Thursday, 31 August 2017

Georg Trakl: 'De Profundis' in English translation

De profundis

It is a stubble-field where black rain falls.
It is a dark-brown tree that stands alone.
It is a soughing wind that swirls round empty huts –
How dismal this evening.

Passing the hamlet
The gentle orphan girl still gathers scanty ears of corn.
Round and golden her eyes feast on the gathering dusk,
Her lap yearning for the heavenly bridegroom.

On their way home
The shepherds found the darling body
Rotting in the briers.

I am a shadow far from desolate villages.
God’s silence
I drank from the springs of the grove.

Cold metal meets my temples.
Spiders seek out my heart.
There is a light that guts in my mouth.

At night I found myself on a heath,
Stiffening with dirt and dust from the stars.
In the thicket of hazels
Crystal angels once more sounded.


Thursday, 24 August 2017

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

HCA: 'Nissen og Spekhøkeren'


The Pixie and the Common Grocer

There was a regular student, he lived up in the attic and owned nothing at all; there was a regular common grocer, he lived on the ground floor and owned the whole house, and the pixie stuck close to him, for every Christmas he got a bowl of porridge with a lovely lump of butter in the middle! that the common grocer could give him; and the pixie stayed in the shop and that was highly educative.
One evening the student came in from the back door to buy himself some candles and cheese; he had no one to send for them, so he came himself; he got what he asked for, he paid for it and a ‘good evening’ was nodded him by the common grocer and his missus, and she was a woman who could do more than just nod, she was a ‘flanneller’, had the gift of the gab! – and the student nodded back and stood there for a while busy reading the sheet of paper that the cheese had been wrapped in. It was a page torn out of an old book that ought not to be pulled to pieces, an old book, full of poetry.
‘There’s more of it lying here!’ the common grocer said, ‘I gave an old woman some coffee beans for it; if you give me eight pence, you can have the rest!’
‘Thank you,’ the student said, ‘let me have it instead of the cheese! I can eat my bread as it is! it would be a crying shame if the whole book were to be torn to shreds. You are a splendid man, a practical man, but you have no more idea what poetry is about than that bin over there!’
And that was an impolite thing to say, especially to the tub, but the common grocer laughed and the student laughed, for it was said more in jest than anything else.
But the pixie was put out that anyone dared address the common grocer like that, for he was his host and sold the best butter.
When night came, the shop was shut up and everyone had gone to bed, except the student, the pixie went in and took the missus’ flannel, she didn’t use it when she slept, and wherever he placed it on some object, it tongue began to wag and it could express its thoughts and feelings just as well as the missus could, but only one object at a time could have it, and that was a blessing, for otherwise they would all have spoken at once.
And the pixie placed the flannel on the bin in which the old newspapers lay: ‘Is it really true,’ he asked, ‘that you don’t know what poetry is?’
‘I most certainly do,’ the bin said, ‘it’s the sort of stuff that’s printed at the bottom of the newspapers and cut out! I would guess I’ve more of it inside me than the student, and I am only a humble bin compared with the common grocer!’
And the pixie placed the flannel on the coffee grinder, oh, how it whirred round! and he placed it on the quarter of butter and the till; – All of them shared the bin’s opinion, and what most agree on one has to respect.
‘Now I’ll give the student a workover!’ the pixie said and tiptoed up the kitchen stairs to the attic, where the student lived. There was light inside, and the pixie peeped through the keyhole and saw that the student was reading the tattered book from below. But what a lot of light there was in there! a clear ray streamed out of the book and because a trunk, became a mighty tree that soared up tall and spread its branches far out over the student. Every leaf was so fresh and every blossom was a lovely girl’s head, some with eyes dark and gleaming, others blue and wonderfully bright. Every fruit was a glittering star, and there was such wonderful singing and music!
Oh no, the little pixie had never imagined such magnificence, let alone seen and sensed it. And so he stood there on tiptoe, gazed and gazed until the light in there went out; the student blew out his lamp and went to bed, but the little pixie kept on standing there nevertheless, for the singing still sounded so soft and delightful, a lovely lullaby for the student who had laid himself down to rest.
‘It’s wonderful here!’ the little pixie said, ‘I’d never expected this! – I think I will stay with the student –!’ – and he thought – and thought carefully, and then he sighed: ‘The student’s got no porridge!’ – and so he left – yes, he went back down to the common grocer; – and it was a good thing that he did, for the bin had used up practically all of the missus’ flannel by reeling off from one side everything it had inside it, and now it was about to turn round and do exactly the same from the other side when the pixie arrived and took the flannel back to the missus; but the whole shop, from the till to the tinderwood had from that time on the same opinion as the bin, and they revered it to such an extent and felt it was capable of so much that when the common grocer later read ‘Art and Theatre Reviews’ from his ‘Newspaper’, the evening one, they thought it all came from the bin.
But the little pixie no longer sat quietly listening to all the wisdom and reason down there, no, as soon as the light shone from the attic room, it was as if the rays were strong anchor ropes that pulled him up there, and he had to be off and peep in through the keyhole, and there a greatness roared around him like that which we feel at the heaving ocean when God passes over it in the storm, and he burst into tears, he didn’t know himself why he was crying, but it was something there that was so magnificent!  How absolutely wonderful it must be to sit with the student under the tree, but that could never happen, – he was content with the keyhole. There he still stood in the cold passage while the autumn wind blew down from the attic trapdoor and it was so cold, so cold, but this the small creature only felt when the light went out inside the attic room, and the music died away on the wind. O-ooh! then he froze and crept down once more to his cosy nook; there it was cushy and cosy! – And when the Christmas porridge arrived with the large lump of butter, - well, then the common grocer was his master!
But in the middle of the night the pixie woke up at the terrible racket at the shutters, people outside were hammering away; the night watchman sounded the alarm, there was a great conflagration – the whole street was ablaze. Was it in this house or the neighbour’s? Where? What horror and dismay! The common grocer’s missus was so flurried that she took her gold earrings out of her ears and stuffed them in her pocket so as to save at least something, the common grocer ran off to fetch his stocks and shares and the servant girl to fetch her silk mantilla, the one she could afford; everyone tried to save the best they had and so did the little pixie, and in a couple of leaps he was up the stairs and inside the room of the student, who was standing quite calmly at the open window looking at the fire, which was in the courtyard of the house opposite. The little pixie grabbed the wonderful book on the table, stuffed it into his red cap and held onto it with both hands, the best treasure of the house was saved! and then off he hurried, right out onto the roof, right up to the chimney and there he sat, lit up by the burning house opposite and held with both hands onto his red cap, in which the treasure lay. Now he knew his true feelings of his heart, who he really belonged to; but when the fire had been put out, he became more level-headed, yes: ‘I will share myself between them!’ he said: ‘I can’t completely give up the common grocer for the sake of the porridge!’

