Friday 29 June 2012

Hebban olla uogala - perhaps the oldest poem in Dutch

 The fragment was discovered in 1932 in the margin of a Latin manuscript that was made in the abbey of Rochester, Kent and that is kept in Oxford. It has been dated to the 12th century, but may be even older.

quid expectamus nunc. Abent omnes uolucres nidos inceptos nisi ego et tu. Hebban olla uogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu uuat unbidan uue nu. Rector celi nos exaudi ut dignare nos saluare.

The ‘translation’ has reversed the order of the Latin, which adds to the punch, as we now have a three-stage rocket: nesting, exception, comment.

All birds are a-nesting
save me and thee
why now do we tarry

Weathercock poem by the Norwegian writer Olav H. Hauge

The weathercock

The smith wrought him
with tail and comb,
high up he came,
the world was new
and the winds many.
He was eager,
tripped about, crowed
and puffed his feathers
at every breeze,
in gales he stood erect
with neck outstretched –
Till he rusted solid
and stayed pointing
obliquely northwards.
The wind comes most often
from that quarter.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Poem by the Flemish writer
Peter Holvoet-Hanssen

Room 33 (on the rope)                                    for Jef                                                       

cancer war day rubs itself out
                                                                 penniless bard
lend me the lute
                                      roll out the red carpet for the night majesty
the owl the moon and the girl dream away the hungry python
the Flemish calf as well waggling on wobbly feet towards the slaughterhouse
gnawed at
                                    honk honk honk
                                                                            Turnhout Brussels is on fire

we were two small hairs on the ear of a young hippopotamus
later we made our own ears flap but refrain from laughter
at drifting snowflakes like tiny letters
a vagrant that slept to death in an overheated car
a businessman reads folds his newspaper it
grows cold then let me take you away to the land of Ben the mountain

hear the inaudible song by the brook in the conifer wood
thousands of moons old and The Haunted Inn still stands there
in time like a murder 
                                                the previous owners one of them shot
through the door at his brother on the other side brother shot back
so write yourself gone till we too are erased beneath six feet of snow                                                                                     

journey’s end
                                    from far and near you check in here
it’s raining ravens 200 deer bell desolately
                                                                                               floored – Room 33 
a will-o’-the-wisp feels up the woman till she sings
the night falls like a spider
                                                             snow whirls in its midst
stretch the rope my love
                                                          hang on the rope

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Poem by the Swedish writer
Lars Gustafsson


Yes every year the Khan leaves for home
from his country residence so well extolled by Coleridge,
the one in Xanadu, and more precisely
on 28 August the exodus takes place.
The Khan leaves Xanadu and milk
from white goats only
is hurled high into the air on his departure
to nourish the spirits of the air.

So says Marco Polo,
our Venetian witness.
So now it is 28 August anno 1270:
cranes in the sky and the Great Khan,
afflicted with arthritis, travels in a small house
borne on the backs of four elephants.
Clad on the outside with tiger skins
and on the inside with gilt-leather tapestries.
In this swaying room,
whose uterine movements
cannot be all that easy to imagine,
the Khan reclines stretched out on a divan.

But when cranes are within earshot,
Marco Polo relates,
the barons riding in
his retinue give a sudden warning.
The retractable roof is quickly rolled back
and the Khan’s gerfalcons
(of which he naturally always
has an abundance at the ready)
are thrown upwards and soar like arrows
into the already cooler autumn sky
out here on the northern steppes.
And the cranes do not escape them.
The Khan greatly appreciates
this kind of hunting.
Where the Khan is
it is still morning,
an autumnal morning
with cranes, but still early.

