Friday, 27 February 2015

Another poem by Erik Spinoy

At the jewish cemetery

many of the stones lie overturned. Their lie
does not seem random to me, nor their fall
as being caused by gravity, but rather by
a power that has an underlying reason.

So that each slab or tombstone there lies
thwacked down with a purpose – a soul – and waits
on the bühne of the cemetery till someone
who comprehends comes in from the wings.

But what then am I doing here? None of these
stone bodies moves at all, no voice is to
be heard that pierces their grey outlines.
We always stand as strangers next to one

another. From them to me no gesture reaches out
that can be long enough.

To hear the translation read, go to here

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A poem by the Norwegian clergyman Petter Dass (1647-1707)

Petter Dasse’s Lament
concerning his illness of six years

A body full of grit and stone
Countless infirmities has known;
And yet I ween with pen or quill
One never can describe such ill.

Such is the life I’ve now acquired,
Of pain I am both sick and tired.
At times I wish my end were nigh:
I long for death, yet do not die.

The burden that my back has bent
Is known to God omniscient,
While others can go forth and back:
I am the one stretched on the rack.

The beast that each day pulls the plough
Is better off than me, I vow;
Should it withstand its daily toil,
Nothing at night its peace will spoil.

All day my pain won’t let me think,
At night I cannot sleep a wink,
My life is almost rent in twain,
When may I e’er find rest again?

Shall I squeeze out a single drop,
My mind beside itself says stop;
’Tis like an awl or knife that cuts
Stabbed ’twixt my member and my guts.

For six years weakness has held sway,
I have not had a quiet day.
Oh God of Mercy, grant me peace:
Year seven me from gaol release!

The Sabbath comes each seventh day,
Prepare my case, Jesu, I pray
That for my trials I after this
May share with you an hour of bliss.

I your disciple beg reprieve,
That from your school I may have leave,
As master you were sometimes brash,
But God be praised for every lash!

If I, oh God, have made you wroth
You now have flayed me, by my troth,
I’m now oppressed by countless hurts
And well receive my just deserts.

What are such wages when compared
With what from no man should be spared.
A thousand years of torment can
Ne’er pay the debt incurred by man.

When though on others my eyes play
Who are of selfsame ore and clay,
I find their sufferings are nought
With pains compared with which I’m fraught.

Each seems to have sufficent load
But when apportioned what I’m owed
’Tis weighed by merest ounce and jot,
And double weight would seem my lot.

Yes, wondered must have many a one
Just what the wretched man has done
That day and night so pained is he:
Shall he thus an example be?

Is there then no one in the land
As great a sinner as this man?
To injury they insult add
And many deem him to be bad.

No matter what their judgments be,
My illness stays the same to me;
Should heaven, sea and sky and earth
Take pity, it’s of little worth.

My wife, who time and time again
Has heard me sigh and e’er complain,
Knows hardly, faced with such duress,
Where she would be for piteousness.

My son and daughter, family,
Relations, can’t have failed to see
Just how much sighing and brave tears
I have endured down through the years.

And should my pain need proof entire
And testimonials require,
Ask every trunnel, every board
That in my bed is neatly stored.

Ask every house-beam for sure proof,
Ask walls and joints, ask rafters, roof,
Ask chairs and tables – all will tell
Just how things are with me as well.

Though childbirth often is unkind
To women when they are confined;
Once to their child they’ve given birth
Their pain gives way to joyous mirth.

I though have carried and have fed
The foetus that will leave me dead,
For six years borne it undesired,
It’s hardly odd that I’ve grown tired.

Oh God, our Saviour and our King,
Who can transform most everything,
Transform my pain while I’ve yet breath!
To life or to a blessed death.

To hear the translation read, go to here

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Another poem by Pär Lagerkvist

Det blir vackert där du går

Det blir vackert där du går
marken, stigen,
stranden som du följer,
allt tycks ljusna, glädjas,
allt som ser dig.

Kan väl jorden glädjas
för att någon stiger på den,
trampar på den,
en som den älskar?

Fråga inte mig.
Jag ser blott skenet,
hur det dröjer kring dig,
svävar över marken,
som om jorden log.

Stig på den,
som gläds att se dig lycklig.
Blott inte hårt,
som om du visste
att du var älskad.

There is beauty in your wake

There is beauty in your wake,
field and pathway,
sea-shore that you follow –
all grows light, rejoices,
all that sees you.

Can the earth rejoice then
just at someone walking on her
stepping on her,
one she loves dearly?

Do not ask me. All
I see’s the glowing,
how it lingers round you,
floats above the field as
if the whole earth smiled.

Walk on her,
your happiness delights her.
Though not too hard,
as if you knew now
that love enfolds you.

A lesser known Hans Christian Andersen tale - about a comet

The comet

And the comet came, gleaming with its core of fire and threatening with its lash-like tail; it was gazed at from the sumptuous palace, the humble home, by the crowd in the street and the lone walker across the pathless heath – with each gazer having his own thoughts about it.
‘Come and look at the sign of the heavens! come and see the wonderful sight!’ people said, and everyone hurried out to take a look. But inside one house a little boy and his mother sat; the tallow candle was lit, and the mother suspected there was a wood shaving in the candle – the tallow was crinkled and curled – and she thought this meant that the boy would soon die, for the wood shaving pointed towards him.
This was an old superstition that she believed in.
The little boy was in fact to live many years on the earth, to live and see the comet when, after more than three score years, it returned again.
The little boy didn’t see the wood shaving in the candle, nor did he think anything much about the comet the first time in his life it shone brightly up in the sky. He sat with a chipped basin in front of him; in it there was whisked soapy water, and down into it he dipped the bowl of a small clay pipe, then placed the stem to his lips and blew soap bubbles, large and small; they quivered and floated with the loveliest colours that changed from yellow to red, mauve and blue, and then turned as green as the leaves in the forest when the sun shines through them.
‘May God grant you as many years on earth as you blow bubbles!’
‘So many, so many!’ the little boy said. ‘The soapy water can never be used up!’ and he blew bubble after bubble.
‘There flies a year! there flies a year, see how they fly!’ he said at each bubble that came free of the pipe and flew off. A couple of them flew right into his eyes; they smarted, stung, and brought tears to his eyes. In each bubble he saw a vision of the future, gleaming, shimmering.
‘Now you can see the comet!’ his neighbours called out. ‘Come on out, don’t sit inside there!’
And the mother took the little boy by the hand; he had to lay down the clay pipe, leave his playing with the soap bubbles – the comet had arrived.
And the little boy saw the bright ball of fire with its gleaming tail; some people said that it was six feet long, others that it was millions of feet – people see things so differently.
‘Children and grandchildren can have died before it shows itself again!’ people said.
Most of those who said that were also dead and gone when it returned, but the little boy, who had the wood shaving in the candle and the mother who believed ‘He will die soon!’, was still alive, was old and white-haired. ‘White hairs are the flowers of old age!’ the saying goes, and he had many such flowers – he was now an old schoolmaster.
The school children said that he was so wise and learned, knew his history, geography and all that one could learn about the heavenly bodies.
‘Everything returns!’ he said, ‘just make a note of people and events and you will discover that they always return, in some other dress, in some other country.’
And the schoolmaster had just told them about William Tell, who had to shoot an apple off his son’s head, but who, before he let loose the arrow, hid a second one next to his chest, so as to dispatch it into the breast of the evil Gessler. This had taken place in Switzerland, but many years earlier the same happened in Denmark with Palnatoke; he also had to shoot an apple off his son’s head and, like Tell, he hid an arrow on him to be able to take revenge; and more than a thousand years earlier, the same story had taken place in Egypt and had been written down; things return just like comets do – they shoot off, are gone and later return.
And he spoke to them about the comet that was on its way, the comet he had seen as a little boy. The schoolmaster knew all about the heavenly bodies, thought about them, but did not, because of that, forget his history and geography.
He had laid out his garden in the shape of a map of Denmark. Here there were plants and flowers that grew where they best belong in the various parts of the country. ‘Fetch me peas!’ he said,  and then one went to the flower bed that represented Lolland. ‘Fetch me buckwheat!’ and then one went to Langeland. The lovely blue gentian and bog myrtle could be found up at Skagen, the shiny holly over near Silkeborg. The towns themselves were indicated by pedestals. Here stood St. Knud with the dragon that symbolised Odense. Absalon with his crozier meant Sorø; the small vessel with oars indicated that here lay the town of Århus. One learnt one’s map of Denmark well from the schoolmaster’s garden; one had to learn it from him first of all, of course, but that was so enjoyable.
Now the comet would soon be here, and he told them what people in the old days, when it had last been here, had said and expressed an opinion about. ‘The comet year is a good year for wine,’ he said, ‘one can dilute the wine with water and no one can tell the difference. Wine merchants are extremely fond of comet years.’
The sky was full of clouds for a whole fortnight – the comet could not be seen, although it was there.
The old schoolmaster sat in his small room close to the schoolroom. The grandfather clock from his parents’ time stood in the corner, the heavy lead weights neither rose nor sank, the pendulum did not move; the small cuckoo that formerly used to come out and call the hour had for several years sat silent behind its shut door; everything was silent and still inside it – the clock no longer worked. But the old piano next to it, also from his parents’ time, still had life inside it; the strings, even if they were a little hoarse, could play melodies of a whole lifetime. The old man then recalled so many things, both joyful and sad, covering the span of years from when he as a little boy had seen the comet until now that it had returned. He remembered what his mother had said about the wood shaving in the candle, he remembered the lovely soap bubbles he had blown – one for each year of his life, he had said, how gleaming and colourful they were! He saw in them everything that was delightful and pleasing: children’s games and the eagerness of youth, the whole wide world open in sunshine – and he was determined to go out into it! they were bubbles of the future. As an old man he sensed coming from the piano’s strings melodies from a past age: bubbles of memory with the tints and tinges of memories; he could hear his grandmother’s knitting song:

