Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Werner Aspenström: 'Svalor'


Stanna du som sneddar över backen
med korgar i båda händerna! 
Stanna, säger jag, en liten stund,
inte längre än ett gult blad behöver
för att lossna och falla till marken.

Fyll dina korgar med aftonens svalsång
som droppar i luften,
droppar på den sjunkande solen,
droppar på koppartrådarna som ett regn, 
när det trevande närmar sig.
Fyll dina korgar med svalungarnas mjuka bröstdun,
deras tafatta vingar,
som flaxar som läderlappar
och ingenstans kommer.

Denna aftonskönhet bortom allt känt
dessa svalors vingspel och du och jag.
Vem vågar tro på solens återkomst?
Stanna, säger jag, en liten stund,
inte längre än ett gult blad behöver
för att lossna och falla till marken.


Stay, you who are cutting across the hillside
with baskets in both of your hands! 
Stay, I say, a little while,
no longer than a yellow leaf needs
to loosen and fall to the ground.

Fill your baskets with the evening’s swallow song
that drips through the air,
drips on the setting sun,
drips on the copper wires like rain
when it tentatively approaches.
Fill your baskets with young swallows’ soft breast down,
their clumsy wings
that flap like bats
and get nowhere.

This evening beauty beyond all that’s known
these swallows’ wing-beats and you and I.
Who dares believe in the sun’s return?
Stay, I say, a little while,
no longer than a yellow leaf needs
to loosen and fall to the ground.

Hölderlin: 'Hälfte des Lebens' (New Translation 2019)

For a decade or more, I have been wrestling with a translation of Hölderlin's 'Hälfte des Lebens'. If you go to this entry, you can see the workshop describing the process. One of the thorny issues is the German construction hängen + in + accusative, which implies both statis (the intransitive use of the verb) and movement (the use of the accusative). This has been analysed in various ways: Das Land hängt in den See (hinein)//Das Land hängt nur teilweise im See, etc.

I have tried 'Poised land becomes lake'. But cannot face looking at it. It feels wrong. Often the most obvious is right under one's nose. So I have taken that instead. What can never be captured is to let the word for 'hänget' hang at the end of the first line. That is sheer brilliance.


Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.


With yellow pears full-laden
And covered with wild roses
Land hangs into lake,
You swans alluring,
And drunken with kisses
Dipping your heads
In sacred-sobering water.

Ah me, where will I, when
The winter’s come, find flowers, and where
The sunshine and
The shadows of the earth?
The walls all stand
Speechless and cold, the wind-caught
Weather-vanes clatter.

Joachim du Bellay: 'Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage' (1558)

Sonnet XXXI – Les Regrets

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,
Ou comme cestuy là qui conquit la toison,
Et puis est retourné, plein d’usage et raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son aage !

Quand revoiray-je, hélas, de mon petit village
Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison,
Revoiray-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
Qui m’est une province, et beaucoup d’avantage ?

Plus me plaist le séjour qu’ont basty mes ayeux,
Que des palais Romains le front audacieux,
Plus que le marbre dur me plaist l’ardoise fine,

Plus mon Loyre Gaulois, que le Tybre Latin,
Plus mon petit Lyré, que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que l’air marin la doulceur Angevine.

Sonnet XXXI - Regrets

Happy, like Ulysses, the one whose journey’s done,
Or like that man of fame who gained the golden fleece
And then returned, more seasoned and more wise, to Greece
To live among his own with all his battles won!

When will I see, alas, the smoke from chimneys rise
Once more in my small village, at what time of year
I see once more the plot of my poor home so dear
That is to me a province – more, despite its size?

More pleasing is the place my ancestors have built
Than Roman palaces, their grandeur and their gilt,
More than the marble’s hardness does my fine slate please,

More than Tiber’s swift waters, my Loire calm and still,
More my Lyré so small than the Palatine Hill,
And more than strong sea-air, the Angevine soft breeze. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Philippe Jaccottet: 'Plus aucun souffle'

Plus aucun souffle.

Comme quand le vent du matin
a eu raison
de la dernière bougie.

Il y a en nous un si profond silence
qu’une comète
en route vers la nuit des filles de nos filles
nous l’entendrions.


Not a breath more.

As when the morning wind
has vanquished
the last candle.

There is within us a silence so profound
that a comet
heading for the night of our daughters’ daughters 
would be audible to us.


Sunday, 14 July 2019

Olaf Bull: 'Digter'


Jeg synes, alverden smiler
bag zobel og skind i løn,
fordi jeg blaafrossen piler
i vaarfrak, tynd og grøn!

Dér kommer en festlig frue
i skinnende pelsverks pragt
og lysende hermelinshue — —
jeg smutter i foraarets dragt!

