Wednesday 31 March 2010

One more Grundtvig Easter hymn

Hail, you Saviour and Redeemer,
crowned with thorns by the blasphemer,
you know well, my cross when seeking
I rose garlands would be weaving,
grant me courage and success!

What in God was there to grieve you,
what in dust to love or please you,
that, all your divineness waiving,
you mankind must needs be saving,
and be fully known to us?

Here were love and heart most fervent
mightier than death, their servant;
less for taking than for giving,
solely therefore you were willing
on the cross to take our place!

Ah! I savour now the wholeness
of heart’s hardness, of heart’s coldness!
What could rise from rocks unswaying,
worthy, able of repaying,
my Redeemer, your great love?

From your wounds, though, a great river
rose that can mankind deliver,
with such power each rock to tumble,
even icebergs cause to crumble,
and to wash the heart quite pure!

Therefore tearfully I’m praying:
Fill my veins without delaying
with that spring that makes rocks tumble,
that can make the iceberg crumble,
and our blood guilt wash away!

You, who me yourself have given,
let me love life, by you driven,
so my heart beats only for you,
so you in my thoughts ensure you
e’er their deepest meaning be.

Though like flowers I too must wither,
hand and breast must ice-cold shiver,
you’ll not let me taste death’s anguish,
you in sin won’t let me languish,
for its wages you have paid!

In your cross I trust completely,
Saviour, by your mercy heed me.
Help me when my foes travail me!
take my hand, when death assails me!
say: We go to Paradise!

Tuesday 30 March 2010

An Easter hymn - by the Danish writer N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872)

Easter flower! what would you here?
Common flower from village garden,
scentless, lustreless, austere!
Gift that no one e’er would pardon.
Who do you think fain had pressed
such as you to loving breast?
Dare a bird your praise send winging
when in Danish woods it’s singing?

Come alive in heart and mind
from your graves now be upstanding,
childhood days! And with me wind
your way out to father’s garden!
Let me during Easter song,
church bell’s ringing loud and long,
to my heart the flower be pressing
breast and head with it be dressing!

Winter flower! You herald spring,
now unfold in quiet chamber!
Only fools would shame to sing
of God’s work, their lot not savour.
Though your humble garb’s yet mocked,
dull you are and poorly frocked,
on my bier my wish is fully
to be like an Easter lily.

Not in sweetest summer air
did your roots begin to settle,
nor the rose’s scent did share
nor the lily’s silver petal.
During winter’s storms and rain
you put forth in harsh terrain,
joy alone on hearts to lavish
who your inner meaning cherish.

Common flower! but is it true:
Is your meaning that of waking?
Is your sermon really new?
Can the dead grave’s hold be breaking?
Did he rise up, as they claim?
Will his word rise up again?
Does from winding sheet of mourning
life spring forth at Easter’s dawning?

If the dead can’t rise again,
then our meaning has no substance,
we’ll die quickly and in vain,
grace no garden with our presence,
’neath the ground forgotten be
and our wax won’t wondrously
melt, be formed in darkest lining
candle-like on graves be shining.

Easter flower! A drop most strong
from your cup my thirst has sated,
and I quicken before long
wondrously refreshed, elated:
From a swan’s song or its wing
it would seem that it did spring.
Now I see the dead reborn in
early flush of Easter Morning

Oh, how dear to me you are,
common flower from village garden!
Dearer than the rose by far,
Easter flower on graves of fathers!
True spring-tidings bringing me,
of a holy jubilee,
as from death each noble flower
you’re transfigured at this hour!

Yes, it’s true what you allege:
that from death our Saviour’s risen
It is each Good Friday’s pledge ¬–
Easter Morning bursts death’s prison
What are sickle, shield and sword
’Gainst that master brave and bold?
Chaff his breath dispels for certain,
he who swore to bear our burden.

A sonnet by the Dutch writer Henriëtte Roland Holst (1869-1952)

Ook ik ben omstreeks ’t midden mijner dagen
verdwaald geraakt in levens donker woud,
maar mij heeft geen aardsche wijsheid ontvouwd
den weg uit smart en twijfel, noch gedragen

omhoog, en geen hemelsche oogen zagen
neer op mij, vanwaar hoog’re klaarte blauwt
m’in teed’re zorg omwakend, en met stage
stralen heffend naar waar men waarheid schouwt.

