Monday 29 August 2011

A poem by the Swedish writer Tomas Tranströmer

From the rock*

I stand on the rock and look out across the bay.
The boats are resting on the surface of summer.
“We are sleepwalkers. Moons adrift.”
So say the white sails.

“We slip through a sleeping house.
We softly slide open the doors.
We lean towards freedom.”
So say the white sails.

Once I saw the wills of the world sailing.
They held the same course – a single fleet.
“Now we are scattered. Nobody’s escort.”
So say the white sails.

* It is difficult to know if the Swedish word 'berg' in the title should be translated as rock or hill. The poem refers to the 14 sqkm island of Runmarö in the Stockholm skerries. It is almost rhombic in form, with a steep drop down to the west and gently sloping terrain towards the east. The highest point on the island is about 35 metres a.s.l. The Swedish Wikipedia entry on the island has a possible candidate for the rock:

Lotsutkiken in Styrsvik is a lonely shack on a bare heel of rock south of the steamboat jetty. It has a view of the bay that stretches for miles and miles, and until 1912 was the look-out post of the Berghamn pilots.

Another website refers to this 'heel of rock' as a 'bergknalle' = bare hillock.

Staffan Bergsten, in his recent book 'Tomas Tranströmer, ett diktarporträtt' (2011), mentions that Tranströmer took over his maternal grandfather's pilot's shack on the island. I am indebted to Ivo Holmqvist for this information.

PS. have just found Robin Fulton's translation of this poem on the Internet. He calls the poem 'From the Hilltop' and starts with 'I stand on the hill...'. Probably the best solution.

A poem from the same period, this time from Norway. The poet is Henrik Wergeland

With a bouquet

He has no soul who won’t believe
        that Nature is an open book,
that moss’s pallid rock-flowers have,
        like roses, voice as well as look.

My love, you know this as of old.
        The bell-flowers dreams to you disclose.
You know the lily’s silent soul,
        the words soft-spoken by the rose.

Let then your fantasy now seek
        midst summer flowers to roam so free!
And flowers, for her I charge you speak!
        For such a lovely flower is she.

On hills where dawn’s flush casts its spell
        there grow but roses like her cheek,
on peaks of light, where angels dwell,
        but lilies pure as she is meek.

And only there where blue of day
        like spring so clear does now arise,
grow violets in blue array
        as lovely as her pair of eyes.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Another poem by the 19th century Danish writer Emil Aarestrup

In clear October moonlight all lies freezing

In clear October moonlight all lies freezing;
        The closely tended summer flowers hang wilted,
        And e’en the dahlias, those reddest quilted,
In night-wind’s wild embrace swoon without ceasing.

The clouds, forever grey, the skies are plying;
        Each song bird’s silent, forest branch deserted,
        To ice the breaking waves are soon converted,
And but the owl’s hoarse call mocks nature’s dying.

Farewell must now be bid all she’s once chosen,
        The lovely, bright and gay — that neither frozen
        Nor moaning in harsh winter would expire —

Farewell! Farewell! No wonder the desire
        Of beauteous things, in ice-cold polar nighttime,
        Is like the heliotrope to turn to sunshine.

To see the original poem go to here

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Another poem by Martin Reints in English and Danish translation

Twilight without end

A sudden resolve
while the execution of the previous resolve is still underway

during other incidents

I can still remember that I had planned something
but already not what
but already almost why once more

a lick of paint
where you can imagine another lick of paint

a collision
but the bang is still to come.

Skumring uden ende

En pludselig beslutning
imens udførelsen af den foregående beslutning stadig er i gang

under andre begivenheder

jeg husker stadig at jeg havde noget for
men allerede ikke længere hvad
men allerede næsten igen hvorfor

en sjat maling
hvor du kan forestille dig endnu en sjat maling

et sammenstød
men braget lader vente på sig.

