Thursday 29 March 2012

A poem by the Norwegian writer
Johan Herman Wessel (1742-85)


The smith and the baker

A small town there once was wherein a smith did dwell,
Who when irate turned dangerous as well.
He gained an enemy; (such lie in wait alway,
Myself I’ve none, and may
My reader likewise stay!)
By ill luck they not in the street
But in an inn did meet,
They drank (I too in inns imbibe;
Else to such places don’t subscribe.
None though, dear reader, rest content,
Save those of good repute frequent.)
They drank, then, both,
And after much loud shouting, many an oath,
The smith his foe’s bonce almost split.
So powerful was his clout
That his foe’s lights went out,
Nor have they since relit.

                  At once the smith they did detain.
A surgeon checked the man he’d slain
And wrote he met a violent death.
The killer, questioned, did at once confess.
He hoped his foe in th’other life
Would there forgive their erstwhile strife.
But now the fun starts! On the day
Before the judge shall have his say,
Four citizens up to him went
And of them the most eloquent
Did thus address:

                  “Oh judge most wise!
We know the city’s welfare you most prize;
This welfare though depends upon
Our smith not being dead and gone.
For can his death the dead man bring to life?
We’ll never find so competent a man again,
For whose crime we must pay so cruel a price,
If help he begs in vain.” –
“Consider though, dear friend! The price for life is life.” –
“A baker old and frail lives here.
Whom pox could take within the year.
We’ve two of them, the old one won’t be missed?
Then life’s by life repaid.” –
“Yes,” said the judge to them, “the idea’s quite well-made.
To slow things down I now must strive;
For in a case like this the arguments are rife –
If only I could spare the smith his life!
Farewell, good folk! I’ll do all that I can.” –
“Farewell, wise upright man!” –

                  He leafs through all his law books with great care;
But he finds nothing written there
Forbids him changing smith to baker, if inclined;
So he makes up his mind,
And here’s his sentence clear:
(Let all come forward who will hear!)
“’Tis true that blacksmith Jens
Can offer no defence
And has confessed here in this court
He Anders Pedersen t’eternity has brought;
But since we have but one smith in this town
I would be something of a clown
Should I desire to see him dead.
But there are two here who bake bread.”

                  “The sentence of the court:
The baker who is now of older years,
Shall for the murder with his own life pay,
A fitting punishment and one that’s clear,
A dire warning to all those that go astray.”

                  The baker cried such bitter tears,
As he was led away.


                  Of death be always circumspect!
It tends to come just when you least expect.

Monday 26 March 2012

A nice carpe florem poem by the Danish-Norwegian writer Johan Vibe (1748-82)

A Song

He whom the Creator did bless with good sense,
Should love and should drink well before it all ends;
For once one in Charon’s bark has set one’s foot,
All passion and wine’s out the window for good.

Let wine and love’s passion stoke fires in your breast.
Soon death all desires and lusts from it will wrest.
And should you live long, you risk ere your demise
A thing that is worse still, you risk growing wise.

A state of bliss, which by all mortals is sought,
Don’t let wise men teach you, your time is too short;
This only the juice of pressed grapes, my dear friend,
And young women’s kisses can ever extend.

In wine and love’s passion dwell learning and wit,
I cannot read stars, but know well not to quit,
For when I no more wine and women hold dear,
I’ll know for a certainty my end is near.

You strict theologians! Don’t stand in my way
From garland-decked taking the path that is gay;
My fear is but slight He will let hell’s jaws gape,
The One who’s created both woman and grape.

The Lord of Creation is gracious and good,
To comfort His creatures them wisely allowed
In grapes to find solace for all that might harm
And foretaste of heaven in women’s fair arms.

My greatest boon I wish my friend too may learn:
To drink and to love and be loved in return;
When death puts an end to all joys by and by,
You’ll have at least lived well before you must die.

Monday 19 March 2012

Poem by the Swedish writer
Pär Lagerkvist

Earth’s most lovely....

Earth’s most lovely at light’s waning.
All the love the sky’s containing
lies collected in a dusky light
o’er the fields,
the homes in sight.

All is pure affection, all is soothing.
Distant shores the Lord himself is smoothing.
All is close yet all far off, unknown,
All is given
to mankind on loan.

All is mine, and will be taken from me,
everything will soon be taken from me.
Trees and clouds, the fields through which I pace.
I shall journey –
lonely, without trace.

It has been pointed out to me that Thoursie is echoing and transmuting a line from this poem in the previous blog poem. Here is the original poem:

Det är vackrast....

Det är vackrast när det skymmer.
All den kärlek himlen rymmer
ligger samlad i ett dunkelt ljus
över jorden,
över markens hus.

Allt är ömhet, allt är smekt av händer.
Herren själv utplånar fjärran stränder.
Allt är nära, allt är långt ifrån.
Allt är givet
människan som lån.

Allt är mitt, och allt skall tagas från mig,
inom kort skall allting tagas från mig.
Träden, molnen, marken där jag går.
Jag skall vandra –
ensam, utan spår.
 Hear him read the poem here.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Another poem by the Swedish writer
Ragnar Thoursie


Lyss till granens susning,
där kaninen trampar
i sin bur av ståltrådsnät,
och där skatan med ett tuppfjät
ekorren med andakt
(barnslig blick och knäppta tassar)
samt de arbetslösa fågelkräken
sparv och fink – samlats på parkett:

undrar vad som händer.
Ty, den gamla, hon som hör
så dåligt, har med kattlik skärpa
sen en timma stirrat genom glaset.

Inget händer.
Ingenting ska hända.
Ingenting ska ändra det som varit,
det som en gång hänt ska aldrig tagas från oss.
Det hon sett ska alltid synas
– fast till synes endast skygga
smådjur samlas bakom huset
till var morgons möte.

Stel, med glasblick, lever hon och andas.
Märker inte fönstrets imma,
dödens närhet,
kylan från den svarta spiseln.
Lyss till känslans susning
i den rörelse som minnet skänker.

The meeting

Hark to the soughing of the spruce,
where the rabbit stamps
in its cage of wire-netting,
and where the magpie with a short step
the squirrel with reverence
(childlike look and folded paws)
along with the jobless bird-wretches
sparrow and finch – gather in the stalls:

wonder what is happening.
For the old woman, she who hears
so badly, has with catlike acuity
for an hour now been staring through the glass.

Nothing is happening.
Nothing will happen.
Nothing will change what has been,
what has once happened will never be taken from us.
What she has seen will always be screened –
though seemingly only shy
small creatures gather behind the house
for each morning’s meeting.

Stiffly, with glassy look, she lives and breathes.
Does not notice the window’s misting,
death’s nearness,
the chill from the black kitchen range.
Hark to the sough of emotion
in the movement memory bestows.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Poem by the Dutch poet
Hagar Peeters

On the backs of elephants

Let me be one of the decadents and drink with the men,
let me follow you, Baudelaire, Whitman, De Campos;
all great victors full of self-assurance,
all those who ride on the backs of dangerous animals
all those who shamelessly raise their voices
let me be one of you with blush
and sophisticated eyeliner look.

You have invented the art of being decadent,
proud degenerates who view their decline as a ticket to heaven.
Let me, complete with put-up hair and tie newly pressed,
with waistcoat and trousers and shirt
and breasts on my chest
and tresses at my neck that are seized by every breeze
drink and drink to being one of you.
Our very good health!

Tip me onto the backs of your elephants and let me ride with you into the wilderness.
Let me put on this pair of dirty shorts and follow you, you bunch of brigands.
I want to set out with the big-timers.
I want to travel with all the big daddies.
Let them show me the world that lies at my tiny feet.
Open up the continents to me, drive my elephants
along the path chopped free with the slaves,
let the workers look up at me and let me
with my red-painted nails scratched grubby underneath
be one of those workers and drive their backs on
and shout with the braying voice of the master.

Let me grow up in your wisdom and have my share.
Let me wave my fans and cast my lassoes in a single movement.
Make me a partner in your card game.
let me share in the spoils of your conquests,
robbers and pirates, and do not let me always sidle on the sidelines
and fear vermin that crawl on the earth and make lairs in my hair.

My wellies will stamp through the rain-puddles
that have fallen alike – for what do the rain-puddles care –
for one and all. I will also write columns for the poisonous press
and erase them forthwith and rewrite them
for I want to weep like a woman for all pain ever suffered
and press children to my tender mother’s breast
during the meetings of your club, clan, regiment, society or assembly

and I will reserve the right to reject your proposals,
yes, to reject you no matter how much this will grieve and offend you
for I do not love out of pity
but will gladly join in the pleasure, the hunt, the revels and tournaments.
Santé! Santé! Santé!

Big daddies, take a lenient look at life just this once
make just this once an exception so as to create,
once and for all a precedent made to be followed
by granting me access to all the world’s realms and domains
that since time immemorial have been taboo for me
since it suited the managers of those estates.

Let me chuck cheques around all signed by you;
all things that carry your stamp,
all inventions where you have the patent,
let me finger them easily, sensually,
casually throw them over my shoulder, strew them to children,
feed them as bread to sparrows,
let me play Santa with them,
let me nonchalantly administer them
make wild purchases with them
but at least entrust me with them.

I want the key to the forbidden room,
the code of the computer, the access to the systems,
the password to the profitable pastures.
Give me my weapons as compensation
for your power and materials so sorely needed.
Give me the right to speak at table and don’t rudely interrupt me.
Dare to speak to me at parties
without banking on a night of pleasure.

I will break off the heels of my stilettoes.
I refuse to go on teetering over the cobbles
unless they are flagstones that lead to my palaces,
and I reject what restricts my freedom of movement,
makes me invisible or eclipses me,
I cast it at the feet of those
who asked for this before trampling it underfoot
and whoever asked me to strip off as much as possible
I will ask to lead the way
and to leave it at that.

Monday 12 March 2012

Poem by the Swedish poet
Johannes Edfeldt (1904-97)


Flickan mumlar sin läxa: ‘Er kam geritten...’
Taxen gnyr i sin korg: han jagar i drömmen
ekorrar, under det regnet slår sina dova
virvlar mod villabalkongen och fönsterrutan.

Värld inom världen, du är ju en ö som lyfter
jord, träd, örter och fågelbon ur kaos!
Kåda doftar din omkrets, ständigt hotad,
ändå lika verklig som havet och natten.


The girl murmurs her homework: ‘Er kam geritten...’
The dachshund whimpers in his basket: in his dream
he is chasing squirrels, while the rain flings its muffled
eddies against the house balcony and window pane.

World within the world, you are an island that lifts
earth, trees, plants and bird’s nests out of chaos!
Resin pervades your perimeter, constantly threatened,
yet just as real as the sea and the night.

Poem by the Swedish writer
Karin Boye (1900-41)

Yes pain is what’s felt

Yes pain is what’s felt when buds burst open.
Why should spring otherwise choose to linger?
Why should the fiery heat of our desire
stay bound in what’s frozen, palely bitter?
The bud was so well hidden throughout winter.
What newness is this that’s so all-exposing?
Yes, pain is what’s felt when buds burst open,
pain for what’s growing
                                    and what’s now closing.

Yes it can feel hard when drops are falling.
Shivering with fear, heavily hanging,
cleaving to their branches, swelling, sliding –
pulled down by their weight they go on clinging.
Hard to be unsure, afraid, divided,
hard to sense the depths’ seductive calling,
and yet remain there and simply quiver –
hard to wish to stay
                                    and wish for falling.

Then, when at its worst, with all help failing,
as if in rapture tree’s buds burst in clusters,
then, when there’s no fear left to be endured,
the drops on branches fall in gleaming lustre,
forget that what is new once made them quail,
forget that they were anxious at the journey –
feel for an instant perfectly secure,
rest in the reliance
                                    that creates the world.

This poem is extremely well-known. Some people consider it 'over the top', but after translating it, I have to admit it commands respect.  Striking is the very high percentage of female endings to lines. I have tried to retain this as much as possible, since it is an integral part of the mood created.
To hear her read the poem, go to here.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Poem by the Swedish poet
Ragnar Thoursie (1919-2010)

When Parrot is dead she doth not putrefy

Parrot is a fair bird for a ladie.
God of His goodness him framed and wrought.

There she sat in her cage, behind the caretaker-window,
company for photographs, for those already dead,
sampled memory’s cookies and from them
learned the gift of slander. With her iron beak
she was a plucky coffee-addict.
in borrowed feathers, from the rainbow,
the sky and the lilies of the field
she entered immaculate
into maidenhood, almost a beauty
in the missionary society, a new force
in the sewing circle and an appreciated
                  saxophone in the choir
on the way home at night through the town
where the fountain still trickles
and black willows trail against her skirt.

