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.