Thursday, 2 February 2023

Hans Christian Andersen: 'Fyrtøjet'


The Tinder-Box

 

A soldier came marching along the highway: left, right! left, right! He had his knapsack on his back and a sword at his side, for he had been out fighting a war, and now he was on his way home. Out on the highway he met an old witch – she was so ugly, her lower lip hung right down on her chest. She said: ‘Good evening, soldier! What a fine sword and a large knapsack you have, you’re a real soldier! Now you’re going to have as much money as you want to own!’

‘Thank you, you old witch!’ the soldier said.

‘Can you see that big tree?’ the witch said, pointing at a tree that stood next to them. ‘It’s completely hollow inside! You’re to clamber up to the top of it and there you’ll see a hole you can let yourself slide down through and get deep inside the tree! I’ll bind a rope round your waist, for then I can haul you up when you give me a shout!’

‘What am I to do down in the tree?’ the soldier asked.

‘Fetch money!’ the witch said, ‘now when you get down to the bottom of the tree, you’ll find yourself in a large hallway that is quite bright, for more than a hundred lamps burn there. Then you will see three doors, you can open them, the keys are in the locks. When you enter the first room, you’ll see a large chest in the middle of the floor with a dog sitting on top; it’s got eyes the size of saucers, but don’t you worry about that! I’ll give you my blue-checked apron, you can spread it out on the floor – then go over quickly and pick up the dog, place him on the apron, open the chest and take as many coins as you like. They are all made of copper, but if you would rather have silver coins, you must go into the next room, but the dog sitting there has a pair of eyes that are as big as mill-wheels, but don’t you worry yourself about that, place him on my apron and help yourself to the money! If gold is more to your liking, though, you can have that, and as much as you’re prepared to carry, when you go into the third room. But the dog sitting on the money chest there has two eyes each of which is a big as the Round Tower. Now that’s a real dog, believe you me! But don’t you worry about that! Just place him on my apron and he won’t do you any harm, and take as much gold as you like out of the chest!’

‘That doesn’t sound at all bad!’ the soldier said. ‘But what am I to give you, you old witch? For you’ll want me to get something for you, I imagine!’

‘No,’ the witch said, ‘I don’t want a single penny! All you need fetch for me is an old tinder-box that my grandmother forgot last time she was down there!’

‘Right, then! Fix the rope round my waist!’ the soldier said.

‘Here it is!’ the witch said, ‘and here is my blue-checked apron.’

Then the soldier clambered up into the tree, let himself tumble down into the hole and now, as the witch had said, he found himself standing in a large hallway where many hundreds of lamps were burning.

He now opened the first door. Uh! There sat the dog with eyes as big as saucers glaring at him.

‘You’re a nice-looking chap!’ the soldier said, placed him on the witch’s apron and took just as many copper coins as would fit into his pockets, closed the chest, put the dog back on it again and went into the second room. Ooh! There sat the dog with eyes as big as mill-wheels.

‘You shouldn’t stare at me so much!’ the soldier said, ‘it might hurt your eyes!’ And he placed the dog on the witch’s apron, but when he saw the many silver coins in the chest, he threw away all the copper coins he had and filled his pockets and his knapsack with pure silver. Now he went into the third room! Oh no, this was ghastly! The dog there really did have two eyes each as big as the Round Tower. And they spun round in his face, just like wheels!

‘Good evening!’ the soldier said, raising his hand to his peaked cap, for he had never seen a dog like it before; but when he had looked at it for a bit, he thought that enough’s enough, lifted him down onto the floor and opened the chest – goodness gracious! How much gold there was! He could buy all of Copenhagen, and the cake-women’s sugar-pigs, all the tin-soldiers, whips and rocking horses that existed in the whole world! Yes, this was money all right! Now the soldier threw away all the silver coins he had filled his pockets and his knapsack with and took the gold ones instead, yes, he crammed all his pockets, the knapsack, his cap and his boots full, so he was scarcely able to walk! Now he really had money! He put the dog back on the chest, slammed the door shut and shouted out up the tree: ‘Haul me up now, you old witch!’

‘Have you got the tinder-box with you?’ the witch asked.

‘Oh yes, that’s right,’ the soldier said, ‘I’d completely forgotten about that!’ and he went and took it. The witch hauled him up, and there he was again on the highway, with his pockets, boots, knapsack and cap full of money.

‘What are you going to use that tinder-box for?’ the soldier asked.

‘None of your business!’ the witch said, ‘you’ve got all your money! Just give me the tinder- box!’

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ the soldier said, ‘tell me at once what you’re going to use it for, or I’ll draw my sword and cut off your head!’

‘No!’ the witch said.

Then the soldier cut off her head. There she lay! But he bound up all his money in her apron, took it as a bundle on his back, stuffed the tinder-box into his pocket and went straight off to the town.

It was a fine town, and he put up at the finest inn, ordered the very best rooms and the food he was most fond of, for now he was rich as he had so much money.

The servant who was to polish his boots indeed felt that they were a queer old pair of boots for such a rich man to have, but the soldier hadn’t bought himself a new pair yet; the following day he bought himself a proper pair, and splendid clothes as well! Now the soldier had become a fine gentleman, and they told him about all the great doings of the town, about their king, and what a lovely princess his daughter was.

‘Where can one get to see her?’ the soldier asked.

‘She can’t be seen at all!’ they all said. ‘she lives in a large copper castle, with so many walls and towers around it! No one except the king dares go in to her, because it has been foretold that she will marry a simple soldier, and the king doesn’t like the idea one bit!’

‘Now she’s someone I would like to see!’ the soldier thought to himself – but he would never be allowed to do that!

He now led a gay life, went to the theatre, drove in the Royal Gardens and gave the poor lots of money – and that was nobly done! He knew from his own past how terrible it was not to have a penny! now he was rich, had splendid clothes, and gained a great number of friends as well, and all of them said what a fine fellow he was, a real gentleman – and the soldier liked all of this! But since he spent money every day and did not have any money coming in, he finally ended up with only a couple of small coins left and had to move out of the fine rooms where he had been living and up into a tiny attic room, polish his own boots and sew them with a darning needle, and none of his friends came to see him, for there were so many stairs to climb.

It was so dark in the evening, and he couldn’t even afford to buy himself a candle, but then he remembered that there was a small stump left in the tinder-box he had taken in the hollow tree that the witch had helped him down inside. He took out the tinder-box and the candle-stump, but just as he struck a light and the sparks flew off the flintstone, the door burst open, and the dog that had eyes as big as a saucers, and that he had seen down in the tree, stood in front of him and asked: ‘What does my master command!’

 ‘Good gracious!’ the soldier said, ‘this is a funny tinder-box – can I have whatever I want? Get me some money,’ he said to the dog and whoosh, it was gone! Whoosh, there it was again, and in its jaws it was holding a bag full of coins.

Now the soldier realised what a wonderful tinder-box it was! If he struck it once, the dog that sat on the chest with the copper coins came, if he struck it twice, the one with the silver coins, and if he struck it three times, the one that had gold. Now the soldier moved back into his beautiful rooms, put on his splendid clothes, and immediately all his friends recognised him once more, and were extremely fond of him.

Then he thought to himself: It’s really is very odd that there is no way of getting to see the princess! Everyone says that she is so lovely! But what’s the use of that if she has to sit all the time inside the great copper castle with the many towers. Can’t I get to see her at all? Where’s my tinder-box! And he struck a light and whoosh, there was the dog with eyes as big as saucers.

‘I know it’s the middle of the night,’ the soldier said, ‘but I so much wish to see the princess, just for a brief moment!’

The dog was out of the door in no time, and before the soldier had time to think, there he was again with the princess – she lay sleeping on the dog’s back and was so lovely that anyone could see she was a genuine princess; the soldier couldn’t help himself, he simply had to kiss her, for he was a real soldier.

The dog then ran back with the princess, but when morning came, and the king and queen were pouring out the tea, the princess said that she had dreamt such a strange dream that night about a dog and a soldier. She had ridden on the dog, and the soldier had kissed her.

‘That’s a pretty story, to be sure!’ the queen said.

Now one of the old ladies-in-waiting was to watch beside the princess’s bed the following night, to see if it was really a dream, or what else it could possibly be.

The soldier so longed to see the lovely princess once more, and then the dog came at night, fetched her and ran as fast as it could, but the old lady-in-waiting put waterproof boots on and ran just as fast after it; when she saw that they disappeared into a large house, she thought to herself, now I know where it is, and drew a large chalk cross on the door. Then she went home and lay down, and the dog came once more with the princess; but when it saw that a cross had been drawn on the door where the soldier lived, it took another piece of chalk and drew crosses on all the doors in the whole town, and that was a wise thing to do, for of course the lady-in-waiting couldn’t find the right door, now that there were crosses on all of them.

Early the next morning, the king and queen, the old lady-in-waiting and all the officers came to see where the princess had been!

‘There it is!’ the king said, when he saw the first door with a cross on it.

No, it’s over there, my dear husband!’ the queen said, who saw another door with a cross on it. But there’s one there and one there!’ they all said – wherever they looked, there were crosses on the doors. Then they realised that there was no point in looking any further.

But the queen was indeed a very wise woman, one who could do a lot more than just drive around in a carriage. She took her large gold scissors, cut a large piece of silk into small pieces, and then sewed a nice little bag out of them; this she filled with small, fine grains of buckwheat, bound it to the back of the princess, and when that was done, she made a small hole in the bag, so the grains could trickle out wherever the princess went.

That night the dog came again, took the princess on its back and ran with her back to the soldier, who was so fond of her, and would dearly have liked to be a prince so he could marry her.

The dog didn’t notice at all that the grains trickled out all the way from the castle to the soldier’s window when he clambered up the wall with the princess. The next morning, the king and queen could clearly see where their daughter had been, and they had the soldier seized and thrown into jail.

There he sat. Uh, how dark and unpleasant it was, and then they said to him: Tomorrow you’re going to be hanged. That was not a nice thing to hear, and he had forgotten his tinder-box back at the inn. When morning came, he could see through the iron bars of the tiny window how people were hurrying out of the town to see him be hanged. He heard the drums and saw the soldiers marching. Everyone hurried off; there was also a cobbler’s boy with a leather apron and clogs on, he ran at such a pace that one of his clogs flew off and struck the wall where the soldier was standing looking out between the bars.

‘Hey, cobbler’s boy! Don’t be in such a hurry!’ the soldier said to him, ‘nothing’s going to happen before I turn up! But if you’re prepared to run over to where I have been living and fetch me my tinder-box, I’ll give you four shillings! But you must be quick about it!’ The cobbler’s boy was eager to get the four shillings, and off he shot to fetch the tinder-box, gave it to the soldier, and  – well now we will hear what happened after that!

Outside the town a large gallows had been raised, around it the soldiers stood along with many hundreds and thousands of people. The king and queen sat on a fine throne opposite the judge and the entire council.

The soldier was already up on the ladder, but when they wanted to put the noose round his neck, he said that it was always the custom to let a sinner have an innocent wish fulfilled before facing his punishment. He would like to smoke a pipeful of tobacco, for that would be the last pipeful he would ever have in this world.

Now the king wouldn’t deny him that, and so the soldier took his tinder-box and struck a light – one, two, three! And there all the dogs stood, the one with eyes as big as saucers, the one with eyes like mill-wheels and the one that had eyes as big as the Round Tower.

‘Save me from being hanged!’ the soldier said, and then the dogs went after the judges and the entire council, took one by the legs and one by the nose and flung them way up into the air, so they fell down and were smashed to pieces.

‘I won’t!’ the king said, but the biggest dog took both him and the queen, and flung them up after all the others; then the soldiers took fright and everyone shouted: ‘Little soldier, you shall be our king and have the lovely princess!’

Then they placed the soldier in the royal carriage, and all three dogs danced in front of it and shouted ‘Hurrah!’ And the boys whistled through their fingers and the soldiers presented arms. The princess came out of the copper castle and became queen, and she liked that! The wedding lasted for eight days, and the dogs sat there at the table, their eyes open wide.

 

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Olav Nygard: 'No reiser kvelden seg'


 

No reiser kvelden seg

 

No reiser kvelden seg i vesterbrun,

han trør paa lette føter gjenom tun

og skuggeveven fjell imillom hengjer.

Det gjeng ei kviskring gjenom kjørr og lyng,

og talatrasten skifter ljod og syng

med avdagsskjelven under sine strenger.

 

Men dagen tek sin gangar fast i taum,

tek ferdakaapa paa med gullrend saum

og burt fraa blaane etter blaane skundar.

Det gular gjenom svale dal og lid

der skuggen ventar natta, brura si,

og ør i sine elskhugsdraumar blundar.

 

Med linne andardrag stig natta inn,

med myrke lokkar kringum hals og kinn

og herdaduk av elvelette eimar.

Og kløkke lundar, æolsharpe-klang,

ris bljugt som gjenteborn or moderfang

og sviv paa lettan fot i svale heimar.

 

Det gjeng ein sælebiv imillom fjell

so fræa emnar seg og hamsar fell

og undrings-øre augo upp seg vender:

Or djupe himlar slær ein baaregong

av evig skapings-gir og sfæresong

som helsar frendeblidt mot døkke strender.

 

 

Now evening rises

 

Now evening rises at the western edge

through farmhouse yards his way he lightly treads,

hangs mountains inbetween with muted shading.

Through scrub and heather whispering’s heard soon

and as it sings the throstle changes tune

with twilight tremolo its call pervading.

 

But firmly of his steed’s reins day takes hold

puts on his great cloak etched with seams of gold

twixt far horizons hurries at light’s closing.

A breeze moves through cool vale and mountain side

where shadow’s waiting for the night, his bride

and swooning in his dreams of love is dozing. 

 

And breathing gently night then enters in

with dark locks round her neck and cheek’s smooth skin

and shawl of elfine mists that swirl so lightly.

And dulcet tones, th’aeolian harp’s sweet charms,

rise shyly like a girl from mother’s arms

and float in cool realms light of foot and sprightly.

 

A quiv’ring bliss is felt twixt mountains tall

so seed starts growing, skins are sloughed and fall

and eyes turn upwards dazed by some great wonder:

from deepest heav’n sounds swell’s surge full and strong,

the endless urge to procreate, spheres’ song 

that greets as kinsfolk those dark shores far yonder.

 

Henrik Nordbrandt: 'Alf og damerne'


ALF OG DAMERNE

 

’Alf og damerne’ troede jeg det hed

det blad, min moder købte hver uge.

Der var altid en dame på forsiden

og enkelte herrer indeni.

Men når jeg bladede det igennem

fandt jeg aldrig et billede af en

der helt svarede til min forestilling om Alf.

 

Det var så meget mere forvirrende

som det i sig selv var utroligt

at de hver eneste uge

kunne skrive så meget nyt

om Alf og damerne!

 

Mærkelig mand, den Alf!

tænkte jeg beundrende

- og så alle de damer

dem på gaden 

dem i tog og sporvogne

og sikkert også alle de andre!

 

Hvor stor var ikke min skuffelse

da jeg lærte at læse.

O, damer! Og I, småpiger 

som lærdom endnu ikke har ødelagt.

Tænk en gang imellem

på stakkels, gamle Alf.

 

Tag ham med i jeres aftenbøn.

Lad ham nu og da få

en beskeden plads mellem jeres prinser

eller popstjerner, hvem I nu drømmer om

så han ikke altid skal gå hjem alene.

 

 

Women’s Owen

 

‘Women’s Owen’ was what I thought it was called

the magazine my mother bought every week.

