Friday 30 November 2012

Poem by the Danish poet
Thorkild Bjørnvig

The grebe

With the perfect curve of the neck,
the beak’s slender lance
it points at me, swaying
and follows, as if it would dance,
the smallest of my movements,
elegant, fine and alert –
but its body is that of a penguin,
held upright, passive, inert.

It does not fly as expected –
on its breast a stain of oil
has insinuated itself,
has sapped its power and spoilt
its desire to call, to mate and breed,
to swim, to fly and dive,
to hunt, to catch, devour –
its joy at being alive;
has struck like a deadly disease:
a drop, a germ that’s afloat,
and the mineral leprosy
glues feathers to sticky coat.

Reduced to just jetsam
midst planks and cans in the sand,
no use at all, unable to fish
dropped by water, air and land,
on its way down to life-cycle’s Hades:
each slowly dwindling thing –
it watches my moves intently
as around it I walk in a ring.

Sick little deity,
lost on the lonesome expanses,
nature, the mighty has never as yet
brooked impairment’s nuances
from perfection down to pure
obliteration; – no plight
that from wild beasts does not dictate
reasserted power or death outright.

Which is why I will not try in vain
to clean your body of slick,
for you would defend your last rest
with wild fear, were I to pick
you up as if you should live. No,
tonight’s moon’s a more intimate friend
and the clouds, the sky and what
you so calmly await as your end.
And you will sink down: your last
perfect movement – leaving no trace,
lie outstretched a shapeless form
in this fortuitous place.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Dèr Mouw - who else?

Still audible, far off, is the evening train. –
A farmer, blue against green corn, at work.
Heath. Above woods the tower of a church.
Quiet reigns – the railway track its prime domain.

Five lines of telegraph wires seem to trail
a stave; the clef – that birch tree can suffice;
the notes are swallows, black against red skies,
with stems and flags formed by their fine, long tails.

And from their beech-tree platform blackbirds sing
melodies with a Mendelssohnian ring;
the nightingale will start his nocturnes soon:

and, to remind him to call loud and clear
when his song gains its climax, there appears,
as skewed point-d’orgue, the crescent of the moon.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Dèr Mouw - last 8 of the 20 sonnets NEW VERSION

For with Poseidon’s high-surging hate
Odysseus’ valour wrestled long, till he
swam through a crevice in the wall of sea –
a god had kindly smoothed its heaving spate

of glassy wildness – and, from peril freed,
could wade through buoyant waves and climb ashore,
bend down in creaking reeds and kiss once more
the holy earth, giver of wholesome seed:

and in a storm of churned up memory
sharp stabs of wave-top pain are hurled at me;

I sense a resin smell, and safely glide
back to my farthest past, both old and tired;

and feel as if I kiss you, heath-clad land
and stroke you gratefully with pious hand.

Still did wide-ranging falcons with rare cry
rip through your stillness, Veluwe, homeland!
Your silence, full of deep past close at hand,
no city drivellers’ din had yet defiled;

deer flickered still among your greenery;
no candle lupins, row on row, yet drove
their flaring mirth into your tragic mauve,
with jagged woods as far as one could see;

no greasy scraps of newspaper yet lay
flapping beside the flattened hillside moss,
with cast-off orange peel already smirched:

your gently roaming paths had not yet lost
their quiet where game could just as safely play
as on rough hillsides, plumed with slender birch.

And don’t I smell there, coming from your heath,
air that is sharp and strong, is warm and tingles,
when cloudless August heat at noonday mingles
with white-poised birch and glistening sand beneath?

I see how, spark on spark, the eager search
of bees is focused on new-flowering heather;
hear the point d’orgue the wind, light as a feather,
brings from the fir-tree wood, brown-columned church.

The distance shimmers. Closing my eyes tight,
I feel my body stand, unreally light,
blissfully lost now in infinity;

a scent of resin, sun, and heath, and wood
make up a wonderland, where piously
my resurrected childhood flowers and thrives.

I then think of the rabbit that I spied
near Christmas as a child behind the glass
of an expensive toy shop. Oh! it was
so lovely a small creature, grey and white;

lay snugly in its grass-lined basket; when
I paused on my way home from school each day
to look, I feared it would be gone. Dismay
I felt when this in fact had happened. Then

I knew I’d hoped, deep down at any rate
to have it as a gift. I didn’t talk
of this at home, but I refused to walk

on that side of the street, for then I’d cry.
Now such a rabbit I could simply buy,
but I grow grey myself. Things come too late.

