Saturday 28 January 2012

Another poem by the Swedish poetess Sophia Elisabet Brenner

Til sin kiäre Man Assessoren Herr
Upå den första Januarii Anno 1691

MJn Wän! jag skulle wäl på Nyårs gåfwor täncka
Så framt förmågan/ lik som willian wore god/
Och medellößhet ei för mig i wägen stod/
Då sökte jag med flit dig något nytt at skäncka/
Dock wil jag deremot min håg på håfwor läncka/
Som icke stå til fahls i hwarie köpmans bod
Och qwinnor fordomdagz sig litet påförstod/
Jag wil i netta Rim et dußin radar/ jäncka.
Jag tror at sådan skänck dig lärer bäst behaga/
Den jag ock ingen an har ensam kåstat på/
Du kanst hwad borgat är på intet sätt fördraga/
Wi stämmom öfwerens jag säjer lika så
Man lär och aldrig mig ur sinnet kunna taga
At länte fiädrar/ hälst åt Swanar illa stå.

Ho rätt besinna wil hwart hän sig tiden smyger
Den achte grant upå wårt nybegynte år/
Det grånar mer en brått/ som snö och frost betyger/
Det åldras medan än deß födzle dag påstår.
Det börjar först i dag/ och bådar oß wår ända/
Som bäst wi samkom år/ bli wåra dagar få/
Gud ewig gode Gud/ hwars år ei återwända/
Hielp at wi oß i tid från werlden kunde slå!
Lär oß betrachta wäl hur korta wåra timar/
Och at hwart ögnableck oß skyndar til wårt mål/
Betäncka/ huru slätt sig dock tilsammans rimar/
Wårt Lif är skiört som glaß och tidsens tand af stål.

To her dear Husband  Deputy Judge
Upon the first day of January Anno 1691

My Friend! I ought of course on New Year gifts be musing
To the extent my powers/ likewise my will were good/
And had not lack of means for this in my way stood/
Then keenly I would seek and something new be choosing/
Instead my thoughts are fixed on bounties in full ration/
Which are not found on sale in every grocer’s stall
And which by women once were scarcely grasped at all/
I will in well-turned rhymes a dozen lines/ now fashion/
I think that such a gift to you will give most pleasure/
Which I alone and no one else have laboured on/
For secondhand things you find irksome beyond measure/
And I think likewise and with you agree thereon
Nor will I e’er relinquish the idea I treasure
That borrowed feathers/ least of all befit a Swan.

Whoever would reflect on where time’s always stealing
Should note most carefully our newly started year/
It greys so fast/ as snow and frost are both revealing/
It ages even while its birth-day is still here.
It first begins today/ and yet our end presages
The more we gather years/ the fewer are our days/
Eternal God most true/ no year turns back the pages/
Help us in time to avert from this fair world our gaze!
Teach us to well observe how short is our life’s season/
How our approaching end each instant makes us feel/
To see in all combined there is both rhyme and reason/
Our life is frail as glass and time’s cogged wheel of steel.

Friday 27 January 2012

Poem by the Swedish poetess
Sophia Elisabet Brenner (1659-1730)

Oskrymtade Tårar

Fälte öfwer
Den fordom ÄDLE och WÄLBORNE/
Fru MARJA Hiärne/

Som i sine bäste och liufweste år/igenom den timmeliga
Döden blef hädanryckt/ den 11. Decemb. Anno 1690.

                        Döden som sig föresatt
                  Til sit tysta tilhåld föra/
                  Hwad hans faslig långa natt
                  En gång måtte hyglig göra/
                  Sökte nogast hwar han trodde
                  Någon utwald fägring bodde.
                  Länge stod han utan hopp/
                  Om han nånsin skulle finna
                  Så fulkomlig menskio kropp/
                  Som förmåtte öfwerwinna/
                  Alt hwad kulit mörkt och öde
                  Fins i sälskap med de döde.
                  Men omsider lät han se/
                  At hans anslag ikke fela/
                  Ödetz stränga Systrar tre
                  Hjulpe til at särskilt dela/
                  Hwad til werldens lust och fägnat
                  Himlen/deiligt sammanägnat.
                  Sielf naturen/ grämer sig/
                  Som sit skönhetz mönster/ miste/
                  Och dit kön som genom dig/
                  Skönste/ sig behaglig wiste.

The unfeigned tears
of the female sex

Shed over
The late NOBLE and WELL-BORN/
Mistress MARJA Hiärne/

Who in her very prime/was wrested from this life
by temporal Death/ on 11 December Anno 1690.

