Saturday, 22 February 2020

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer: Sonnet 'De engel en het vuur'


for Erik Odijk

A disremoving angel, helplessly
himself, like love that’s unafraid to be
afraid, would burn us for a century
at every blink, for beauty’s crushingly

so frail, though us it’s able to define 
as something nothing. Our life is a hell
of utter shallowness, where if the bell
should ring, emotion’s shown as at a sign.

The multi-tasking rush-hour beast with slick
conclusions, thumbs all swollen douses fire.
All that’s of value, he finds slow and eerie.

The fire that flares in semi-colons, quick
to bridge abysses, is a pacifier.
The angel is no answer but a query.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Keld Vorup Sørensen: 'Som Fuglen'

The below translation is from a debut collection of poetry by the Danish writer Keld Vorup Sørensen. The collection, Glemslens Territorier, appeared in 2020, published by mellemgaard.


Like the bird blindly
finds its way
into the feline belly
memory disappears
unresisting into oblivion
Landscapes of brazen barrenness and smolten stone
surfaces that go on growing
emptied of landfalls and traces –
only the hoar frost visible
before time’s curvature
I lean back
against the years’ hard-fired brickwork
of wrested life
and disappear
into the rime

Monday, 17 February 2020

Keld Vorup Sørensen. 'Tonefald'

The below translation is from a debut collection of poetry by the Danish writer Keld Vorup Sørensen. The collection, Glemslens Territorier, appeared in 2020, published by mellemgaard.


Sorrow-logged klezmer landscape
in water up to its knees
under a sky
quite drained of larks

The spruce tree soars up
shakes off its clarinet notes
and shares them generously
with the wind

Patina-green heath
gasping for breath
like an accordion
with leaky bellows

Fiery gipsy fiddle
balances on the fringe of
the final Flood

A lone flute
the finale

Friday, 14 February 2020

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer: Idyll 7


But friends, dear little poets of my native land
and Belgium, words are called for here, as matters stand –
the weather’s changed of late. Soon winter’s here. The nights,
sweat-drenched, expose themselves with thoughts’ fast-whirling flights.
The days are skimped and scamped. For otherwise deserved
and tricky questions might be asked, cold dishes served
by waiters who stand quivering. For one’s most wary
of scary things, for those are what one finds most scary.
No longer can we just get by with photoed kitties
on facebook profiles, sing predictably odd ditties:
of how Moroccans and their pancakes are just grand;
of how in the canals the mirror-cycles stand;
of how first at the Vondelpark, then at your door;
of once, now and some day; some dogshit on the floor
that some posh art collector for a fortune buys; 
of massive yearnings that one seeks to exorcise;
of indoor plants that look like Nietzsche to a T;
of suburbs you’ve discovered unsuspectedly;
of shovelboard control, that Biedermeier glow;
small worries, forms of puppet-love too – I say no!
Who dares to write now has the solemn task to write
and turn out something more than poems simply trite
which with amazement at some deep emotion gazing
and greatly moved amazingly looks like the phrasing
of what already and unjustly has been seen
as poetry. We must confront the ugly scene
that our so cosy niche yet cosier affords.
While our frail gate’s besieged by populistic hordes,
our whole debate boils down to how to masturbate.
We still can just live off what’s granted by the state
and crochet-work like girls do. But. There is a but.
What we are doing isn’t true, it’s just a rut.
Negating truth results in untruth straight away.
While we create just how to pass the time of day,
to beat our chests and punch each other on the nose,
artillery resounds far off. And no cock crows,
though more than just three times each other we’ve betrayed.
To wade in pink boots through morasses we have made,
and blow frail bubbles in the ball pool each in turn –
we’re good at this, and that’s precisely my concern.
We can’t lay eggs, that’s not what we are experts at,
Whoever feels he’s called to speak should do just that.
The winter’s coming and will last for year on year.
And poets must sing out at camp-fires full of fear
or give up being poets. We must not let stray
what fingers googling busily forget each day.
So no more deconstructions, cryptogram or quiz.
We have to learn to say exactly how it is.
For years I’ve suffered from that dangerous illusion,
eradicator that I was. The false delusion
that I ought to disrupt yet further all loose screws
and to all heaps of certainties should light the fuse
and then retire, has harmed the cause. One who is good
at questions would himself like to be understood,
for otherwise there’s no one else who latches on.
With too much air I’ve gasped for air and thereupon
from lack of breath and hacking coughing nearly died,
while underrating how folk weigh things up, are tied
to everything and genuinely have a need,
except for what their certainty might just impede.
Romantic views of épater la bourgeoisie
have gathered dust like relics till their own degree
of relevance and urgency has paid the price.
If you don’t know how you should feel, then listen twice.
No prophet in the desert stands up on a rock
to stay unheard there, mangy in his camel frock.
When from all gibberish the world goes up the spout,
he will explain on prime time what it’s all about
and stand there in the mud in his reflective vest,
live on with next of kin, united and well-dressed.
There’s thunder. Or is it the hooves of hordes maybe
that whirl from south to north the dust up suddenly,
and oceans with their wrath can cause to turn away,
dry land become calm seas, towns lakes within a day,
the slot machines to vend ice cream, and money now
like ever-falling dust’s uncounted anyhow?
From far-flung outposts strangest news I have received:
by evolution we from duty are relieved.
The towers fell long ago. The day after tomorrow
will make tomorrow seem a day of little sorrow.
To sound apocalyptic I do not devise.
But winter’s coming. We must learn to read the skies.
So friends, and each great living Dutch and Belgian poet: 
where people shout, language is vacant– and you know it.
I nothing ask, want, or decree, or would explain.
Perhaps we just could start to say things once again?

