Sunday 31 March 2013

Poem by the Norwegian writer
Johan Sebastian Welhaven (1807-73)

The poem’s spirit

What e’en in richest language
stays locked with seven seals,
though words cannot express it
the poem yet reveals.

From language’s stern structure
from thought’s constrictedness
a free idea emerges –
the poem’s spirit this.

Within the soul its home was
ere verse was its attire,
and language ore turned fluid
when heated in its fire.

The word it quite suffuses
like scent that rises up
from deep within the rose bush
in every flower cup.

And though the serried poem
can never hold it pent,
it still is always present
as is rose-petal’s scent.

The old complaint dismiss then
that no art ever can
portray the spark of thought out
of which a poem sprang.

For if it could be fettered
and be in print revealed,
it would within those limits
its life and force then yield.

It would with spirit’s freedom
on word-sounds dearly float;
and has in poem’s rhythms
a passage far too short.

A passage to a new life
within the reader’s breast;
there once more it will waken
in joy or sore oppressed.

And there be moved and nourished
and be just like the fire
that in the poet’s soul lay
ere verse to life aspired.

Thus only can the poem
retain its magic power
and what defies expression
within the word can flower.

Regard the tranquil pleasure
with which the poet’s blessed
when from his songs the spirit
now floats from breast to breast.

And let his fame but skywards
be borne by this day’s wind,
’tis not the true refreshment
that can assuage his mind.

But when his mental image,
though fame or none he knew,
takes root in some pure bosom
and there is born anew –

Oh, bring him then a message
his spirit there is rife,
for then his work is promised
what is eternal life.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Poem by the Dutch and Groningen dialect writer Jan Glas


I found her half-frozen.
All winter she’d been waiting for the geese.
I took her in as if she was my wife.

Once inside she put plastic bags
round her dirty feet.
‘Oh, there’s really no need to do that,’ I said.
Rustling she went over to the fridge.
I went to change my bedclothes.

‘Do you realise
you’ve escaped from heaven?’
Yes, she realised that.

Upstairs I stood for a moment
at the bedroom window.

The water in the pond, I noticed,
had turned into fish.

Monday 25 March 2013

One more Dèr Mouw for the collection

I rhapsodised about the Parthenon,
afloat its springy mountain like some white
string instrument that through its columns, slight,
gathered the expanse of the world sky in one

great unifying chord of marble sound –
when suddenly a barrel organ, through
the open doors, across the terrace, spewed
its viscous slobber as its owner ground.

Yes, I thought, Brahman’s the Artist: he chose,
as later Shakespeare did, to juxtapose
the elevated and the tongue-in-cheek.

And what in Cyrano de Bergerac
the baker said, with all his glassware smashed,
I thought, il casse tout, c’est magnifique.

Sunday 24 March 2013

An almost haiku-like sonnet from the Dutch poet Dèr Mouw

Faint lies the willow’s shadow on the meadow;
into the pond plops, light-green arc, a frog;
above the reeds, blue sparkling flicks and rocks,
each time the light wind makes their pennants billow.

In grass where willows line the river-arm
a light-haired lad plays marble games intently;
an orchard rattle to scare birds off sends the
Sunday silence fleeing across the farm.

Whenever the dry rrr takes a brief pause,
the silence from far off seems to contract
and suddenly be strangely, densely packed:

on empty sand by bolted stable doors,
in garden patch, in orchard, low and high,
a questioning and wondering seem to lie.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Dèr Mouw poem first published in 1920 - and what a poem!

Wind-borne the sea through duneland floats and glides,
the salt left lying in the deep-cool sand;
no glow of flowers, no sap-filled plant’s green strand
colours the smooth pale crest seen far and wide;

the filtering water, though, ignites a blaze
in countless gardens of bright tulip-red,
and rustles up as woods, to where the edge
is drab with marram, sickly brushwood-beige:

The Godhead, storming through our open life,
leaves flowerless the surface, and in time
joy’s seed dies, parched with suffering’s long strife;

but coalesced to purity below,
a bright realm reascends of pulse and rhyme,
where Thought now leaves and flares, rustles and glows.

The theme of 'pulse and rhyme' is also found in his 'skating' sonnet. To see the sonnet, go to here

Friday 15 March 2013

Poem by the Swedish writer
Werner Aspenström

The dogs

The night is vast.
The heavens turn in silence.
The moon sails with icy prow.
These howling dogs,
what is it they are seeking?
The one whose hackles rise,
the one that whimpers like a child,
the one who snaps up the spark
from a star – they are powerless,
their thirst cannot be quenched here.
Why then do they roam the length of valleys
and over the crater-strewn fields?
What is it they are seeking in the mountain caves
and in the abandoned cities?
Here they are only lizards with skins of leather
and stars and the night is vast
and the heavens turn in silence.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Poem by the Norwegian writer Dorothe Engelbretsdatter (1634-1716)

Weary of the world,
and desirous of heaven

You souls who as did Simeon
                  For heaven so are yearning,
Take leave of this world’s Babylon,
                  This sin-cacked prison spurning,
Refuse not from this deep abyss
In peace to journey unto bliss,
                  When God’s hour is approaching.