                        Death who had made up his mind
                  For his silent haunt to capture/
                  What his endless night unkind
                  Might provide with some small rapture/
                  Sought with care where for the telling
                  Some fair beauty might be dwelling.
                  Long he stood with hope forlorn/
                  That he ever would discover
                  Human flesh so pure in form/
                  It could fully triumph over/
                  All that’s dreary dark down-hearted
                  In the realm of those departed.
                  But he finally could see/
                  For his plot success awaiting/
                  When austere Fate’s sisters three
                  Helped him now in extricating/
                  What for earthly joy and pleasure
                  Heaven/had composed at leisure.
                  Even nature/ grieves you too/
                  Mourns her beauty’s template’s passing/
                  As your sex does which through you/
                  Prized its beauty all-surpassing.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Poem by the Dutch writer K. Schippers

No, no Nanette

Before the war Tea for Two
did something for my father.
And for me too.
He walked slowly
to hear more of it
coming from a house
and so missed the No. 2 tram.
In the next one my mother was sitting.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Poem by the Swedish writer
Tomas Tranströmer


I’m playing Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.

The keys are willing. Gentle hammers strike.
The sound is green, lively and quiet.

The sound says that freedom exists
and that someone does not render unto Caesar.

I thrust my hands deep into my Haydn pockets
and imitate someone who gazes calmly at the world.

I hoist the Haydn flag – which means:
‘We won’t surrender. But want peace.’

The music is a glasshouse on the slope
where the stones fly, where the stones roll.

And the stones roll straight through
but each pane remains unbroken.

There are probably a number of English translations of this poem in existence. I have not seen any of them - I never consult other translations when making my own. Translations of the same poem are like different recordings of the same piece of music - find the one(s) you like best.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

A famous song by the Swedish troubadour Evert Taube (1890-1976)

While still the boat sails along

While still the boat sails along,
while still the heartbeat is strong,
while still the sun’s rays on waves are a glittering throng,
for just a day maybe two
let that be plenty for you,
for many live with no gleam of light ever in view!
And why should you be the one the world’s giving
so much good fortune and sunshine while living?
Have fo’c’sle watch late at night
beneath the stars’ twinking light,
enjoy a kiss maybe two in the dance’s swift flight?

Yes, why should you be the one with keen hearing and eye,
catch the roar of the waves, be always singing?
And why should you have the best meal that money can buy,
like a wave-bobbing bird freed from winging?

And to the engines slow song,
and should your watch seem too long,
remember soon will the bell toll for you: ding, ding, dong!
While still the boat sails along,
while still the heartbeat is strong,
while still the sun’s rays on waves are a glittering throng.
Though you should suffer, perform each endeavour,
There will be rest soon for ever and ever!
But that’s no reason at all
to not be glad and stand tall,
it’s time to strike up a quite irresistable waltz!
It’s such a great stroke of luck you’re alive now, my friend
and can waltz through the day around Havanna!
And when your last money’s gone, go to sea once again
with the trade wind your sailor’s bandanna.

Do your duty aright,
Go on land that’s in sight,
Take a kiss maybe two in the dance’s swift flight!
While still the boat sails along,
while still the heartbeat is strong,
while still the sun’s rays on waves are a glittering throng.

One of the best-known of Taube's songs. To hear it sung, go to here for Evert Taube's version, or to here to hear his son Sven-Bertil's.

Monday 23 January 2012

A poem by the Swedish Romantic poet Erik Gustaf Geijer (1783–1847)


Ensam jag skrider fram på min bana.
Längre och längre sträcker sig vägen.
Ack, uti fjärran döljes mitt mål!
Dagen sig sänker, nattlig blir rymden.
Snart blott de eviga stjärnor jag ser.

Men jag ej klagar flyende dagen.
Ej mig förfärar stundande natten.
Ty av den kärlek, som går genom världen,
föll ock en strimma in i min själ.

The night sky

Lonely along my course I move forward.
Further and further still the way stretches.
Ah, in the distance veiled is my goal!
Day is descending, night fills the heavens.
Soon stars eternal are all that I see.

