Tuesday 28 December 2010

One poem from '1001 POEMS' by the Danish writer Klaus Høeck

        beneath every so
nata is the sound of a
        second sonata
        that never saw birth - a wild
        mirror-image so
nata full of secret moon
light full of calcium and
        of pain a more beau
        tiful sonata
        perhaps than the one
that you heard played on the keys
        of reality

Thursday 23 December 2010


Forunderligt at sige

Forunderligt at sige
og sært at tænke på,
at kongen til Guds rige
i stalden fødes må,
at himlens lys og ære,
det levende Guds ord,
skal husvild blandt os være,
som armods søn på jord!

Selv spurven har sin rede,
kan bygge dér og bo,
en svale ej tør lede
om nattely og ro.
De vilde dyr i hule
har hver sin egen vrå, -
skal sig min frelser skjule
i fremmed stald på strå?

Nej, kom, jeg vil oplukke
mit hjerte, sjæl og sind,
ja bede, synge, sukke:
Kom, Jesus, kom herind!
Det er ej fremmed bolig,
du den har dyre købt!
Her skal du hvile rolig
i kærligheden svøbt.

It is a wondrous story

It is a wondrous story
and strange if pondered deep
that God’s realm’s future glory
must in a manger sleep,
that heaven’s light and splendour,
the living word for sure,
shall homeless ’mongst us wander
as poorest of the poor!

A nest has e’en the sparrow
where it can built a home,
nor needs the fleeting swallow
for night-time shelter roam.
The beasts need know no anguish,
in caves there’s rest in store,-
Shall then my Saviour languish
upon some stable’s straw?

No, come, I will throw open
my heart, my soul and mind,
yes, sing, sigh, prayers have spoken,
Come, Jesus, come and find!
It is no unknown chamber,
you bought it with your blood!
Here will you sweetly slumber
in love now swathed for good.

A highly relevant poem by the Danish poet Jens August Schade


So, we got snow after all,
and there I was thinking we wouldn’t get any snow,
and it really looks as if we’re in for a right load of snow,
and not go on eternally thinking about snow without it coming.

The air too has snow in it,
it’s almost laden with snow,
perhaps there’s heavy snowfall far off,
that you can sort of feel inside you
without directly knowing it,
but that comes so that you can see it.

I’ve been hoping for snow all the time,
it’s funny even so that it came.
Yes, there it lies now –
look how white it is,
I’m really bloody pleased about it,
I’ve probably been thinking all the time that it would come.

And then all of a sudden there it is –
it’s funny even so that it comes like that
without you doing anything to make it come,
I haven’t plucked it out of the air,
it’s sort of come by itself.


Monday 20 December 2010

Poem by the Dutch writer Frank Koenegracht

On the far side
                                        In memoriam H.F.

On the far side, by the ruff of reeds
beneath the lovely blue sky

in the target
the arrow is motionless. But after a while

it quivers, tugs itself free,
speeds fixedly poised back across the river,

brakes hard and resumes its position on the bow
beside your steady eye.

Friday 17 December 2010

Poem by the Dutch writer Jean-Pierre Rawie


If it was swans I cannot know for certain,
whose thousand wingbeats late that autumn night
lay round about the house and sang their flight,
subsiding only with dawn’s lifted curtain.

Throughout the day I walked as one elected,
as if I had been brushed by angels’ wings.
How many sleepless nights have there been since
when not one single wingbeat was detected?

Uplifted thus but once, there’s every reason
to let the sun again now call the tune:
the waxing and the waning of the moon,
the coming and the passing of the seasons.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

First verse of the 'Solstice Song' by the Danish writer Johannes V. Jensen

Solstice song

Our sun has now grown cold,
we are in winter’s hold
the days are waning.
        Now, past the deepest night,
        our hope burns bright –
        yes, hope burns bright,
        for now the sun will right,
now light will soon return, the days again are gaining.

For the whole poem, go to 16.12.09

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Another Lars Gustafsson poem


Detta oformliga, loberade organ,
som utstötes efter födelsen.
Varken mor eller barn, neutralt,
på samma sätt som det innersta tomrummet
inne i den riktiga sömnlöslheten
är en helt och hållet neutral plats.

