Friday 31 August 2012

Georg Stiernhielm (1598-1672) - Swedish poet

över författarens sinnebild, en silkesmask

Håll stilla mitt förnuft, dig saktelig besinna,
                  vad detta vara må. Du sir här en figur,
                  en usel, naken kropp, en mask, ett kreatur,
som ingen skapnad har, där intet är till finna,

som ögat lyster se. Men märk: här ligger inna
                  mer än en tänka kan, en nyttig, ädel, pur,
                  en sällsam, underlig av Gud beredd natur:
en mask, dess spis är blad, dess id är artigt spinna,

dess spunna silkes-tråd, dess verk och väv är siden.
                  Av blad gör han en skatt, till dess han, tom och mager,
                  invecklat in-dör i sin väv och livet stäcker.

Men si, en ny figur, med vingar prydd, med tiden
                  här kommer fram igen, uppkvickter, fin och fager,
                  en livlig sol hans själ med kraft en gång uppväcker.

on the emblem of the writer – a silk-worm

My reason stay awhile, reflect ere you propound
                  what this perhaps may be. What you see here’s a figure,
                  a paltry naked hulk, a silk-worm, a mere creature
without appearance and where nothing can be found

designed to please the eye. Yet note: there lies within
                  more than a mind can grasp, a useful, fine, pure nature
                  of rare and curious kind in each God-given feature:
a worm whose food is leaves, whose sole delight to spin,

whose spun thread, toil and web on silk are all inclined.
                  Of leaves it treasure makes, till empty, thin and abject,
                  cocooned within its web its own life it then takes.

But look, a brand-new figure, graced with wings fine-lined,
                  in time will re-emerge, refreshed and fair of aspect,
                  once a vivacious sun its soul now re-awakes.

Hans Christian Andersen a poet?
Oh yes!


Rosenknop så fast og rund,
dejlig som en pigemund!
Jeg dig kysser, som min brud,
yndigt mer du springer ud.
Nok et kys dig læben sender,
            føl hvor jeg brænder!

Jeg vil skrifte, som sig bør:
Ingen har jeg kysset før!
Ingen pige venter mig,
rose, jeg må kysse dig!
Ak, du ej min længsel kender,
            føl hvor jeg brænder!

Med hvert kys du får en sang,
når du da er støv engang,
sangen kalder dig ihu,
ingen kyssed' mig, kun du.
Kun ved dig jeg kysset kender.
            Føl hvor jeg brænder!

Danmarks døtre ved min grav
sige for hver sang, jeg gav:
»Han just havde kys fortjent!«
Herligt sagt, men lidt for sent,
løn mig mens jeg er i live.
            Kys I mig give!


Rosebud, ever firm and round,
Like a young girl’s lips so sound!
When I kiss you, as my bride,
lovelier still you open wide.
One more kiss your lips inspire -
            feel my heart’s fire!

I must straightway have confessed:
No lips have I ever kissed!
No girl waits with heart so true,
rose, my kiss must be for you!
Ah, my yearning ne’er will tire -
            feel my heart’s fire!

With each kiss you gain a song,
when as dust you lie ere long,
may the song recall to view
no one kissed me, none but you.
Your kiss only is love’s lyre -
            feel my heart’s fire!

Denmark’s daughters, at my grave,
say for every song I gave:
‘Him indeed should kisses sate!’
Well said, truly, but too late -
While I live reward me higher.
            Kiss me on fire!


Thursday 30 August 2012

Poem by the Dutch writer
Peter Swanborn


 Outside, she says, yes I’d like that, a
little walk and then partake of something,
cappuccino and croquettes, first though
the brambles, are they already black?

After a hundred metres of shuffling and leaning
along the familiar river and a bank full of
unnameable flowers, anxiously:
You know where we are, don’t you?

Way back, from bench to bench, till
breath once more, all thought of
brambles and croquettes long evaporated.

