Saturday 25 February 2012

Same theme - this time a poem by the Dutch writer Gerrit Komrij

De taalsmid

De klinker en de medeklinker zijn
De weke onderbuik en het korset.
Dichter is hij die, schijnbaar zonder pijn,
Het vormeloze in de steigers zet.

Zijn woorden, corpulent of slank van lijn,
Verenigen zich vloeiend tot couplet.
De moeiteloosheid, niet het rookgordijn,
Is zijn geheim. Met taal gaat hij naar bed.

De taal, van A tot Z, is zijn fles wijn.
Halfdronken wordt er, zomaar voor de pret,
Een kind verwekt, een epos of kwatrijn,

Of iets daartussenin, zeg een sonnet,
Terwijl de lezer onbekend blijft met
Zijn worsteling met spekvet en balein.

The language forger

Language’s consonants and vowels portray
The corset and the flaccid belly’s spread.
A poet’s one who’s able to display
An ease when boning them that seems inbred.

Obese or slim, his words without delay
Unite, in fluid couplets sweetly wed.
His secret’s effortlessness, not to lay
A smoke screen. He takes language off to bed.

His flask of wine is language - A to Z.
And when half-drunk - albeit just in play -
He spawns a child, an epic or quartet,

Or something in-between - a sonnet, say.
His fight with blubber, though, and whalebone stay
The reader never knows is left unsaid.

Friday 24 February 2012

Poem by the Swedish writer
Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864-1931)

The rhyme smith

Now, coarsely wrought iron from my thoughts’ own smithy,
my sledge shall test the utmost you can bear.
I know your chain’s links snap, that this is risky,
but likewise know there’s honest steel in there.
From my home mine and slash-burnt acres’ clamour
I gained my iron and charcoal for the fire,
I gripped – as once each sweetheart’s waist – my hammer
and fanned my forge’s flames with keen desire.

How bright the anvil’s song when dusk was swelling,
in evening coolness when my youth’s sun set!
The clanging, how it spread! From farm and dwelling
with chiming youthful voices it was met.
But out of sight, alone, hard iron unfurling,
toiled with great zest the half-apprenticed bard
and smiled at all the hot flakes round him whirling,
though many a spark his pitted skin still scarred.

To see the original poem, go to here.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Poem by the Swedish writer
Carl Snoilsky (1841-1903)

Gammalt porslin

En kung i Sachsen samlade porslin,
        Men samlingsvurmen blef en riktig sjuka.
        Han bytte bort till kungen i Berlin
        Sitt garde – tänk – mot en kinesisk kruka!

Femhundra man med sabel och karbin,
        Som preussarn visste att förträffligt bruka,
        I exercisen smidiga och mjuka,
        I krig en mur, tänk, mot – en blå terrin!

Femhundra man med hårpung och med puder!
        Slikt dårhusdåd allt vanvett öfverbjuder
        Från världens början – ja, så tycker ni.

Se’n bytet gjordes, har ett sekel svunnit:
        Femhundra tappra hjärtan brista hunnit,
        Den gamla krukan – hon står ännu bi.

Old china

A king in Saxony collected china,
        This untamed urge though threatened to derange.
        For with the Berlin king he went on to exchange
        His guards – well! – since a Chinese vase was finer.

Five hundred men who with carbine and sabre
        – Their use the Prussian knew quite by routine –
        At drill were smooth and stylish in their labour,
        In war a wall, well! – for a blue tureen.

Five hundred men with chignon and with powder!
        No madman’s act to heaven could cry louder
        Since time began – yes, you think this a fact.

A century has passed since this proceeding:
        Five hundred valiant hearts have ceased their beating,
        The vase in question – it is still intact.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Sonnet by the Swedish writer
Georg Stiernhielm (1598-1672)

The Amazoners
Til then
Stormächtigste Drottning

Hjeltinna, hwilkens Nampn, och Seger-rijke Hand,
                  Wett, wijßdom, dygd, förstånd, och herlige bedrifter
                  Wijdt öfwerga all prijß, som gifs i gambla Skrifter
The störste Hiältar, vnder Solen i all Land:
I Eder dygd består wärt Köns beröm och Stand,
                  Wår forne högheetz rätt, wårt wälde, prijß och heder
                  Förnyjat ökas, store Drottning, genom Eder.
Alt Mans-twång är nedlagt, och slijtne theres band.
Then Seger som Wij daglig öfwer Eder winne,
                  I blöde Män, them Wij vthi wår ögons macht
Oß tienstbar’ göre, skatte Wij vthi wår Sinne,
                  För ringa Saak: Men thetta är vthi wår acht:
At böija Halßen vnder lydnan och betwinga
The stolte Hiertan, them wårt Wälde synes ringa.

The Amazons
To the
Most Mighty Queen

Oh heroine, whose name, and whose victorious hand,
                  Wit, wisdom, virtue, sense, and wondrous feats exciting
                  Do far exceed all praise bestowed in ancient writing
On greatest heroes ’neath the sun in every land:
Your virtue does enshrine our gender’s rank and fame –
                  Our ancient noble right, our rule, our praise and honour
                  Through you, great queen, are now replenished and grow stronger.
All male constraint is gone, their ties make little claim.
The victory which daily we o’er you are gaining,
                  You feeble men, whom we by force of eye alone
Bend to our service, we deem worthy of disdaining,
                  Of little note: But our intention here make known:
To make those with stiff necks bow low and bring to earth
Those with proud hearts who judge our rule of little worth.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Swedish poem by the Finnish writer Tua Forsström

Anyone who was once there

It is still snowing.
I go up into the tower-room and gaze one
more time out over the bay: heaviness and dizziness.
Someone phones and puts forward optimistic
suggestions, and of course: you can dance the foxtrot
till the very end. But I prefer to make an excursion
to a nearby folklore museum or apply to become
a mezzo-soprano in the church choir, although I don’t
sing all that well. It’s not easy. It is really quite
a problem. I know which continent you set store
by, but now an imbalance prevails between the species
there: everyone took with them some cuddly toy they didn’t
want to leave behind. Now they devour each other. I know which
regions appeal to you, anyone who was once there always yearns
to return. Sweat and whatever else that slid along
the walls when one went to bed. In the tropics
stray dogs are not strays in the same way,
they live and die. The snow swirls ever thicker and faster
round the roses, the darkly shimmering remains of the night.
We don’t remember everything, but a great deal.

To see the original and hear the author read the poem, go to here

Poem by the Swedish writer
Eva Runefelt (b. 1953)


Som svävande reflexer
betar de kortväxta hästarna
de ljusa poldrarnas gröna vatten
Djuren försvinner och uppstår
i det vinklade ljuset, hjärnljuset
Det är efter uppståndelsen, april
De stora markernas vila
över år
som rotat i en ny växtlighet
Gräsfåglar, alléer av vindrosor
och nätternas karminljus
ännu inte utslaget


Like hovering reflections
the short-statured horses graze
the green water of the light polders
The animals disappear and re-emerge
in the angled light, the brain-light
It is after the re-emergence, april
The rest over years of the
huge fields
that has rooted in a new vegetation
Grass-warblers, avenues of windflowers
and the nights’ carmine light
as yet unfolded

Sunday 19 February 2012

Angst - Danish style: Tom Kristensen (1930)


Human angst has dominion that’s Asian.
It’s matured during immature years.
In my heart it’s a daily sensation,
as if mainlands each day disappear.

But my angst must be turned into longing,
into visions of dread and distress.
I have longed for mid-ocean disasters
and for wanton destruction and death.

I have longed for great cities on fire
and for races in flight’s headlong surge,
for break-ups the whole world was cursed by
and an earthquake that’s known as God’s scourge.

Angst - Swedish style: Pär Lagerkvist (1916)

Angst, angst is my legacy

Angst, angst is my legacy,
my throat’s deep gash,
my heart’s scream in the world.
Now foaming cloud grows stiff
in night’s coarse hand,
the forests now and
rigid heights ascend
so barrenly towards the skies’
diminished vault.
How hard it all is,
how solid, black and silent!

I grope around me in this murky space,
I feel the rock’s sharp edge against my fingers,
I tear my upward-stretching hands
to shreds against the frozen tatters of the clouds.

Ah, I wear my nails down to the quick,
my hands I tear till they are sore, are wounded
against mountain and darkened forest,
against the black iron of the sky
and against the cold earth!

Angst, angst is my legacy,
my throat’s deep gash,
my heart’s scream in the world.