There was always a woman on the front cover

and a few men inside.

But when I leafed through it

I never found a picture of anyone

who exactly corresponded to my idea of Owen.

 

It was all the more confusing

and all the more incredible in itself

that every single week

they could write so much new stuff

about those women’s Owen!

 

Strange man, this Owen!

I use to think admiringly -

and then all those women

those in the street

those in trains and trams

and probably all the others, too!

 

How great was my disappointment

when I learned to read.

Oh, women! And you small girls

who learning has yet to ruin.

Just think from time to time

of poor old Owen.

 

Include him in your evening prayers.

Let him from time to time gain

a modest place among your princes

or pop stars, whoever it is you dream of,

so he does not always have to go home alone.

 

Henrik Nordbrandt: 'Pjaltefisk'


 

Sea Dragon

 

 

Poems (2004)

 

 

I

 

SEA DRAGON

 

When I think back I’m fairly sure

I got this book from some nutcase of a woman.

She must have been a nutcase

since she insisted she was me.

I believed her nonetheless

and borrowed the book to copy it out.

It proved impossible

for the woman was far too deranged to write.

You could have told yourself that before opening the book.

But I didn’t say anything.

Everything in it what’s more had to do

with the sea horse and its relation

the sea dragon.

And now I’ve lost the address.

So I can’t give her the book back.

Thanks though for the title

sea dragon.

 

 

II

 

LIVEWELL

 

Via God knows what unfathomable ways

I have come today to the word livewell.

It has got jammed between what promised

to be a new beginning

and what judging by its late winter colour

looks like an old powerlessness.

I have said livewell at least 100 times to myself.

I have shouted it to a doctor’s secretary

who thought I meant her, and maybe I did.

And maybe she thought I was mad, and maybe I was.

There’s no getting round that livewell.

And all this simply because I overheard the remark:

‘Not until yesterday did I discover what a livewell

actually is.’

For fun I say ‘llewevil’ seen from the angle

where it is named in the language

that has to be constructed so as to get the colour too:

That special silver-grey, the colour of childhood

and powerlessness, for childhood is just as powerless

as it is powerful

because so many years have passed, and nothing’s changed

that silver-grey on the old washed-up pieces of wood

made smooth by their travels through the seas:

Silver-grey as the shacks, in whose cobalt shadows

seaweed and old snow lie:

That silver-grey when it’s forbidden to use colours in poetry.

And I’d have preferred to have excluded the livewell.

But I find the positioning highly appropriate

here in the open area behind the small harbour

with a view across to the next flat island.

Has that made it clear enough! You can’t just

go around locking up live creatures.

It’s tough on the fish to catch fish.

All livewells on dry land! I go in for that.

Afterwards there’s an equal smell of snow, sea and tar

and a little of earth. That’s how it’s got jammed,

so the rotten, silver-grey planks give up being a livewell

and fall apart in a profusion of flowers

eranthis, unless my memory is at fault.

They are precisely as yellow as the light-cable you can

suddenly see in front of you, where sea and sky meet

the island where I used to stand longingly gazing

across towards this coast in my childhood.

 

 

BACK IN THE PRECINCT

 

Look how light it’s got here.

The shadows weigh

just as much as the bronze statues.

Where the heart beat

experiences now rest.

 

In mid-land there’s a blue lake.

Everyone knows it from within.

No one can reach it.

Third floors meet the coming of evening

with blank staring.

 

 

DRAGONFLIES

 

I thought I was walking on water

because it was frozen.

 

Then I discovered the banks had been covered

with yellow flowers

 

and the weeping willow by the jetty

was about to come into leaf.

 

When the water closed over my head

I experienced what it felt like

 

seen from above, without me

by two dragonflies in a mating dance.

 

 

THE PICTURES

 

It was my father who stole the pictures.

I saw it myself.

He had them

under his arm when he came down the road.

He must have walked a long way

for he was completely covered in hoar frost.

It was that far then

to the house

whose pictures he had stolen.

They had been wrapped in brown paper

even so you could make out the frames.

They were vulgar

with flowers, vines and plastic angels

coated with gold: That

was my father’s taste.

Inside the frames there was nothing

for my father had stolen the pictures.

I saw it myself

so he could get away with it

and the house be emptied of the past.

For the same reason

I can also work out now where it was.

In the March sunshine the flooded road cuts

through the black hills, curved like sarcasm.

 

 

THE GRAVEDIGGER FROM FANEFJORD

 

Oh shovel! I one day address myself.

This is not the language I would have chosen.

This language will always the property of others

unintelligible deep down

shiny and dismissive as a bank building

a loan of lifelong instalments.

The price of this language

is death, so the word death is also the word

that trips most naturally off the tongue

no matter whose lips it uses.

I would like to do away with it

if only I could simply continue by saying

straight out what I meant:

My greatest aversion to these lines is therefore

that I myself have written them.

The next greatest that others have come up with the words.

That’s what this language is like. That’s how

its logic cancels out logic

so it precisely conceals the essence of what it is

like the bank building.

When I had moved on a bit, the word

death appealed to me a bit even so

on account of the sound, and the same with lips.

Now I’d most like to erase both of them.

Perhaps I ought to pretend the choice didn’t exist

If only instead of shovel I had

at least been able to say bell!