And that was no more than human!  – The rest of us also go to the common grocer – for his porridge.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Rilke: 'Sei allem Abschied voran' - this year's attempt at translation (2017)


(XIII)

Sei allem Abschied voran, als wäre er hinter
dir, wie der Winter, der eben geht.
Denn unter Wintern ist einer so endlos Winter,
daß, überwinternd, dein Herz überhaupt übersteht.

Sei immer tot in Eurydike -, singender steige,
preisender steige zurück in den reinen Bezug.
Hier, unter Schwindenden, sei, im Reiche der Neige,
sei ein klingendes Glas, das sich im Klang schon zerschlug.

Sei - und wisse zugleich des Nicht-Seins Bedingung,
den unendlichen Grund deiner innigen Schwingung,
daß du sie völlig vollziehst dieses einzige Mal.

Zu dem gebrauchten sowohl, wie zum dumpfen und stummen
Vorrat der vollen Natur, den unsäglichen Summen,
zähle dich jubelnd hinzu und vernichte die Zahl.


(XIII)

Be in advance of each parting, as if unbending
past, like the winter that soon is gone.
For among winters exists one so without ending
that, if well-wintered, despite all your heart will live on.

Be ever dead in Eurydice –, sing while ascending
praise while descending into what’s sheer in its ground.
Here, midst the dwindling, be, in the death that’s impending,
be a clear-ringing glass shattering right in mid-sound.

Be – and know the condition of being’s negation,
the quite infinite source of your own oscillation,
that you completely fulfil this in one single phase.