‘No amazon, be sure of it,
Was first to stockings ever knit.’

Then he heard the song that the old maid in the house had sung to him as a child:

‘So many dangers lurk here
on earth with all its lands,
for one who still so young is
and little understands.’

Now he heard melodies from his first ball, a minuet and a molansky; then came soft, mournful notes that brought tears to the old man’s eyes, now a war march struck up, then a hymn, then cheerful tunes, one bubble after the other, as when he had blown them from soapy water as a little boy.
His eyes were fixed on the window, a cloud out there in the sky drifted away, and in the clear air he saw the comet, the gleaming core, its shimmering veil of mist.
It was as if he had seen it only an evening before, and yet there lay an entire lifetime between that time and now; then he had been a child and gazed ‘forwards’ in the bubbles – now the bubbles caused him to gaze ‘backwards’. He felt his childlike mind and faith inside him, his eyes gleamed, his hand sank down onto the keys; there was a sound as if a string had snapped.
‘Come on out and see, the comet’s here!’ his neighbours called out. ‘The sky is so wonderfully clear! Come on out and take a proper look!’
The old schoolmaster did not answer, he had left to take his own proper look – his soul was off on a far larger course, in a far vaster space than that through which the comet flies. And it was seen once more from the sumptuous palace, from the humble home, by the crowd in the street and by the lone walker across the pathless heath. His soul was seen by God and by those dear ones who had gone before – those he longed for.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A poem by Anna Enquist

Plea to the artist

My solid ground of tongue and sound
is time-bound. Not so she. I ask

your help. When with my warm
hand’s blood-filled weight I’d touch her

nothing’s there. Your palette’s fourteen
colours, your brush of fox’s hair –

caress her forth now, at her ear
green shadow and her neck a trace

of yellow ivory. Find her a place
in your canvas threads. Then call

me in. You’re at the window staring.
I stand five feet away and see.