Skal det være en viol fra mit knaphul,
en blomst fra en vaargrøn vei — —?
Skal det være lidt fuglekvidder — —?
Kvirrevitt — — —! Faaes gratis hos mig!


I feel the whole world is smiling,
in sable and furs unseen,
since I dart around half-frozen
in a spring coat, thin and green!

Just look, a lady so stately
her gleaming furs swish and swing
and topped by a bright ermine beret — —
I scurry around dressed for spring! 

How about my own buttonhole’s violet,
a roadside spring flower maybe — —?
How about some twittering chirrups — —?
Chirpy chirp — — —! From me it’s for free!

Saturday, 13 July 2019

HCA: 'Qvæk'


All the birds in the forest sat in the trees on branches where there were reams of leaves, even so they agreed they wanted the leaves of a good journal, they longed for a critical publication, such as humans have so many of that half will do. The songbirds wanted a musical critique that praised their own singing and found fault with that of others, wherever faults were to be found. But they were unable to agree about finding impartial critics among the birds, ‘A bird, though, it will have to be,’ said the owl, who had been elected president of the assembly and is the bird of wisdom, ‘one can hardly choose from some other part of the animal kingdom unless perhaps from the sea, there fishes fly as birds do in the air, but that is also the only thing they have in common. But there are still plenty of animals between fish and fowl.’
Then the stork took over, his beak clacking. ‘They are creatures between fish and fowl: the children of bog-water, the frogs, are who I vote for. They are extremely musical, sing in chorus, like church bells in the solitude of the forest. I feel the urge to travel abroad!’ the stork said, ‘an itching under my wings when they strike up.’
‘I vote for the frogs too,’ the heron said, ‘they are neither fish nor fowl, live among the fishes yet sing like birds. ‘
‘That was the musical aspect,’ the owl said, ‘but the journal must also deal with everything that is beautiful in the forest, there must be members of staff. Let us ponder the matter in our separate families.’
Then the little lark trilled so cheerfully and beautifully: ‘The frog must not be in charge of the journal, no, the nightingale.’
‘Stop your chirruping!’ the owl said, ‘I’m hooting for order. I know the nightingale, we are both of us night-birds; each bird sings with its own beak, so neither he nor I ought to be chosen. For then the journal would become an aristocratic or a philosophical journal, a superior journal, where those of rank reign supreme, it must also be a voice for the common man.’


They disagreed as to whether it should be called the Morning Croak, or the Evening Croak or just Croak. The last-mentioned was decided on.
They now needed proficient – or considered proficient – staff.
The bee, the ant and the mole promised to write about industrial and engineering matters, subjects about which they had great insight.
The cuckoo was the nature poet, not counted among the songbirds, though of great importance for the common man. ‘He is always vaunting himself, he is the vainest bird of all, though nothing much to look at,’ the peacock said.
Then the blowflies came to the editor in the forest. ‘We offer our service. We know human editors, human criticism, one lands on a piece of fresh meat and blow on it, it is rotten within twenty-four hours, we could destroy anyone’s talent completely if necessary in the service of the editors. As a party one can be so highly placed a journal that one can dare ride rough-shod and should one lose a subscriber gain ten instead. Be coarse, give nicknames, make a laughing stock, whistle with one’s fingers, like the League of Youth, then you become a force to be reckoned with within the state.’
‘What an aerial vagabond!’ the frog said about the stork; ‘when I was little, I really looked up to him and felt a quivering reverence, and when he walked around in the marshes and talked about Egypt, he broadened my horizon to strange, marvellous lands, but now he doesn’t elevate me any more, there is only an echo left, I have become wiser, thoughtful, important, I supply critical articles to Croak. I am what is referred to in The Correct Spelling and Pronuncuation of the Danish Language as a Croaker! There are also such people in the human world. I have written a piece about it in the bottom section of our journal.’

Friday, 12 July 2019

Olaf Bull: 'Stenen'


Jeg var i den yderste evighed, 
bagom de synlige fjerners brand – 
da var det, at nogen imod mig skred 
frem paa en ukjendt stjernes rand. 

Nogen, som bøiet sig frem og lo 
bag slør, som hyllet dens hoved til, 
og holdt en sten i sin ene klo 
og hviskede kold og mild:

“Jeg slipper en sten i himmelrunden, 
den golde sten, jeg her dig tér; 
i næste sekund er den forsvunden; 
den aflader aldrig at falde mer.

Begriber du, usle, hvad jeg gjør? 
Jeg drypper en faldende sten i dit sind; 
jeg saar i dit væsen en uro ind, 
en uro, som aldrig dør.