To what’s been used up and likewise the dull and the numbing
bounty of nature’s great hoard, the unspeakable humming,
joyfully reckon yourself, and that number erase.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

HCA "Allt paa sin rette plads"


‘Everything in its rightful Place’

It’s over a hundred years ago!
Behind the wood near the large lake lay an old manor house, and round it there were deep ditches in which bulrushes, rushes and reeds grew. Close to the bridge of the entrance gate stood an old willow tree that hung out over the reeds.
Down from the sunken road came the sound of horns and horses’ hooves, and so the little goose girl hurried to get the geese away from the bridge before the hunting party arrived at a gallop; it came at such a speed that she quickly had to jump up onto one of the high stones at the bridge to avoid being ridden down. She was still little more than a child, fine and slender, but with a lovely expression on her face and two kind, bright eyes; but these the lord of the manor did not notice; passing at rapid speed, he reversed his whip in his hand, and out of coarse merriment prodded her right in the chest, so that she toppled backwards.
‘Everything in its rightful place!’ he called out, ‘into the dirt with you!’ and then he laughed, for he took that to be highly amusing, and the others laughed too; the whole party shrieked and guffawed and the hounds barked, it really was a case of:

‘Rich bird comes a-tearing past’

– God only knows how rich he still was.
The poor goose girl tried to grasp something as she fell, and managed to catch hold of one of the hanging branches of the willow; this saved her from the dirt, and as soon as the fine party and house were well inside the gate, she tried to work her way up, but the branch broke high up, and the goose girl fell back heavily into the reeds, but at that very moment a strong hand from above seized her. It was an itinerant hosier, who had seen the whole incident from a little way off and hurried to the scene to come to her assistance.
‘Everything in its rightful place!’ he said in jest, as the lord of the manor had done, and hauled her up onto dry land; the broken branch he placed back at the point where it had broken, but ‘in its rightful place’ doesn’t always apply! and so he stuck the branch down into the soft earth, ‘grow if you can and provide a good flute for them up at the manor!’ he would happily see the lord and his men ‘run the gauntlet’; and then he entered the manor – but not the hall, for he was of too humble rank for that! – he came with the others into the servants’ hall, where they looked at his wares and haggled; but upstairs from the banqueting hall there was much bawling and squawling that they thought was singing – they knew no better. There was laughter and a howling of dogs, there was guzzling and swilling; wine and old beer foamed in glass and tankard, and the house dogs joined in too; the odd one or two of them kissed by the young noblemen after having its muzzle dried with a drooping ear. The hosier was called up with his wares, but only so that they could make fun of him. Wine had entered and reason exited. They poured beer into one of his stockings, so he could join in the drinking, but quickly! it was so exceptionally ingenious and laughable. Entire droves of cattle, farms and farmers were bet on a single card and lost.
‘Everything in its rightful place!’ the hosier said, when once more he was well outside what he called Sodom and Gomorrah. ‘The open road, that’s my rightful place, up there I wasn’t in my element at all.’ And the little goose girl nodded to him from the gate.
Days passed and weeks passed, and it turned out that the broken-off willow branch that the hosier had stuck in the ground near the ditch was still fresh and green, indeed, it was even putting forth new shoots; the little goose girl saw that it must have taken root, and she was extremely happy about this, for it was her tree, she felt.
Yes, everything was going well for it, but all at the manor was in sharp decline with all the guzzling and gambling: those two wheels are not good to try and stand on.
Less that six years had passed before the lord of the manor was a poor itinerant with a bag and a stick, and the manor had been bought by a rich hosier, and it was precisely the man who had been mocked and derided and offered beer in a stocking; but honesty and industry lead to prosperity, and now the hosier was lord of the manor; but from that moment on, no card-playing was allowed there; ‘it makes bad reading,’ he said, ‘it comes from the fact that when the devil first saw the Bible, he wanted to make a parody of it that was to be just like it, and so he invented card-playing!’
The new lord took a wife, and who should that be but the little goose girl, who had always been good-natured, devout and good; and in her new clothes she looked so fine and beautiful as if she had been born a distinguished young noblewoman. How did that come about? Well, it’s too long a story for our bustling age, but that’s what happened, and the most important part comes after that.
Everything flourished and thrived at the old manor, the mistress was in charge of everything indoors and the master of everything outdoors; it was as if this abundance gushed forth, and where there is affluence, more affluence will take up residence. The old manor was plastered and painted, the ditches cleaned and fruit trees planted; everything looked pleasing and attractive, and the living-room floor was as shiny as a chopping board. In the great hall the lady of the house sat on winter evenings with all her girls and span wool and linen; and every Sunday evening there was a reading from the Bible, and by the counsellor himself, for the hosier had become one, but not before he had reached a ripe old age. The children grew up – more children came – and all of them were well brought up, though they were not equally bright, as is the case in every family.