 

 

FULL STOP

 

I have come to the full stop

that is called midsummer.

What started out so well

ends here.

 

What ends here is what

started out so well.

And that’s all.

And that is what’s written here.

 

It’s like being alone in the world

and saying the word ‘home’.

It’s like hearing the sentence

‘Your sweetheart is dead.’

 

The sun cannot disappear

for there’s nothing to disappear from.

When the wind blows

the trees show the blacks of their crowns.

 

 

A MIDSUMMER SONNET

 

Create nothing superfluous. There’s already too much of everything.

If I call this a sonnet, it is because the elder is in flower

and I call the elderflowers elderflowers

for the same reason as a sonnet consists of fourteen lines.

Subject to that logic a dinosaur displays itself in the fifth 

to remind us of the relationship between intelligence and strength

this evening is also a matter of: on the TV screen 

its short legs flail helplessly in the air as in despair

at its prey having escaped from it. Therefore the tenth line

must mention an old man and his psychopathic homicidal son

who from somewhere in America can put out this summer night

like I turn off the television. This is the twelfth.

The fourteenth should be read by the light of the elderflowers

so that which came before can clearly come to the fore once more.

 

 

CUMULUS

 

Even if the word is also predictable:

                if what it looks like

is only elsewhere what it is

if yellow in other words is blue, 

this sentence even so changes its meaning.

That is one possibility.

Another is that ‘predictable’ turns me off.

I mean, it must be because of the sound

for I don’t connect any meaning to it.

It is one of the words which like

certain seasons would be best removed.

Without summer and winter

we would probably live a better life

and purely personally I could well do without autumn too.

An eternal spring – that would give ‘predictable’

a completely different sound.

So now you’re talking maybe.

And the very word ‘talk’ makes me think of two tigers

sitting at a round table solving crosswords

because the yellow and the blue

so clearly predict what is about to come now.

So maybe we should make do with removing July and August.

That is the time of year when the cumulus clouds

on an afternoon like today suddenly stiffen:

                become plaster

said with a word that can probably be said

                otherwise in some other place

but looks like, is pronounced, feels and tastes like plaster.

And that’ll bring the sky down!

 

 

GROSS SUN

 

Seldom has the sun felt so sated.

There’s nothing left for it on earth.

So much more

does its afterglow dazzle.

 

The shadows stretch into infinity

but never become night.

The day lasts for ever

like the year that has just passed.

 

 

THE MEANING OF IT ALL

 

It wasn’t my meaning it should have turned out like that

the way I’m glaring at it.

First and foremost I don’t like the word meaning

and I feel only so-so about like that.

I suspect like that to be a way of skipping something of what’s

probably most important

and like that I actually believe years have past while I wrote this.

I saw a pram standing three quarters gone in one of them.

It was completely yellow

and was standing in a shaft of sunlight, in a forest clearing

so you felt like just going off with it

so you didn’t have to be a child one more time

not just be a child again and again, as often happens.

I didn’t go anywhere. The way

things are here, the weather would have turned cloudy.

And I hate cloudy weather just as much

as I hate the word meaning.

So it’s like that today.

I ought to have said something quite different, but got as far as 

this clearing, where the leaves are falling into an empty pram.

The end of August’s like that.

It’s probably my fault. I’m prepared to accept it is.

 

 

SANSEPOLCRO

 

I’m well aware it sounds strange.

It’s meant to as well. It’s because of the cemetery

where a grey slab of granite

is glistening with a rain was a long time coming

but never came.

On the other hand your name is on the stone

because you read this

long before I started to write it

and precisely in the way I did.

I did this

so that strangely enough it would sound

as if the cemetery could remain hanging

there where it does

up above the valley, where its clients

cultivate tomatoes and wine, before they themselves

which they must also find

strange, are to go up there

to feed the cypresses.

So this in other words has to do with the full moon

so ice-cold and still as it hangs

above the aforementioned trees close to the winter solstice.

 

 

III

 

EVERYTHING ELSE

 

1.

On far too bright days in January

the talk once more is of everything else.

 

2.

What fun it was

to be desperate

when one was young!

 

3.

Sometimes one happens to say ‘I’

and regrets it for years afterwards.

 

 

AFTER A BAD DREAM

 

When I woke up, the lid was back in place

on the large black cauldron

and all that was left

of the cannibals

was the echo of their exotic name.

 

The bookmark stuck out of the book on the bedside table

at precisely the right place

and when I stuck my feet out of bed

I saw that my shoelaces

were correctly in place in my shoes.

And my socks lay right next to them.

 

There was no crocodile under the bed

and the spider

that had been lying in wait behind the door

had gone away.

 

My head and my arms

had not been placed

in separate

black plastic bags.

They were firmly fixed to my body.

 

I could move without bleeding.

I didn’t even have

a stomach ache.

 

On the kitchen table there was a coffee maker

an ordinary coffee maker

in the morning sun that percolated in

through the flower-patterned curtains.

 

They were in need of a wash.

It looked like

it was mid-April.

 

When the water boiled

the house sounded so empty.

 

All those I had loved

 

were long since dead.

 

 

DROP

 

Drop me, my friends!

I’m not worth my

own shoelaces.

 

Let go of me and let me fall

 

down

to where I’ve always been

in spite of everything.

 

Don’t let me lie rotting

up here in the open air

 

where a cloud could catch sight of me

and have

 

its golden evening over the sea ruined.

 

 

FIVE HAIKUS

 

1.

Snowdrops! What do you

do for the rest of the year?

I would like to too.

 

2.

A very strange light

that’s half spring and half autumn

half in view, half me.

 

3.

I can’t be bothered

Not one more year. I’d rather

have a hundred springs.

 

4.

Such is self-pity: 

A mollusc with tiger’s claws

deep within its heart.

 

5.

The happy ones there.

The frightful ones here. Passing

me myself en route.

 

 

WE THE UNDERSIGNED IN DELPHI

 

It happened that year

that my birthday fell

on ‘The Day of World Poetry’

which was also celebrated

at the World’s Centre, in Delphi

to which I

had also been invited.

 

It was all too much!

I took to my bed

instead of making the journey.

 

If I had come to Delphi

I would have not been me

and therefore I

would not have been invited either.

 

So much for that birthday.

 

So much for that year.

 

 

THE SPEECH

 

I held the speech.

The others held their noses.

I didn’t know any of them.

From the expressions on their faces

I could see they all knew me.

 

Beneath the wreaths of flowers

the body lay

wrapped in a black rug.

You could sense

that it had been sort of flattened

and that it was

about to spread out.

 

The speech was without words. A dry cough

stopped me

each time I began.

 

Outside the dream

it would have been interpreted

as meaning it was my own

funeral I was attending.

 

But there was nothing outside.

From the window

I could see the parking lot.

It was raining

and the sun shone through the rain.

 

So there would be rainy weather again

within three days.

 

That’s what people would say when I was a child.

 

So much for that.

 

 

THE REAL DANISH SUMMER

 

A real Danish summer is to be the theme of this sonnet:

For it to be really right, what surrounds one mustn’t be said

in thirteen or fifteen lines, but in fourteen: that in my opinion

is how it all falls into place, so form and content become one

in the same way that I am at one with the summer

which is at one with Danishness

which is really really right: But this poem wouldn’t be so

unless it pointed out that no one can be at one with anything else.

There’s got to be room: A real Danish summer

is probably where I could best do without myself.

And I would gladly let nature speak for me, if the vulgar greenness

hadn’t made it all too embarrassing:

In its midst there’s a tall red chimney: It belongs to the crematorium.

What a consolation at long last to be free of oneself!

 

 

ON THE BANK OF A DRIED-UP STREAM

 

It’s too late in the year to be outside

but I’m sitting outside

in the twilight, on the bank of a stream.

 

I’m also too old to be me

but I am me

because I’m saying what I say.

 

On the bed of the stream dry leaves rustle.

Above the twilight

the sky is red like a parrot’s breast.

 

 

HOTEL

 

The sunlight there outside is just as bright

as it is dark as night here and as bleak.

Above the narrow yard a glass-shard’s light

flares on the battlement. Like the far peak

 

all of my travels dearly would attain,

extinguished, like their final mirrored sign.

I always end up here. My strength has waned,

I cannot carry on. The fault is mine:

 

This hotel is the stuff of all my dreams.

I’m my own guest, the lowest of the low

and the poor landlord who burst into screams

 

and slammed the door. That I myself best know 

as chalk-white there as it is pitch-black here.

And you are far away! Farewell, my dear!

 

 

IV

 

LOVE SONNET

 

I declare this poem to be a sonnet:

Firstly, because it has fourteen lines.

Secondly, because it will prove

already in the first line to have heralded

a surprise: Namely, thirdly,

because one will unable to get

any meaning out of it before I myself

have found it: Fourthly all of this

will first and foremost deal with the one and only

for such a person no longer exists: And how liberating

to be able to talk like this about the one and only.

The one and only has left me, and I am too old

to find a new one. Sixthly and seventhly I’m talking nonsense.

Find a new one! There is only the one and only.

So this turned out to be a sonnet with fifteen lines.

 

 

SLEEPING AROUND

 

I love to sleep around

in strange rooms

with strange women

to hear the rain on the roof

and hear the banana plant rustle against the gutter

and hear the water pipes gurgle

and a radio start up in the room next door.

 

I love to hear a woman

burst into a lament in a strange language.

 

I love strangeness:

The one room more strange than the other

the one woman more strange than the other

the roar of the tiger in the courtyard beneath the moon.

 

I love being in love

in one particular person

 

and I listen to all these sounds

 

alone in the dark.

 

 

WISH

 

I wish I could see you as you were.

No! I wish I could see you

as I wish you were.

No! I only wish that you were

such that I could see you.

 

But right now you are too far away.

So most of all

I probably wish I wasn’t here at all

so it was only you.

 

And if I stare long enough out into the dusk

at the almond tree in blossom:

 

Then all these 

my conflicting wishes are fulfilled

at one and the same time!

 

 

FATHER, MOTHER AND CHILD

 

Just say it as it is, she said.

So I do just that:

 

I don’t know who first turned

their back on the other

but I can just as little forget your back

as my own childhood.

 

You ascribed to me

your worst attributes

as I also ascribed to you

quite a few of mine.

 

Sometimes you became my mother.

At other times I became your father.

 

That was how we played

father, mother and child

 

to the great benefit of the children.

 

No life was ever breathed into them.

So they were never laid in the earth either.

 

 

NATURE AND UNNATURE

 

Sex, many people claim, is a part of nature.

I believe the opposite, that nature must have blundered

 

and have become pure unnature when it invented sex.

 

‘I want to marry that!’ I said the first time

I saw a sea dragon. ‘And I mean right now!’

 

So I found a human as a replacement.

 

Judging by her grace, shape of nose and curve of back

she really did resemble a sea dragon.

 

And she often appeared in long, fluttering robes

in the open air, while she sang: ‘I am at one with nature.’

 

As far as sex is concerned: Well, let’s skip that!

For the same reason she fell in love with her psychiatrist.

 

I should have looked my own unnature in the eye

and stuck to the sea dragon behind the glass of the aquarium.

 

 

UNTRANSLATABLE

 

‘Kendimi hayalet gibi hissediyorum.’:

‘I feel as if I were a ghost’

here in my old boarding house room

in the Halikarnassos of Antiquity

with the roar of the disco of the same name in my ears.

And for the same reason the end comes

before the beginning: In the beginning was the translation.

That was before I have learnt the words.

The words that come last are the ones I like most

because it is them I understand least.

That’s what it’s like being a child. The word child is so abused.

That’s why I find myself saying it every time doubt seizes me.

It does that when I feel bored.

When I feel bored, I doubt that it’s me doing it.

There are so many other children who also want to be me.

They have learnt the translation by heart

but individually do not understand the words.

Not a hotchpotch at all. We’ll come to that in a moment.

That comes of being a ghost.

Purely personally I  now think

unconceived is a better expression

for the being that surrounds us in this house.

And it’s precisely here

the word hotpotch intrudes.

They are already mixing several languages together

like when you stir an old-fashioned sooty pot.

So there is only the image left.

Somewhere or other in the image there’s much too much red

possibly because of everything there’s not any room for

the autumn gale for example, the garden’s purple figs

and the boats out in the blue bay

seen through the sunlit cobwebs behind the window panes

or perhaps because I have blood in my mouth.

I don’t care whether it’s yours or mine.

I love feeling like the ghost

whose mouth someone or other has returned to

in order to whisper declarations of love through

the chorus of the unconceived

when we lie mouth to mouth and caught

behind the cobwebs, in each other’s twisted limbs:

All the untranslatable.

 

 

BAFA GÖLÜ

 

Because you never left

you never came back either.

So when I walk around this lake

it is not because I believe I will meet you

or imagine to myself

that you hear what I say.

It is because of the stillness

that I have chosen precisely this lake

and because it is dark and deep.

The migrating birds change course and fly round it.

On its banks I only meet my own sodden tracks.

So get the hell out of here, dammit!

 

 

THE WHITE VASE

 

Summer has not gone yet

and you have not gone yet

and I have not gone yet.

 

And the door is shut

and the warm evening sun filters through the window panes

and the birch tree’s shadow brushes

 

the dust on the black table

with the white vase.

And the dust stays put.

 

 

JOY

 

Joy is like an hour-glass:

You want to turn it upside-down all the time

so as to make it last.

And that which runs down is sorrow.

 

 

V

 

BELLADONNA

 

(Written after an eye examination)

 

How long haven’t I seen it coming:

‘Sharpness of detail’ turns out

on closer inspection to have been a pipe-dream

so ‘resolution’ would be the word

that replaced the one quoted, if change were possible.

Which it isn’t.

Blindness makes everything so clear.

And in that way

I can be sure that she hasn’t been here:
There are too many conditions

that cannot be fulfilled.

Change conflicts with the nature of these lines

like Dante bringing up himself

long before anyone has thought of Homer.

But why

mention world literature when you can make your own

and furthermore as you grow old become more and more

sceptical about world literature?

Especially the part of it that rhymes.

Without rhyme the details would even so have been sharper

not to mention the view

from the large panorama window with the palm tree

and the pyramids in the background.

I too would have felt at home on the back of a camel.

I you consistently removed the word I

every time I was just about to use it

I would be a happy man, I think.

That’s why I long for the day

when I have forgotten to read and write.

So this blindness

isn’t all that bad at all really.

It looks like a moral instead of an ending.

So she might well have been here after all, don’t you think?

Yesterday she was Beatrice, today Maria, tomorrow maybe Giraffe.

I remain the same

and thus recall, because of the changeableness of everything,

less and less about myself.

 

 

GOAT

 

Unbelievable the way Picasso could look at a goat!

In actual fact

just outside his native town I saw 37 in a field of cauliflowers.

I counted them, you see.

When a cloud hid the sun, they turned yellow as sulphur.

They were much too busy

devouring cauliflower to notice that

or else sulphur-yellow goats was

a perfectly normal sight for them.

It wasn’t for me. That was why I had stopped up.

Outside the cloud’s shadow the landscape was ochre-coloured

brown and rust-red as always.

The cauliflowers were green-violet and almost

as big as the goats

that attacked them with something that looked like utter disdain.

They butted and guzzled at one and same time.

It looked like a battlefield where the cauliflowers

because of their superiority in numbers

were predestined to win.

I invented the colours to make it last longer.

I wished a chance for the goats

to finish eating before they were held fast

by the last stroke, the last sickening

blot of green-violet.