But I lament not the day that is fleeing.
Nor do I dread the night that’s approaching.
For of the love which the world here suffuses
into my soul a gleam also fell.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Poem by the Danish poet
Michael Strunge

Speed of life

Smash the clock
with my thoughts –
I only live
at the speed of life

Swiftly change
to a new disguise –
I need transformations
at the speed of life

Form contrasts
need no camouflage –
sick and tired of
not being myself

Change colour
anarchist chameleon –
throw off my mask
change life-form

My mind
grows out of my head –
changed minds
after having been dead

it would seem I now know –
that I do not have
an indestructible self

Who knows
knows what one’s self is like?
I couldn’t care less
myself create myself

Change speed
I need a change of speed –
I transform my life
before it transforms me

Thursday 19 January 2012

Poem from 'Variations on a theme by Silfverstolpe' by the Swedish writer Lars Gustafsson


(Coda: GMS dedicates the statue of Finn Malmgren)

And one winter day the friend once more stands
in the park, but this time as a statue.

He is and he is not Finn Malmgren.
Returned and not returned.

‘Maybe you’re too shy to be a statue
in this city of critical youth

and shy when you’re now forced to speak.’

All around students in white caps,
standard bearers, honoratiores in doctor’s hats.

And then this statue. Which is completely out of place.
How was it to be forced to speak?

Finn Malmgren, lost in the Arctic Ocean,
has come back again as a Stone Guest.

How does one address a statue?
One does not speak to statues.

How does one force a statue to speak?
Statues are regularly far too shy.

One can speak in their stead,
and then must pay careful attention

that the one whom one imitates
is the person, not the statue.

If statues could speak,
they would perhaps have

frighteningly deep voices,
or sound like the gnashing

one hears when an excavator
scoops deep in a quarry.

That is difficult, and hardly customary,
hardly even appropriate, to imitate.

So the speaker must
now imitate three voices:

The genuine voice of the deceased
fading fast away,

a voice from the Arctic Ocean
(‘in gasping wireless telegrams’),

another voice that is neither
that of Finn Malmgren nor the Statue

but Finn Malmgren as Statue
and that is probably quite difficult to imitate,

for Doctor Malmgren was, as far as is known,
never a statue.

And then finally, Gunnar Mascoll,
your own voice, boyish and friendly,

cultivated, slightly nasal,
a fine Englishman’s voice, but with

a slight touch of Södra Västmanland,
between Gisslarbo and Kungsör, approximately,

and with a weak melancholy fall
on the final syllable,

(but not so tired as to sound Mephistophelian),

Gunnar Mascoll,
who are you talking to?

The poet Gunnar Mascoll Silfverstolpe wrote a poem  about the Swedish meteorologist and Arctic explorer Finn Malmgren, who perished after the airship 'Italia' crashed en route for the North Pole. It was read out at the unveiling ceremony on 1 November 1931. Lars Gustafsson wrote a series of variations on this theme of Silfverstolpe, like those of Bach on the Goldberg theme. This is the Coda of that collection. For the original Silfverstolpe poem (in Swedish), go to here.

Poem (1936) by the Danish writer
Tom Kristensen (1893-1974)

It is Knud who is dead

Were I today a grouse, I’d flex my wings for flight,
I’d fill my lungs with air and fly both day and night
over a winter sea blackening behind whitish foam,
through the cloud-chased December sky I’d roam.

But as a wind-tossed grouse, the sport of every gale,
north-west I’d fly to warn of storms that now hoist sail.
My heart brimful of pain, lured from within my breast
The song that soon will howl the length of Greenland’s coast.

On it would echo, covering half the world,
follow sealskin boots and all sledge tracks now unfurled.
howl in Hudson Bay as far as King William’s Land,
whisper in settlements and every distant strand.

All his old friends should be roused from a doze so light,
Clearing and Willow Twig, Auá with dog snowy-white,
all the beautiful girls with smiles broad and bright
would rise in confusion, forgetting their carefree respite.

All of them must be awakened. Sorrow’s but started,
Soon it will spread to where all Alaska’s uncharted.
The great magician is dead! The mighty wizard is dead!
Did you all hear my song? Did you all get the thread?

Islands, lands and rivers are locked with chains of ice.
The joy that warmed you all has paid the final price.
Shiver, as we all do today, our fire is dead,
for he’s forever dead, it is Knud who is dead.
Do you all understand? 

 The 'Knud' referred to is the Danish arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen. To hear a discussion of this translation, you can download a podcast of DR P1 Skønlitteratur 18.01.2012 here. The discussion starts after about 21 mins 21 secs of the programme. It is in Danish!

