Sunday, 8 November 2009

Inger Christensen

Here is the beginning of what has become a modern classic of Danish poetry:


I

Skywards they swirl, the planet’s butterflies,
like coloured dust from earth’s warm tenement:
cinnabar, phosphorus, gold, ochre – they rise
to form a swarm of chemo-elements.

And is this shimmering of wings a seeming
shoal of imagined particles of light?
Is it my summer hour of childhood dreaming
fractured as time-warped lightnings might?

No, it’s light’s angel, able to unveil
itself as black Apollo mnemosyne,
copper, poplar-admiral, swallowtail.

I see them with a mind but half aware
as feathers in a heat-haze eiderdown
in Brajchino valley’s searing midday air.


The poem comprises fifteen sonnets. Each sonnet starts with the last line of the previous sonnet. The final sonnet is made up of the first lines of the fourteen previous sonnets.
To see the whole sonnet cycle, go to here.
To see the Latin names of the butterflies mentioned, go to here
And to see images of all the butterflies, go to here.

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