She looks at me.

To hear the translation read, go to here

Friday, 20 February 2015

A poem from Anne Brassinga

To god

God almighty, I’d be well shot of you.
I love you not, nor do I love the word,
the now made flesh, well-kneaded, tender-simmered
meatball of fair poetry. All that would claim to truth
and fain be worshipped I’ll refute

until my tongue be parched. For I’m a wordwright,
I work holes and fissures tight, hammer bulkheads
against fate’s lightning strikes, sink nails
where your thunder threatens, and curse the wiles
of the deadly serpent that you send, oh God.

I shall stand there, face to face
when your dark mirror breaks; but as David
with his slingstone. As long as I last I’ll protect
my heart, the shaky stronghold at the ravine you are
so wondrously creating – by scoops of your hand.

I mark off world, resist all higher power
and thieving urge: you filch the dear lives constantly
of all those dear to me and those with whom I like to share
the rage at leaving, the taste of which you’ve put
way back in the first kiss – your death, your ash, your soot.

To hear the translation read, go to here.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Ah, memories of schooldays

‘par un ciel livide...’

french lessons with gavin brown
sixty plus
tweed jacket
tobacco stained walrus moustache
often started late

trailing his gown
stinking of his pipe
he would shuffle in
install himself at his desk
and ask how far we had got

with what, sir?
with what we had been doing

whose turn is it to read?
younger’s, sir
younger was asleep at that point

‘par en ciel livide...’
what colour’s that, younger?
red, sir
wrong, sir – fetch the Larousse!!

we always answered wrong
for the bible to be consulted
it led to haywire random words
words we would never need:
the top sail of the mizzen mast
of a three-masted schooner
the splitter of a pelton wheel
whatever that is
a bottle of hay
should you ever need it for your horse

livid, it transpired is the colour of lead
even though englishmen turn livid with anger

after our class had left school
one of us got a letter
from gavin brown
asking us all to forgive him

why? i wondered
my exam results were admittedly disastrous
half those of german
but who else in that bastion of order
would teach us
the utter randomness of existence –
the splitter of a pelton wheel?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A poem by Arjen Duinker


On the one hand there’s the thing.
On the other hand there’s the mystery.
More about the thing and the mystery I do not know.

How in the name of whatever,
How can I know anything more about them?
And this knowledge is small knowledge, I would add,
A small idea at most, small
In its consequences for time.
If on the one hand there’s the thing
And on the other hand the mystery,
The world is explicit.

The street is the street where I come across friends,
The flowers bloom as they must bloom, with blossoms,
The wind blows wherever it wishes,
And the lack of more knowledge
Than that on the one hand there’s the thing
And on the other hand the mystery
Is to me an inexhaustible source of joy.

To hear the translation, go to here

Monday, 16 February 2015

A well-loved poem by the Dutch poet J.H. Leopold

Round my old house tall poplars crane

Round my old house tall poplars crane
‘my love, my love - where are you now’
a narrow lane
of wet leaves, and the fall to come.

And on and on the dull refrain
‘my love, my love - where are you now’
of rain on rain
past grieving, and the wind is dumb.

The house is hollow, dark and bleak
‘my love, my love - where are you now’
with whispered creaks
of attic beams that will not cease.

Inside sits someone hunched and lined
‘my love, my love - where are you now’
whose eyes are blind
whose mind finds neither rest nor peace.

To hear this translation read, go to here

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Friday, 13 February 2015

Anna Maria Lenngren in good form as usual

Till fru ***, som är rädd för ormbett

Ni anser ormbett som en fara –
Men om ett sådant djur er stack,
Så kan ni säker derpå vara
Att ormen straxt af etter sprack.

For Mrs ***, who is afraid of snakebites

A snakebite you regard as frightening –
If such a creature did its worst,
You can, though, rest assured like lightning
The snake from venom then would burst.