Det finns alltid något
som är mellan de vanliga tillstånden,
varken det ena eller det andra.
Till detta Mellan
känner jag en skev vänskap,
en släktskap till och med.

Det har den verkliga världens
stora tomma, uppriktiga ansikte.


This formless, lobated organ
that is expelled after birth.
Neither mother nor child, neutral,
in the same way the innermost void
within true insomnia
is a completely neutral place.

There always exists something
that is between usual states,
neither the one nor the other.
Towards this Between
I feel a wry friendship,
a kinship even.

It has the real world’s
large vacant, candid face.

It has been drawn to my attention that there already exists a fine translation of this poem by Christopher Middleton. You can find it here. I deliberately avoid looking at other translations before attempting my own. I am convinced that any great work of poetry/music is open to many different interpretations. As long as no mistakes of interpretation are involved, it is my conviction that it is enriching to see/listen to as many versions as possible.

Friday 10 December 2010

A poem by the Dutch poet Martinus Nijhoff


I still wore boy’s clothes and lay side by side
Outstretched with mother in the heath’s warm lair;
Above us shifting clouds were drifting by
And mother asked me what I saw up there.

And I cried: Scandinavia, and: swans,
A lady, and: a shepherd with his sheep –
The wonders were made word and drifted on,
But I saw mother, smiling, start to weep.

Then came the time I kept the earth in sight,
Although up in the sky the clouds were rife;
I did not seek to try to catch in flight
The strange thing’s shadow as it grazed my life.

- Now on the heath my lad lies next to me
And points out what in new clouds he can spy;
I’m crying now, for far off I can see
The distant clouds that made my mother cry -

A poem by the Dutch poet Anneke Brassinga

Drift ice

The shining mist already outlines shadows.
We pull up the water right to our chins
like sheets, so ripplingly cool and fresh-starched,
we come to be bedded together, forever entwined
in the gauze of times past, when peacefully
no word we gave to what binds us, sleep
of unmoored reason, towards dreamed-up monsters.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

A little-known Swedish poet this time - Gunnar Mascoll Silfverstolpe (1893-1942)

End of the summer holidays

This was the time our pockets all hung low
with fall-clipped fruit now smeared with streaks of clay.
This was the time the garden candles’ glow
lit up the crayfish dish with quivering ray.
It almost felt too cold to take a swim,
and cobwebs draped themselves round scrub and fern.
When too the last hay had been taken in,
the sky was chill and clear, the wind quite stern.

These were the days when grudgingly one weighed
each hour till summer’s quota had been filled.
This was the time when every hour displayed
an inner force that was to be distilled.
And yet at times one left all play behind
sought out a hill where it was good to lie
and with a ten-year-old’s dark-musing mind
observe the swallows’ flight and clouds file by.

One evening, with the wooden houses burnished
a glowing crimson by the sun, one left –
holding the farewell gift that summer furnished,
a bag of Astrakhans, clasped to one’s chest.
One rode off to the station, tearful-eyed,
while crickets, drunk with joy, still chirped and squealed
their final summer notes on every side
from what were empty, cattle-trampled fields.

Monday 6 December 2010

'Stenkista' - a poem by Lars Gustafsson

Stone caisson

At a funeral
I met, for the second time in my life,
Uncle Sune.

He had a wonderfully heavy head
one of those heads
you know you would appreciate

holding in your hands and turning thoughtfully
even as a hosed-down cranium.
What are you up to now? my uncle said.

And I, caught in the middle of a rainy summer:
Building a stone caisson by the shore of Hörende lake.

(Which on that day was perfectly true
I’d actually been working on
it for weeks, to avoid doing something else.)

My uncle, with that heavy head,
looked up with fresh interest.

Really nothing else
than an old crofter from Småland:
‘Laying down a caisson. Heavy work that.’


I later realised that such knowledge was unusual
Most people are completely ignorant

when it comes to stone caissons.
They think you’re talking about sarcophagi,

huge coffins of stone*, neatly plinthed up
in old wearisome cathedrals,

repositories for no longer actual
rulers or insane princes

who we have no need of here.