Monday 22 August 2011

Poem from 'Variations on a Theme by Silfverstolpe' by the Swedish poet Lars Gustafsson


(Fuga canonica)

No, not hours. Moments.
A smaller unit than clocks know of.
The body remembers.
Images were all the soul could see.
The girl returns in a shower of dreams.
Her hair has had time to grow
and is longer now.
She has been dead so many years.
It must be almost
daybreak, but no clock chimes,
and here, in this landscape,
you see, my son,
how time turns into space.
How odd, then, to believe
that time can be portioned into hours!
What do the swallow’s hours resemble?
And those of the vole, grass snake, or buzzard?
What would it mean
to day ‘This day in the orbit of Venus’?
When the girl returned,
it was in a shower of dreams.
The vole, buzzard, swallow,
in the regular return of summer.
The ancient black
over the stone, whose long green hair
is stretched out by the current.
Homeland? Yes, a kind of homeland.
As much a homeland as it can be.
My own homeland
is not here,
and is much brighter, –
I glimpsed it once as a child,
I lay on a sofa, (stomach ache)
and saw shadows of leaves move
against the wall and for an moment it was there,
and was wide, immensely wide,
and so much brighter.
It was my real homeland.
(And I was not there.
I had never been there.)
(It is poets who make landscape
something intimate. A landscape
without poets remains alien.)
The newspaper. (A barn burnt down)
I remember the smell when we made the paper.
In the fifties.
The letters were hotter back then,
cast in lead.
And the fire could be seen!,
the fire that kept the lead molten.
So it was then.
The stubborn afternoon fly
in the innermost part of the window.
The sound of a black-throated diver outside
in the morning mist.
The great call from No One’s Land.
Which is my land.
From the radio an old Romance by Littmanson.
The alarm clock that faithfully waits
to sooner or later be given an assignment. Again.
For some early departure. What does our time want?
What does our wind want?
What does our life want?
To move on. And we want to remain.
Moments differ so much from each other.
Moments of desire, those of pain
and all the other moments.
And then, the others:
The Moments Without Properties.
Some, so strangely nameless,
The World is an unlabelled Place,*
that it is hard to understand
why they remained.
(There is a kind of particularly grey day
that is completely characterless,
when strange memories rise up
from places one thought one had visited,
but naturally never visited.)
So many of them, these grey and faceless moments!
A kite that got stuck far too high in a tree.
(And which the child bitterly missed,
children now adults and long since gone.)
The pitch with football players
seen from the express train window.
Quick forwards in colourful shirts,
but the outcome for ever unknown.

Moments, what did you want?
And between the moments something
else is dimly seen: the frightening
great face of the right world,
empty like the moment after orgasm:
that future we never set foot in,
a strange door that recedes
at the same speed we approach it.
(A wall of rain that is the thunderstorm’s curtain
was raised above the lake. And all phones fell silent.)
Out of reach, then.
Yes, out of reach everything
except the moment,
which endlessly tumbles
into itself,
the moment that we do not know.
But where then do we find ourselves?
Du siehst, mein Sohn,
zum Raum wird hier die Zeit.**
The truth is that here
no permanent abode exists.
Observe, wanderer, these long-tailed duck
on the bird-mountain’s narrow shelves
and only the roaring green of the sea
below. Poor fliers that learn
to plummet first and then to fly.
Mad birds that owned but this:
the shelf in the mountain and the sea below
and nothing in-between,
just like all those that move
quickly or slowly over the world’s beds,
surfers on the surface of the genetic code
that turns towards the outer world
but nothing else.

You, Brotherhood of the Hour, what were you?
You had nothing to say.
And when the Girl returned,
it was in a shower of dreams.

* The World is an unlabelled Place.
(Gerald Edelman)

**‘You see, my son,
here time turns into space.’
(Richard Wagner, Parsifal. Act 1, scene 2)

Thursday 18 August 2011

A poem from my PA cycle, referred to on other occasions


the seated fluid bronze statue
with concave upper body
curling sideways from its base
to broad armless shoulders
topped by a small molten head
with shallow incisions only
marking its facial features
stared out across the lawn

pa stood at a wary distance
he eyed
this already verdigrised
and shat-on masterpiece
craning his neck at a similar angle
to face the pin-head opposite
the folds in his neck
now matching those of his jacket

‘thank goodness it’s not got
a hole for a stomach’
pa said
‘better than twelve-tone music, pa’
i replied
‘more like max reger’

no answer from pa but
his bird-head cocked
he listened as he looked


den siddende statue af flydende bronze
med konkav overkrop
der buede sidelæns fra sin sokkel
op mod brede skuldre uden arme
kronet af et lille smeltet hoved
hvor kun overfladiske indsnit
markede dets ansigtstræk
stirrede ud over græsplanen

pa stod på sikker afstand
med piben forrest
betragtede han
dette forlængst irrede
og nedskidte mesterværk
strækkende halsen i en lignende vinkel
for at se knappenålshovedet i øjnene
med folder i nakkeskindet
modsvarende dem i jakken