Speak, Swiftfoot Wolf, brother with light-blond hair,
did your keen eye see pale men, sly in manner,
come stealing through the billowing savannah,
to take us while we still were unaware?

Your red friend, Mighty Eagle, knows no art
to banish from his soul his anxious fear;
it’s plotting for your scalp they all draw near;
my spirit’s cheerless, heavy is my heart.

You seek their hatred, cunning, shot and knife;
their spite will not forgive a noble friend

whose courage saved me from a certain end
when with the panther I fought for my life.

They seek through treachery to seal your fate:
they venture little, but their guile is great.

I hear our quagmire swish – we called it that,
I and my friend – with anxious-rustling rushes,
a glimpse of swaying birds they call reed thrushes;
around it woods, then heathland, wide and flat.

We lit small fires, quite safe: no one will spot
the bluish smoke. Above us, strange and rude,
ominous caws glide through the solitude.
He’s still alive? – A resin smell – Hope not.

I often hurt, offended him, I knew;
for I was fond of – no – in love with him.
No, more: my model of what’s good and true.

Now I am old. My world is gone, now lies
in Brahman – I’ve become a grey brahmin –
but he had sleek black hair and deep-blue eyes.

The ugly duckling tale I then re-read:
he blithely swam at first on green-lit water,
but was chased off by cackling without quarter;
a young lad threw a pebble at his head;

he splashed round in a pool one night although
one leg was frozen stiff, and later met
at the old crone’s shack that stately, wise tom cat
and Chickie Shortlegs with its scalded toe!

And bit by bit the little duckling thrived;
and flew off to a lake. Three swans swam on

to welcome him. ‘Peck me to death!’ he cried,
and bowed down to the lake – and saw a swan.

And when I read that tale I always had
the strange sense I too was a swan like that.

Yes, I’ve been slow to grasp that I’m a swan:
from quagmire of life’s pain and misery
a dawning sense of God has lifted me,
earthly attachments are all long since gone;

my wings are white once more and fit to beat
in Brahman’s light; for any clinging mud
I have with blissful tears from them now rubbed
I may, dare, can, and must direct my feet –

I who, from fear of earth, would gasping flee
and seek release in storm and star-strewn dark,
in nature’s painlessness that’s so entire –

to where, Brahman-drunk with eternity,
ecstasy sees, a cloud of ash and sparks,
the Cosmos fly out from its own World-Fire.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Kira Wuck - check her out, she's good!

Finnish girls seldom say hi
but they’re not shy or arrogant
it’s just you need a chisel to get in close
they order their own beer
travel worldwide
while their husbands wait back home
if they’re angry they send you a rotten salmon

They hibernate on a bench under the snow
when spring comes they get tanked up
to scratch the layer of civilisation off their skin
they hang around in bus shelters
and sometimes naked in a lake

In the night bus they place their teeth in the rubber arm-rest

if they haven’t fallen asleep

Short poem by Hanny Michaelis

Brilliantly philosophising
about life I ended up
burning the potatoes.
An unmistakable proof
of emancipation.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Dèr Mouw - a pre-Christmas poem,
or maybe something else

Dan denk ik aan ’t konijntje, dat ik zag
als kind vóór Sint Niklaas achter het glas
van dure speelgoedwinkel. O! dat was
zo’n prachtig beestje, grijs en wit; het lag

gezellig in zijn mandje in mooi-groen gras;
en als ’k van school kwam, bleef ik iedre dag
staan kijken, bang, dat ’t weg zou zijn. En, ach!
eens wás het weg; en toen begreep ik pas,

dat ik toch heimlijk steeds was blijven hopen,
dat ik ’t zou krijgen. Thuis heb ’k niet gepraat
over ’t konijntje, maar ’k wou niet meer lopen,

omdat ’k dan huilde, aan die kant van de straat.
Nu zou ’k me zo’n konijntje kunnen kopen,
maar ’k word zelf grijs. Want alles komt te laat.

I then think of the rabbit that I saw
in advent as a child behind the glass
of some expensive toy shop. Oh! it was
so lovely, grey and white – it lay what’s more

so snugly in its grass-lined basket; when
I paused on my way home from school each day
to look, I feared it would be gone. Dismay
is what I felt when this occurred. And then

I knew I’d hoped, deep down at any rate,
to have it as a gift. I didn’t talk
of this at home, but I refused to walk

on that side of the street since then I’d cry.
Now such a rabbit I could simply buy,
but I grow grey myself. Things come too late.