Nordic Familybook, second edition,
naturally has plenty of information as always.

The caisson consists of a joined-together box
of sturdy timber that is towed out

to the fresh water spot you want for it.
A quay. A bridge. Wood does not rot under water.

It is then finally sunk with heavy stones,
providing the abutment you were looking for.

In a cruelly changing world.
Many old quays and bridges in Sweden,

the wise book from 1904 says,
still rest on this type of foundation.


I’m still busy filling mine
with all kinds of heavy stones.

When I was very young
I did not really exist anywhere.

Now, with all these heavy stones on board,
with more coming every year, dead friends,

dead relations, dead expectations,
not to mention the great blocks of what’s unfinished

that will soon start to be dimly visible above the surface
everything is pretty much fixed.

(‘Laying down a caisson. Heavy work that.’)

But this caisson and I
are not exactly the same thing.

I laid it where it lies,
as the saying is,
‘with the intention of avoiding discovery.’

(* The Swedish word ‘kista’ also means ‘coffin’)

Poem written by the Dutch poet Hans Tentije about a painting by Rembrandt

Rembrandt van Rijn – Portrait of Dr. Ephraim Bueno


‘So much has remained unwritten, so much too
that is impossible to describe because it stays
hidden to everyone for ever,’ he thinks
having shut the outer door behind him and placed
his one foot on the bottom step

in the shrouded ground-floor flat
he feels how his heart skips a beat and the blood
drains from his cheeks, catching
his breath for that one moment

just then there was, with the glittering brocades of sky
above the Leprozengracht, the loveliest part
of Vlooyenburg surely, his island in the Amstel, as never
so sharply before the feeling of being
both stranger and resident –

the cuff round the wrist of his hand
with which he grips the banisters and the collar
a flecked white, the darkness almost
swallows up the black of his top hat

still he stays motionless, his gentle, melancholy
eyes glisten as those of one who’s seen all the
pain and all sorrow of the world but nonetheless
is fond of life and gains consolation from
the ancient scriptures, from the psalms –

‘…light, yes, would dying seem to me if I knew
myself to be immortal…’

Thursday 2 December 2010

Poem by the Dutch poet Alfred Schaffer


Seeking diversion in trifles is what keeps you going.
Practising scales. Loving someone endlessly. But,
what a letdown man is, infatuated, a slave of his organiser
and should he not fancy something, he breaks off the connection.

You smell how I decay, although I am not there, you’re lying, so I
imagine, staring enraptured at a monitor, at the first evidence
of life on Mars, there something innocent moves, something
that has a chance of success and without shifting your gaze

you grasp my hand – which is not there, hurrying to scribble
all this down, somewhere where I embark on pilgrimages
to buildings in high locations, completed long before Christ.

My hawser has snapped, I cannot heave myself on land.
When the city’s buzz soon dies away, I should see more with
these night-glasses. To make quite certain. But there’s nothing more.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

A poem by the little-known Dutch poet P.A. de Génestet (1829–1861)


Oh land of filth and fog, of vile rain chill and stinging,
A sodden fetid plot of vapours dank and damp,
A vast expanse of mire and blocked roads clogged and clinging,
Brimful of gamps and gout, of toothache and of cramp!

Oh dreary mushy swamp, oh farmyard of galoshes,
With marsh frogs, dredgers, cobblers, mud gods overrun,
With every shape and size of duck that therein sploshes,
Receive this autumn dirge from your besnotted son!

To mud your claggy climate makes my blood set slowly;
Song, hunger, joy and peace are all withheld from me.
Pull your galoshes on, ancestral ground most holy,
You – not at my request – once wrested from the sea.