Poem by the Swedish writer Stagnelius (c. 1815)

Vän! I förödelsens stund

Vän! I förödelsens stund, när ditt inre av mörker betäckes,
                  När i ett avgrundsdjup minne och aning förgå,
Tanken famlar försagd bland skuggestalter och irrbloss,
                  Hjärtat ej sucka kan, ögat ej gråta förmår;
När från din nattomtöcknade själ eldvingarne falla,
                  Och du till intet, med skräck, känner dig sjunka på nytt,
Säg, vem räddar dig då? – Vem är den vänliga ängel,
                  Som åt ditt inre ger ordning och skönhet igen,
Bygger på nytt din störtade värld, uppreser det fallna
                  Altaret, tändande där flamman med prästerlig hand? –
Endast det mäktiga väsen, som först ur den eviga natten
                  Kysste serafen till liv, solarna väckte till dans.
Endast det heliga Ord, som ropte åt världarna: “Bliven!” –
                  Och i vars levande kraft världarna röras ännu.
Därföre gläds, o vän, och sjung i bedrövelsens mörker:
                  Natten är dagens mor, Kaos är granne med Gud.

Friend! When destruction is nigh

Friend! when destruction is nigh, when the darkness engulfs all within you,
                  When in the deepest abyss notions and memory fail,
Thoughts now timidly grope midst will-o’-the-wisps and shadows,
                  The heart no longer can sigh, nor eye can shed a tear;
When from your night-befogged soul the wings of fire are now falling,
                  And you, affrighted, feel yourself sinking to nothing once more,
Say, who will rescue you then? – Who is the friendly angel,
                  Who within you will restore order and beauty again,
Build your collapsed world anew, raise up once more the fallen
                  Altar, and there will kindle the flame with a priestly hand? –
None but the powerful being who first from the night eternal
                  Once kissed the seraph alive, wakened the planets to dance.
None but the Word divine, that called to the world: “Be ye living” –
                  And in whose true living power yet are the worlds ever moved.
Therefore take heart, oh friend, and sing in the dark of affliction:
                  Night is the mother of day, Chaos is neighbour to God.

Poem by the Swedish writer
Katarina Frostenson

Myself in a yellow dress

Scatter me brother, with your eye that refuses to close
that only looks out, sees nothing, only the shimmer and flecked sunlight
on water among leaves

in the green of July, under a tree
in the plaited blue basket that amply contained you

when everything hummed around you
and you were like honey

myself in a yellow dress, dark
in the tree, ever darker yellow, shriller, shrieking upwards
yet silent, towards the tree-top
triumph, little brother, over everything
through the weight of the crown
I feel the head of the sun

To see the original poem and hear the poet read it aloud, go to here

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Poem by the Swedish writer
Lars Forssell (1928-2007)

You tell me that poetry’s dead

You tell me that poetry’s dead
or at the very least dying
You seem to forget, well-fed friend,
that it lives just like you
next door to death
half a flight down
half a creaking flight down
there in the dark

The bricklayer sings
The carpenter sings
The woman cashier at the self-service sings
Ministers and opposition
and you and I and the grave-digger
All of us sing for our lives
All of us open-mouthed sing for our lives
till him there half a flight down
knocks with his stick on the ceiling!

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Poem by the Swedish writer Harry Martinson (1904-78)

The juniper bush

Silent he stands by the stone,
at one with the heather.
Amongst his prickly needles
sit swarms of berries
like caught charges of shot.
He is proof against anything.
He habitually brushes the north wind.
His twigs are tough as sinews.
He withstands what is most barren,
and yet is scented, yet possesses grace.
To graves and floors he gave sprays,
and he brewed a good beer
where he stood, strong and amiable,
squeezed between grey stones in Thule.

A love-song by the Swedish poet Gustaf Fröding (1860-1911)

En kärleksvisa

Jag köpte min kärlek för pengar,
för mig var ej annan att få,
sjung vackert, I skorrande strängar,
sjung vackert om kärlek ändå.

Den drömmen, som aldrig besannats,
som dröm var den vacker att få,
för den, som ur Eden förbannats,
är Eden ett Eden ändå.

A love-song

For money my love I did purchase,
Else love I’d have had to forego,
sing sweetly, you strings harsh and wordless,
sing sweetly of love even so.

The dream not come true ere it vanished
though dreamt I was loath to forego,
for him who from Eden’s been banished
is Eden an Eden e’en so.

Another poem by the Swedish writer Werner Aspenström (1918-1997)

Spelman och upptecknare

Den gamle spelmannen kunde inte spela längre,
endast tralla.
Den gamle tandlöse spelmannen kunde inte tralla längre,
endat väsa.
I väsandet hördes trallen,
i trallen stråkdragen,
i stråkdragen de otämjda forsarna.
Rätt nöjd cyklade upptecknaren hemåt
med fem mil av Västerdalälven i portföljen.