For several centuries
it is now afternoon.
Straight through
the old trees
sprung into leaf much too early
the sound of a nightingale
and the breaking of waves.
(In some other day)

Gottlob Frege dreamed a dream
of an arithmetic
where one times one made two
(so that the prime numbers no longer
were impossible to lose hold of)
and where ‘four’ was not ‘four’
four was something else than ‘four’
it was the number of horses
in the Emperor’s Quadriga
up there on the Brandenburg Gate,
and Chaplin and Einstein moved
by sheer coincidence
into the Adlon on the Pariserstrasse
in the same week
from where there is an excellent view
of the Emperor’s Quadriga.
They talked about the strange fact
that the laws of the universe
(at least superficially)
do not have much to do with each other.

Einstein spoke in favour of the unity formula,
a monotheistic equation
that would reduce
all of nature’s relations to a single one.

Chaplin suggested something else:
That many gods,
each in his own way a genius,
but also something of a bungler,
had each one of them left behind
traces of his universe.
Gravitation, old-fashioned grey
and above all else uncompromising,
was the oldest.
And the electromagnetic waves
so obviously created
by a completely different temperament
the latest to be invented.
But, Charlie added,
perhaps not the last.

Gods have to stay on the move
so as not
to lose their topicality.

An unexpected shower of
arrows fell from the darkened sky.

I sometimes dream
a strange dream
that everything is not as it should be.

I am living in a house
that is not mine.

It is much too big
and has floors
that I have never dared visit.

Something holds me back from doing so.
From the top floors

whose elegant, cushioned furniture
I only seem to glimpse

come cold gusts of air;
and from below, the cellar’s strange orangerie
come gusts far too hot.

What orchids thrive there
in the rows,

and what quick snakes does the
green shadow conceal beneath the leaves?

So I stay here
in these few rooms of a palace far too large

that I manage to keep
a reasonable room temperature in.

During the time that was my life.

And then high summer.
Not this
which you simply call such
but something stronger:
A real old-fashioned high summer
with the droning of bumblebees, the
discreet argumentation of the corncrake that
is both far away
and right inside your ear.
(There is a corncrake in the ear!)
The sharp
and slightly poisonous sting
from the pointed and red
dorsal fin of the perch.
And dead wasps
inside the window
mix their sourish scent
with that of dry
and now completely intractable
old wood.

And this fact of existence
about which the dead have completely forgotten
that it ever happened to them.
In actual fact a very strange state!
(Purely statistically
we do not exist
much longer than we exist.)
The lakes finally turn silver in hue
and it is not only the summer
moves towards its end
also this life.

Horizon and cranes.

Flooded land
is not the same as marshland.
In some of the pictures
of my long-since deceased
father’s photo album,
a document from 1929,
you can see how the Kolbäck river
has gone far beyond the usual limits
of its banks
and is transforming recently fertile meadows
into shallow lakes.

Marshland is designed to be
what it is, with meadow-sweet, water-lilies, cranes
but flooded land is
something else, less prepared
for what might come,
more exposed, how pathetic
when slender birches stand in mid-stream!
And many a one was surely flooded:
Gaspara Stampa says Rilke...
And all the other great lovers.
Oh silver colour of clouds and water
Oh this is still the starting time

Late-summer morning under a grey sky
faint scent of coffee on the stove
and the big heavy perch
already taken from the net.
And around their
gills still panting
the quietly melodic song of a wasp.
To exist
is to hear a stubborn buzzing note
that rises and falls in volume.
But this note and no other one.
And recently in this second world:
A pair of cranes flew over lake Hörende.
The mature summer’s signal
across the great bright lakes:

The cranes’ trumpets.
And if there were a falcon
one that does not murder
but observes everything
with sharp eyes.
Then I would send this my falcon
a bird of autumn and maturing
as close as the hard will
of the world allowed it
in their tracks,
non-existent in the air.
With the cranes.