But they didn’t make it. Just look

at them standing here

their mouths full of cauliflower, sulphur-yellow

with lavender-blue udders.

 

 

THALASSA

 

I have painted a picture so one can see

that what it represents

is further away from it, the more it looks like

what it is.

And so I have painted it

in words.

Just look at how far away

you already are from the self you used to like

to compare with the sea

there where it reveals itself

between the spring foliage of the beech wood

with fishing stakes and gulls

when the milky-white evenings become longer

than it is possible for you

to penetrate with your consciousness.

Words deceive

exactly as colours to

and so I have said it

in colours.

For colours do not rhyme

with mullers or cullers

just as little as with Hüdavendigar

a street name

that is especially dear to me

because the same gulls hang out there.

Sea does not rhyme with filigree

even though the sea is filigree-amber right now

as the deer come into sight at the edge of the wood

but possibly with thalassa

Yes, far out

very, very far out with thalassa.

 

 

IN EXTREMADURA

 

In Extremadura people stand well apart from each other

and each of them with a cigarette in the mouth:

They see a long way, but have this in common

with pumpkins

that they have to have a lit candle in their heads

before it dawns on them.

On the other hand it is impressively beautiful

far, far away from the nearest telephone box

and in billions of sunflowers

between each of the lazy green rivers

that flow into the neighbouring country Portugal

where they used to wear

funny pointed hats

and have heaps of neatly stacked skulls

in their baroque churches.

The person who cannot see it quite clearly in the mind’s eye

has read so far in vain.

For this is how I want to write

the way I saw it

when I had written this.

 

 

FLY WEATHER

 

It must be me who’s caused this cloudy weather

for I am without shadow

or religion, and I only see what surrounds me.

Only something red would be a saving grace, rowan berries perhaps.

The red house by the lake has always been the archetype

I thought was nearest to me.

The woman at the door seems simply made for that door

and from the white rowing boat at the end of the jetty I caught

my first perch in a lake a couple of lakes down river.

Everything is there to receive me, but I pass right through it all

and into myself without being discovered.

If anyone has ever known me, they do not show it.

On the other hand I can then stand for hours under an open sky

and hear the words I am going to say

like a distant thunder that never gets any nearer.

For I love the violet there

where the sulphur-yellow runs down into the green earth.

If you replaced the sound of the word I

with the sound of a fly lying on its back on a window sill

you would get a more exact picture of the truth.

That is why I cannot become a Jew

a Christian or a Moslem

not even a Buddhist, even though I have tried.

My lack of shadow

causes cloudy weather, I want to get away from myself. Love me for that!

 

 

DELIVERANCE

 

I am so looking forward

to summer coming to an end!

And the wind singing

so distant woods draw near

and darkness coming early

and yellow marigolds gleaming

so sleepwalkers

can find their way down from rooftops and church towers

and I have forgotten who I was

and dance beneath a street lamp in the drizzle

along with the moths that ate my last suit of clothes.

 

 

HOW MY MOTHER OFFICIALLY OPENED AUTUMN

 

On the day she decided

was to the first in autumn

my mother counted the elephants.

That was a sort

of old custom she had.

There were four

but if you looked very carefully

there could just turn out to be five

or possibly only three, she said.

This characteristic

I have inherited from her.

As far as my father is concerned

I inherited the gold lighter

I myself had given him

along with his sword.

The elephants were yellow

with green and brown and red blotches

so they could get away from themselves

in the September forests

before the first gale ripped off the foliage.

Finally you heard the garden gate

shriek in the gale.

On the far side of the lake’s steel-grey water

it sounded as if the god of

the wild geese had spoken.

After which there was a long silence

which has really never properly been broken.

 

 

THOUGHTS CLOSE TO CHRISTMAS

 

As far as I can see, it must at some point be you

who has finally written this.

Since the end clearly comes first

that implies God, you’ll probably manage to interject.

For the ways of the Lord are unfathomable, they say.

But I say: There is no god outside 

the word God, and I really wish

Jesus had stuck to the word.

I find his miracles a bit tasteless.

I think I could have believed

if it hadn’t been for them.

Then I would now have been a Christian

and who knows? Possibly a general.

There have been Christian generals before me

in the exactly the same way as Lazarus

ended up dying anyway.

So why procrastinate?

Here in midwinter

the unfathomable ways are full of water

which in a wild dream of changing itself into ice

melts into the sun just before it disappears.

I’m not getting anywhere

but am ageing with time faster than time passes.

That stands to reason, you say.

It’s got to do with the fact that you wrote this a long time ago

so it’s soon Christmas, hurrah for that!

If God in that connection were to argue the point with me

I would plead the concept ‘poetic licence’

just as he is most welcome to do the same.

 

 

GANGRENE

 

It gets dark earlier

than I recalled.

Many windows push forward

but none reach.

 

The wind goes right through your clothes.

Your soul freezes to ice

without your body noticing.

 

The street corners

cut across the years.

 

You were a different child

than the one you thought

and the one who notices his wounds

has already bled to death.

 

Everyone stands

outside each other.

 

 

IN LATE DECEMBER

 

The days don’t get any shorter

and life doesn’t get any longer

and death doesn’t get any closer.

 

And nothing feels any farther away

than it has been written

by the shadow in this low sunlight.