Monday, 28 January 2013

Poem by Ida Gerhardt


Well-hidden in the hollow willow trunk
I see the lightning zigzag in the river’s glass.
The thunder shakes the land.
I’m drenched down to my very skin,
immoderately happy – to the heart’s
deep reaches.
From the soggy stump
with gleaming moss comes a smell of coffin wood.
And suddenly I see myself outstretched:
the finger wears the ring still, everything else
shudders to glaring ash
– And with a sudden screech
the eaglet soars.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Poem by the Dutch writer Eva Gerlach


Whatever’s whole we fail to see, it is
too big for us, non-fitting, it won’t go
inside our head

but what is chopped up, frittered, pounded fine,
crumbs, puréed, blown to dust, disintegrating –

all that is split up sticks in us for good.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Poem by the Flemish writer Peter Holvoet-Hanssen

song for the dead

Upsadaisy. From hobby-horse to hearse over the cobblestones.
It drizzled when grandmother was buried.

In September her daughter scrubs the grave though no one
ever comes by. My knees are ruined, she muses. So many
wasted years. If I ever get Alzheimer’s, give me a jab. Or:
poor old granny was afraid the rabbits would nibble at her toes
in the cemetery. When my time comes, I’m going to let myself be
cremated. Mr Death’s a gourmet underground.

In the mist above the graves: a little room at her house. Grey
dove stares at the tube, doesn’t recognise her. ‘I only get twenty
degrees and the TV guide offers only lousy programmes. You’re
not sleeping with that man from downstairs, are you? How could you? He’s
a thief, I hide my money.’

The smell of burning potato leaves. Mum says goodbye
to the swans. The skies are heavy, the mud sucks. Arthritis
in the shoulder. Quickly back to the house.

A radio drama in the living room. Nobody listens.
The hit parade. Anti-wrinkle cream. And a rosary in the drawer.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Short Emil Aarestrup poem -


Hold fastere omkring mig
Med dine runde Arme;
Hold fast, imens dit Hjerte
Endnu har Blod og Varme.

Om lidt, saa er vi skilt ad,
Som Bærrene paa Hækken;
Om lidt, er vi forsvundne,
Som Boblerne i Bækken.


Hold tighter still, your firm arms
Place round me and enfold me.
Hold tight while yet your heart beats
And let its warmth console me.

A short while, and we’re parted,
Like berries in the hedgerow;
A short while, and we’ve vanished
Like bubbles in the stream’s flow.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Another 'Galgenfrist' poem

Lapidary landscapes


a ship sails in the air
a gable is lit on the invisible
surface of the water

these low shores offer no resistance
this night is kindly disposed


the late brush of the birch
against the icy sky, the silver sun’s
waxing eye

the poem is finished


the steppe-grass whispers in a thousand telephones
directs the night wind with its waves

countersunk in itself the small eye
of the well stares hard at eternity


like sticks in the fire
for a second still visible

this city no longer exists


even these corn-ears and stars
            these voices on the terrace
                        and clouds at bedtime
have other properties
            contain truths and threats
                        only temporarily hidden
(the distant blue harvest lightnings
            only hesitate, spare this:
a provisional state
            of mosquito song and bindweed)

far into the night, into oblivion
            i of course know it

Friday, 11 January 2013

The second poem of 'Galgenfrist' (Short Respite) from 1958 by the Danish poet Ivan Malinovski

Autumn suite


Bastard in this light
wordless among these voices
the dahlias the gleaming drops
of the rowan
the maize and marrows calling from the market square
rows of asters and marigolds
                                                      each with its own cry
oh this silent smell of potatoes cabbage turnips
homeless homeless
among the lady apples of naked trees
the fat blister beetles of fallen leaves

in this richness
so rich in poverty
only you so dumb on the earth
so empty-handed at this season the season of thirst
hungering for supplies travels possession
apple-sweet melancholy
kernel root

the wriggling pupa under the eaves
an affront to his restlessness

enters the day dazzled
goes shrunken among mosquitoes
now the sparrows’ bush
stands ablaze
and nothing shall be his


now you sink back
                  into an old darkness
impossible recognition
                  images you have never seen
are called out along
                  strangely secret streets
flee with the leaves
                  flee in geese-wedges
find confused the spot
                  where some other where you
kissed her first
                  wanted her happiness
seek seek seek
                  but nothing is understandable
everything is reversed
                  everything is absurd and self-evident
the cemetery has not changed
                  the melons have the same taste
among all these corridors
                  not one even so that is yours
the thread is broken but heavily
                  you incline towards a past
(the stones the roots the darkness)
                  suddenly you can sigh
without knowing the reason
                  all at once you recall
an old death in the family
                  an unusual illumination
a mountain bonfire nighttime courage
                  (the stones the roots the darkness)
the sole trace of this
                  the sole recollection of the leap:
the wedge in the twilight now
                  above the woods of reeds