Here is the door, the lift, the passage, inside
at last, coat off and then the question: You know,
I’d really like to go out for a bit.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Poem by the Norwegian writer
Sigbjørn Obstfelder, 1866-1900

Rugen skjælver

Hvad er det, som rører sig borte i rugen?
                  Rugen skjælver.
Det er østenvinden, som bølger i kornet.
                  Rugen skjælver.

Hvad er det, som bugter sig borte i rugen?
                  Rugen skjælver.
Det er natten, som kommer med bugtende skygger.
                  Rugen skjælver.

Hvad er det som reiser seg borte i rugen?
                  Rugen skjælver.
Det er datteren vor, som skjæmmed seg i rugen.
                  Rugen skjælver.

The rye’s a-quiver

What is it moving out in the rye?
                  The rye’s a-quiver.
It’s the wind from the east as it heaves in the corn.
                  The rye’s a-quiver.

What is it twisting out in the rye?
                  The rye’s a-quiver.
It is night that is coming with twisting shadows.
                  The rye’s a-quiver.

What is it getting up out in the rye?
                  The rye’s a-quiver.
It is our daughter who’s shamed herself out in the rye.
                  The rye’s a-quiver.

Monday 27 August 2012

Poem by the Dutch poet Hanny Michaelis - in Danish too.

Met de jaren
moet er veel worden weggegooid.
De gedachte bijvoorbeeld
dat geluk mild is en duurzaam
iets als een zuidelijk klimaat
in plaats van een blikseminslag
die levenslang gekoesterde
littekens achterlaat
As years pass
a great deal has to be discarded.
The thought for example
that happiness is mild and lasting
a bit like some southern climate
instead of a bolt of lightning
that leaves behind scars
cherished for life.
Med årene
skal meget kasseres.
Tanken for eksempel
at lykken er mild og bestandig
lidt som et klimat sydpå
i stedet for et lynnedslag
der efterlader ar
man hæger om livet ud.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Another Anneke Brassinga poem


... I finger over the embroidery work, the chaste
blushing I adore, timidly rustling
the red garments like near-dead vine leaves
round her, a manger is she my oat bin,
my brazier of sugaring, the sweet-talking stalwart,
a shrub of fragility, I have laid my hand on
this bun – the nosegay, roses of her flushed
cheeks, she is the naked fruit bared to me,
brushwood of the devoted, wonderful unfolding
in courtly inclination, oh pious ruskie,
butter patter, flame of dreamy repose and
rosy hands, cream-dozy whiteness hiding
under incarnate corn-sheaf of the peerless
bride, and I golden man love solely this
one day forfeited to death, this shimmering dove.

(with thanks to Pierre Kemp)

Anneke Brassinga

To see the original poem go to here.
(Fourth poem, left-hand column)

Friday 24 August 2012

Tor Jonsson (1916-1951) - a poet who wrote in Neo-Norwegian

Så stig da i meg, einsemd

Så stig da i meg, einsemd,
storm mitt jordlivs siste skanse
og øyd min tæringsdraum om lykke her.
Du avgrunnssvimre jord,
ver du ei onnor verd,
gjev all din løyndom
i denne gjennomlyste morgonstund,
i denne timen føre dødsens store dag
når einsemdrøysterropar meg attende
til atterføding or ein annan grunn.

No stormar all mi einsemd mot si grense.
Mitt liv var draum forytan dagklår visse
og difor eig eg ikkje jorda meir –
Men livet skal eg aldri, aldri, misse –

Then rise up in me, loneness

Then rise up in me, loneness,
storm my earth-life’s last entrenchment
and spill my wasting-dream of human bliss.
You chasm-dizzy earth,
be other world than this
tell all your secrets
in this transluscent dawn where light abounds
in this brief hour before death’s mighty day
when loneness’ voices call me back again
to birth anew and from some other ground.