Sunday 15 January 2012

A 'vanitas' poem by the German writer Andreas Gryphius (1616-64)

All is vanity

You see, where’er you look, but vanity on earth!
What one man builds today, another will tear down;
where now proud cities stand, mere meadows will be found
on which a shepherd child’s seen playing with the herd,

What now is in full flower will trampled be and dead
what throbs with vibrant life will soon be ash and bone;
nought may eternal be: not ore nor marble stone.
On us now fortune smiles, but troubles loom ahead.

The fame of mighty deeds like dreams shall fade away.
Is then poor humankind, time’s plaything, here to stay?
Ah, how most everything we now consider great

is but an empty void, but shadow, dust and wind,
is but a meadow flower one can no longer find!
And what’s eternal not one man would contemplate!

For the original poem, go to here.

Friday 13 January 2012

A poem by the Swedish writer
Verner von Heidenstam (1859-1940)

Vid vägens slut

Vis, o människa, det blir du först
när du hinner till de aftonsvala
höjders topp, där jorden overskådas.
Konung, vänd dig om vid vägens slut,
vila där en stund och se tillbaka!
Allt förklaras där och allt försonas,
och din ungdoms riken hägra åter,
strödda än med ljus och morgondagg.

At the ending of the path

Wise, oh human creature, you’ll first be
when you gain the lofty summit in its
evening coolness, with the earth spread out below.
King, turn round at the ending of the path,
rest there a while and look behind you!
All is explained there, all is reconciled,
and once more your youth’s realms appear to shimmer,
still strewn with early light and morning dew.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Poem by the Swedish poet
Artur Lundkvist

The magpie

my gusty temperament’s bird,
flies whirling like a helicopter,
a ball of wings in the wind.
The magpie, merry widow, laughing
despite her unprovided for young, laughing
at thefts she’s committed and thefts she is planning.
The birch tree’s own black-and-white bird,
at home even in trees that stand black in snow.

Basketless picker of autumn’s rowanberries,
with breast steel-shimmering as a frost-clear winter sky.
Farms though she loves even more than the forest,
flies through chimney smoke reeking of fried bacon,
picks up a safety pin thrown out with the baby’s
sits on the wooden pump listening to the separator in
the kitchen.

The magpie, cunning lass with wagging tail,
never completely young and inexperienced,
more like a gipsy girl with a silver coin in her ear,
easily seduced in late-winter’s last hay
when her feet are cold from the rain.
Though never a surly old crone like the crow
or hoarse like the raven, the roving horsedealer,
with a knife inside his coat and chewing his backy.
No, most akin to the poor vicarage miss
that dances on the ice
in spite of her tattered gloves.
The magpie with bundle of twigs and squeaky milk churn,
clad in blown-away egg-white, dipped in tar from the drainpipes,
where she whets her beak against the grindstone
and laughingly mocks young boys that climb

To see the original, go to here.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Another song from 'Fridas Visor' by the Swedish writer Birger Sjöberg

Freda spring-cleaning

(Among the trees in Freda’s father’s patch of garden he observes outside the windows, during a spring lunch break, how Freda, who has been granted time off to do the spring-cleaning, is busily on the move about the house. ---Internal hymn of love.)

Something sweet and angel-like for certain
gleams round Frieda’s head, you must admit!
More so, when behind spring’s flowery curtain
twinkle-toed I see her lightly flit!
She takes no resounding strides but nicely
tripping steps like reeds that swish when swung;
And yet Frieda does not stand precisely
on our social ladder’s highest rung.

How while working with such dedication
she remains so practical and calm,
Science must seek a cogent explanation
since I’m left quite tongue-tied by her charm.
Runs about with pail where water trembles
dries the crystals round the lamp’s thick band.
Flower or butterfly though she resembles,
or a wave that gleams on silver sand.

Swiftly is her ready cloth in motion,
while she breathes on waiting window-pane,
then her nimble hands without commotion
rub the copper pitcher bright again.
Every part of ‘Charles XII’s obsequies’
she now cleans to Boston’s cheerful airs.
How the halbadiers their king’s exequies
would forget were her hand close to theirs!

While spring breezes quiverings are raising
in the rooftop phone wires where they swarm,
the tall bureau’s china cat is gazing
in deep thought at Frieda’s bustling form.
Now my angel’s light hand wields a hammer,
this embroidery tacks to the wall:
‘Leave beneath the threshold thoughts’ high clamour
and your hat and stick out in the hall.’

Free from bitterness at what fate’s offered,
I do yet affirm with love-filled voice,
though the Alderman’s his daughter proffered,
Frieda would still be my certain choice.
Should my master with his daughter pair me:
‘Take Astrea as your future bride,’
I’d still hasten back to Frieda, where she
chases moths that in the curtains hide.