We are like some poor flock of owls
                  In places of confusion,
Laboriously we roam and prowl
                  Where rest is but illusion;
Here on this earth is no sure rest,
Nor is there any feathered nest.
                  In Meshech we are strangers.

Oft must our life, so full of care,
                  Beneath the cross be bowing,
Delight that once has been our share
                  Now woe is disendowing;
Change after happiness would spy
Where tares among the wheat do lie
                  And put a stop to gladness.

Some lustful souls do well withal,
                  Find life a bed of roses,
While others are but sorrow’s thralls,
                  Bear crowns of thorns, not posies;
Complaint, constraint and wounds full sore
Do through their restless skin now bore
                  Till death the knot’s untying.

All sin and sorrow pass away,
                  The grave has proof that’s soothing,
When finally the earth and clay
                  The diggers’ spades are smoothing;
For then the body’s found its nest,
For then the soul at last knows rest,
                  And all feuds have their ending.

So now, earth that laments and grieves,
                  That is a trap of evil,
Good night! For heaven I now leave,
                  Rejoice at this upheaval.
There shall eternal joy be mine,
There shall Hosannahs sweetly chime
                  Among the hosts of angels.

In sin and grief mankind you chain,
                  Yea! cause the soul’s frustration
Begone! Limed grave, stronghold of pain!
                  Sion’s palace is my station.
By harmful sinful deeds dismayed,
The many stumbling blocks arrayed
                  That block my pathway forwards.

Come, longed-for Death! Cut through life’s straw,
                  You as your Lord’s gatekeeper
Shall open heaven’s mighty door
                  Though you are too life’s reaper;
If God deems that my time is come,
That sufferings enough are done,
                  That I can cease my weeping.

Almighty God! I cry aloud,
                  Our time here you’ve allotted,
By blessed hour and burial shroud
                  All agony is blotted;
From thralldom’s yoke by mercy freed,
With life’s course fully run indeed,
                  There comes a final treasure

Help’s granted him who to the end
                  resists the world’s beguiling.
A trustful helmsman will e’er fend
                  Against the ocean’s wiling,
He’d rather drown in his dire need
Than let his hand the storm-waves heed
                  That would the helm be seizing.

Oh, Jesus, by your death may I
                  From this world now be leaving,
Let my soul to your bosom fly
                  From sin and days of grieving;
My corpse grant space within my grave,
So I, without my pilgrim’s stave
                  May at your side be resting.

When you on Judgment Day shall fetch
                  The dead to life eternal,
 Touch my grave too with hand outstretched
                  And grant me grace supernal,
May the last trump wake me from sleep
And you my body safely keep
                  Amongst the blessèd chosen.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Petter Dass once more - a hymn this time

The Second Song
Hallowed be Thy Name
To be sung to its own tune

Oh Mighty LORD! Thy precious name and glory
Throughout the world are its most famous story,
And every soul, and every thrall,
And mortals all shall tell withal
                  Thy glory.

Proper it is to hear, a thing of beauty,
That lips may call the praise of GOD their duty;
Th’abyss that glowers, the green-clad bowers
For Thy great power at every hour
                  Salute Thee.

And if folk shamefully should fail to render
All praise to GOD, forget His mercies tender,
Yet will the stones, and e’en dry bones
His pure name throne, at once make known
                  His splendour.

Yea, ere GOD all his glory shall surrender
Shall fearful whale and ocean homage render,
As ling and cod, so too their scrod,
Saithe by the squad more praise to God

For GOD is GOD, though earth no fruits were giving,
And GOD is GOD, though mankind ceased from living,
Though folk should die, in heaven high
Hosts multiply, and cymbals ply

Should e’er the LORD lack splendour or lack servants?
Behold, ten thousand keep a strict observance.
Ten thousand times ten thousand times
Are all their rhymes and sweetest chimes
                  Most fervent.

For at GOD’s name shall every knee be bending,
Both those who in high heaven life are spending
And those on earth, in south and north,
Likewise those cursed with trials henceforth

High mountain and deep dale shall both expire,
The end of heav’n and earth too be entire,
Each rockface sheer shall disappear,
But prayers sincere to a thousand ears

And should the old be stiff and prone to sleeping,
Shall children in the womb GOD’s praise be keeping;
The dumb, the game, the blind, the lame
All do the same, so too those maimed
                  Or creeping.