Now all my loneness storms towards its limit.
My life-dream had no day-clear faith to fuse it
and therefore I no longer own the earth –
Life, though, I know I’ll never, never lose it –

Song in Norwegian dialect by the Norwegian writer Alf Prøysen

t’Grindstone waltz

With fresh ruddy cheeks all flowers they do sway
t’Meadow stands summer-clad
t’Fern she be flexing, ‘t wild rose be stretching
t’Bridal-veil forms a thick plaid
All breathes of evenin’, of peace, calm and space
no flower be aware yet of what will take place

But t’grindstone waltz plays more and more
and now it be me who t’wheelcrank shall draw
t’Grindstone waltz plays more and more
for t’flowers in the meadow I ken what’s in store:
When t’scythe be keen and when t’whetstone’s around
on t’morrow they’ll come and mow straws to the ground
and in evenin’s peace they’ll hear nowt but one sound
Nowt but t’grindstone waltz that plays more
and more and more...

I once were a flower, ruddy cheeked and full glad
And t’meadow stood summer-clad
t’Fern she were flexing, ‘t wild rose were stretching
t’Bridal-veil formed a thick plaid
But flowers and young lasses they blossom reet wild
and dream of fine weddin’s and all that be mild.

But t’grindstone waltz plays more and more
and now it be me who t’wheelcrank shall draw
t’Grindstone waltz plays more and more
for t’flowers and young lasses I ken what’s in store:
When t’scythe be keen and when t’whetstone’s around
on t’morrow they’ll come and mow straws to the ground
and in evenin’s peace they’ll hear nowt but one sound
Nowt but t’grindstone waltz that plays more
and more and more...

To see the original text, go to here

Thursday 23 August 2012

Anti-marriage - Anna Bijns
(Antwerp, mid-15th century)


To be a woman’s fine, a man far better.
You maids, you widows keep this to the letter:
Don’t haste or fret to see yourselves soon wed.
It’s said that manless you are honour’s debtor;
If finding food and clothes though does not fetter,
Let no man master both your house and bed.
Take my advice: Be wary where you tread
It seems to me, where’er I cast my gaze,
That if a woman choose – though nobly bred
And rich in goods – to wed she all her days
Will spend short-tethered; if alone she stays
Instead both pure and chaste she’ll, I profess,
Be mistress of a life excelling praise.
With marriage I’ve no quarrel, nonetheless
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.

Maids fair of face make wives plain to behold,
Poor frumps, poor drudges; take care, young and old!
From wedlock’s hold I thus should clearly sheer.
Alas, once they are wed they’ve soon extolled
A love which they believe cannot grow cold;
This they will rue within just half a year:
The yoke of marriage makes life far too drear!
Of this all those who’ve wed are well aware!
And women make much clamour out of fear
When husbands seek distraction here and there,
Spend nights and days in inn and gambling lair;
Then wives swear that they rue their foolishness,
But friends and family can’t ease their care.
So stay on guard, and hear what I profess:
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.

The man comes home at times drunk as a lord,
Pesters his wife, exhausted by her chores;
No time to pause if she the house shall run.
And should she feel like countering his roars,
He strikes her in the face or to the floor;
That drink-logged vat’s commands she may not shun.
For all he’ll do is rant and rave at one,
So are things done; poor wife who such must bear!
And if with other women he’s begun,
What joy to rule the home when he’s not there.
You maids, you women, quench your thirst elsewhere
Ere you would hitch yourself up to distress.
Though you a view opposed to mine all share,
I simply do not care, but still profess:
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.

Unkept, a woman must man’s wealth forgo;
His will though likewise she need never know.
And freedom, I maintain, is of great worth.
Without account she’s free to come and go;
Though she must spin to earn her bread, all know
To feed one mouth it takes a lesser purse.
Not tied, she’s envied everywhere on earth,
And though a husband’s income is denied,
As mistress she is master of her hearth.
To freely move is joy none can deride.
To sleep or wake at will she may decide,
With none to chide – so stay untied, don’t rest.
Lost freedom is the worst ill ever tried.
Wives everywhere, though good blokes line your nest,
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.