*A boutade is a sudden emotional outburst.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

A famous Lars Gustafsson

This poem is very well known. There exists an English translation on the Internet, but to my mind it wanders too far from the original. Here is my suggestion:

Världens tystnad före Bach

Det måste ha funnits en värld före
Triosonatan i D, en värld före a-mollpartitan,
men hur var den världen?
Ett Europa av stora tomma rum utan genklang
överallt ovetande instrument,
där Musikalisches Opfer och Wohltemperiertes Klavier
aldrig hade gått över en klaviatur.
Ödsligt belägna kyrkor
där aldrig Påskpassionens sopranstämma
i hjälplös kärlek slingrat sig kring flöjtens
mildare rörelser,
stora milda landskap
där bara gamla vedhuggare hörs med sina yxor
det friska ljudet av starka hundar om vintern
och – som en klocka – skridskor som biter i glanskis;
svalorna som svirrar i sommarluften
snäckan som barnet lyssnar till
och ingenstans Bach ingenstans Bach
världens skridskotystnad före Bach

The silence of the world before Bach

There must have existed a world before
the Trio Sonata in D, a world before the A minor Partita,
but what was that world like?
A Europe of large unresonating spaces
everywhere unknowing instruments,
where Musikalisches Opfer and Wohltemperiertes Klavier
had never passed over a keyboard.
Lonely remote churches
where the soprano voice of the Easter Passion
had never in helpless love twined itself round
the gentler movements of the flute,
gentle expanses of landscape
where only old woodcutters are heard with their axes
the healthy sound of strong dogs in winter
and – like a bell – skates biting into glassy ice;
the swallows swirling in the summer air
the shell that the child listens to
and nowhere Bach nowhere Bach
skating silence of the world before Bach

Friday 26 November 2010

Poem by the Swedish writer Lars Gustafsson

Aristotle and the crayfish

We went to buy angling-worms
in a shop clearly intended for this purpose.

And we found what we were looking for;
fat, squirming angling-worms,

a kind the fish here seem to prefer.
But in the middle of this room a large old-fashioned earthenware jar

blue, round and full of young crayfish.
And my young son was inconsolable

at having to leave these wonderful creatures.
We bought two, and released them

in our clean, glass-clear aquarium,
where the goldfish moved slowly and solemnly

like old poets in a distinguished academy. And see,
a great darkness descended upon all things:

here expressions of opinion and discussions took place
beyond our comprehension; only seaweed

that floated up to the surface bore witness to
the contention that here was secretly taking place.

On the third day the aquarium cleared once more.
And became as before. But no crayfish

were visible. We decided they now
were living like hermits, in greater wisdom,

a life far removed from the general public
down below the sand beds.

So it continued for a long time, until one day
I opened my Aristotle

and found a very small crayfish corpse
flat as a plant in a herbarium

precisely in the short section where the Philosopher
talks about memory and recollecting

the past. And this chapter
one of the best things

ever written about memory,
will now for ever be associated

with an odour not easy to forget,
one of a slightly rotten crayfish.

Saturday 20 November 2010

A poem from the cycle by the Dutch poet C.O. Jellema, based on the novella 'Lenz' by Georg Büchner



To be a bird in thought no dared intention,
while in the wood he held his left arm tight
when it would start to flap. His only right
As guest, his duty: proffering attention.

He proffered. Was the profferer. Surprised
at what he gave: his soul. In shady places
it lay like snow, maid, mother, outlined traces
of who had hosted it – a guest likewise.

If it soon melts, he thought, plants will start growing,
like me, the blossom, pollination, pledges
of fruit that with a crack will open wide.

He saw himself then as the inner edges
of many silences – not beyond knowing.
The birds stayed on the outside in the sky.

Thursday 18 November 2010

One more by Marie Howe

You can find the original here.

Skynd dig

Vi standser ved renseriet og købmanden
og benzinstationen og grøntsagshandleren og
Skynd dig skat, siger jeg, skynd dig skynd dig,
mens hun iler afsted to tre trin bag mig
med oplynet blå jakke og nedrullede sokker.

Hvor ønsker jeg at hun skal skynde sig hen? Til sin grav?
Til min? Til hvor hun en skønne dag måtte stå som fuldvoksen?

I dag, når alle ærinder til sidst er udrettet, siger jeg til hende,
Skat, jeg er ked af at jeg bliver ved at sige Skynd dig –
du går foran. Du kan være mor.

