Wednesday 30 May 2012

Poem by the Dutch writer
Anna Enquist

Plea to the artist

My solid ground of tongue and sound
is time-bound. Not so she. I ask

your help. When with my warm
hand’s blood-filled weight I’d touch her

nothing’s there. Your palette’s fourteen
colours, your brush of fox’s hair –

caress her forth now, at her ear
green shadow and her neck a trace

of yellow ivory. Find her a place
in your canvas threads. Then call

me in. You’re at the window staring.
I stand five feet away and see.

She looks at me.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Poem by the Norwegian writer
Knut Hamsun


The boat’s now gliding
towards the skerry,
a sea-set island
its shores green banding.
Wild flowers grow here for
no eyes intended
stand unfamiliar
and watch me landing.

My heart becomes like
a fabled garden
with flowers the same as
the ones I’m greeting.
They talk together
and whisper strangely,
with nods and smiling
like children meeting.

Perhaps long since I
have here existed
as white spiraea
in first perfection.
I recognise now
that far-off fragrance,
and tremble slightly
in recollection.

I close my eyelids,
a distant memory
towards my shoulder
my head is drawing.
The night grows denser
about the island,
the sea alone roars –
Nirvana’s roaring.

To see the original 1904 poem, go to here

A poem by the Norwegian writer Nordahl Grieg (1902-43)

Wadham College Chapel


Pain fills the roar of the organ, and all the young wills are bowing
low in fear and ache to realms that we know not of.
Candles flicker in darkness like daffodils cold is cowing,
a hymn rises up to the roof praising God who is perfect love.

Then from a pale-red star the storm of the Lord starts descending,
though one last breaker still rolls of the organ’s delightful roar;
the chaplain lifts up his voice, his white distant words upwards wending:
“Let us remember the dead, the fallen who’ve gone before” ...

An unending grief of names foredoomed to blood, tears and weeping,
smiling young names his voice brings alive to us one by one,
friends who toiled on the river, blue-bladed oars clean-sweeping,
while poplars lining the Cherwell quivered till autumn was gone!

Iron and horrors and cold in pointlessness and in battle,
that was your lot and that too the prime of your youth swiftly stole.
Bullets that whistled past ears and bodies that cramps made rattle,
corpses that rotted – the soul though? friends, what became of your souls?

A brother of yours I recall, who cherished a dream never-ending:
to smoke a while of an evening over a white-painted gate ...
He came home to his longing, though his heart pain always was rending:
that you could not be there as well, on summer’s eves languid and late.

But God who is perfect love and gave him that dream for his keeping,
remembers you every one, brothers of hardship and need.
He roams in the upper air, along stars’ white highways sweeping,
ensuring that all get to live – before death’s hour all must heed.

We kneel in the organ’s roar for dead, unknown friends departed,
young tortured souls who sank into that great rest while we grieve.
Are they alive beyond death, in a land to know we’ve not started?
Dear God, if my faith can help, then shall my heart believe.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Poem by the Danish writer
Tom Kristensen

My pipe

I am just a minor poet,
half a thinker, half a coot,
am in love with large-sized frock-coats,
large-sized hats, a large cheroot.

Fate provided me with frock-coats,
also passed me a cheroot;
but as far as white-hot passion
was concerned, gave me the boot.

Often I go out at nighttime
air the cobwebs in my brain
that have gathered in the daytime
while I ruminate again,

take my little pipe and light it;
should the wind prove hard to tame,
cup my hand with utmost caution
round my match’s warming flame,

watch it lick the stick up slowly,
smile though not the smiling type,
suck then with revered devotion
at the air-valve of my pipe.

Fate is where this pipe has come from
plus a goodly ration too
of tobacco as replacement
for the passion no can do.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Dutch anonymous 14th century poem


Ghequetst ben ic van binnen

Ghequetst ben ic van binnen,
Duerwont mijn hert soe seer,
Van uwer ganscher minnen
Ghequetst soe lanc soe meer.
Waer ic my wend, waer ic my keer,
Ic en can gherusten dach noch nachte;
Waer ic my wend, waer ic my keer,
Ghy sijt alleen in mijn ghedachte.

My breast is sore afflicted

My breast is sore afflicted, 
My heart torments me so,
By all thy love inflicted
The wound does ever grow,
Where'er I turn, where'er I go,
By night, by day no rest is given;
Where'er I turn, where'er I go,
By thoughts of thee my heart is riven. 

Monday 21 May 2012

Poem by the Norwegian writer
Tore Ørjasæter (1886-1968)

Cries of gulls

Sheer rock and steep faces of Lofot,
bird-cliff and thousands
of seagulls that circle round mast and hull.
Let themselves glide on powerful wings
towards the open sea, - it breathes towards them
and receives like an open mind.