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer: Idyll 6

The track is in a doze. The asphalt softly gleams.
No cyclists yet in sight. It’s cold out there. It seems
that climbing even in bad weather is a cinch.
They fear the swift descent – it’s that which makes them flinch.
To crave a woman is an uphill climb. It serves
you best to stick close to her wheel in nifty curves.
You gladly take upon yourself her mortal fear
until the final lap’s hoarse rasping bell you hear.
Bad bulges, brace yourself. The beer sticks in their throat.
You hit the shit. But what the hell, monsieur, you note 
that many come a cropper on the final bend.
Don’t take the lead too soon. The moment’s now, my friend.
Stay calm’s your motto. Such a chance won’t reappear.
We’ll be right back. Commercial. ‘Trouble sleeping? Smear
the now restored cream manually in her eyes
until she cries. Then for a night make sure it dries.
You sleep well meanwhile and you dream just as of old.’
I dream of wreaths, of laps of honour and of gold
what blinds posterity like backlight’s blazing stings.
For taking part makes sense alone for one who wins.
Prize money’s always there somewhere for one to win.
But where the race will be that is, just to begin,
not always indicated. Unknown starting place,
a secret route, arrival still unnamed. You race –
it’s not the finish, just a sprint that’s mid-étape.
You shout just like a birthday child, but need a   map.
That instant, though, there is a razor break-away.
They fire straight from your arse. You stand and stay.
‘You’ve missed the crucial break. A higher gear for pace,
your new reserves, though, end in a potato chase –
between freebooters and the bad wolf you are caught.
an endless lonely grave that no one for you sought
but you. That’s where you’ll die. No one will shout your name.
An unseen deed of valour seldom brings one fame.
You plod on through the cobbles. Has the route been changed?
That turn was wrong – has the whole pack become deranged?
Are you the only one who’s taken the right way?
Where is the finish? Where’s the bird with the bouquet?
The people are all cheering by the other track.
You don’t bow down to no one. Arch your aching back.
On the tough grit of your clenched teeth the great knife gleams –
they bite the salty rubber of your tyres’ hot seams.
You never have been anywhere as near far out.
It’s not the loneliness you feared would cause a rout.
She was a quiet friend and seldom dull or drear.
Nor were you scared the unexpected might appear.
You grieved if there was drizzle, but not at eruptions.
You’re your own head man, have no subjects with instructions
to care for you. Your water bearer is a threat,
for with her soft, pink, velvet navel string she’s set
on stroking, sighing, hauling you right off your course.
You steer anew. Her tears a punishment enforce
for all of your old dreams. Her sleep’s the task you’ve found,
to calm her endless moaning you’re in honour bound.
You often all night long just have to let her dry
until reproaches briefly do not fill her eye.
New finish places you now code in manually,
accessible and nice for a whole family.
The leader turns to slave, but that’s not really much
of a great problem. Just a contest seen as such
where you, though in her service, would have much to gain,
if you could just recall where to begin again
and where the Kwaremont, the Wood of Arenberg,
the Wall of Geraardsbergen were, the Koppenberg
and where on earth the whole caboodle had begun.
The one who knew the finish would long since have won.
The track is in a doze. The asphalt softly gleams.
The last lap bell has clanged. We start to climb, it seems
with way too heavy gear, up from the final glasses.
Aren’t we amazed now by a single thing that passes?
My thoughts fly over hedges into each ravine.
And finals in the rain ride over mines unseen.
A viewer has a question: Why did I not mention
what the result was. And you think that’s worth attention?
Annulled as always. As result one cannot pass
what replays show was just an infinite surplace.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer: Idyll 5