Og, Skynd dig, siger hun over skulderen, og kigger
tilbage på mig med et grin. Skynd dig nu elskling, siger hun,
skynd dig, skynd dig, og tager husnøglene fra mine hænder.

Also at the festival - the American poet Marie Howe

Here's a translation of a poem by Marie Howe you can find here


Min mand kan lide at se madlavnings- og byggeprogrammerne,
Discovery Channel, og kirurgikanalen.
I aftes fortalte han os om en mand som kom ind på skadestuen

med en bajonet stukket lige igennem kraniet og hjernen.
Fik de den ud? Spurgte vi allesammen.
Det gjorde de. Og manden var ok fordi bladet passerede lige mellem

de to halvdele uden at skære dem over.
And hvem havde jaget bajonetten ind i skallen på manden? Hans kone.
En stærk kvinde, sagde nogen. Og alle var enige.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

The British poet Mandy Coe

One of the most interesting poets at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival was Mandy Coe. Here are Danish translations of three poems you can find at this website.

Køernes tyngde

Køer er usandsynlig tunge,
de er den mørke materie
astrofysikere taler om.
Hele universets tyngde
kan gøres rede for, hvis
du inkluderer køer.

Det er denne tyngde der får
hovene til at splatte ud i mudret,
trækker mælk ned til sprængfyldte
patter, gør at kokasser klasker
jorden med uhyggelig kraft.

Selv malket
bevæger de sig tungt.
Med krummede knoklede rygge
under svien af auktionsholderens kæp
exer og vakler de
som om selve knoglerne
var støbt om fra jernsenge
rustent parkgitter

At se en ko hejset
op i luften ved det ene bagben
er at være vidne til
en planets død.


En mand gav mig denne hund.
Fordi han havde tegnet hende, har hun kun to ben,
men fra siden ser hun da fin ud.

Jeg vandt hende i et terningsspil: et ottekast.
Hun har et alligatorgrin
som holder børn og banditter borte.

Værsgo’, hun bider ikke
der ser bare sådan ud
fordi fyren tegnede hende om natten

da han var stangstiv.
Han skal have tegnet en mand, et hus, et gældsbrev
på et væddeløbsbillet. Med have og et træ,

men den tilhørte Stelkie Murray
og man tegner ikke på det som ikke er dit.
Der findes dog regler.

Jeg har en gang prøvet det – slikket på stiften
tegnet en mønt. Prøvet at bruge den
men den var en nitte.

Tror ikke jeg har øje for kunst
men næste gang jeg spiller Leonardo
gemmer jeg et es i ærmet;

få ham til at tegne en pige for mig,
og hvis han nu ikke er for fuld,
får jeg ham til at tegne hende forfra.

Gå i seng med en ost og pickles sandwich

Den er livsforskønnende.
Den prøver ikke at score dig.
Den skal laves.

En ost og pickles sandwich
skuffer aldrig.
Man ligger ikke og tænker:
Er jeg for fed?
For frugtbar?
For usikker?

Dine tanker er klare, dine valg enkle:
at skære den midtover
eller ikke at skære den midtover,
hvor tynd osteskiven skal være
og hvor picklesen skal placeres.

Fra en ost og pickles sandwich
forventer man hverken blomster, digte
eller tilbedelser. Man forventer
det man får:
ost ... og pickles.

Man ønsker sig, man spiser,
og bagefter har man spist.
Ikke noget med at ligge vågen og fornærmet, lyttende til dens snorken.

Sikre snacks.
Kan anbefales.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Thank you!

A big thank you from me to my audiences at the Aldeburgh poetry festival. As promised, here are the two talks I had written down but decided not to give, in order to create more time for questions. You can download the talk about the two poems here, and the Singing Danes here. Hope you like them.
If you would like to ask me anything about them, or other poetry matters, please feel free to write to me at: irons@post7.tele.dk

Thursday 4 November 2010

A different type of poem from Benny Andersen

The poetics of preservation

As a boy I kept caterpillars
was very fond of them
preserved one during the occupation
picked from the hedge a caterpillar
a fine fat multicoloured privet hawkmoth caterpillar
with a black crooked horn behind
put it in a jam jar
with a supply of privet leaves
with a lid of perforated greaseproof paper
but instead of munching away
it became motionless
the fine colours
the wriggling fatness
became wrapped up and hidden
in a lifeless colourless pupa.