Soon after the storm has abated,
the sea’s bosom still goes on heaving.
The swell lifts the heavy sea
closer up to the horizon
that constantly escapes and dies out quietly
to new heights on the skyline
that once more breathes out and escapes
like time dies out within the age.
Oh these free cries of gulls
towards the open sea! It is like breathing
out one’s longings and never landing.

One of fifty 'broken sonnets' by the Swedish poet Erik Lindegren


what does death then shake from its sleeve that we do not know
a moth-eaten riddle a map for a thousand greedy eyes

a dragon’s music which everyone hears but no one understands
a tower of cloud that buries all our echoes

a cripple’s engraved nameplate in the spring of springs
and the pillars’ stone-heavy defiance in the sun-temple’s forecourt

a demon that roams disguised in the lull of fear
and the ocean’s long slit-eyes with a gleam of belladonna

and a rain’s whistling for the farm’s put-down dog
harshly out of tune like a called-off miracle

and yet disappointment must once more give birth to light
wonderfully, unexpectedly like an old man on the roof of spring

and the flesh becomes word and revelation blossoms
and the orbits of the planets slash the unsuspecting eye

For the entire cycle in English, go to here.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Famous poem by the Norwegian Romantic poet Henrik Wergeland

The girl in the dissection room

– – Yes, it is her! Oh light here, quick!
Let not the knife yet even flick
                  across this poor girl’s heart!
Oh, what cruel irony does glow
in this lamp’s gaze that stares down so
                  on dead pain set apart.

So cold, yet when it breathed did not
the proud world gaze at it a lot?
                  And bold eyes soon sliced through
the veil of golden dreams that she
the poor girl against poverty
                  wore when as child she grew.

Like flower frozen in the ice
this cheek bears traits that in a trice
                  should be well-known to me.
For childhood games that brought me joy,
before I was no longer boy,
                  – Oh surely it was she.

She lived just opposite from us,
of humble birth, like in its moss
                  the roof’s heartsease could thrive.
Fine folk could hardly contemplate
that blood so fair and delicate
                  from paupers could derive.

Ah, many a face as this saw I
like monthly rose’s splendour die,
                  as butterfly-dust brief!
Fate’s hand too firmly must have grasped,
and sin’s trace to such lives have clasped
                  like snail’s slime on the leaf.

(1 January 1837)

Friday 18 May 2012

Another poem by Bjørn Aamodt


Today I earned 90 kroner polishing windows.
Roof sirens from the fjord, it’s snowing
heavy, wet flakes. Shoes
standing by the stove.

When I close my eyes I see the starry sky:

The Great Bear
on the way to its winter lair
or to other bears: oh yes

I have the occasional thought too, the clock ticks,
here people are a long way off,

40 years perhaps. After all, I often say
to myself, after all it is absence,

that colourless distance
that drives us together, time after time.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Wessel's poem about Walt in a revised translation

Over brygger Walt

Her ligger Walt,
Han giorde Malt,
Og det var alt.

Concerning brewer Walt

Here lies poor Walt
He brewed good malt,
Then called a halt.

After a week, Walt makes a comeback! Sometimes translations seem OK for a few days and then not so good. The first translation, with 'His only fault' as the last line, passes judgment on Walt, which the original did not do. The Norwegian says 'And that was all'. So I have tried to find a rhyme that leaves it as open as that.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Another poem by Bjørn Aamodt


Under a blue-grey evening sky the black hull
that we have spent five days loading reverses
out into the harbour basin, heels past the grain silo,

and rights itself in the sailing channel with a green light
on the starboard side. Nothing
the snowflakes say

that melt on the back of my warm hand. Nothing
the winter wind says in the empty harbour street,
and I feel the blood pounding

its way throught the body in its closed circuit.
And the snow
that unobtrusively knocks and says nothing.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Poem by the Norwegian poet
Bjørn Aamodt


Bearskin and gold. The story hangs on the word
like a rusty hulk turns on its anchor in the tide.
The small porthole of consciousness.
The compass needle quivers towards the magic word-pole.
Haul in the chain, 4 shackles out.
Steady the feet on the deck against the black wall
that towers up and surges in over the port bow.
Shift the weight over onto the right foot
while the lashing spray slams at the wheelhouse window.
Steady so! Anchorage, Antwerp, down under
and home. The word like a threadbare ritual
for getting one’s sea-legs, standing
almost still. There the next second comes, foam-whipped.