I stumble through the night in hop-step-jump-like style.
What wrenches on each isle has wrenched there quite a while.
My head is just hand luggage. And the excess weight
is twenty flasks of gin and my own face whose fate
is this great thirst. I’ll now embark for Zanzibar.
Why is it that already all your tight curls are
as wayward as one’s thoughts are in a sleepless night?
This poem, isn’t quite what you’d expected – right?
I’ll start again. For that’s a talent that I’ve got.
I’d planned to have some islands at this very spot.
If that’s not you, a brand-new poem I could spawn,
how you, for instance, raise you head at crack of dawn
amazed that you have landed from far distant lands
in the safe haven and home port of all my hands.
We are an island. Do you think I talk too much?
But dearest, what’s in question’s often not as such.
I once have seen a deer swim in the IJsselmeer.
Sounds black and sticky? Thanks, mate. just two letters: ta!
I’m really smoking less, my dear. My one foot’s white.
The chessboard floats through woods. I’m Lancelot, the knight,
the first to bear that name. You’ll wave your handkerchief,
your high cheeks mirrored like green grapes in fine relief
against my bright red-hot cuirass, where your flower’s flame
has bled. Spurs are dug in. My word to you is fame.
Your dragons I shall slay until your wilted rose,
now broken and quite crushed, my last wounds’ bleeding slows.
Thus will I perish for you in some mythic book
and aeons later possibly for me they’ll look
on channels like Discovery or CNN.
I feel romantic as a person now and then.
That islands do exist, though, this I know full well.
And not so very far away from where you dwell
two fair-haired royal children got lost, failed to show.
It does occur. What freedom tastes like I well know:
it tastes of rust and blood as ochre as coltsfoot,
combined with copper at low voltage and with soot,
that’s squirted from saliva glands after the shot
or when a close shave almost roots one to the spot.
It is the taste of fear. That’s why most shut behind 
themselves the cage for beasts to which they’re self-consigned 
whenever they can feel that night is drawing near. 
Guards are not even needed. In a madhouse fear
seems much less menacing than is the wind outside
where midst the crunching grit of paths that seaward slide
true madness prowls. Despairingly one rings the door
takes straitjackets off hooks to go to bed once more
and try as best one can to cry oneself to sleep.
In duty’s custody from freedom one would creep.
And freedom, what is freedom when the diamond queen
betrays the table and the hearts complete the scene?
It wasn’t for the shooting. Not at first, oh no.
It wasn’t for the flight. The dream of Mexico
became a sudden need, strangely enough, just like
a task, like Africans seek Europe, one great hike.
And freedom, all in all, is merely empty ditties
of oldies on their choppers, photographs of kitties
in diaries kept by girls who have a love of horses
with needles in their arms. Unstoppable as forces
with thirteen breezers stored away. Your flag’s agreed
- and with it I your servant ride off on my steed –
it shows a scarlet field that has two golden hands.
Thus subjugated off I set to distant lands
passing the vast black forests and high northern fjords,
passing the crescent sickles of the southern hordes
to islands when no human’s ever come on land.
Your banner there I’ll plant, kneeling in burning sand.
And freedom, that’s someone who just says something hot
after bedding five lovely queenies on the trot
and pulls out from his ample sleeve his old banjo.
We’ll marry on the run. Should I give that a go,
then Mexico or Zanzibar are certain spots.
Tight curls unravel due to celebration shots
and on the cake your two hands have been done in glaze.
We’ve hired two jet-black horses for the next few days.
My head’s hand luggage. All the excess weight inside
is everything with which I’ve happily complied.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Hans Christian Andersen: where has he gone?

