Monday 26 December 2011

A poem by the Dutch writer
Jacobus Revius (1586-1658)


God with his wires invisible has strung the world
As ’twere a lute, with all of its accoutrements.
The welkin is the bowl, full-ribbed from end to end,
The rose, the sun and moon whose orbits round us twirl.

The two coarse bass strings that forever boom and roar
Are earth and ocean: the high chanterelle, so sweet
Upon the ear, the sky: the others that complete
The choir are the trees and beasts of every sort.

This lute th’Almighty plucked with His accomplished fingers,
The angels then joined in as His proficient singers,
The mountains listened rapt, the rivers all stood still:
And man alone hears neither singers nor the strings,
Unless it please God to reveal to him such things
According to His prudent plan and heav’nly will.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Poem by the Dutch writer
Nachoem M. Wijnberg


His apprentices’ sole task is making hands
and placing them in boxes, ordered as to type,
while he himself kneads the remaining clay bodies
attaching to them the hands already prepared.
He prises apertures open and moistens the clay
with spit from his mouth, to save himself some time.
He moves between the heaps of clay and the models
kneeling on sheets while the apprentices watch him
and hold onto hands that grip and let go.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

First verse of 'Solstice Song' by the Danish poet 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.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

A poem by the Swedish writer
Vilhelm Ekelund (1880-1949)

After rain the chestnut trees...

After rain the chestnut trees
wearily incline the blossom
of their heavy sceptres.
The large wet
clusters of the lilacs
gently rock.
Shyly and hesitantly
the nightingale
already starts to call.

Heart, and you feel
the endless balm of
rebirth and of silence
flowing over you:
heart, and yet your song
is this minor –
this mute song of longing.

Monday 12 December 2011

A poem by the Dutch poet
Hanny Michaelis

This afternoon - the room
filled to the brim with sun
and sweeping baroque music –
I thought unawares
of what you once said
to me about
sorrow being the keynote
of existence.
That night tears
came to my eyes. Now
I just slightly
moved my head
like a donkey
plagued by flies.

Friday 9 December 2011

Yesterday's poem on the Dutch Meulenhoff calendar, by Gerrit Komrij


In order to collect the doubtful prize
For all the pain she caused that’s gone before,
The holy trinity adopts the guise
Of three air pilots, sticky still with gore.

And Destination Hell’s their aircraft’s mission
“The devil waits with fat cigars and bourbon.”
The airmen’s journey seems an endless prison.
For years the blood-red airscrew whirring’s droned on.

Not far from Saturn, a ring her station,
Combing her hair, they see a raffish belle.
Clearly they display their admiration
But nowhere can they rest. There is no hell.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Danish translation of yesterday's poem

Havet ælter sine minder

Havet ælter sine minder,
indtil de bliver glatslebne:
og alligevel betyder de så lidt.
For havet selv er en eneste
stor hukommelse
et eneste stort nu.
Derfor: forlang af frasen
det fuldkomne blads fløjlsbløde glans,
eller tving den til at forme sig til en klippes knæskal!
Hvor lykkeligt intet at huske,
intet! Og dog være et vidnesbyrd
om noget forgangent– et vidnesbyrd i ansigtets
dristige linje, i håndens frigjorthed,
i mundens lukkethed – et vidnesbyrd i stemmen.
Og hvad du siger er ligegyldigt
som de knuste æggeskal i en forladt rede.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Poem by the Swedish-language Finnish writer Rabbe Enckell (1903–74)

Havet ältar sina minnen

Havet ältar sina minnen,
tills de blir glattslipade:
och ändå betyder de så litet.
Ty havet självt är ett enda
stort minne
ett enda stort nu.
Därför: avkräv frasen
det fullkomliga lövets sammetsmjuka glans,
eller tvinga den att forma sig till en klippas knäskål!
Hur lyckligt ingenting minnas,
ingenting! Och dock vara ett vittnesbörd
om något gånget – ett vittnesbörd i ansiktets
djärva linje, i handens frigjordhet,
i munnens slutenhet – ett vittnesbörd i rösten.
Och vad du säger är likgiltigt
som de krossade äggskalen i ett övergivet näste.

The sea kneads its memories

The sea kneads its memories
until they are smoothly polished:
and yet they mean so little.
For the sea itself is a single
great memory a single great now.
Therefore: demand from the phrase
the velvet-soft lustre of the perfect leaf,
or force it to form itself into a rock’s patella!
How fortunate to remember nothing,
nothing! And yet to be a testimony
of something bygone – a testimony in the bold line
of the face, the emancipation of the hand,
the reserve of the mouth – a testimony in the voice.
And what you say is of no consequence
like the crushed egg-shells of an abandoned nest.

Friday 2 December 2011

Another poem by the Danish writer
Schack von Staffeldt


I sat far out on the sound’s still shore,
        The skies were smiling;
And filled with longing I gazed down o’er
        The waves beguiling.
The sun slipped into the sea’s embrace,
The coast and sky joined in blushing grace.

With sweet foreboding a harp I heard,
        The clouds now rending;
The muse descended, in sunlight girt,
        Her lyre extending.
She sealed my lips with kiss of fire
And sank down into her shimmering pyre.

Then all around me the world was new:
        The winds spoke softly;
From pale clouds drifting before the moon
        Called spirits lofty;
In all creation a loving heart beat,
My own reflection in all did I meet.

Since then the earth each thought and desire
        Does now imprison;
Though dreams ease longing, as do song’s lyre
        And premonition,
The kiss consumes me, no peace can see birth
Before the skies I bring down to earth!

To see the original poem, go to here

Thursday 1 December 2011

Another poem by Edith Södergran


Var lugn, mitt barn, det finnes ingenting,
och allt är som du ser: skogen, röken och skenornas flykt.
Någonstädes långt borta i fjärran land
finnes en blåare himmel och en mur med rosor
eller en palm och en ljummare vind—
och det är allt.
Det finns icke något mera än snön på granens gren.
Det finnes ingenting att kyssa med varma läppar,
och alla läppar blir med tiden svala.
Men du säger, mitt barn, att ditt hjärta är mäktigt,
och att leva förgäves är mindre än att dö.
Vad ville du döden? Känner du vämjelsen hans kläder sprida,
och ingenting är äckligare än död för egen hand.
Vi böra älska livets långa timmar av sjukdom
och trånga år av längtan
såsom de korta ögonblick då öknen blommar.


Calm now, my child, there’s nothing there,
and everything is as you see it: the forest, smoke and ever-receding rails.
Somewhere far off in a distant land
there’s a bluer sky and a wall with roses
or a palm and a more temperate wind –
and that is all.
There’s nothing there except the snow on the spruce tree’s branches.
There’s nothing there to kiss with warm lips,
and in time all lips grow cool.
You say though, my child, that the heart is powerful,
and that to live in vain is less than dying.
What did you want of death? Do you feel the repugnance his clothes spread,
and nothing is more repulsive than to die by one’s own hand.
We ought to love life’s long hours of illness
and oppressive years of longing
just as the brief moments when the desert is in flower.