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.

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