Because a new translation of all of Andersen's (fairy)tales is being prepared by the Hans Christian Andersen Centre in Odense, which is part of the University of Southern Denmark, I have removed all translations I have done and shown on the blog. They were draft versions only, and the plan is that the final versions, after having been discussed with a panel of experts, will finally be made digitally available on a website, alongside the Danish originals. So be patient!

In the meantime, here is an Andersen poem that expresses congenial sentiments:

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Klaus Høeck/Winterreise: Caput IV (Kleist)



Berlin, large cracked urn that is full of snow.
The ashes of the past still swirl down a
long the shop and theatre street of Kur
fürstendamm beneath an alien

wing of night-black velvet. Already the
imitation stars of the future gleam
in the horoscopes and mirrors of the
display windows which are violet with

the skins of polecat and of otter in
the reflection of quartz lamps and plastic.
Oh, what an art of illumination

and illusion to conceal the darkness
of past days and the spirit’s gutted fire
in the midst of the winter’s blue-tinged heart.


In the midst of the winter’s blue-tinged heart:
this thrombosis of a wall that separ
ates the closely knit lovers. A fanning
of snow and turquoise across the quiet

streets down by the Spree. I cannot tell you
why it is I happen to be thinking
of long and rusty saw blades, but it could
perhaps be because reason no longer

functions at such a sight. Or maybe since
emotions are brought to a halt by the
merciless concrete of ugliness. It

is here that humanity loses its
case at the high court of power and the wall.
You are well worth the cold and a journey.


You are well worth the cold and a journey
Berlin, as was Paris a golden mass.
Here in Grünewald the twilight is al
most the blue colour behind my closed eye

lids. Is there anything that is loneli
er that a lit-up window pane in a
wet and misty winter’s forest, where the
soul finds no boundaries at all and its

own darkness fuses with that of the bush
es. Does anything exist that is more
beautiful than this brief instant, when your

breast is torn apart by an insane de
sire not to exist any longer? – Here
in your earth rests the army of lost souls.


In your earth rests the army of lost souls:
those who truly loved, those who perished as
a result of too much tenderness, those
rejected by the World since they suffered

from genuine grief on behalf of others.
Those who before the very eyes of us 
all dared together the salto morta
le of action, dared to stake all on the

impossible, how was it that we re-
paid them: with applause and with ovations
or with the worn coins of charity?

No, with the cruel revenge of medio
crity, but there’s hope midst the suffering:
each new defeat’s closer to victory.


Each new defeat’s closer to victory,
each humiliation to redress, al
though RAF has ended in a blind alley
in Kreutzberg (blind alleys are often the

loveliest). Perhaps this time they lost their
way, but this should not give rise to a re
trospective condemnation, but instead
to a time for reflection, because they

now have become incomprehensible
to themselves and desperate and because
they are becoming what they are fighting

against: a dragon without a head. Put
down your weapons, mobilise the spirit
and all those who belong to each other.


And all those who belong to each other,
they will also meet each other in the
class of all classes: the revolution
ary. All of those with their race, nation

gender, lineage and name sorted out.
People of all kinds and dispositions,
who have overcome themselves as well as
their own greediness, they will concentrate

on the single objective: to fully
implement social justice, econom
ic equality and freedom, which means

the abolition of classes of all
kinds. Whether they be militant or not,
all of them shall also be united.


All of them shall also be united
despite all distances. What would it mean,
for example, if one were to measure
death in kilometres. So when I de

liver this greeting, Ulrike, this oth
er little heart of jade, the true copy
of which lies in a cemetery in
Stuttgart, it is only a silent sign

between human bodies which is now con
nected with silver chains, not human souls
which meet each other in completely dif

ferent spheres, to which we with our bodies’
weight do not have an admission ticket:
To them life is nothing but the prelude.