there then
the smell of autumn in the living room: green apples
there then
while the sky is saturated with melancholy moisture
the leaves weep

there then out there
the light: a column above the earth’s fatness
there then there then the mouse’s self-comfort
the stubble with dew’s filigree
and the snail’s small ear duct
listening clenched around an echo’s salt

consumptus est the red-fruit jelly
the kiosk’s supply of beer
the lobster we took home from the fishing village at midsummer
the hip-flasks are long since rusty
tinder and birchwood gone up in smoke
the nivea tin empty

our summerland properly assigned
to mould mosquitoes and mice

to resign
close oneself like the snail round an echo
form a membrane as a defence against hoar frost
and eat into a lost salt
there then
– – –
then the room blackens in panic:
ten thousands of bird’s wings

my dream my haste

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Time for a Komrij


Soms bloeide mijn moeder op
En kon ze als Brugman praten –
Een waterval, kip zonder kop –
Een verleden zonder hiaten –

Meestal zweeg ze. Ik denk aan haar
Als aan een ijzig rustende,
Onbenaderbare pilaar.
Je zou haar niet snel kussen.

Dement. Ze kakelde weer.
‘Jongen, wat ben je groot’
‘Het was fijn, maar nu niet meer’
‘Wanneer ga je weg?’ – en toen dood.


My mother at times came alive
Was granted the gift of the gab –
She gabbled on fixed overdrive –
A seamless past made up of blab –

But most of the time she said nowt.
Reminding me most of a pillar
Unreachable, steely throughout.
To kiss her would not be a thriller.

Quite senile. She cackled away.
‘Good gracious, how well you’ve been fed’
‘What times we once had, not today’
‘And when will you leave?’ – and then dead.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A new-year Benny Andersen

something to live up to

I don’t exactly count my dead
just note the number’s steadily increasing
but what are dead figures
compared to live-as-a-doornail friends

I’ve nothing against the dead
some of my best friends are dead
the striking thing about them though is
their undiminished vitality
unlike a good many now living who are
more dead than alive
I know several undeceased
who bore me to death
while the proper dead
the professionals
have the habit of coming back
at unexpected moments
interfering in everything
getting a boring conversation going
making the lilacs bloom in mid-winter
producing laughter during a tooth extraction
causing anger during an anaemic TV commercial
getting one to re-read the book
one had otherwise sworn never
to read again
reminding one that the Limfjord exists
that one has experienced incredible northern lights
that rain can taste differently

Eight or nine frail notes
and I notice your sun-warm hair
tickle my ear
and your young mouth against my lips

A whiff of turpentine
the fat boy of the class
you vulnerable giggler
we once tried to mingle blood
but started to laugh and gave up
and split our sides when we discovered
that Arsenal could be pronounced arse-and-all

Then a paint dealer’s apprentice
emigrated to America
just in time to be part of the Korean War
that you never wanted to talk about
but otherwise fat and cheery to the end
when you collapsed in your tiny Japanese wife’s arms

A  rose-hip bush in blossom
a light-haired girl with calm
smiling movements
five years

Pipe-smoke and bog-myrtle snaps
lobscouse and Ella Fitzgerald
at Tut and Arne’s in Brønshøj
and that piano that yawned like a hippo
one had to play it to keep its gob shut
but how could once manage to dance at the same time
and discuss Ouspenski and the fourth dimension
and Buddha and Huxley and Eartha Kitt
and Freud and Kafka and PH and Liva Weel
and when we heard the first bird-call
and smelt newly fetched rolls
exhaustion reached the point
where exhausted by itself
it turned into previously unknown alertness
the piano began to play itself
the dance danced itself
the shutters shot open from one’s eyes
and your faces were all so beautiful and wise
that one had to throw a wicker chair
right through the fourth dimension
out onto the terrace while on one’s own
one sang a duet version of
Strange and Wondrous Evening Breezes
and Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot
so as not to go stark raving bonkers

A soft rustling in the birch-tree’s leaves
a blackbird that stops and looks at one
a line of an old poem
a particular crack in a tile
can prove to be chinks of light
into my mad Hades
populated with loved ghosts

Certain spirits have very beautiful breasts
a dark and golden laughter
others have to do with music
at the moment one has a phantom band
consisting of accordion and guitar
drums and tenor sax
violin and cello
plus no less than two on bass
they play some kind of fusion music
jazz and Mozart
sailor’s waltz and reggae
Carl Nielsen with afro-beat

I’m not afraid of the dead
I’more more afraid of the living
that really can take my love of life from me
but the dead give me experiences for life
oh what would life be without you
my indefatigable mentors in
how alive life can be
and it swings what’s more

But I must always be a bit on the lookout
they’re always short of a pianist
and at that point I simply opt out