‘gudskelov har den ikke noget hul
i stedet for en mave’
sagde pa
‘bedre end tolvtonemusik, pa’
svarede jeg
‘ligner mere max reger’

ikke noget svar fra pa men
med fuglehovedet på skrå
lyttede han mens han kiggede

(Danish translation mine, in collaboration with Klaus Høeck)

Another poem by the Dutch poet Hendrik Marsman

Nun [Toledo]

Between the cathedral and abbey hall
was a double-latticed fence
and behind that fence sat this nun.
almost all of her teeth were now gone,
her gaze was sickly, her skin was wan,
she was neither wise nor dense.
Spanish seemed to make no sense at all,
for whatever one asked her she’d always
half-weeping reply barely through that fence:
‘I’ve been here five and thirty odd years,
and never will gain a reprieve.’
when though I said: ‘Come on, let’s leave,
this woman’s quite dense,’
she suddenly pierced us with such a clear gaze
as if God in heaven was merely a pun
and she’d gladly have traded salvation
for one hour on this side of that fence
sampling life’s hell at its most intense.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Another poem in English and Danish translation by the Dutch poet Martin Reints

Fringe of reeds

The female shop assistant:
‘what you’re looking for
doesn’t exist’

the other female shop assistant:
‘it does exist once you stop looking for it’

the world on this side of the door
is the same as the world you enter
when you go through the door

the land settles, the water flows
the fringe of reeds billows in the mist.

Krans af tagrør

‘det du søger efter
findes ikke’

den anden ekspeditrice:
‘det gør det når du holder op med at søge’

verdenen på denne side af døren
er densamme som den verden du betræder
når du går gennem døren

landet sætter sig, vandet strømmer
kransen af tagrør svajer i disen.

Monday 15 August 2011

A poem by 'Norway's only (really) surrealist poet', Triztan Vindtorn

jorden er en vakker blå sitron

jorden er en vakker blå sitron
like tyngdeløs som alle ordene
når de forsøker å beskrive den…
det frigjorte bærer også lengslene
og bekymringen om å feile sitt mål
ennå kan du telle din elskedes fingre
og liste deg ut av søvnen som fra en skog
ennå kan du høre inngangsdøren knirke…

om litt skal ilden tordne gjennom
alle dine værelser og utslette ditt hus…
alle språklige parasitter eksplodere
og knuse vårt oppdiktede bilde av lykken
du halvkvalt i fargenes ubønnhørlige natt
du mellom skumrestene av ord og setninger
du alne på stranden med et veltet hav
som eneste synlige nabo//

The world’s a beautiful blue lemon

The world’s a beautiful blue lemon
as weightless as all words are
when seeking to describe it...
what’s liberated also bears with it the longings
and anxiety about the goal not being reached
up till now you can count your beloved’s fingers
and tiptoe out of sleep as from a forest
up till now you can hear the front door creak...

fire will shortly thunder through
all your rooms and annihilate your house...
all language parasites will explode
and shatter our fabricated image of happiness
you half-smothered in colours’ relentless night
you among the foam-head of words and sentences
you alone on the shore with an overturned sea
as the only visible neighbour //

Thursday 11 August 2011

A poem by the 17th century Swedish poet Skogekär Bergbo

Dig vill jag älska än i alla mina dagar
och haver haft dig kär, från det jag dig först såg;
ej skönare eller rik, ej högre eller låg,
sig vara vem det vill, mig någon mer behagar.

Får jag ej Venerids gunst, om Gud så äntelig lagar,
så älskar jag likväl fast jag ej älskad är.
Du äst allena min, allen ästu mig kär.
Ty skiljas vi ej åt, till dess oss död försvagar.

Och den, evem det är, åt vem du är beskärd,
tag kärlek utav mig! Jag vill den med dig dela,
om jag för ringa är och du nu mera värd.

Om honom ingenting! Må ej hans kärlek fela!
Men feltes kärlek, tänk på mig ännu som brinner,
tänk att du ingen ann, som älskar mera, finner.

You will I love until my life on earth quite ceases,
And from first glance my hearts been yours, as well I know;
Though lovelier or rich, of higher rank or low,
Whoever it might be, there’s none me greater pleases.

Should Wenerid spurn my love, assuming God decrees this,
E’en so I still will love, though love I must forego;
Yet you alone are mine, for you alone I glow,
Hence may we never part till death from life releases.

To him whoe’er it be you are consigned by birth,
Let him take love from me. With you I wish to share it,
Though I too lowly be and you of greater worth.

Of him speak not a word! His love, may nought impair it!
But should love lack, then think of me who still am burning,
Recall, you’ll find none else who loves you with such yearning.

For a workshop on the translation process go to here

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Final version of the poem by the Swedish poet Wivallius

Dirge over this dry and cold spring (1642)

A dry and cold spring speeds summer’s demise,
of winter food us depriving.
Grant help, heav’nly King, see spring how it flies
and little joy we’re deriving.
Sun warm us, don’t harm us!
For winds chastise
and cold the summer is riving.

Good May-rain set free, let drizzle allay,
let warm dew feed plants that famish!
let drought banished be, let frost cease to flay
and cause all young flowers to languish.
Your curse flee, show mercy!
For those I pray
who serve and fear God with anguish.

Let weather forlorn and drought so unkind
not force red roses to perish,
let fields meant for corn the farmer not find
so barren they no man can nourish!
Make danger a stranger,
and always mind
the earth’s young crops so they flourish!

Let heaven’s great door wide open now swing
help clouds that would be ascending,
let us soon hear sweet nightingales sing
whose lays the cold’s been preventing!
Let voices rejoice as
young hearts take wing!
Let children’s dance know no ending!

Let folk hand in hand now dance, one and all,
let summer’s butterflies flutter!
On petals let stand, on leaves sweetly sprawl
moist pearls too lovely to utter!
let twitter and chitter
goldfinches small
with finest wagtails that scutter!

Give comfort and joy, let larks call and play,
let summer’s swallows not perish.
Our sad breasts alloy that only dismay
now feel, though Sweden we cherish!
Give summer, late-comer,
give good green hay,
let cuckoos cry out with relish!

When daybreak is near, or mild eventide
sees day with night alternating
We luring calls hear at summer’s divide,
God’s creatures dance, play, are mating!
in rivers there quiver
salmon and ide
their spawning anticipating!

Our days make them long, our nights make them clear,
let light, warm drizzle be falling
enticing to song all birds that have here
been mute in winter appalling!
let couples, redoubled
both far and near
rejoice, now summer is calling!

Make fruitful each crop, each creature beguile
o’er town and village when faring,
The ploughman’s limbs hop and dance all the while
he thin-spun linen is wearing.
Each thrush in dale gushes
and folk all smile
and many a trumpeter’s blaring.

Oh, sun ever bright, you poor man’s true friend,
your rays nobody denying,
light up our dwellings with summer again
let cold and drought off be hying!
Hard-pressed though soon blessed go
women and men
where’er sun’s warmth they are spying.

Our sorrows make brief, the ploughman befriend,
let green deck forest and valley,
from drought grant relief, and moisture now send
so farmers’ hearts soon may rally!
Rejoicing, let voices
in joy ascend
that yet but mournful words tally!

Let green clothe the trees, let fruit fill the earth,
ensure no need can oppress us,
to quickening breeze full-scented give birth
from field, mead, forest to bless us!
Grant garlanding, dancing
with measured mirth,
let bright-hued beds convalesce us!

Let grass become lush and flowers fair to see,
let ermines frolic and revel,
let cool breezes brush us far out at sea,
let soft winds hat-strings unravel!
In meadows find beds or
in green-clad lea
for those that nightly do travel.

Let craftsmen display the skill of their hand
and journey safe from all stealing,
let merchants find way on water and land
to where they fain would be dealing!
By nosegays and pathways
the joy expand
which high and low may be feeling!

Let days become warm! Let herdsmen still keep
their watch in pleasant shade hunching,
while shaking an arm at goats and at sheep,
on apples and berries lunching!
From ploughshare to bough fair
in one wide sweep
let oxen stare, their cud munching!

Let livestock now graze, from stalls oxen prise,
to forests drive cattle willing!
Let working beasts gaze ’neath God’s open skies,
let ploughmen rejoice while tilling!
Let fields share full yield where
the final prize
is ripe corn ready for milling!

Their meadows let flower, their furrows turn green,
their granaries help replenish!
With farmers in power, no soldier has seen
from lack of bed he need perish.
Wrath cease now, give peace now!
Both lad and colleen
know endless joys they can cherish.

Let crowding bees hum round flower and leaf
while honey sweet they’re extracting!
The air though is dumb from screams and sore grief
where armies war are enacting.
Wrath cease now, give peace now,
God grant relief,
to stop our foes from impacting!

O’er war you are king, o’er all you are lord,
o’er heaven’s stronghold presiding.
And thus everything I do you accord.
Help us on foot or when riding!
Make flourish and nourish
what’s cold and flawed!
You are our solace abiding.

Oh God, we have sinned against you, forgive
our many failings’ confusion!
Let penance rescind them, for we would live
our new lives free from illusion.
Though wroth, be you loath our
hearts to misgive,
though free from harmful delusion!

Restrain our desires, and teach us through prayers
to rightly use what you’ve given!
Whatever transpires, pray lessen the cares
of those to frugal life driven,
assist and resist not
the hand that bears
a bowl that’s empty and riven!

Grant them a good year, and o’er them let reign
your sun that seasons does sever,
the moon too so clear, let wax and let wane
that its pure light they lack never!
But those who oppose you,
the sick disdain,
may each house shun them for ever!

For a parallel text file of this poem go to here

Another poem by the Dutch poet Martin Reints, in English and Danish translation

By the aqueduct

Over the water of the canal
waves spread

and from the way the waves
spread across the canal
you can see that a ship has passed by

someone else is standing listening
to the cars and the lorries zooming past
over the road under the water

and someone else is sitting in a parked car
watching the slow procession of the clouds

above the expanse of water
and the green pastures.

Ved akvædukten

Over vandet i kanalen
går der bølger

og fra bølgernes måde at gå
over kanalen på
kan du se at et skib er passeret

en anden står og lytter
til de biler og lastbiler der drøner
frem over vejen under vandet

og en tredje sidder i en parkeret bil og kigger
på skyernes langsomme passage over himlen

hen over det åbne vand
og de grønne vange.

Monday 8 August 2011

Two poems by the German poet Friedrich Hebbel, with workshop commentaries

Autumn Day

A day in autumn this, like none I’ve known!
The air is still, as if one scarcely breathed;
Yet far and near come rustling gently down
The loveliest of fruits from every tree.

Oh, think not to intrude on nature’s feast,
This is the harvest which is hers to call;
For from the branches is alone released
What rays of gentle sunlight cause to fall.

For the workshop commentary go to here

Summer Picture

I saw in flower summer’s final rose;
It looked as if it well could bleed, bright red.
I shuddered as I spoke when passing close:
So far in life’s too near to being dead.

No breath of wind stirred on that fiery day,
There only skimmed a lone white butterfly,
Yet though its beating wing scarce caused a sway
Of air, the rose still sensed this and it died.

For the workshop commentary go to here

Friday 5 August 2011

A poem by the Dutch poet Martin Reints

After the storm

The curtains were hanging, but now his memory started to falter
and he no longer knew what gesture is then appropriate

the wind had died down
and close by he could hear a swarm of crickets
but through this from afar
there came a low, old droning

it scatters and brings together again
it approaches and is gone once more

the fill-in forms had subsided
and lay among and on top of the fallen filing cabinets
but movement lived on in this wild still life
it would seem

and silently he sought a place where he too could subside
feeling over with his hands the familiar objects
in their unusual order

what afterimages drifted around inside that head of his?
and rolled over each other? and polished each other
until they disappeared?

To see the original poem, go to here.
In the  collection, lines 3-5 were lines 3-6, with a break after 'daar'.
The third stanza should be in italics.

And here it is in Danish!

Efter stormen

Gardinerne hang, men nu begyndte hans hukommelse at svigte
og han vidste ikke mere hvad en passende gestus vil være

vinden havde lagt sig
og lige i nærheden hørte han en sværm af fårekyllinger
men langt borte fra hørtes
en lav og gammel brummen

den spreder og samler igen
bevæger sig herhen og så er den væk

Udfyldningsblanketterne var faldet til ro
og lå mellem og ovenpå de omfaldne arkivskabe
dog fandtes der stadig bevægelse i dette vilde stilleben
forekom det

og tiende ledte han efter et sted hvor han selv kunne falde til ro
og følte med hænderne på de fortrolige genstande
i deres usædvanlige orden

hvilke efterbilleder føg omkring i hovedet på ham?
og rullede over hinanden? og polerede hinanden
indtil de forsvandt?