Mij leidt geen gids, als het eigen gemoed,
mij schoort geen steun, dan d’enk'le trouwe handen
die mij opbeuren als de kracht bezwijkt;

mij sterkt geen afgezant uit beet’re landen
dan soms het ruischen, als een vleugel doet,
van zachte hoop die langs mijn wangen strijkt.

I too, now somewhere in my middle years,
have lost my bearings in life’s forest dark;
No earthly wisdom though’s revealed the path
that leads away from pain and doubting fears,

nor borne me up; no heav’nly eyes have shone
down on me from those brighter climes above -
rays watching over me with tender love,
and raising me to realms where truth is won.

I have no other guide than my own mind,
no sure support than single faithful hands
that lift my spirits when my strength gives way;

no envoy strengthens me from better lands
than the soft swish of hope I sometimes find
can, winglike, stroke my cheek and fade away.

Monday 29 March 2010

A poem by Jeppe Aakjær

The Hawk

My greeting, hawk above fir-trees high,
you proudest of birds in the forest!
Defiant you stare straight up at the sky,
your flight is as wild as it’s lawless.

You cleave the breeze with a wanton zest,
with green-tinted eye ever scouting;
you sink your beak in your quarry’s breast,
its right to survive always flouting.

A brigand you are before God and man,
your body blood-red from the slaughter:
the duck’s waggling rump with contempt you scan,
reflected down there in the water.

No love of your bloody claw have I,
but your flight-smoothed breast in all weathers;
your savage gaze from your home on high
and the glint of the sun on your feathers.

(Set to music by Carl Nielsen)

Saturday 27 March 2010

Translation of a poem by Tjitse Hofman


The bright red bike
of the young lad
lies crumpled
beside the road

Some blood
still sticks to
the handlebars

In the verge
lies a bell
with a smiling
Mickey Mouse next to
front-light fragments

He holds a balloon
and waves
with his hand

Byebye, laddie


Thursday 25 March 2010

A famous Danish poem by Heiberg (1791-1860)


Natten er saa stille,
Luften er saa klar,
Duggens Perler trille,
Maanens Straaler spille
Hen ad Søens Glar.

Bølgens Melodier
Vugge Hjertet ind;
Suk og Klage tier,
Vindens Pust befrier
Det betyngte Sind.


Calm the night, unstirring,
And the air so clear
Pearls of dew uncurling,
Moonlight rays unfurling
’Cross the glassy mere.

Dulcet waves appeasing
Heart that yearns for rest,
Sighs and sorrows ceasing,
Breath of wind releasing
Mind so long oppressed.

Set to music by Weyse. Hear a snippet sung by Aksel Schiøtz here

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Entry from 24 March in the Danish poet Klaus Høeck's almanac '1001 POEMS'

        the night’s blueprint with
letters of the stars and im
        ages printed on
        the sky as if we
understood them just as clear
        ly as the illu
        strations on the great
star charts produced by the bear
        and the archer as
        if we understood
ourselves on the basis of
        our own projections

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Poem by the Dutch writer Alfred Schaffer


What’s right lies in the middle, graspable apparently, like
a punctured football in a pond, even with a stick you can’t

quite reach, a false start will make everything go haywire,
the risks are up to you. What can happen to us, what

is it we can’t see? The hands are motionless, or don’t we want
to know just how we’re parting with these precious minutes?

It’s always hard to start, each start is a disturbance of some rest,
an unsighted challenge, a sheer rock face, you climb and climb

until the pattern that you left makes you feel giddy, a jumble of
colours. And there you stand. Your hunch was right, that much is clear.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

A poem by the Dutch poet Willem Jan Otten


Why else have you, reading,
ended up here of all places
from where you were before

unless to discover
from someone other than yourself
that every one of the fifty eggs

which agnostic Grandpa Otten
once collected and sucked
a century ago

and laid to rest in a
sky-blue set of drawers,
in time bequeathed to me,

that every one of the fifty eggs,
that of the linnet, too,

small as a little finger,
freckled with ochre,

will, in these very lines,
be gently feathered as in
their nest of former times

and, in your reading, hatched?

