Tuesday, 14 January 2020

J. Bernlef: 'Alles teruggevonden/ niets bewaard' (1982)


Alles teruggevonden/ niets bewaard (1982)

J. Bernlef

On 11 July 1897, three Swedes took off from the island Danskön west of Spitsbergen in their balloon Örnen (‘The Eagle’). They were in search of the North Pole. With them they had a Swedish flag with which to mark precisely this theoretical point of the globe. The interest shown in their undertaking was considerable, also outside their own country.
The names of the three men were: Salomon August Andrée, Kurt Fraenkel and Nils Strindberg. A study of the historical material would seem to indicate that Andrée and Strindberg had serious doubts about just how manoeuvrable and airtight the balloon, manufactured in France, actually was. They set out even so. A year earlier, a previous attempt had had to be abandoned, due to the lack of a favourable wind. The enormous public interest and the financial support of such eminent figures as Alfred No- bel and the Swedish king, however, turned into a matter of honour what in advance and by its very nature was doomed to be a fate- ful undertaking.
The lack of manoeuvrability was obvious soon after the start. So much ballast had to be jettisoned that the balloon rose too high. Within 65 hours, it had become so top-heavy as the result of freezing rain that they were forced to make a landing.
On 14 July, they began to trek through a drifting landscape of ice-floes, ending up on 5 October 1897 on the small island of Vitön (‘White Island’, pronounced: veet-ern) east of Spitsbergen. Shortly after arriving on the island the members of the expedition perished.
Not until 1930 were their as remains discovered by a Danish group of scientists. Among the objects left behind was a case with negatives that Nils Strindberg had taken with a self-designed camera. A number of these could be developed; the others seemed to be of too inferior quality. In 1979, however, it proved possible to develop some more of the photos. Because of this, the Andrée expedition was briefly - and probably for the last time - once more a matter of public interest.
Microscopic analysis of the pieces of polar bear meat found on Vitön, combined with notes in the discovered journals kept by the members of the expedition, had a number of years previously revealed the cause of their death. From eating con- taminated bear meat the members of the expedition had become infected with trichinosis, a gradual but fatal disease caused by a type of worm that rapidly multiplies in the intestinal canal, from where it perforates the muscular tissue of the victim.
The objects found on Vitön in 1930, as well as a reconstruction of the balloon, are on show at the Andrée museum in Gränna, the birthplace of the balloonist.

step into the museum in Gränna
sweating and on tiptoe because of the heat

Why try to break open something that
belongs to a distant past? I know quite well

And yet. Here’s a hatchet. There’s
A photo of the ice. Write so as

To drive in a wedge, make a tiny breath hole
through which past oxygen may hiss

And spout to form a present kiss
so that I feel you’re alive - here

Every museum has some chink

Framed in an oval setting: Fraenkel, Strindberg
and Andrée in Florman’s photo atelier in Stockholm

Expenses arranged, the balloon now
ready to ascend from the close of a century

Where a will seemed to be a way, a dream
high-flown that froze into a petrified statue

This the pose of Fraenkel and Andrée too
as if everything’s past, consigned to history

Not so Nils Strindberg, no not he
he is five and twenty and in love, his gaze

is still quite visible, is fixed on her
on Anna Charlier, his delicate fiancée

The stares of his moustached colleagues remain clouded in sepia

Half a year later it was all over
in 1930 their three corpses were found on Vitön

Salomon August Andrée, you knew all along
yet dragged even so the two others along in your fall

To Gränna to this your own private museum
in the mid-20th century, on a fine sunny day

You knew in advance and in the name of
progress, of the king and Nobel

We will not return to this country
where undreamt-of machines have now got to the point

Of regulating all aspects of life
for ever like the cogwheels of your watch the time

All arms were pointing upwards, all faces radiated not
Fear or Hope, simply belief in the Future

Almost everything’s still, nothing completely moves

That which they undertook was from the start quite
senseless and for that reason maybe preserved

To get to the very centre of the pole
whose sole existence is on maps

Only 65 hours and they were heavier than air
were forced to land upon the frozen water

There stands Andrée peering for land legs wide
apart while beneath his feet everything moves

They set off on their sleds or so at least they thought
in actual fact though they stood still

