Sunday, 3 April 2016

Lars Gustafsson (1936-2016)

I only met Lars in person once, at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 2010. It was already dark when he arrived at the hotel (clearly designed by the same architect as did Fawlty Towers) and I chanced to be down at reception, having been out in the rain to sample the fish & chips for which the town is justly famous. Lars' face lit up when he saw me, and when I spoke Swedish to him, he positively beamed. He was hungry. I suggested we take a meal together in the restaurant, which was virtually deserted, but pleasant to sit in, with no enforced music. We dined, excellently, on beautifully prepared turbot and a bottle of sancerre. I have seldom met anyone with whom I became such good friends so fast. He was a delightful man to talk to, a delightful man to be with.
On the final day of the festival, we were both on stage. He had to borrow my Swedish copy of the Xanadu collection, since he had no copy with him. And he dog-eared the corners of poems he read in Swedish and I read afterwards in English translation. I have just fetched the copy, and found one such page - it is my favourite poem by a truly great poet.

Fichte by the kerosene lamp

When the soft darkness of August
suddenly closed in
it was as if the lake down there
quickened its pulse, breathed otherwise
unknown animals perhaps peered out of
their holes in the bank.
And the kerosene lamp was lit.
It was like a small lighthouse
in various ledges of glass and porcelain
and the hot stream of heated air
must be kept away from the curtain.
Very careful about that,
never place the lamp under the curtain.
It produced, strictly speaking, a great deal of heat
(the difference could clearly be felt in the room)
and not much light. And around this lamp flew
an angry small steel-blue insect
the philosopher Fichte had somehow
extracted himself from the thick brown book
on the table,
where he presumably lived.
Circled until the flame took him.
But then the evening was over.

1 comment:

John Irons said...

listen to lars reading it beautifully in the original at: