Monday 31 October 2011

A section on the concept of 'necessity' from the collection 'In Nomine' by the Danish poet Klaus Høeck

like the snowstorm from
the north east like a thighbone
like osidian

such is necessi
ty i here pay homage to
i of all people

who wrote such great po
ems in praise of freedom for
tified with rubies

like ‘das wohltemper
ierte klavier’ such
is necessity

prelude and fugue one
more time and yet again mar
vellous E major

like a samurai
sword the keenest of the all
keys connected with mer

cy in both physi
cal and metaphysical
sense connected with

ty and swans that shed their plum
age in fairytales

necessity is
what i want to write about
there’s no more time for

any digressions
of lapis lazuli my
days are fading a

way like smoke my joints
are on fire i must get in
to what is essen

tial i must get in
to G major’s inexor
able sun topaz

necessity is
not the same as the ruby
glass of causali

ty but what the dif
ference consists of i have
no idea whatso

ever it is not
a modus ponens either
or a japanese

stone lamp outside in
the snowshowers – you are my ne
cessity my love

necessity is
as death is completely just
no one escapes – no

one – were you to change
into a bird were you to
offer your belo

ved in exchange no
no cameraderie here
no preferential

treatment here necess
ity is as incorrup
tible as borax

there is nothing small
about necessity or
dehydrated i

do not believe eith
er it has been embellished
with mother of pearl

or rectified in
polish vodka like poe
try it reminds one

more of a slaughter
house than of a petit four
confectioner’s shop

i think that necess
ity must taste of rust and
of wood sorrel but

i know that it is
larger than saturn and vi
olet that it still

exists even though
you shut your eyes and pretend
that it is not so

necessity is
pure and consecrated to
death like youth itself

like C major like
the syllables in a hai
ku like my own name

such is necessi
ty – don’t try to talk to me
about the little

spasm that is called free
dom the little phobia
of self-glorifi

cation that is called
freedom like death itself such
is necessity

For the whole book, available electronically from the Royal Library in Copenhagen, go to here

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Poem by the Dutch poet K. Schippers

The gift

Give me what’s on you.
Not keys or money.
Just what happens to be there.

The hurriedly scribbled phone number.
The note in your jacket pocket that also got dry-cleaned.
The button on the point of getting lost.

The words you came within an inch of saying.
Your strength that’s too much to open a door.
All that’s of no use to you any more.

Give me the rustle of your cotton.
The wind can do without it.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Poem from the collection 'Oh, Paradise' by the Norwegian writer Mona Høvring


We are attractively wretched, you and I,
as thirteen-year-old girls when we wake up.

Late in the day we sound out the bare rocks,
slip on the kelp, sit on the salt-white surface,
and cling onto what could be called our house.

If we were stinging jellyfish we would
possibly have a greater understanding of water.

And we think of the same thing, you and I,
in cheerful disgust, in sucking shame −
seductive and aromatic,
leaning against a pinball machine.

Friday 21 October 2011

After a back-racking day in the garden, this translation of a poem by the Dutch writer Ida Gerhardt


Labor improbus

I am a gardener, nothing more,
with earth and muck bespattered sore;
I stretch up tall, I bend down low
I tightly clasp my spade and hoe.

I weed, observe my deepest law
when planting seedlings frail and raw:
I bend down low, I stretch up tall.
A gardener am I, that is all.

I go home stiffly in the shade,
pain racks both groin and shoulder blade.
I still keep watch when rest I may.
My land, my land: brief is the day.

Prepare for me a wedge of ground,
forget where I lie safe and sound.
Past trouble, need and pain must be
a garden strewn with stars for me.

To see the original poem, go to here

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Poem from the new bilingual anthology '100 Danish Poems' by the Danish writer Otto Gelsted


The stooks of corn stand shaggy and heavy
like a drove of mighty oxen.

Cows graze
down by the shore
and lie far away
like a band over the hill.
The air is bright and clear.

Blackberries line the roadside!
And in the depths of the wood
the white ink caps glisten
like wax candles in the dark.

Earth and sea brim with fruitfulness.
In the gardens the dull thud
of falling gravensteins,
exploding with juice against the ground.
Large salmon, seeking up-river
run into the fisherman’s net.

The oats are gathered in,
and the harvest mouse young,
no bigger than a fingernail,
red, hairless and with blue spots for eyes,
are raked out of their nest in the corn.

The spiders are in flight,
like a moon-bridge over the fields
there is sun, reflected in their web.

Massive white clouds
sail across the world.
The days slip past,
and the mills are now still.
The earth spins into the dark,
and the Plough swings forward
over black, soughing trees.

To go to meet winter
like a field full of seed –
To enter the night
like a sky whose blue soil
is full of glittering stars –
to die like a day in September
replete with life and light!

For a list of the authors and poems in the anthology, go to here

Sunday 16 October 2011

Another poem by the Dutch poet Martin Reints

Back to the beginning

In the midst of the present
that dwells in its day-to-dayness
to leave memory step by step in the lurch

to leave yourself behind among all those things
that are being worn down there

that with their wearing down allow day-to-dayness to exist
in the strange rhythm within which bookcases full of books
and offices full of office furniture
change into clouds of dust

into hot desert sand that shimmers in mirages
into wild rivers and into new housing estates

because it can’t be otherwise and because it happens to be so

to forget at ever-increasing speed:
what was it again?

and so to return to the beginning of thought
which actually isn’t yet thought itself.

To see a dossier of Reints poems plus interview on this poem, go to here

Poem by the Swedish poet Lennart Sjögren

Who doesn’t dream

I saw a rat cross the road
it had a human face
it was a small rat
smaller than my shoe.
It asked me the direction of the place
where it could die in peace.
What was I to answer such a question
that was so like my own.
I tried half a biblical quotation:
go to the place where the dead bury
their dead – maybe it lies in the west.
But that didn’t help at all
and when I changed it to:
go to the place where the unborn
meet those still alive – maybe it lies in the east,
and inquire whether a death can be obtained
there at a reasonable price
it had already disappeared.

And who doesn’t dream of a quiet death –
the sooner the better one says
but does not mean anything by it.
Whether there was frost that morning
or summer – I can’t recall
but the dreams stood in queues along the road
not wholly unlike wingless upright birds.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Translation of a beautifully crafted poem by the Dutch writer Ida Gerhardt


Our choice of ally was frugality.
As willing instrument, the mind controls
the body, being used to that proud role;
pure bread, pure water nourish equally.

Our choice of ally was frugality.
Enclosed within the cycle of the hours,
what’s offered us by thought that freely scours
finds order and repose in stringency.

Our choice of ally was frugality.
We work in silence and with patience strive;
the day is like a honey-sated hive
and in our garden we would friendship see.

Our choice of ally was frugality, -
and hour on hour its gift is our sure gain,
we ripen as the fruits do, as does grain
in good life, to the good death that shall be.

To see the original poem, go to here

Friday 14 October 2011

One of 52 sonnets written in 1999 by the Dutch poet Gerrit Komrij

High pressure

Draw a fictitious line. There lies your goal.
Although the law of Zeno and the snail
(Or tortoise?) still applies. Mark where the whole
Thing finishes, then set off on your trail,

Believing: I’ve the map here close at hand
- I’ll reach on time the finish of the race.
My journey’s all plain sailing, wholly planned -
Soon though you see the error of your ways.

The closer you approach the limit’s edge.
The more your goal appears to quite exclude you.
Even when it would seem to you that home’s

A millimetre off - it still eludes you.
The distance is compressed. That tiny wedge
Of nothing that resists is called a poem.

Thursday 13 October 2011

A poem by the Dutch writer Jean-Pierre Rawie


My Father’s dying; as I hold his hand,
I feel the bones protruding through his skin.
I search for words – speech has deserted him,
each breath is laboured in this final stand.

So I plump pillows, smooth the crumpled spread
at which a clutching hand now feebly grasps;
remain his child, though centuries should pass,
and as his child am ever in his debt.

The selfsame path we follow one by one,
the selfsame yardstick every time applies;
I sit here on the bed in which he lies

as he beside his father once sat down:
soon he’ll be gone and will have never known
how helplessly I’ve loved him as his son.

For other Rawie translations, go to here and here 

Sunday 9 October 2011

Two poems by the Dutch writer
Dèr Mouw


In merest scrap of ocean, greenish, dim,
the creature drifts, transparent, like some ghost;
through wall of glass the human spirit, lost
to itself, takes the enormous wonder in,

how, flimsy with translucence, the small soul
that burns within each organ without trace,
now makes the slight wing, fine as woven lace,
of the alien glass bird beat with wavelike roll.

So drifts my verse in me, a part of God;
and something that both rhyme and reason mocks
hides in ingenious translucency;

and he who reads this, for one moment, feels
quivering, beyond his I’s constraining shield,
the mystery of his eternity.


Dull mauve and purple-grey the western skies.
I’m walking still through frost-encrusted grass,
and hear on the canal close by the harsh
thin scrape of skates on hollow-tinkling ice:

and on the frozen glass it feels as though,
circling, floating, swerving with artful skill,
bent from the waist, I rise and fall at will:
my back feels as if skating made it flow.

I hope who thus can feel my verses glide –
alone, in pairs, or rows that stretch out wide,
rolling on pulse and rhyme of prime Dutch steel –

that he the wind that bore me can hear playing,
and in my words the marvellous broad swaying
and sliding of his spirits too may feel.

A quite extraordinary poet! The crunching of the lines is even more pronounced in the original.

Friday 7 October 2011

Time to repost this poem by the new Nobel Prize winner for literature, the Swede Tomas Tranströmer


Madame despises her guests for wanting to stay at
        her seedy hotel.
I have a corner room on the first floor: an awful bed,
        a bulb hanging from the ceiling.
Oddly enough heavy hangings where a quarter of a million
        invisible mites are on the march.

Outside a pedestrian street goes past
with strolling tourists, fleet-footed schoolchildren, men
        dressed for work leading rattling bikes.
Those who think they make the world spin round and those who
        think they are helplessly spun round in the world’s grasp.
A street all of us take – where does it eventually lead us?

The only window in the room looks out over something else:
        The Wild Square,
a fermenting field, a huge trembling surface, sometimes full
        of people and sometimes deserted.
Everything I have within me materialises there – all my fears,
        all my hopes.
All the unthinkable that will even so occur.

I have low shores, if death rises eight inches or more
        I will be inundated.

I am Maximilian. The year is 1488. I am being held a prisoner
        here in Bruges
        because my enemies are at a loss –
        they are evil idealists and what they have done in the backyard
        of horrors I cannot describe, cannot transform blood
        into ink.

I am also the man in overalls pushing his rattling
        bike further down the street.

I am also the person who is visible, the tourist who walks and
        then stops, walks and then stops
letting his gaze wander over the pale moon-burnt faces and
        heaving material of the old paintings.

Nobody decides where I shall go, least of all myself,
        and yet each step is taken as it must be.
To walk around in the fossil wars where everyone’s invulnerable
        because everyone is dead!
The dusty masses of leaves, the walls with their
        openings, the garden paths where petrified tears
        crunch under heels...

Unexpectedly as if I had walked into a trip-wire the
        carillon starts up in the anonymous tower.
Carillon! The sack splits at its seams and
        the notes spill out across Flanders.
Carillon! The cooing iron, hymn and pop-song of the
        bells, all in one, and written quivering in the air.
With shaky hand the doctor wrote a prescription that no one can
        decipher though the handwriting is recognised...

Over roof and square, over grass and switch
Over living and dead their notes now roam.
Christ and Antichrist – which is which?
The bells will finally fly us home.

They have fallen silent.

I am back in my hotel room: the bed, the lamp,
        the hangings. Strange sounds can be heard here, the cellar
        is dragging itself up the stairs.

I lie on the bed, my arms outstretched.
I am an anchor that has dug down deep and
        that holds on

the huge shadow that is floating up there
the great unknown that I am a part of and that is certainly
        more important than I am.

Outside the pedestrian street goes past, the street where my
        footsteps die away as does what’s written, my preface to
        silence, my inverted, heretical hymn.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Bob Dylan poems by the Danish poet Klaus Høeck


Bob Dylan, there he stands in the sp
Otlight on the stage of my mind
Behind a nebula of cannabis

Dense vapours and tobacco smoke. Alread
Y an archetype in my own lost youth’s mytho
Logy. With his white shepherd’s h
At there he stands on the wide scree
N of memory in the cinema of my heart.

Bob Dylan, there he stands in black cl
Othes against a background of the
Blood-red stripes in the Stars an

D Stripes playing his harrowingl
Y lovely, his deadly beautifu
L music. A modern troub
Adour, close to the middle of the twentieth ce
Ntury, close to sorrow’s young springs.

For all the poems as a pdf file, go to here

Tuesday 4 October 2011

A poem from the 'Songs of Isolde' collection by the Dutch poet P.C. Boutens

MY love is nought to me but golden,
I to him silver sheen!:
Whene’er he sings ‘Isolde’
His voice is shroudlike gleam.
No song I know so lunar-bright
As his projected shaft of light!

Those who by day may share his image
Can but extol
My bird’s gold-gleaming plumage,
To none though does his heart unfold.
In colour-faded twilight-hall
Sings but to me my nightingale...

How can that treasure-hoard of
Songs be kept till the evening-hour –
As I poor yearning loyally store, a
Wealth of sadness held as dower?
Must then release come from my kiss
For that bright spring of tearful bliss?

So does the native-golden
Sun give light to all the days,
Yet its closed eyes keep hidden
Its fondest gentle gaze,
And unseen murmurs all night long
Out to the moon that silver song.