Posing for posterity they had in fact been cut adrift

They set their course westwards and they
drifted off to the east

They set their course eastwards and they
drifted all the while further to the west

And if the sun broke through the mist
Fraenkel reached for his sextant

Sought the sun’s altitude and
stuck his hand out: this way

Right to the end he measured on
fixing positions, all that mattered

Now was the meticulous registration
of impending doom

Figures and data form the frame of their swansong

Just as the seeing of your own face can
only ever be caught in a mirror

I view in photographs the things they looked at
as the ice began to form fissures and cracked

Powder snow whirled itself into skintight veils
dense fog encased them like some great bell-jar

Their voices reeled hollow and hoarse all around them
and they were completely alone on the floe

A seagull defiantly screeched, where were
they drifting, what were they feeling

I want to live through it, all whiteness removed,
want to look through them on this paper

Here they vanish yet whiter than me once more out of sight

They perished on Vitön, Fraenkel
and Andrée, side by side in their tent

With an aluminium cup, a primus
some roubles, dollars, an empty bottle

33 years later (a reconstruction) they still lie there
snowed-in and huddled close together

The primus is ready for use
for a scalding-hot mug of coffee or tea

But every gesture’s completely gone
I stare at a photo of a heap of stones

Nils Strindberg’s grave, the tent 35 metres away
80 years or so ago, now hangs behind glass

I think of his finger and then of the shutter

From the blackness of 82 Kodak years
they gradually emerge from the developer

Here Andrée and Frænkel are pulling their own sleds
behind them leans and lurks the millpond sea

And are the murky flecks just flakes of snow
or ingrained particles from years of winter?

The stare of the curator shows surprise,
why I should want to know, that difference

He holds the negative to the light
that fades into a positive at once

Miniscule perforations through which this light
here and on Vitön fell and falls on 82 long years

On two men and on a sled
on their balloon ‘The Eagle’ that

gently sways in the museum garden

Where everything was white and bright
every one of the photos came out

Always the same one really
two men just searching for landscape

Here Fraenkel burrows intently
with his shoe in the snow

Andrée with kepi and stick a bit behind
stares still as leader at the lens

He surely knew (not Strindberg though
with steady camera) how limitless

Their hopeless hike was, one
that plotted on a map’s a web

A fabric where a blind spot sits

Many last ones. This the photographer
Nils Strindberg, 25 years old, yet

Here quite unrecognisable
even down to the moustache

Two ropes connecting him to the sled
it too now housed in the Andrée museum

He prods the snow with obvious caution
in search of fissures in the ice

The final time light was to strike him
upright - he was to be the first one

Blizzarding out in his own camera

Of Fraenkel himself we have nothing
but figures and data, their position on the ice

Was he devoid of imagination? For sure.
Andrée writes in detail of his complainings

He was only a child of his time, the
slave of wind and weather with data

That were to offer protection against his thoughts
of home, against his tears and his pain

Which he refused even to mention
lacking any form of valid and convincing proof

He died stiff on time's stroke as a figure

The last one was Andrée: without date
handwriting quite illegible

Five lines, made up of sixty-one words
with the last word unfinished

I turn back the pages: we are full of hope
plenty of provisions, sturdy shoes

Somewhat further towards the end: bad sign
no polar bears sighted for days

And then the very last page
that ultimate and never finished word

Staring into the surrounding white

Everything preserved, everything recovered
the sled, the prickers and the ship’s biscuits

Boat, tent, their diaries, their shoes
and here too on a pedestal even the plate camera

Thirty instants of bitter-filled whiteness
frugally framed and hung as exhibits

We amble over floors that are creaking
I add up the bones of your hand

A bumblebee inspects the curtains
you want to know this country’s names

While the curator’s voice drones on
about their stranding on Vitön

Everything recovered - nothing preserved

I place you by the colourful balloon
in the summer garden (a birdsong chorus)

Quite still I say and take you
take a polaroid (a birdsong chorus)

Quite still till I’m ready and look
how you show against the balloon (a birdsong chorus)

I look at your breasts, at your inquisitive
toes in all that succulent grass (a birdsong chorus)

And I see behind your dress the scars
the hair that I know (a birdsong chorus)

Well, did it come out? Oh yes, just look!
Your turn!
Listen, the chorus...