Berlin, large cracked urn that is full of snow
in the midst of the winter’s blue-tinged heart.
you are well worth the cold and a journey,
In your earth rests the army of lost souls.

Each new defeat’s closer to victory.
And all those who belong to each other,
all of them shall also be united.
To them life is nothing but the prelude

to the open rooms of immortality
that at least is duration in our minds
and this carbon-black offertorium.

In that way death is in no wise a wind,
an emptiness that wipes out human shame,
God conceals himself, so we can seek him.


To them, life is nothing but the prelude,
to us it’s everything, we who shrink from
beauty and from the deadly splendour of
love. For after all it is true: in the

passionate moment we lose everything,
and maybe will never find a foothold
in ourselves again. We who are so scared
of taking risks cling tight-fistedly to

the sealed, familiar things that have been worn
down by habit’s planetary orbit.
We who flee from each other, who are sil

ent when we shout, talk mostly, are cold when
we believe we love. We’ll hardly make it
to the open rooms of immortality.


To the open rooms of immortality
full of lemniscates and kingfishers’ wings
they could only come via death’s muteness,
paradoxically enough, these me

taphysicians of the revolution
shot on the bicentenary of Bernt
Heinrich von Kleist’s birth, the greatest poli
tical poet in Germany, condemned

expelled, whose sister’s name was Ulrike.
Shot through the back of the neck or the fore
head: Bernd Andreas Baader, Carl Jan Ras

pe and Gudrun Esslin, who were hanged by
a wire, they are caught in a new web
that at least is duration in our minds.


That at least is duration in our minds,
I wrote earlier, and all in all that
closes the case, but in a different
way now from the inside, in my, its

and the idea’s inner universe,
which is no less real for all that. By
your death you became immortal. The vers
es are evidence of this, sonnets with

negentropy and crablike contortions.
Ah, one can hardly live in both places at
the same time fully or die. This only

takes place in the world of spirit and love,
in the mystery of the Trinity,
and this carbon-black offertorium.


And this carbon-black offertorium
is a finished chapter, a catechi
sm with omitted questions, silent ac
cusations and insufficient answers

between the pressed lilac leaves of obli
vion. A paper hell from which a flame
occasionally flares up. A pure ang
er, as corrosive as caustic soda.

I will go out into the morning sun
shine and burn this will and testament so
that the inner flame shall be united

with the outer one and the smoke perhaps
attain God like a thin, distant column:
In that way death is in no wise a wind.


In that way death is in no wise a wind,
rather the darkness of silence after
two shots. Here they went down: von Kleist and the
woman, directly down from the green rooms.

So when they closed their eyes everything turned
red: the after-image of life that slow
ly faded away, invisibili
ty because that which is transparent is 

the dimension (crowned by cirrus clouds) which
connects them with each other. Were both of
them disappointed perhaps at seeing

nothing in the surface of the Wannsee
and that there was nothing else that remained:
an emptiness that wipes out human shame?


An emptiness that wipes out human shame
does not exist anywhere, nor does it 
here on John Kennedy Platz, where dark ang
els have painted a bright-red pentagramme.

Your actions and your words, yes, even your
angry kisses will leave behind their dis
tant comet traces in the space of an
other consciousness, and finally be

part of a total swarm of Leonids
which fall down behind the November’s light ho
rizon as humanity’s fate, down there

behind the Brandenburg Gate’s quadriga
of flaming irreligious copper where
God conceals himself, so we can seek him.


God conceals himself, so we can seek him
behind the nothingness, behind the might
y white light which spreads out on the sky’s e
namel like eczema, a mandrake’s

flaming sign over the futility.
God sits behind a closed door that does not
exist on a throne of nickel, a court
of justice that has never existed.

Greater is this wrong: not to find him eith
er in the mind’s pure ivory chambers.
God conceals himself behind the truth in

such a way that the lie is bearable or
the converse perhaps, sadly enough.
Berlin, large cracked urn that is full of snow.