Monday 19 November 2012

Ruben van Gogh - Dutch poet,
new poem


You could almost wish that it was so:
merely that fragile coherence
with which the disintegration
of the world is prevented
You shuffle cautiously around in it
one false step and you’ll always be
known as disaster man
Once I crept right out to the edge
over which a waterfall plunged
into the valley, curious about what
was to be seen there: I saw
a bolt plus nut a stone sticking
out that seemed to be holding
it all in place, as if it was the hand
of God, or Bob the Builder
I came down again, elated,
as if I suddenly had seen the light
didn’t realise how I brushed cobwebs
aside, left behind a trail of
destruction, no matter how carefully
I descended

Sunday 18 November 2012

Dèr Mouw - next four sonnets,
same cycle NEW VERSION

I got quite bright. To start French, you’d come far.
Happy I was! If you knew that, well, then you
were getting on, I grasped, because this meant you
read Verne en français and works by Aimard.

But difficult! Straightway h turned to hache;
you can’t hear s in dans, in sens you can;
du fils – the son’s; but de l’homme – of the man;
and conjugations! Je sais, but je sache.

Odd: a French lad I’d met was quite a change
from teacher’s francophonic expertise:
La loi – the law’ had such a nice round wa

It was, when you considered it, quite strange,
that he could rattle off fast as you please
the sentence: que je ne m’en aille pas.

J’aime le son du cor – my mind’s eye saw
the Pyrenees, snow-stippled, blacked by pines,
glinting with light from silver Paladines
beneath the clouds, above the hosts of Moors.

And down through rending forests boulders flew –
like heavy alexandrines’ solid thud –
on treachery in gorges drenched in blood
tossed by the many, by the few – those two.

Dusk came. And black was blue, white orange-stained.
His last salute as knight to Charlemagne
flew to the north, a lofty, golden swan.

I thought when Moor’s bold hearts turned quite forlorn
at echoes haunting round the ivory horn:
‘Had I but lived like them, and like them gone!’

I read of Parzival and Titurel. –
Thin shrouds of cloud still drifted round high crests;
I heard the abbey bells for holy quests
sprinkle their piety through still-dark dell;

I saw the sparkling armour make its way
off down the slopes, a silver waterfall,
and, a long river of loud-sung chorale,
behind the pilgrim staffs saw habits sway;

I saw the banners’ jolting uphill climb,
their tips out front, and gold and silver glow
in distant parley with a sun still low:

sliding against a background of blue pines,
I saw them slowly vanish in the east
into the distance and the morning mist.

I wished then for an ancient castle, lost
deep within woods of tall beech trees with owls
and ruined grave, columns with black-leafed cowls,
each shaft askew, its capital half-crushed;

two lions, from moss now yellow and dull jade,
flanking the drawbridge gaped their dragon jaws;
and autumn gales came out of moonlight, roared
through ruined passages where rat hordes played.

And solemnly, in halls now decomposed,
there stood, hero on hero, silent rows
of armour noble ancestors had worn;

I heard too, shuffling on the twisting flights
of stairs, to pay for sins no longer borne,
those distant forebears prowling in the night.

Friday 16 November 2012

Tomas Tranströmer - Traveller's Tale

Traveller’s tale

There are snowless winter days when the sea seems
akin to mountainous regions, crouching in grey plumage,
a brief instant blue, long hours with waves like pale
lynxes, clawing in vain at the shore’s gravel.

On such a day wrecks may well leave the sea and seek
their shipowners, ensconced in the city’s noise, and drowned
crews blow landwards, thinner than pipe smoke.

(In the north the real lynxes roam, with sharpened claws
and dreaming eyes. In the north where the day
lives in a pit both day and night.

Where the sole survivor can sit by the
oven of the northern lights and listen
to the music of those frozen to death.)

Tuesday 13 November 2012

First 8 of 20 sonnets from a sequence by Dèr Mouw - NEW VERSION

Long since, when I was still in infancy,
I thought: If I’m not wicked any more
and learn my lessons when at school, I’m sure
‘a child beloved by God’ is what I’ll be.

And when I come to die – I thought – I’ll end
up finding with our Dear Lord in the sky
all those I love who find themselves on high,
my father and my mother and my friend.