Fiddler and compiler

The old fiddler could no longer play,
only sing the tunes.
The old toothless fiddler could no longer sing,
only hiss the tunes.
In the hissing the singing was audible,
in the singing the bow-strokes,
in the bow-strokes the untamed rapids.
Quite content the compiler cycled homewards
with thirty miles of Västerdal river in his briefcase.

Monday 13 February 2012

Another famous poem by the Swedish poet Nils Ferlin

When beauty arrived in town

When beauty arrived in town it found cleverness there
then thorns and sheer spite did blight all endeavour.
Then they with their thousand guns aimed and shot straight at her,
for all of them were now ever so clever.
Then none felt at all like dancing or gladness and song,
or something that might perhaps smack of danger.
When beauty arrived in town – if she did come along,
they neither would laugh or cry at this stranger.

Ah, cleverness is an old man so shrewd and so wise
that roses and columbines freeze and perish.
When town-folk had learnt his ABC book, from their eyes
the gleam disappeared that they’d sought to cherish.
With spades did they toil and dig in the soil and the field,
though nothing but zeal did zeal then empower.
They counted their sheaves for counting’s sake – not for the yield,
and hated just for a laugh or a flower.

At some point it will be summer, the songs have descried,
one day over every land space will tower.
A great deal will then be crushed that has shone far and wide.
but mind-raising is humanity’s dower.
Now there they weave webs so small and of grey clinging thread,
and pay for their barns and shelves all on credit.
At some point it will be summer, the songs have foresaid,
though songs are frail sybils time may subedit.

As so often, the recording by Sven-Bertil Taube is the one to go for.

Sunday 12 February 2012

A famous poem by the Dutch writer Martinus Nijhoff


I went to Bommel just to see the bridge.
I saw the new bridge. Two opposing shores
that shunned each other seemingly before
are neighbours once again. A grassy verge
I lay on, tea consumed, for some ten minutes
my head filled with the landscape far and wide –
when from that endlessness on every side
this voice came, and my ears resounded with it.

It was a woman. And the boat she steered
was passing downstream through the bridge quite slowly.
She stood there at the helm, alone on deck,

and what she sang were hymns, I now could hear.
Oh, I thought, oh, were mother there instead.
Praise God she sang, His hand shall safely hold thee.

Friday 10 February 2012

Poem by the Swedish poet
Frans Michael Franzén (1772-1847)


Drick! de förflyga de susande
                  Perlorna: Drick!
Skynda! Det ljufva, det ädla, det höga
                  Söker du fåfängt, se’n anden förgick.
Dåren, som fäste vid skummet sitt öga,
                  Vatten, blott vatten, på läpparne fick.

Njut! de försvinna, de tjusande
                  Stunderna: njut!
Ytterst förfinade, känslan och löjet
                  Reta och domna i samma minut.
Snappa i flykten behaget och nöjet:
                  Högst är raketen, i det han går ut.

Snar är på jorden den rusande
                  Glädjen, ack! snar.
Fångad af ynglingens spända förhoppning,
                  Än ur en drufva, förädlad och rar,
Än från en mun, lik en ros i sin knoppning,
                  Strax till sitt hem öfver molnen hon far.

Champagne wine

Drink! they soon vanish the fast-climbing
                  Strings of pearls, drink!
Quick now! The beautiful, noble, or lofty
                  Vainly you seek, once the spirit’s laid waste.
Mad is the man who on foam gazes oftly,
                  Water, just water is all he will taste.

Feast! they’re soon banished the spell-binding
                  Hours of joy, feast!
Feeling and laughter, refined beyond measure
                  At the same instant can rouse and benumb.
Catch in mid-flight all delight and all pleasure!
                  Rockets reach highest whilst their end is come.

Brief is on earth every mind-blinding
                  Gladness, ah! brief.
Captured by young man’s high hopes so full-blooded,
                  Now from a grape at its choicest and rare,
Now from a mouth like a rose that’s just budded,
                  Straight to its home o’er the clouds she’ll repair.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Poem by the Swedish writer
Karl Vennberg (1910-95)

But even this sun is homeless

But even this sun is homeless
burns homeless
with gleaming grains of fire,
brandishes homeless
its torches against the dark,
protects itself in vain
with a silver-white radiance.
Ah even this sun is homeless.