Come towards me through the grass, straight through
the moist grass still full of summer, come

In the failing light around Andrée’s balloon

Monday, 13 January 2020

Steen Steensen Blicher: 'Præludium'


The time approaches for me to part!
Now winter's voice is compelling;
A bird of passage I know my heart
In other climes has its dwelling.

I have long known that I cannot stay;
This does not cause any grieving,
So free from care as I wend my way
I sing at times before leaving.

I should at times have perhaps sung more –
Or should perhaps have sung better;
But dark days crowded oft to the fore,
And gales my feathers did scatter.

In God's fair world I would fain have tried
To spread my wings out in freedom;
But I'm imprisoned on every side
And can't escape from my thralldom.

From lofty skies I would have fain have tried
To blithely sing and not fretted;
But for my shelter and food must bide
A jailbird poor and indebted.

At times I make the consoling choice
To let my gaze outward wander:
And sometimes send my poor mournful voice
Through prison bars yearning yonder.

Then listen, traveller, to this song;
To pass this way please endeavour!
It might, God knows, not last very long
Before this voice fades for ever.

This coming evening, I can foretell,
May see my prison bars breaking;
For I will sing now a fond farewell,
Perhaps my final leave-taking.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Anneke Brassinga: 'Hoog Veluws lied'

Veluwe Canticle

Wee creature swims
in the Gietense Flessen.
A sea of gold stems that
keep blue sea secret.

Floating in fluid glass
between heaven and hollow,
cool-softly stroked,
no human near.

Redhead in upper realms:
small water without end.
Small man
in one vast span.

To see the original Dutch poem, go to here.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer - another sonnet

Sonnet for a new decade

in which nostalgia threatens

The twenties’ decade was the Roaring Twenties.
One danced the Charleston at the gangsters’ ball.
A future gleamed, nostalgia – above all
Lili Marleen with endlessly long panties.

The false stab-in-the-back-myth then gave birth
to longing for authoritarian rule.
To Rome marched fresh-washed hordes, their faces cruel.
One practised for the holocaust on earth.

For this new century I have been born
a century too soon. Excitedly I wait
to see what I may come to witness here.

The pub’s nostalgics I hear loudly warn,
their shrill cries their fat guts yet more dilate.
A brand-new age may cause some pain, I fear.

Paul van Ostaijen: 'Vers'

To P.B. Baeyens

All joy’s sheer lightness: incompactible. A word’s
never as light as it should be when heard;
wings that are spread wide-open, quivering in the air,
though at no distance from the houses,
fanning open, in a broader flight,
and disappearing without trace. But joy remains
present there, although no trace is sensed.
Joy can’t be scooped up in your hand like water
that for a moment would run in that dry hand
making a wondrously quenching hollow of it
and quite as unseizable as a woman’s lips that stroke,
feathers from you-know-not-where, down on your eyelids, –
I’ve often run till out of breath, to make those feathers airborne. –
It can’t be positioned, is the nature of the things themselves.
A lark, it must be somewhere,
which it is, quite by nature: the metallic droplets
fall nowhere.
And yet it seems all’s impregnated by
this intangible coitus in the sky.

That part of the roof the sun’s lying on
rises up rebaptised and joyous into the light;
that behind which the shadow rests no less.
Nowhere compacted, not where the sun is, nor shadow either.
You cannot go home to just gather joy there,
joy you must feel as something you bathe in;
you are yourself a part of joy
and through the other parts your course runs, as they through you,
precisely so as to make this movement unseizable immeasurable:
the spark of a short-circuiting, yet surpassed.

June 1917

Thursday, 2 January 2020

C.O. Jellema: 'Het waait er altijd'


On such a terp, we said, right close
to such an ancient little church,
we too perhaps – and pointed out
the symbols to each other: butterfly.
hourglass, as a ring round names
the serpent biting its own tail.
It was a day in spring, flowers
already dotting the grass,
the reassuring droning of a tractor
from the field, there was
much wind.