But the willow tree outside had become a quite magnificent tree that stood there unpollarded on its own, ‘it is our family tree!’ the old people said, and that tree was to be honoured and revered! they said to the children even to those of them that were not all that bright.
And now a hundred years had passed.
It was now our own age; the lake had become a marsh, and the old manor house was as if erased, there stood a rectangular pool of water, with some loose stonework on one side, it was all that was left of the deep ditches, and here still there stood a magnificent old tree with hanging branches, it was the family tree; it stood there showing just how beautiful a willow tree can be when it is allowed to take care of itself. – Admittedly, there was a split in the middle of the trunk from its root up to its crown, the storm had twisted it slightly, but it stood there, and out of the splits and cracks in it where wind and weather had deposited topsoil grass and flowers grew; especially highest up, where the large boughs separated, there was what was like a small hanging garden, with raspberries and chickweed, yes, even a small rowan had managed to take root and stood so slender and fine up in the middle of the willow tree, which mirrored itself in the black water when the wind had driven the food for the ducks over into a corner of the pool. – A small path, out across the tenant fields, led close by.
High up on the hill by the wood, with a delightful view, lay the new manor, large and imposing, with glass panes so clear that would think there were none there. The large flight of steps at the door looked as if it had a bower there of roses and large-leaved plants. The lawn was such a rich green it looked as if every blade had been seen to both morning and evening. Inside in the hall precious paintings hung, and there were silk and velvet upholstered chairs and sofas that could almost walk on their own legs, tables with gleaming marble tops, and books in morocco and with gilt edges... oh yes, it was rich folk that lived here, people of rank, the baron and his family.
The one thing corresponded with the other. ‘Everything in its rightful place!’ they too said, and therefore all the paintings that had once graced and adorned the old manor had now been hung in the passageway to the farmhands’ room; it was nothing but lumber, especially two portraits, one of a man in a pink coat and wearing a wig, the other a lady with powdered, high-piled hair and a red rose in her hand, but both of them surrounded in the same way by a large garland of willow switches. There were so many round holes in the two pictures, and this was because the small barons always used to shoot arrows from their bows at the two old people. It was the counsellor and his lady wife, from whom the entire family line was descended.
‘But they are not really from our family!’ one of the young barons said. ‘He was a hosier and she a goose girl. They were not like Papa and Mama!’
The pictures were nothing more than lumber, and ‘Everything in its rightful place!’ one used to say, and that meant that great-grandfather and great-grandmother ended up in the passageway to the farmhands’ room.
The vicar’s son was tutor at the manor; one day he was out walking with the young barons and their eldest sister, who had just been confirmed, and they were taking the path down towards the old willow tree; and while they walked, she was making a bouquet out of what grew in the fields; ‘Everything in its rightful place’, and it became a truly beautiful bouquet of flowers. Even so, she listened most attentively to everything that was being said, and she was so glad to hear the vicar’s son talk about the forces of nature and the great men and women of history; she had a healthy, fine nature, was noble in thought and mind, and had a heart well capable of embracing all things created by God.
They stopped down by the old willow tree; the youngest of the barons wanted so much to have a flute carved from it, this had been done before from other willow trees, and the vicar’s son broke off a branch.
‘Oh, don’t do that!’ the young baroness said, but it had already been done. ‘It’s our old illustrious tree! I am so fond of it! yes, I know people laugh at me back home for this, but I don’t care. There is a legend about that tree –!’
And now she told them everything that we have heard about the tree, about the old manor, about the goose girl and the hosier who met here and became progenitors of the fine family line and the young baroness.
‘They refused to be ennobled, the honest old folk!’ she said. ‘They had the saying: “Everything in its rightful place!” and they did not feel it was fitting to be raised to the aristocracy because of money. It was their son, my grandfather, who became a baron, he is said to have been a very learned man, highly respected and fondly regarded by princes and princesses, and to have attended all their festive occasions. He is the one they are most fond of at home, I am not sure myself, for me there is something about the old couple that draws my heart towards them! it must have been so cosy, so patriarchal at the old manor, where the mistress of the house sat weaving with all the girls and the old master read aloud from the Bible!’
‘They were splendid people, sensible people!’ the vicar’s son said; and then they got talking about the aristocracy and the lower classes, and it was almost as if the vicar’s son did not belong to the lower classes, judging by the way he enthused about the aristocracy.