Ever farther off
in the great whiteness
which is their second country.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Poem by the Dutch writer
Anneke Brassinga

Beethoven on the Beaufort scale

sea like a mirror
scaly ripples, no
foam –

small wavelets, do not
break, crests have glassy appearance –
small waves, crests begin
to break, scattered
foam –

small waves becoming
larger, fairly frequent
foam crests –

moderate waves of pronounced
longer form, many
foam crests –

larger waves, breaking crests, cause
white crests of everywhere to be blown
into froth –
taller waves,       white
foam –
of breaking crests along the direction of the wind

moderately high waves, crests of
waves form spindrift, well-marked
streaks of foam –
high waves, dense
streaks of foam –

along the direction of the wind, roller-forming, driving
foam –
very high waves with tumbling
wave-crests, sea takes on a
white appearance due to foam

exceptionally high waves, sea covered with
foam –
visibility strongly

air filled with foam
and driving
sea completely

due to foam, practically
no visibility –

Poem by the Dutch writer
Alfred Schaffer


And then the curtain rises, the small word EXIT reassures us.
Once again you concentrate on the wrong things, at a distance you even
make me think of someone else. With that cigarette dangling from your mouth,
a travel guide in your left hand, your weapon in your right. Suspicious, so

much attention to detail. Is all that reverence in place? How far does your
echo carry? Our urge to look exceeds all expectations, but that’s
nothing for you to worry about, it’s not your fault, you standing there
like that, the distance exposed: the image can’t be thought away.

Was something due to happen? Or is it already over, the finger on the trigger,
the convoluting smoke – you think to yourself I can’t have done that, I
simply can’t have done that. All that empty suspicion, shaped of the
sort of stuff, in a past long-gone, that dreams were made of.

Friday 22 June 2012

Section from 'In Nomine' by the Danish poet Klaus Høeck

‘études australes’

and behind me stars
of glass and soda sparkle
behind my shoulder

that’s smoking with salt
behind my bedhead while i
am dreaming the stars

sparkle like crayfish
on the sea-bed of båring
vig the stars sparkle

like lightships there up
in the springtime night while i
am falling asleep

i have gathered the
dead around me in a cir
cle as around a

maypole for a dance
and a conversation they
cannot take part in

all the dead members
of my family around
me like statues that

move almost imper
ceptibly whenever i
do not gaze at them

and behind me the
stars sparkle like electric
welding over fun

en from the lindø
shipyards behind me the stars
toll for my ears out

from the spit ene
bærodde as if strangers
were going to be

evening guests or an
unexpected word in my
most recent poem

the dead also look
at me (at any rate from
their carbonised pho

tographs turned pale by
purgatory) or maybe
it is the other

way around that i
only move (am moved) when the
dead gaze at me and

that i otherwise
come to a complete standstill
in my memories?

and behind me the
stars plummet down cold and a
lien with sili

con from their orang
eries and from their enorm
ous celestial map

plunge into the realm
of my poems where they strike
my left foot or leave

behind them such words
as ‘carina’ or ‘puppis’
or as ‘canopus’

and behind me the
stars fall down from their winter
gardens fall down in

to ‘études australes’
from one star chart to anoth
er one and that is

the way the stars sound
then even harder and wild
er than emerald

that is the way the
stars sound in grete sultan’s

nobody becomes
a good person just by dy
ing it is unfor

tunately not that
simple just as nobody
becomes an evil

person just by liv
ing it is not that simple
everyone has to

do it by themselves
both parts of their own free will
it’s that difficult

and behind me the
stars cast out dice over the
sky’s rough glass surface

like ice-cubes like the
coins in an I-ching throw
like the notes coming

from a steinway grand
piano like the sparks from
john cage’s pitu

itary gland like
crocodile tears like the last
words in the bible

i have gathered the
dead around me for life’s sake
(also the dead chaf

finches that flew in
to the window pane yester
day) life cannot un

determine itself as life
the dead define us

in a way they are
what makes us living without
death there is no life

and behind me the
stars chime with death and necess
ity behind me

the stars ring out for
god – what if i were not to
turn around would i

then not be transformed
into a pillar of salt
or into a stone

plinth would my poem then
not be transformed into a
mourning cherry-tree?

For the entire collection in translation, go to here