Above the old sideboard in our drawing-room
hung such a lovely portrait from a thread:
a mother sleeping – tired out, I assumed;

beside her lies a dead child in the bed;
an angel hangs there; how I didn’t know;
and lifts the child to heaven from below.

Thus would I go to heaven, late or soon,
be given wings white as a butterfly;
and through the air I’d fly so fast, so high,
faster than birds do; higher than the moon;

and maybe I’d on Sundays get to stand
close to the throne of God, at Gabriel’s side,
which Jesus would approve: he’d know I’d tried
to do my very best at school, as planned.

And then they’d sing a hymn of praise for sure;
but what if it was very bright or more
so very close to God – all Sunday long –

I was afraid I’d find such light too strong.
But green is good for the eyes: a piece of glass
was held in front of them, there, green as grass.

But – there was one thing not so nice, I found:
I knew a print in which a negro flew,
a white man cradled in his arms. And you
saw light high up; down under was the ground.

Would he too be an angel? With that gob?
And gruesome white that quite suffused his eye?
I hoped that grandma’d got it wrong and I
would not have him too standing next to God.

Said grandma – I can still hear her sweet voice –:
The skin was nothing; God just read your heart;

if that was good, then you would be His choice;
He did not tell the blacks and whites apart.

And so I saw He was not one to choose –
the dead were equal: people, negroes, Jews.

Those Jews – I mean, they were a right queer lot.
And ugly too; they nearly all looked messes.
And so flamboyant! Bright red tartan dresses
the girls would put on, not on Sundays, but

on Saturdays. And it was just plain truth –
someone had seen them – that they throw their dead
straight down the stairs with no trace of regret
when death comes on the Sabbath. That’s uncouth.

A Jew boy at our school – called Koos – had said
he’d give me a gold watch, why I can’t tell.

Back home they laughed since I believed him. Well:
he said he would, but didn’t. That was bad.

I couldn’t wish for heaven to be due them.
You never know, though – Jews are also human.

For Saturdays, I wished I’d been a Jew:
we had dictation then, and Koos was let
off writing, and gazed round till teacher said
‘Koos can go now!’ and jealously I’d view

him leave with his pedantic laugh and walk
off very slowly. Once a classmate, riled,
since it was sunny, called out ‘Jew!’ That’s vile.
‘Jew!’ ‘Papist!’ – that’s no proper way to talk.

The gold watch, well, that was a dirty game:
he’d promised it. That simply wasn’t done.

But when he heard this, he knew he’d been blamed,
and blushed, and slunk off quietly on his own.

Were I a Jew like him, I thought ashamed,
he wouldn’t need to leave like that, alone.

Sunday came always like a celebration;
or rather: Saturday was when it started.
Once Koos, around eleven, had departed
we’d lark, and teacher said: in all creation

no school’s had such unruly, fractious minds
(he spoke just like a book). And worst of all:
that liquorice – more like some cattle stall
such chewing, even beasts were more refined.

Then though, he told us tales sure to entice,
of hunts for lions, wolves, and savage boars

– along the wall a sun’s ray would be gliding –
of lands where robbers lurked on foreign shores.

Outside, the clank of buckets. Droplets sliding
down window casings. – Classroom paradise!

We prayed before each dinner that the food
be blessed by ‘God who all of life doth feed’,
and ‘from whose gentle hand we have received’
what us ‘sustaineth in its plenitude’.

He gave the sun, and, if needs be, the rain;
and if we piously did as we should,
were quick to learn and always kind and good,
throughout life’s journey he would us sustain.

And you spoke softly after having prayed:
as if some fine, some wondrous thing apart

hovered above that table neatly laid;
and I was grateful then with all my heart,

that we sat there so peaceful and devout –
not Mondays though, when we had sauerkraut.

The universe God’s wise love had created:
with spring, to go with flowering apple trees;
and luscious grass, so cattle might be sated,
He made for them – for us swedes and green peas,

pigs for their ham and bacon, sheep for wool,
and cows for butter, cheese, milk, bones and meat;
where cities are, He filled the rivers full;
He saved on sunlight when we are  asleep.

He made the stars, so honest merchants on
intrepid journeys got to where they should;
He made small oranges, cloves, cinnamon,

iron for the plough, for building houses wood,
made zinc for water pipes to save on buckets
and gold for making watches, rings and ducats.