Thursday, 31 January 2019

Last poem of Lars Forssell's 'Sånger'

Mörker är inte lika mörkt. När han
steg ned i båten bad han oss släcka allt,
facklor och tjärstickor som brann.
Jag svepte manteln om mig. Det var kallt.
‘Det är i beckmörkret jag anar land.’
Och båtshaken sköt färjan ut i natten.
Kring stäven viskade Akerons vatten.
Det återstår nu tretton hjärtslag sand
i timglaset vid rodret. Så jag hinner fram.
Där vi såg svart i svart och kol mot kol
han styrde efter kobbarna som sam
omkring oss, efter pinjernas konturer, mot sitt mål.
I mörkret skrapandet av köl mot strand.
‘Stöd er på mig. Godnatt. Det kostar en obol.’

Darkness is many kinds of dark. When he
came on board all torches and resin-sticks, he told
us, were to be put out. I pulled the
cloak I had round me tightly. It was cold.
‘It’s when it’s black as pitch that I sense land.’
Into the night the boat-hook pushed the craft.
Acheron’s waters eddied, fore and aft.
There are but thirteen heartbeats left of sand
in the rudder hour-glass. Still some time to spare.
Where we saw black on black and coal on coal
he steered by all the swimming islets’ glare
around us, by the pinetrees’ outlines, to his goal.
And in the dark the scrape of keel on strand.
‘Just lean on me. Good night. That’s one obol.’

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Schiller's famous elegy 'Nänie' in English translation


Auch das Schöne muß sterben! Das Menschen und Götter bezwinget,
 Nicht die eherne Brust rührt es des stygischen Zeus.
Einmal nur erweichte die Liebe den Schattenbeherrscher,
 Und an der Schwelle noch, streng, rief er zurück sein Geschenk.
Nicht stillt Aphrodite dem schönen Knaben die Wunde,
 Die in den zierlichen Leib grausam der Eber geritzt.
Nicht errettet den göttlichen Held die unsterbliche Mutter,
 Wann er, am skäischen Tor fallend, sein Schicksal erfüllt.
Aber sie steigt aus dem Meer mit allen Töchtern des Nereus,
 Und die Klage hebt an um den verherrlichten Sohn.
Siehe! Da weinen die Götter, es weinen die Göttinnen alle,
 Daß das Schöne vergeht, daß das Vollkommene stirbt.
Auch ein Klaglied zu sein im Mund der Geliebten, ist herrlich,
 Denn das Gemeine geht klanglos zum Orkus hinab.


Even the Beautiful dies! That which humans and gods surely conquers
 Vainly seeks to affect Stygian Zeus’ so hard-tempered breast.
Only once did love ever near soften the ruler of shadows,
 And, on the threshold still, grim, cause him to call back his gift.
Vainly would Aphrodite the handsome youth’s wound be staunching,
 Which in his delicate flesh cruelly the wild boar had ripped.
Vainly the eternal mother sought to save the god-like young hero,
 When at the Skaian Gate he perished, fulfilling his fate.
Out from the sea does she rise with all of Nereus’ daughters
 And her lament she intones about her now deified son.
See! All the gods start to weep, the goddesses likewise are weeping,
 Since what is beautiful dies, since what is perfect is lost.
Glorious is it to be but an elegy chanted by loved ones,
 For what is common’s consigned, soundless, to Orcus’ domain.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Benny Andersen: Danes and Swedes

Closet Swedes

Is there anything as Danish as a potato?
The potato originally comes from South America.

Is there anything as Danish as the Dannebrog itself?
It fell from the sky long ago in Estonia
and looks a bit like the Swiss flag.

Does anything sound more genuinely Danish
than the music to the ballad opera Hill of the Elves?
Composed by a German with diligent use
of Swedish folk melodies.

Watch out
this is where it gets difficult:
Is there anything more Danish than the Danes?
Descendants of the ‘Danes’
a clan in Sweden
invaded our country way back in the 4th century
while the original Danes
the ‘Herules’
the noble and brave
but numerically inferior ‘Herules’
were driven out by the cruel Swedish ‘Danes’
and had to drift around in the Europe of the time
for several hundred years until a few thousand
of these original Danes eventually managed
to get as far as Sweden and settle there
under the doubtful term ‘Swedes’.