What then can blind hands find?
Are the seeking groping yearning themselves
merely homeless light from a homeless sun?

Yes, homeless light is everything refracted
through the lenses of the body or the soul:
trickery and truth
affliction and lies.
The same blind laws and lawlessnesses
watch over light and lenses.

So tend, presumptuous humanity,
the flowers of belief and unbelief
sprouting from fire and loathing,
lure lust to you with the honey of lust,
root yourself with pain
at a painful truth.
The same homelessness is lust and truth,
all shall be reduced to the same focus

Oh to gain alone one’s focus
and there be consumed by fire,
oh to return homeless
to an eternal homelessness.

Oh to be lifted from a conflagration
of lust and lies
up towards gleaming
mountains of fire,
homelessly brandishing torches,
shadows and
silver-like radiance.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

The Swedish writer Sophia Elisabet Brenner also wrote in German. Here is a translation of a German poem

Die Unvermeidliche Flucht menschlicher Tage/
Vorgestellet in Abbildung einer
Bey Beerdigung
Des Weiland Wohl Ehrenvesten und Groß-Achtbahren/
Nun mehro bey GOTT WohlSeligen
Herrn BARTHOLOMÆI Klüvers/
Den 19. Februarii dieses jetztlauffenden 1693.sten Jahres.

BEwehrtes Spiegel-Glas/ in dem die Sterbligkeit/
Der schnellen Jahre Flucht leibhafftig an zu schauen/
Dein Sand erinnert mich wie wir auf Trieb-Sand bauen
Und schätzen offtermahls vom Ziel/ uns viel zu weit.

Da doch dis Gläser-Paar/ so über sich gestürtzt/
Eins/ auf die Wiege sieht’ und eins die Bahre zeiget/
Misst was verfloßen ist/ lehrt wie der Rest sich neiget
Der jeden Augenblick ein Theil des Lebens kürtzt

O wahres Ebenbild des Kummers der uns qwählt/
Uns handelt Angst und Noth/ wie deinen Sand die Wellen/
Uns drückt so manche Last und dräut uns gar zu fällen/
Daß man der Trübsahl mehr als Sand am Ufer zählt.

Auch sonsten läst der Mensch als selbst der Zeiten Raub/
Gantz füglich/ auser dem/ der Sand-Uhr sich vergleichen/
Jst/ weil sein Körper steht und wann er wird zur Leichen/
Jm Leben brüchig Glaß/ und nach dem Tode/ Staub.

Wohl dem der weil er noch des Leibes Umhüll/ trägt
Und eh die Zeit verläufft/ sich auf die Heimfahrt schikket/
Dem Welt und Eitelkeit/ die Sinnen nicht berükket/
Damit er fertig sey wann seine Stunde schlägt.

Mein Freund auch auf der Bahr/ wie wohl ichs nicht gedacht
Dich in so kurtzer Zeit der Gruben zu vertrauen/
Doch weil wir uns gewiß auf ewig wieder schauen/
So scheid ich wohl gemuth/ indeßen gute Nacht.

The ineluctable flight of human days/
As represented in the depiction of an
At the funeral of
the formerly most upright and extremely worthy/
Now with GOD blessed and reunited
19 February of this present year of 1693.

Well-tested mirror-glass/in which mortality/
Of swiftly fleeing years embodied we see stand/
Your sand reminds me how we build on shifting sand
And often from our goal/ so far removed can be.

Yet here this glassy pair/ up-ended at our birth
With one that views the cradle/ one that shows the bier/
Lacks what has downward run/reveals the end is near
And teaches us each instant shortens life on earth.

Oh most true image of the misery we bear/
Just as the waves the sand/do fear and need us steer/
Threatened by such dire loads far from our course we veer/
And count our sorrows more as sand upon the shore.

Man may in other ways/ a prey to time’s sore thrust/
With this same hour-glass yet be suitably compared/
Is/while his body stands and when as corpse is bared/
In this life fragile glass/ and after death/ mere dust.

Happy the one who while in human flesh still clad
And ere his time is o’er/prepares his journey home/
Whose mind this world and vanity can’t cause to roam/
Who when his hour is come is ready and not sad.

My friend here on the bier/ I never thought I might
Entrust you to the grave/after so short a time/
But since we soon shall meet/ though in a heav’nly clime/
I leave you well consoled/ and until then good night.