I placed the glass
at the back of the larder
autumn passed
winter passed
it was forgotten
there were other things to think about
Hitler and Rommel
with Eisenhower and Montgomery
spring drew nearer
one spring day mother called out
A mouse a mouse there’s
a mouse in the larder
you must get rid of it right away

A flapping sound from the bottom of the cupboard
a wing-span larger than the jam jar
a beauty that demanded the whole universe
full of paternal pride I let out
my young privet hawkmoth into the light
just wait
soon you will get to see both the dark
and all the stars you have deserved

old and bereft of parents
I often resort to the same method
preserve fat wingless poems
in dark drawers for months
miss my mother
deputise for her
listen expectantly terror-stricken
to the foreboding flapping from the dark of oblivion
that announces liberation is near
that the poem is now on the wing

Thanks for the m(o)use

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Not to mention the Dutch prestidigitateur Gerrit Komrij


Strip me of poetry and
I’m a mailman nothing more
A counter that’s lost the score
A man with no magic wand

Divest me of my masks and
I’m a starch-necked minister
A hair-splitting word-twister
With marble grave close at hand

A bungler who’s trundling along
The sunset his ultimate stop
All love of mankind’s judged as wrong
And bunglers are all for the chop 

(To see the collection this has been taken from, go to here)

Tuesday 2 November 2010

One more by Toon Tellegen


I’m allowed just one more poem.
They’re standing behind me.
This is that poem.

It’s got to be an ordinary poem,
not an extraordinary poem,
and it doesn’t have to be all that long a poem
or a special poem for this particular occasion:
something serious or something immortal.
Not something other than otherwise.

Beginning’s the most difficult bit (the prompting).

It’s got to be finished within a certain period.
And by finished they also mean finished!
But it’s nowhere near finished yet.
It’s not even halfway finished.
Not even halfway finished... they know that one.
They pull my chair backwards.

Monday 1 November 2010

Time for another sonnet - this time by the Dutch poet Martinus Nijhoff

The Dancer

Beneath my skin a captive beast is fenced
That thrashes and would bite a pathway free;
Its dark blood throbs, and muscles highly tensed
Tremble in such confined extremity.

Until its pain like heat flows through my veins
And forces gestures out whose tempered haste
And maintained elegance screw up its pace
Still more before it hurls aside its chains.

One must be powdered so that in one’s face
The black of open-scorching eyes alone
Betrays the madness of the inner beast.

The mouth, upturned and reddened, must display
A pride so godlike everyone should know
A broad smile is now totally released.

Sunday 31 October 2010

A poem by the German writer Reiner Kunze


Two rowing
one boat.
The one
knows the stars,
the other
knows the storms,
the one will
guide through the stars,
the other will
guide through the storms
and in the end, the very end
the sea in the memory will
be blue

Thursday 28 October 2010

Another song from 'Svantes Viser' by the Danish writer Benny Andersen


I’m so tired of myself and all my stoppings.
And my body causes me dismay.
What use is it my liver’s size keeps dropping
When my belly just balloons away.
I’m prone to self-hating
Need a touch of overrating.

I’m fed up with my name, my thoughts are fleeting.
And my prayers the Lord will all ignore.
What use to me’s a heart that goes on beating
When there’s no one it is beating for.
I’m prone to self-hating
Need a touch of overrating.

I regret all my past, my birth’s distasteful.
I should not have seen the light of day.
And Nature’s been a damned sight over-wasteful
when I wasn’t strained off straight away.
I hate my self-hating
Need a touch of overrating.

I’m so tired of my voice and my handwriting
and my brain is leaden, tired and worn.
It would be oh so nice and so inviting
to forget oneself and be reborn –
be freed from self-hating
with a touch of overrating.

To hear the song, go to here.
NB The text has been slightly altered in this more recent version with Poul Dissing. My translation is of the original text.