Here’s the question for you once again
and think carefully before you answer:
Is there anything more Danish than the Danes?

The correct answer is
The Swedes!
They are the authentic, true Danes
Like the Jews in the desert they are constantly
being drawn towards the Promised Land
that flows with beer and bacon
but for seventeen hundred years they have been occupied
By whom?
By the Swedes!
By us!

Not so strange that Scania
demands the return of Denmark
not so strange that many of us crypto-Swedes
find it hard to speak proper Danish
knock off the endings
swallow consonants
choke on the syntax
so the whole thing sounds like ‘bre’n’bu’erpuddin’
not so strange that we hardly understand each other
not so strange that the most frequent word is ‘Wha’?’
It’s not our language at all
We’re not us at all
We’re a heap of sodding Swedish immigrant workers
who have driven this country to wrack and ruin
we should bloody well clear off home to where we came from
home to Sweden
Your sun, your sky, your ‘verdant tracts’
where we could finally confess our true identity
show our hand
We are yellow
We are blue
Where we could finally beat ourselves at football
make us bite the dust in the Melody Grand Prix
Oh, how we have needed
and longed for this
to be able at last to sing Bellman’s songs
in the original
our rightful language
or språk as the real name is
at last we’ll get a monopoly on
being the only people in the world
who can faultlessly pronounce
without losing our dentures
at last we’ll be liberated from our
lethal national inferiority complex
and be allowed to unfold our talents
and soar skywards
as the North’s freest swans
at last we can avoid having eternally
to listen to that stupid ‘don’t fancy yourself’ attitude
that some nutty Norwegian author
has foisted on us

Ourselves at last
free at last
Du gamla du fria
home at last where we belong
at last with a chance
of making a Hardy out of a Laurel
and toasting each other handsomely
when we have introduced humane conditions
as regards alcohol
the drinking songs already exist
now it’s just a matter of giving them substance
making them credible

Great times lie ahead
If we can make it here
we’ll make it ev’rywhere

And finally there is after all
a lot more room in Sweden.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

'Ek het gedink' - Afrikaans poem by Ingrid Jonker in English translation

Ek het gedink

Ek het gedink dat ek jou kon vergeet,
en in die sagte nag alleen kon slaap,
maar in my eenvoud het ek nie geweet
dat ek met elke windvlaag sou ontwaak:

Dat ek die ligte trilling van jou hand
weer oor my sluimerende hals sou voel ...
Ek het gedink die vuur wat in my brand
het soos die wit boog van die starre afgekoel.

Nou weet ek is ons lewens soos ’n lied
waarin die smarttoon van ons skeiding klink
en alle vreugde terugvloei in verdriet
en eind’lik in ons eensaamheid versink.

I’d thought...

I’d thought it possible I could forget you
and in the mild night sleep alone at ease,
naively I’d not grasped that I would get to
awaken at each stirring of a breeze:

That I would feel your soft hand gently grazing
my neck as I lay slumbering in the dark –
I’d thought the fire that I felt in me blazing
would cool down like the star-trail’s silver arc.

Our lives are like a song’s now my belief
in which our parting’s anguished note is plain
and all joy one day flows back into grief
to be engulfed in loneliness again.

Lars Gustafsson: 'Ålen och Brunnen' in English translation

The eel and the well

In old Scania there was a custom:
Young eels from the sea were let down
into the black depths of the wells.
These eels then spent their entire lives
imprisoned in the darkness of the deep wells.
They keep the water crystal-clear and clean.
When on occasions the well-eel comes up,
white, frighteningly large, caught in the pail,
blind and coiling in and out
of its body’s enigmas, unaware,
everyone hurries to submerge it again.
I often feel myself as being
not only in the well-eel’s stead
but well and eel at the same time.
Imprisoned in myself, but this self
already something else. I exist there.
And wash it clean with my twisting,
miry, white-bellied presence in the darkness.