Thursday, 19 January 2012

Poem (1936) by the Danish writer
Tom Kristensen (1893-1974)

It is Knud who is dead

Were I today a grouse, I’d flex my wings for flight,
I’d fill my lungs with air and fly both day and night
over a winter sea blackening behind whitish foam,
through the cloud-chased December sky I’d roam.

But as a wind-tossed grouse, the sport of every gale,
north-west I’d fly to warn of storms that now hoist sail.
My heart brimful of pain, lured from within my breast
The song that soon will howl the length of Greenland’s coast.

On it would echo, covering half the world,
follow sealskin boots and all sledge tracks now unfurled.
howl in Hudson Bay as far as King William’s Land,
whisper in settlements and every distant strand.

All his old friends should be roused from a doze so light,
Clearing and Willow Twig, Auá with dog snowy-white,
all the beautiful girls with smiles broad and bright
would rise in confusion, forgetting their carefree respite.

All of them must be awakened. Sorrow’s but started,
Soon it will spread to where all Alaska’s uncharted.
The great magician is dead! The mighty wizard is dead!
Did you all hear my song? Did you all get the thread?

Islands, lands and rivers are locked with chains of ice.
The joy that warmed you all has paid the final price.
Shiver, as we all do today, our fire is dead,
for he’s forever dead, it is Knud who is dead.
Do you all understand? 

 The 'Knud' referred to is the Danish arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen. To hear a discussion of this translation, you can download a podcast of DR P1 Skønlitteratur 18.01.2012 here. The discussion starts after about 21 mins 21 secs of the programme. It is in Danish!

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