Monday 8 March 2010

A poem by the Dutch writer Simon Vestdijk

The final second

For Ans

Dying is the art of tolerating
Live images with equal resignation
As when in life they still were operating,
At times annoyed, yet could bring consummation.

Here our house stood; here she took out the dogs;
Here she removed brown collars, let them loose;
Here's where we once found stinkhorns, witch's eggs,
Well sheltered deep inside some woods of spruce.

Dying is not the poignant thought that she
Alone from now on makes those paths her beat, –
For no one is alone who waits and sees,
And no one mourns who walks along the street, ¬–

All of this was though: a reality
That lasts until the final second’s logged;
The real race against time will always be:
The collar off, and she with the two dogs.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Section from Klaus Høeck's 'In Nomine'

               ‘i will dwell in my name’

     night rain once again
after the long dry spell in
     the month of july
     for a long time i
lie listening to the drum
     ming on the tin roof
     will it fertilise
my own roots deep down there
     in the dark will the
     drops fall over the
forgotten grave of my fa
     ther in birkerød?

     today i array
myself in a white shirt and
     a silken tie i
     begin to search for
a document at the back
     of the drawer of
     the writing desk it
seems to me that my hands have
     a smell of forma
     lin about them i
look up from my poems and
     thirty years have passed

     the sky has been rent
by light and the dark congealed
     at the bottom of
     yesterday’s coffee
cups i am looking at that
     pen-and-ink drawing
     of my father with
the seven black pine trees that
     hangs out in the hall
     how on earth am i
to remember what even
     he had forgotten?

     like the vast fields of
roses up behind the em
     bankments near bogen
     se like a single
quartet movement – allegro
     assai for exam
     ple like overheat
ed aluminium or
     like a thin drizzle
     is the secret life
that i never lived toge
     ther with my father

     i sleep with my head
facing north as in fairy
     tales and i dream
     almost allegor
ically of salt and of
     the larch boletus
     before waking at
your sharp scent of ascorbic
     acid my love – per
     haps it is an act
of treachery to be so
     utterly happy?

     time flies past on the
wings of a buzzard in ac
     ross the garden so
     swiftly that it is
only this morning that i
     discover the chan
     ges and notice that
i have come to resemble
     my father as he
     was on the final
photograph taken of him
     all that time ago

     i take back my name
i retake in the liter
     al sense of the word
     its dark syllables
of iron and of emerald
     after almost for
     ty years in exile
sign with my baptismal name
     once more i transform
     myself into who
i am closer i’ll never
     get to my father

     i practise in the
utmost secrecy writing
     it down in chinese
     notebooks that have red
corners and are dog-eared i
     whisper my name in
     great confidenti
ality once more as i
     used to do in my
     childhood when it was
embroidered on all my li
     nen and my washing

     i will dwell in that
name i have received by the
     grace of god and not
     by it being grant
ed with the royal seal of
     frederik the ninth
     i will make my a
bode in the name i one day
     will die in and clo
     ser i’ll never get
to a reconcilia
     tion with my father

     my father in ti
voli at the palladi
     um and in vester
     brogade my fa
ther in köthen-anhalt my
     father’s black dachshund
     his royal enfield and
toyota my father’s kid
     ney stone my father
     at the piano
in holsteinsgade: quasi
     una fantasia

     why did my father
spend his time in germany
     during the war why
     did he send me a
subscription to B.T. in
     my time at school why
     did he not come to
my confirmation why did
     he hide bottles of
     port in the cistern
why did he die without giv
     ing any answers?

     i never knew my
father have only heard a
     bout him and seen him
     from time to time (with
such a shaky hand that the
     spanish coffee ser
     vice still clatters in
my head still spins round on its
     bamboo pole in the
     chinese circus of
the memory) only met
     him from time to time

     like some parricide
i had turned my memory
     into a secret
     and inaccessi
ble place where my father lived
     alone with his shame
     his silk embroidered
eagle on the reverse side
     of his lapel or
     was all of it no
thing else than lies and poe
     tic fabrication?