Hvorhelst du forbrænder i lysets haller, 
i elskov hos kvinder, blandt vaarhvide buske – 
Stenen, som samtidig falder, falder 
i ødets mulm, skal du huske” – – – 
– – – – – – –

                      * * *

Og billedet brast, og jeg sænkedes ned, 
ned paa min seng – jeg vaagnet i sved; 
i bølger af iskold stjernedugg 
hamret mit hjerte, hug i hug –

                      * * *

Men drømmen forblev i mit hjertes nat; 
fra ungdom til moden alder 
søgte mit sind forgjæves at gribe 
den sten, som bestandig falder – 
– – – – – – – –

The stone

I was in the furthest eternity, 
past visible distances’ fire by far – 
when someone I saw was approaching me
on the rim of an unknown star.

Leaning towards me, he laughed behind gauze
that made his head awkward to see,
and held a stone in one of his claws 
and cold and mild whispered to me:

‘I release a stone into vaults of space,
the barren stone I hold out to you;
a split second later it’s gone apace
and will never cease falling anew.

Do you realise, wretch, what this signifies?
I drip into your mind a falling stone;
I sow an unrest that your heart can’t disown,
an unrest that never dies.

Where’er you’re on fire in light’s bright halls,
in love-acts with women, midst bushes in bloom –
You’ll recall the stone, which all the while falls
and falls into fate’s dark gloom’ – – – 
– – – – – – –

                      * * *

And the image shattered, and onto my bed
I was lowered, lowered – I woke in a sweat;
in surges of freezing-cold stellar dew
my heart pounded and pounded anew –

                      * * *

But the dream remained in my own heart’s night; 
my mind sought in vain without stalling
from youth to late manhood to gain a hold
of the stone that forever is falling –
– – – – – – – –

Olaf Bull: 'Avmagt'


Rend ikke panden mot dødens dør —
du vet det jo godt:
En verden af muld
er alle vore døde!

Vet, hendes legemes fri form
med stjerner og hav og sol fyldt,
er nu en tom
graa muld
skaffet med angst tilside!

Og over det hele
en raa høi
med kraftløse blomster,
gjennem hvis duft
en levende fryvil
slaar ut sine livstørste vinger.

Og du føler det klart,
naar du øiner det kryp
drikke af en sjælløs himmel,
straalende, tomt, med sine blikke:
Dette, det er livet — —

Og hun, din eneste ven,
hvis heftige øine speilet
dig, din kjærlighet ind,
dypt dernede i verden
er blindt forraadt stof —

Bare en del af den tro,
grønne og maalløse grund,
mot hvilken det lille insekt
vimrer sin livsrike dans,
og hvortil det stundom mødigt sig hviler.
— — — — —

Du skal ikke drønne mot dødens port.
Du vidste det før:
En verden af muld
er alle vore døde.

Reis dig fra grønsværet nu og staa.
Solen er omme, natten staar blaa
mot dødens bronsedører.
Graat dine taarer, sig dine ord —
ord for ord
er det kun du, som hører:

«Sov søtt
mulds søvn
i gravens nat,
hvor sol ikke stiger —
der, hvor dit omrids stund for stund
over i verdens mørke viger —

Lev den evige fred
som ikke kjender sig selv
og derfor er dypest fred.
Lev vel — o du — lev vel
i aftenens have!
Vi møtes i skovlen, som øses
         paa fremtidens grave.»


Don’t run your head against death’s door —
you know that full well:
A world of earth
are all our dead!

Know, the free form of her body
filled with stars and sea and sun
is now but an empty
grey earth
shovelled aside out of fear!

And over it all
a rough mound
with now sapless flowers,
through whose scent
a live butterfly
unfolds its life-thirsting wings!

And you feel it clearly
when glimpsing the earthbound 
insect drink from a soulless sky,
gleaming, empty, with its gazing:
This, this is life — —

And she, your only friend,
whose intense eyes mirrored
you, your love within,
deep down there in the world
is blind, betrayed matter —

Only a part of the faithful,
green and purposeless plot
towards which the small insect
quivers its vibrant dance
and at which it sometimes wearily rests.
— — — — —

You are not to crash against death’s door
You knew that already:
A world of earth
are all our dead.

Rise from the grassy earth now, stand up.
The sun is over, the night deep blue
against death’s doors of bronze.
Weep your tears, say your words —
word for word
you alone can hear them:

‘Sleep sweetly
earth's sleep
in the night of the grave
where the sun does not rise —
there, where your outline hour by hour
fades into world’s darkness —

Live the eternal peace
which does not know itself
and therefore is deepest peace.
Farewell — oh you — farewell
in evening’s garden!
We’ll meet in the shovel that’s strewn
         over graves of the future.’