Lightly those things are said as long
as you can speak, can look at me so doing
with that familiar face of yours, but

now that I write it down, search for a word
not made flesh, that did not dwell among us,

for when all that’s left
to me is to think of your voice,
to imagine your face:

what is it calls itself lasting,
what omits itself anywhere;

for when that whole
idea of idyll
goes underground,
what then,
on such a terp, in
it bloweth where it listeth
and thou hearest the sound thereof
but canst not tell whence it cometh
that eternal

Monday, 30 December 2019

Adam Oehlenschläger: 'Guldhornene'

The Gold Horns

They peer in pages
of ancient sages,
on opened barrows
their gaze now narrows,
on shield and sword in
each castle ruin,
on runestone boulders
midst bones now moldered.

Old deeds exciting
cast spells if bidden;
but earth keeps hidden 
the ancient writing.
Their gaze unseeing,
Thoughts wild and fleeing
In mists they’re groping.

“You days of glory
lost well past hoping!
when the North shone clearly
with heaven here nearly,
may we glimpse your story!

Clouds are rushing,
Night is hushing,
Barrows sighing
Roses shying.
The heavens’ highest ceiling
The high ones transfigured
are teeming, are teeming,
daubed red for war’s rigours,
their eyes starlike gleaming.

“You who reel and are blind
will find
a relic of bygone year
that will come and disappear!
Its sides full golden
the stamp will be wearing
of times most olden.

Its lesson’s for sharing.
With reverent bearing
our gift you repay us
Of beauties the fairest,
a maid
will this treasure discover!”
They sing and pass over.
The airborne sounds fade.

Black Rimfaxe, fawning
his mouth flecked with lather,
plunges into the ocean.
Gates of the morning
are ope’d by day’s father:
Skinfaxe in motion
with fire seems to leaven
the arch of the heavens.

The birds are all singing.
Dewdrops give showers
To petals of flowers
That breezes are swinging.
And with graceful lilt 
a maiden now dances
with violet-garlands
away to the field.
Her rosy cheeks bright,
Her hands lily-white.
Light as a deer
With spirit so clear
she floats sweetly smiling;
Love-thoughts beguiling
her mind in a tumble
she stumbles!
and sees as she gazes 
golden blazes,
and blushes and shivers
and lifts with a quiver,
amazed at the sight,
from the earth’s black hold
with hands snow-white
the crimson gold.

A peal of
distant thunder!
The North’s
in total wonder

With crowds soon forming
now seething, now swarming
they dig without measure
for yet more treasure.
But no more gold!
Their hope was mistaken.
They see but black mould
from which they’ve been taken.

A century dies!!

O’er summits the cry
again is sounding.
With force astounding
Storm’s floodgates break.
O’er Norway’s peaks
to Denmark’s vales
in lofty halls
once more they gather
the ancient fathers.

“For the precious few
who our gift well knew
who no earthly chains bind
but whose souls rise up
to eternity’s top
who sense what is high
in Nature’s eye
who adoringly learn
divine rays to find,
in suns, violets – in all,
the great and the small
who thirsting still burn
for the Life of Life,
who – oh great spirit
of ancient times! –
see your divine gaze
on its sacred sides,
for them is our stay!
A son of nature,
an unknown creature,
but strong and tall
as his fathers withal,
is tilling his soil,
we will honour his toil –
he’ll once more uncover!”
They sing and pass over.

Black Rimfaxe, fawning
his mouth flecked with lather,
plunges into the ocean.
Gates of the morning
are ope’d by day’s father:
Skinfaxe in motion
with fire seems to leaven
the arch of the heavens.

By woodland brow
The oxen heave
the heavy plough
and furrows cleave.
The plough seems to freeze,
and a shiver is heard
to pass through the trees.
Flocks of birds
cease to call
Holy silence
consecrates all.

The ringing of old
of ancient gold.

Gleaming pair from days of yore
in later ages dazzling.
Strangly they came as before,
on crimson sides so puzzling.

Sacred mystery enshrouds
ancient runes and signs.
A holy aura trembles round
these miracles from outside time.

Honour them, for fate can falter
soon maybe no more they’ll rove.
May Christ’s blood on God’s high altar
fill them, as did blood the grove.

You see gleam as the whole story,
not what’s venerable and high!
Only show their outer glory
to a dull indifferent eye.

Skies grow dark, the storms awaken!
Certain hour, your word is law.
What they gave has been retaken. 
What was sacred is no more.