     my inheritance
from my father amounts as
     far as i can as
     certain and recall
thirty years after his death
     to astigmati
     sm of the left eye
a certain melancholy
     a surname and a
     share in a summer
cottage near rørvig strand one
     that’s been sold long since

     did my father real
ly marry no less than five
     times is it true that
     he pawned my christen
ing present (a spoon of hall
     marked silver with bite
     marks on it from my
milk teeth) is he really to
     blame is his absence
     to blame for the fact
i have been seeking god (the
     father) ever since?

     birkerød ceme
tery is beautiful on
     such a late autumn
     day red with rust and
brick as if it lay partial
     ly hidden in a
     sonnet cycle but
i found neither my father
     nor his grave here nor
     his ghost of turquoise
could it be he had simply
     never existed?

     nor up at the gen
eral registry under the
     neon lighting was
     his name to be found
in violet ink in the
     city records where
     the accounts are kept
my father had disappeared
     without trace and i
     myself was the on
ly evidence that he had
     ever existed

     it shot through the roots
of my family tree like
     lightning from an un
     derground storm or the
pain from root surgery at
     the dentist’s or like
     st elmo’s fire from
søllerød cemetery
     where i at long last
     had managed to trace
my family’s and father’s
     final resting place

     and a great recon
ciliation took place as
     my father rose with
     in me like an x
ray photo dark with night-time
     rain and alumin
     ium and the small
bitterness dissolved like salt
     in my blood like a
     thimble of hemlock
juice that’s emptied into the
     sea and disappears

Thursday 4 March 2010

An attempt at a Danish translation of Jellema's poem


Til tider, uforudset, ankommer du dér
hvor du ønsker at være, du ligger i græsset,
øjnene lukket. Det du så: de genspejlede
blånende bjerge, fra bred til
bred en færge en prik i det dybe
krusede vand, nær ved Kvernes’
stavgamle trækirke, under træer
stenen mosbegroet af sine døde –

allerede et billede i dit hoved, som
deler dette med din famlende hånd langs
kirkevæggen, din fods trin fra
gravsten til gravsten, du ligger med
ryggen mod klippegrunden, en hviskende
vind i din øremusling, du indånder
græsset, den duftfrie varme af
sensol, denne lyse nordlige

september: her er jeg – en kort stund uden
tænkning, mere levende en sandhed gennem
sanserne, alt det, som samlet fortæller om
det vedvarende (som om ingen
myrdes et eller andet sted på
flugt fra sult, som om), dette
helhed bag mine hudtynde øjenlåg – dog
som sædvanligt vinder formuleringer frem: så

huser min krop, tilfreds udstrakt og
for mig med hvilket troværdigt indre
øje iagttagelig som fra oven, hvilende
dér i græsset ved fjordens bred,
her nu et landskab: det blev
det som den iagttog, men véd dette, derfor
varer ikke ved – da ingen steder, selv ikke
her, kan ankomst være for altid.

Monday 1 March 2010

Re-revised translation of Kvernes by the Dutch poet C.O. Jellema


Sometimes, unforeseen, you arrive
where you want to be, lying in the grass,
eyes closed. What you saw: the reflected
blueing mountains, from shore to
shore a ferry a speck in the deep
crinkling water, close by the wooden
stave-old church of Kvernes, beneath
trees the stone moss-covered with its dead –

already pictured in your head, which shares
this with your hand that feels along the
church wall, the tread of your foot from
gravestone to gravestone; you lie with your
back to the rocky ground, a whispering
wind in the shell of your ear, you breathe in
the grass, the unscented warmth of
late sun, this transparent northern

September: here I am – briefly voided of
thinking, living a truth through the
senses more, all this which together
tells of the lasting (as if not
somewhere someone is murdered when
fleeing from hunger, as if not), this
wholeness behind my skin-thin eyelids – though
as usual wording wins through: so

here now my body, contentedly outstretched and
to me with what credible inner
eye perceptible as from above, resting there
in the grass by the edge of the fjord,
houses a landscape: it
became what it perceived, but knowing that
can’t last – for nowhere, not even
here, is arrival for ever.