Friday 11 May 2012

Another Wessel, this time mocking eulogies of spring


O’er nearly all the earth spring’s glory folk proclaim.
A sorry proof of what’s so oft said in the main:
That taste in this our land (our globe is here my meaning),
If not the worst, to reckon good is idle dreaming.
Should I be given leave, this then is my intent,
To show the world’s high praise of spring is praise ill spent.
Pure Christian love, nought else, might see me entertaining
The urge to give my neighbour’s taste a little planing.
(To polish taste, I think, one tends to use a file;
But planing seems to me to better fit my style.)
Seldom do I believe what’s done so by too many;
And yet such endless songs exist, they’re two a penny,
Which praise sweet days in May, that I, on pleasure bent,
Would make for Flora’s meadow – and behold! I went.
It did not take me long the East Gate to be leaving,
Soon after which I stopped, so I might deeply breathe in
The balsam whose delights are often sweetly sung,
And rapturously I cry: You scent of flowers, come!
Oh Zephyr, on your silken wings it here be bringing!
At which I have Aeolus in my visage springing,
Who wroth, since I his cousin Zephyr so did greet,
Blows dust, whose scent to tell from balsam’s were no feat.
The west wind does not blow, my hurt soon let me know it,
As gently on the reader as upon the poet.
But though I little good from Flora now dared hope,
Judged by the welcome with which I now tried to cope,
My piety gave me strength to advance though gales were swishing,
My hope, with due attention, was to go on wishing
For beauty of some kind perhaps to come my way
That could the verdict on my neighbour’s taste allay.
And in this pious hope, the dust brushed off or shaken
That recently my vision quite from me had taken,
I now beheld green fields – they were – Good Lord, I mean:
You know what fields all tend to look like when they’re green.
The highly curious man, whose time is soon outdated,
Can at such wonders though quite soon his gaze have sated;
My eyes’ poor substitute for such a sight was blurred
Since they still smarted from the dust they had incurred.
But hark! And can that be the merry lark I’m hearing,
What eye has just now lost may yet my ear be cheering.
What’s this?! It’s only sound I hear in this bird’s trill,
As if a tuned piano’s being struck at will.
In vain would cows, pigs, sheep with roaring, grunting, bleating
With their accompaniment the fine song be completing.
And every voice could call the other’s voice its peer,
But for the music’s sake I stand no longer here.
Still was my neighbour’s taste worth some show of kind favour;
Still from one more attempt my piety did not waver. –

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Poem by the incorrigible Norwegian poet Johan Herman Wessel (1742-85)

Over brygger Walt

Her ligger Walt,
Han giorde Malt,
Og det var alt.

Concerning brewer Walt

Her lies poor Walt,
He brewed good malt,
His only fault.

Monday 7 May 2012

Poem by the Norwegian poet
Astrid Hjertenæs Andersen (1915-85)

Horses standing in the rain

When my mind is full of dreaming,
ever vaguer and more distant
than my thought can find the words for,
ever wilder and more torrid
than my heart can comprehend,
I want just to stand where rain falls
stand out in the rain like horses
on expanses of lush grassland
midst the mountains’ weight, as here.

Stand and feel my body sucking
all this coolness, strength and wetness
that in steady streams now trickles
down my face, my hair and hands.
Be just like the forest sucking
at the sky’s breasts like an infant.
Be like grassland, full of sweetness,
trembling with devout desire.

Just stand in the rain like horses,
with wet flanks and leaning sideways,
letting scent of soil and moisture
strongly, sweetly fill my mind,
I just want to stand there being
let the drizzle sift down on me,
until thought that’s free from fever
follows dreams to perfect clearness
in a stillness sheer and calm.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Poem from the collection 'Live' just out by the Danish poet Klaus Høeck


                  can i have a hof?
a what? – comes a shout so panes
                  and glasses rattle
                  the inn lady looks
sharply at me – of course she
                  knows full well what a
                  hof is – but here in
nørre snede can i have
                  a beer – here in nør
                  re snede you don’t
give yourself airs – got the mes
                  sage mister smart arse

                  so do the dia
lects cross swords as in a ven
                  detta the waitress
                  answers completely
differently to what i
                  had expected ‘to
                  day’s menu meat
loaf followed by strawberries’
                  neither more nor less
                  to put it in a
nutshell take it or leave it –
                  that’s the way it is

                  not to mention the
parting short in the inn lounge
                  at nørre snede
                  i notice that the
coffee hasn’t been put on
                  the bill and draw at
                  tention to the o
mission – you don’t need to pay
                  anything for that
                  my lad – i mean that
is just bloody fantastic
                  would you credit it