Common wind makes window panes start tinkling,
common dust around her ankles flit,
and yet something angel-like is twinkling
round fair Frieda’s head, you must admit!
Midst the pails and stools she moves so nicely,
with a queenly air her cloth is wrung.
And yet Frieda does not stand precisely
on our social ladder’s highest rung.

To see the original, go to here.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Poem by the Dutch writer
Hester Knibbe

Search Expedition

Tonight wandered through a city
so done in as a body with broken
ribs and a heart laid bare. Searched
for you there with buns in my pocket, searched
for a sigh, some movement in dismantled
streets and alleys. Tonight
a moment not knowing your lair
searched for you with hope in my bones.
But no matter how much I tugged at you
with my voice and my eyes, fragments of wall
kept on growing around you, cellars seemed
to have crept on you, I stayed alone
with those buns in my pocket
just calling and walking.

For this and two other Knibbe translations, go to here

Saturday 7 January 2012

Friday 6 January 2012

A real classic this one - a poem from 'Fridas Visor' by the Swedish writer Birger Sjöberg (1885-1929)

The first time...

The first time that I saw you it was a summer’s day
one morning when the sun was shining bright,
and all the meadow’s flowers, so varied in display,
in pairs stood bowing in its warming light.
So gentle was the morning breeze, and at the shore but slightly
a loving wavelet rippled round a shell the sand held tightly.
The first time that I saw you it was a summer’s day
the first time that I held your hand so lightly.

The first time that I saw you the sky was all ablaze,
so dazzling as the finely feathered swan.
There came then from the forest, the green-fringed forest’s haze,
a chorusing of birds in joyful song.
There trilled a song from high above whose beauty none could equal,
it was the tiny grey-fledged lark, as hard to glimpse as gleeful.
The first time that I saw you, the sky was all ablaze,
so dazzling and intense though without sequel.

And therefore when I see you, though it be winter's day,
with snowdrifts lying glittering and cold,
I still hear larks' quick trilling, the summer winds that stray
and spring's keen urge to even so unfold.
I still sense that from downy beds green plants would be advancing
with cornflower and with cloverleaf all lovers' joy enhancing,
that rays of summer sunshine upon your features play,
which softly blush in radiance entrancing.

This is from the first of two books that are a gentle pastiche of provincial town life. To see the original, go to the Projekt Runeberg site here. There is another version of line 20, with 'vågens brus' (=the sound of the waves) instead of 'vårens frus', even in poetry anthologies, but 'vårens frus' (= the urge of spring to burst forth) seems more logical in view of the following two lines.
There are many YouTube recordings, but the version to download is by Ingvar Wixell, originally recorded in the early 1970s. It is available on iTunes 'Fridas Visor & Evert Taube'.

Thursday 5 January 2012

A poem by the Swedish poet
Gunnar Ekelöf (1907-68)


Det är till tystnaden du skall lyssna
tystnaden bakom apostroferingar, allusioner
tystnaden i retoriken
eller i det så kallade formellt fulländade
Detta är sökandet efter ett meningslöst
i det meningsfulla
och omvänt
Och allt vad jag så konstfullt söker dikta
är kontrastvis någonting konstlöst
och hela fyllnaden tom
Vad jag har skrivit
är skrivet mellan raderna


It is the silence you’re to listen to
the silence behind quotation marks, allusions
the silence in the rhetoric
or in the so-called formally accomplished
This is the search for what’s meaningless
in the meaningful
and vice versa
And all that I artfully seek to compose
is by way of contrast something artless
and the whole fullness empty
What I have written
is written between the lines

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Another sonnet from the collection 'mannen utan väg' by the Swedish poet Erik Lindegren


the faithful bee hums for the shrivelled rose
the rabid dog drinks from the sunken storm’s throat

and the flying dutchman hauls his bride on board
so as to bury himself in her fury-cut hair

at the lists the lance of the black knight grows
and in the air the tragic mask of the charwoman glitters

in the dandelion pasture even the catchfly’s tar-bubbles burst
and the butterflies’ blinkers now say their final prayer

in the skies desert-singed clouds stack from verandahs
and the pulse’s tambourine makes the virginia creeper tremble

a taboo summer squirms uneasily on crystal-clear noes
the jaws of the tiger lily sink softly into the past

from the trailer of time hurrahs are flung out at death
dully garrisons rest beneath the rain’s silent leaps