‘It is highly fortunate to belong to a family that has distinguished itself! so that one has, so to speak, a line of blood to follow in the pursuit of what is fine. It is delightful to own a family name that grants one admittance to the top families. Nobility means being noble, it is the gold coin that is stamped with what one personally has of worth. – It is a fashionable belief, and naturally many poets adopt it, to state that everything that is noble is bad and stupid, whereas among the poor, the lower down one stoops, the more everything glitters. But that is not my opinion, for it is completely wrong, completely false. In the higher ranks there are many touchingly fine features; my mother has told me one, and I could provide several more. She was visiting a fine house in the town – my grandmother, I believe, had suckled the lady of the house. My mother was standing in the living room with the old master, who was of the high nobility; when he saw that an old woman on crutches came into the courtyard – she used to come every Sunday and was given a few coins. ‘There is that poor old woman,’ the master said, ‘she finds walking so difficult! – and before my mother realised it, he was out of the door and down the stairs, this excellency of three score years and ten, had gone down to the poor old woman to save her the exeertion of going all the wearisome way up for the few coins she was to receive. That is only a small trait, but like the “widow’s mite” it comes directly from the bottom of the heart, from human nature; and it is to this that the poet should point, in our present age it is precisely of what does good, alleviate and reconcile that he should sing! But if a example of mankind, simply because he is of blue blood and has a family tree, stands on his hind legs, like Arab horses, and whinnies in the street, and in his living rooms says “people from the street have been here!” when someone from the lower classes has been there, then nobility has started to decay, has become a mask of the type that Thespis made for them, and one makes fun of the person and exposes that person to satire.’
That was the speech given by the vicar’s son, it was rather long, but after it the flute had been carved.
There was a large festive occasion at the manor, with many people from the local area and from the capital. Ladies dressed tastefully and tastelessly. The great hall was packed with people. The local clergy stood deferentially clustered in a corner, it looked as if a funeral was taking place, but it was festive occasion that was yet to get underway.
There was to be a big concert, and so the young baron had his willow flute along with him, but he could not breathe into it effectively, nor could his Papa, so it was considered worthless.
There was music and singing, of the kind that is most agreeable to those performing it; quite acceptable otherwise.
‘So you too are a virtuoso!’ said a young gentleman present who was very much a child of his parents; ‘You play the flute, you carve it yourself. It is genius that rules – sits to the right – Great heavens! I keep up with the latest fashion, one has to, doesn’t one, you will surely delight us all with this little instrument!’ and so he handed him the small flute that had been carved from the willow tree down by the small pool of water, and in a loud, clear voice he announced that the tutor of the house would give them a solo on the flute.
This was, it was easy to understand, in order to make fun of him, and the tutor was unwilling to blow, although he knew how to, but they pressed him, they urged him, and so he took the flute and put it to his lips.
It was a strange flute! it let out a sound strong and sustained as that from a steam locomotive, even louder in fact; it could be heard everywhere in the manor, the garden and the wood, for miles out into the countryside, and along with the sound there came a roaring gale: ‘Everything in its rightful place! – and then Papa flew off as if borne by the wind, out of the manor, and straight into the cowman’s cottage, and the cowman flew up – not into the main living room, he wasn’t able to get in there, no, up to the servants’ chamber, among all the fine domestic staff that wear silk stockings, and the proud fellows were as if struck down by rheumatics that such a lowly person dared sit at table among them.
But in the great hall the young baroness flew up to the head of the table, where she fully deserved to sit, but the vicar’s son was given the seat next to her, and there they sat the two of them, as if they were a bridal couple. An old count from the oldest family in the land remained firmly in his place of honour, for the flue was just, as one should be. The witty young gentleman who was responsible for the flute-playing, the one who was a child of his parents, flew head-first in among the chickens, but he was not alone.
The flute could be heard a whole league away in the countryside, and there major incidents were reported. A rich merchant’s family, out driving in a coach and four, were blown completely out of it, and couldn’t even get a place at the back; two rich farmers who in our present age had grown taller than their own cornfields were blown down into a muddy ditch; it was a dangerous flute; fortunately the first sound it made caused it to split, and that was a good thing, then it was pocketed again: ‘Everything in its rightful place!’

The following day nobody spoke about the incident, which is why one has the saying ‘don’t blow the whistle!’ Everything was as before again, except for the fact that the two old pictures, those of the hosier and the goose girl – now hung in the great hall where they had blown up onto the wall; and since one of the real art connoisseurs said they had been painted by a master, they stayed there and were restored, before then people did not know that they were fine paintings – and how were they to have known that. They now hung in the place of honour. ‘Everything in its rightful place!’ and everything will indeed come to that! Eternity is long, longer than this story!