha, concerning the end of his day’s work.

The grove of wisdom

Other there at the limit of the terrace house’s land
a hedge of spirea, bower of roses, a corner
                                                                for herbs.
Such was the intention, and likewise a grove for

. . .

The hedge has been planted. The roses set out.
Thyme, sage, chervil and oregano
The start then of a grove

but no time left for the Contemplation.


And yet already an insight about that I
have lacked and never had time for
at times it seem to me worth all my efforts.
Working in the garden promots a certainty
about wisdom – something God alone gives time and space for
                                                                in the heart.

The greatness of the perishable

Imagine the world – solely as
a notion... What a pitiful
fabrication! Without the richness
of the transient. Without the diversity
of all repetition. Without light’s endless

wanderings in the slope of pines outside your window –

The poet and the mirror

Poem – a form of lonely address.
Seeing oneself in a mirror – with a gilt frame!
No one pays you any attention any longer –
no one! Who listens. Who answers.

Soon only an empty frame around a stained pane of glass.
Even so for some time yet there is reflected a piece of
                                                                the sky, a sighing tree.

Journey in the memory

‘Noch nicht in Prag!’ The long longed-for journey rattles
like a third-class compartment. Still travelling the same way,
and our gazes as then fixed on our separate landscapes.
You see a valley, I the bare side of the mountain.
Your gaze, veiled, dreams of a goal, a city, a space.
I linger in the memory of the life I am leaving.
Your hand is soil; but the memory of it still in hand.
We are travelling then... I am travelling then... on this silent journey.
– An insight, though almost twenty years too late, that just a word, yes, just
a look of mutual understanding can cure loneliness and powerlessness!


Born out of the sea’s foam:
a whitened shore, your hip,
that rouses the memory. Not words,
just the line of the body; havy with desire
is the thought that destroys. All that is
left to me is this moment:

a hip that is turned towards me;
a desire that is roused, a line of memory,
a shore that still exists, and the sea’s

The old man and Time

Enclosed, shut in,
shy: behind the curtain.

The birds, the unanswered.
The questions, the unanswered.
Drops of rain falling.

Secure in the nameless,
secure in the timeless –
the unheeded.

And the clock on the wall wide-eyed

Poem with needle and thread

A monogram. Like a poem –
prick precisely with the needle, and even stitches!
A time for reflection – in all
                                    the thoughtlessness of the everyday.
Still precious, though sewn on a pillow.
A faded tose – a witness
of our time of trust, years that have flown.

The while with Jesus

Overmanned around two o’clock
in the afternoon. Then the knee bends and
the eye blinks. Her white head sinks
to rest on an embroidered cushion: ‘A little while
with Jesus!’ Rose-crocheted bedspread
gives warmth to dry limbs and likewise
                                    to her soul a blanket.

So too she imagines the end: As a rest,
though longer, close to Christ’s rose-garden.
– Lived alone, died alone; yet the Lord
gently covers her with sleep.

The Hyacinth and the Eternal

The scent of the hyacinth in the Vicar’s window – he sniffs
half with reverence; hair in his nose. Ah, the flower soon
perishes! A shrunken bulb remains but will re-
form next year: a symbol (for his sermon)
of life and transience!

Exuberant life’s short fullness. It dries out, dies
and is constantly born anew: A premonition is roused
of the order of eternity... Yes, why not grasp
this, old man! The musty smell comes, Vicar,
from your own person – your selfishness and your old
                                                                dreams of immortality.

The lion’s voice

For Björn Wester

When Buddha has spoken, his words
are confirmed by a distant roaring lion in the mountains.
– That is what you related on your final sick-bed.
Brother, your learning was great, but greater
your insight into life and death. High-heeled
lady’s shoes still stand on the shelf next to the Book of Death:
‘Toure of all Toures: and Teacheth a Man for to Die!’
Your voice was faint, a hoarse but penetrating
whisper reached my ear: Learn to die – and you learn
                                                                                                   to live!

The graphic artist

For Björn Jonson

Dirty little old man on the porch. Squints
at the morning sun – yellow as at Utamaro!
Lifts his hand so as to grasp
the light, his tools (long unused)
– felt-tip pen, rice paper; his clawlike fingers
fumble. Nothing remains here. Dispersed by the wind,
to connoisseurs, artdealers, his noble
                                                                proletarian graphics.
The backyard’s immeasurable light measured up, preserved
                                                                in thin lines.
– Death his partner... but to life he has left
                                                                the observation, indelible!

The thankless old man

‘I am no longer happy, I just am!’
Said the old man and lifted his eye.
But the winter wanes; spring whispers
messages to leaf and stem; and the wise
squirrel darts. The mist raises houses and lake,
and the dew gleams. So does the young
summer re-awaken life, without you having
raised a finger Yourself! – Thank the Lord,
old man, for the day that without you
                                                                is being born!

The blind crow

Consider the birds! Their
preparations are not for certain
death – but for uncertain
life. The nutcracker hoards thousands
of pine seeds for the winter, trusts in the weather.
As do I, blind in my faith
in fleeting earthly life.