Though women may have wealth none can deny,
They’re viewed as slaves by men both low and high.
Should they with fine words ply, then stop them short
And tell them to push off if they should try;
In number good men with white ravens vie.
Away from all gifts shy that they have brought,
As soon as in their mesh the woman’s caught,
Love is as nought, its seen repeatedly.
In marriage man’s deception’s grimly taught,
With sorrows fraught, she suffers constantly;
He squanders all her wealth, won’t let her be.
No game for free, but heavy curse no less.
Oft money rules not love when you can see
Such men run till their lungs burst out their chest.
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.

Anneke Brassinga - full-strength Dutch poetry!

Heathland joys

Don’t forget the bowl for the hand-wash
to be frigged around in the list. How else can we
get all those glands dried? Squeeze!

To staunch all that woe of naval heroes,
to get swabs (oh kissers, ah phizzes) back on
track. The loins, as known for centuries,

end in a slack undercurl, landlousy.
That’s why we stand shaking like heathens,
Belting each other left and right round the thighs

with hard facts: a course in fruitflesh
marking on this ash-grey terrain will
from the very start make us crushedly crawl

off the cuff sappy brood, unless permanently
fixed the pouting suds, bashful nosegay of
seafood, are kept a beady eye on

by our plainspoken, well-earned sod hut.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Hendrik Marsman - famous poem about Holland


Memory of Holland

Thinking of Holland
I see wide rivers slowly
flowing through endless
low-lying land,
gossamer poplars
on the horizon
in wispish ranks;
and in the expanses of
space, sunken farmsteads
randomly strewn over
flat countryside,
tree-clusters, hamlets,
truncated steeples,
churches and elm trees
in a net flung wide.
The sky there hangs low
and the sun slowly stifles
in vapours where multiple
greys become blurred,
and in every far corner
the voice of the water
with its countless disasters
is feared and is heard.

Egidius - a famous Dutch elegy from around 1400


 My attention has been drawn to the probable meaning of line 5, especially the word 'teen'. This is discussed at

This poem consists of palindromes in terms of rhyme. The refrain is ABA, the verses BBABA ABABB. The masculine and feminine rhymes intensify this. 

It has been used for the David Reid translation prize. After Francis Jones' brilliant palimpsest (not translation!), you will find many attempts to translate the poem. It is no easy task.

Monday 20 August 2012

A Dutch 14th century romance -
Het daghet in den Oosten

The dawn in the East is breaking

‘The dawn in the East is breaking.
Light everywhere is found;
Oh how my love knows little
Of where I must be bound.’

‘Oh, could they but be friends those
Who now as foes appear,
From this land I would take you,
My love, my darling dear!’

‘And where then would you take me,
You knight so bold of face?
In my love’s arms I lie in
More virtuous embrace.’

‘In your love’s arms you’re lying?
In faith! No truth you tell.
Seek out the green-leafed linden,
He lies there where he fell.’

The maiden put her cloak on
And to the linden sped,
Where lying on the ground she
Did find her true love dead.

‘And is it here you’re fallen,
All covered with your blood!
That comes from reckless boasting
And pride that bodes no good.

And is it here you’re fallen,
Who solace brought alway!
Now all that you have left me
Is many a mournful day.’

The maiden put her cloak on
And hastened o’er the ground
To where her father’s door stood
That she wide open found.

‘Oh, is there any squire here
Or some man nobly bred
Who’s willing to help bury
my love that now is dead?’

The gentlemen stayed silent,
Of speech they were bereft;
The maiden turned around then,
And shedding tears she left.

Within her arms she held him
And on his mouth did shower
More kisses in a short while
Than in so many an hour.

With his bare sword full-gleaming
The earth she dug away,
With snow-white arms she bore him
And in his grave did lay.

‘To some small far-off convent
I now my way will wend,
Henceforth black veils be wearing
And as a nun life end.’

With voice both clear and ready
The holy mass she sang
With show-white hands so steady
The little bell she rang.