Alone, in fragile health, she no longer
dared go any further on life’s journey
than a spasm in the coat’s green wings
could take her back and back back-
home, to the fiercely agitated
                  rocking chair,
the reassuring simmering heart of the coffee kettle
and memory’s
strip of coastline. Now she is dead.
But her spirit will live,
the rooms ingrained with it. And the reflection
in the window of her middle-parting head’s
every design turns green with mortification.

Monday 5 March 2012

A villanelle by the Swedish writer Majken Johansson

Villanelle made on a nail

The nail seems sometimes crooked sometimes straight
through the secretion that life’s cleft fills with its juices.
Who would not dearly wish to make the soup taste great?

Crammed here beneath one roof slurp from their plate
the picky and the shovellers down open sluices.
The nail seems sometimes crooked sometimes straight.

Jammed in one ice-hole in half-frozen state
for separate edges they must grope before it fuses.
Who would not dearly wish to make the soup taste great?

Just as pure need and mercy now seem to equate
so through the peering eye’s rent chink one thing bemuses:
the nail seems sometimes crooked sometimes straight.

Twist as you may, your back’s behind your pate
though you subject your lenses to all kinds of ruses.
Who would not dearly wish to make the soup taste great?

Even our wreck’s last splinter shares this fate:
‘Nature’s first law’ – to co-exist – brooks no excuses.
The nail seems sometimes crooked sometimes straight.
Who would not dearly wish to make the soup taste great?

Saturday 3 March 2012

Villanelle by the Dutch writer
Gerrit Komrij

Villanelle voor de VOC

Vergeet vooral de paradijzen niet.
Men voer op winst belust het zeegat uit:
Niet elke handelsmissie gaat failliet.

Ze zochten in het overzees gebied
Naar peper, nootmuskaat en ander kruid.
Vergeet vooral de paradijzen niet.

Hun werk was dat van debet en krediet,
Maar zoete dromen slopen in hun buit.
Niet elke handelsmissie gaat failliet.

Men moordde; maar zo menige bandiet
Zag in het oosten ook een nieuwe bruid.
Vergeet vooral de paradijzen niet.

Voorbij de Kaap werd hun ruw zeemanslied
Doorspekt met een nog nooit gehoord geluid.
Niet elke handelsmissie gaat failliet.

Ze gingen heen met lood en dynamiet
En keerden huiswaarts in een toverschuit.
Vergeet vooral de paradijzen niet.
Niet elke handelsmissie gaat failliet.

Villanelle for the Dutch East India Company

Always keep eldorados within sight.
Yet sail, on profit bent, with each high tide:
Not all trade missions mean financial plight.

In foreign climes they often did alight
In search of pepper, nutmeg, plucked and dried.
Always keep eldorados within sight.

Debit and credit was their chief delight,
Although sweet dreams as stowaways did hide.
Not all trade missions mean financial plight.

They killed, as many bandits uncontrite
Who in the far East saw a new-decked bride.
Always keep eldorados within sight.

Rounding the Cape, their salty shanty’s flight
Was spiked with a new sound, as yet untried.
Not all trade missions mean financial plight.

They sailed weighed down with lead and dynamite
Yet in a magic boat did homeward glide.
Always keep eldorados within sight.
Not all trade missions mean financial plight.

Friday 2 March 2012

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


(Villanelle I)

The body remembers. Images were all the soul could see.
The desires of the flesh, the sharp pain of a nail.
What’s cold and white-hot no soul keeps eternally.

Even types of pain can’t be exchanged. A grazed knee
and the wasp in the grass. Likenesses will always fail.
The body remembers. Images were all the soul could see.

Each hour had something sharp and something soft that only
it was made for. Each love’s scent is unique in type and scale.
What’s cold and white-hot no soul keeps eternally.

Once we drank tea at this table, now all one can see
are mouldered bits of teak to tell the tale.
The body remembers. Images were all the soul could see.

Of these once warm days rotten bits of teak are all you see.
Predicting logic for desire and pain’s to no avail.
What’s cold and white-hot no soul keeps eternally.

Above a lose-path forest hosts of birds cry noisily.
Just birdsong did the body know, and without fail.
The body remembers. Images were all the soul could see.
What’s far too cold and white-hot no soul keeps eternally.