I when myself from top to toe reviewing,
Find no limb’s claim can merit my eschewing,
Though fine they’re found as silken gown
All shall bow down, and sighs around
                  Be strewing.

But, oh mankind, can you believe this wholly?
Full due is giv’n to keeping GOD’s name holy,
If farmer, priest, on praise did feast
And then just ceased? Not in the least,
                  Not solely.

On earth we can’t the LORD’s name be revering
If we just nod and murmur words so cheering;
No, while alive, where’er you strive,
GOD’s word let shrive, and earthly lives
                  Be steering.

Make sure your light burns brightly and uncovered
That man your zeal and virtue can discover,
No lust embrace, but love and grace,
Devout and chaste until life’s space
                  Is over.

Hate all GOD in His word is also hating,
The excess that your life is vitiating,
Shun sin and flaws, obey GOD’s laws,
Make virtue yours, make zeal your cause

But should you make sin’s broad path your endeavour,
And without shame yourself from virtue sever,
Then you are base, GOD’s name disgrace
His spirit chase, His realm deface
                  For ever.

But LORD! Prevent this plight that makes us quaver!
All that’s ungodly cause in us to waver!
That with full might we e’er may fight,
When time is right, with Thee delight
                  May savour!

Thursday 7 March 2013

Small gem by the Flemish poet
Guido Gezelle

Mij spreekt de blomme een tale
Mij is het kruid beleefd

Mij groet het altemale

Wat God geschapen heeft

To me each flower speaks clearly
Each nodding plant’s full-known
They all make up the greeting
In God’s creation shown.

Poem by the Dutch writer
Jean Pierre Rawie

Just something

My mother, who spent her last, drawn-out years
in an old people’s home, had as time passed
increasingly less knowledge she held fast
of things that once had been her life to her.

Her husband was forgotten, joy and pain
she’d maybe known because of him were gone,
her children had now vanished every one –
she’d fed and clothed them, but no trace remained.

All disappeared; she too. What’s most our own,
familiar as our body, disappears,
and what we’d give our soul for will, I fear,

become as nothing. Though my hope’s alone
just something might be saved if one knew how
of what seems indispensable right now.

For other Rawie poems, go to here

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Famous poem by the Norwegian clergyman Petter Dass (1647-1707)

Petter Dasse’s Lament
concerning his illness of six years

A body full of grit and stone
Countless infirmities has known;
And yet I ween with pen or quill
One never can describe such ill.

Such is the life I’ve now acquired,
Of pain I am both sick and tired.
At times I wish my end were nigh:
I long for death, yet do not die.

The burden that my back has bent
Is known to God omniscient,
While others can go forth and back:
I am the one stretched on the rack.

The beast that each day pulls the plough
Is better off than me, I vow;
Should it withstand its daily toil,
Nothing at night its peace will spoil.

All day my pain won’t let me think,
At night I cannot sleep a wink,
My life is almost rent in twain,
When may I e’er find rest again?

Shall I squeeze out a single drop,
My mind beside itself says stop;
’Tis like an awl or knife that cuts
Stabbed ’twixt my member and my guts.

For six years weakness has held sway,
I have not had a quiet day.
Oh God of Mercy, grant me peace:
Year seven me from gaol release!

The Sabbath comes each seventh day,
Prepare my case, Jesu, I pray
That for my trials I after this
May share with you an hour of bliss.

I your disciple beg reprieve,
That from your school I may have leave,
As master you were sometimes brash,
But God be praised for every lash!

If I, oh God, have made you wroth
You now have flayed me, by my troth,
I’m now oppressed by countless hurts
And well receive my just deserts.

What are such wages when compared
With what from no man should be spared.
A thousand years of torment can
Ne’er pay the debt incurred by man.

When though on others my eyes play
Who are of selfsame ore and clay,
I find their sufferings are nought
With pains compared with which I’m fraught.

Each seems to have sufficent load
But when apportioned what I’m owed
’Tis weighed by merest ounce and jot,
And double weight would seem my lot.

Yes, wondered must have many a one
Just what the wretched man has done
That day and night so pained is he:
Shall he thus an example be?

Is there then no one in the land
As great a sinner as this man?
To injury they insult add
And many deem him to be bad.

No matter what their judgments be,
My illness stays the same to me;
Should heaven, sea and sky and earth
Take pity, it’s of little worth.

My wife, who time and time again
Has heard me sigh and e’er complain,
Knows hardly, faced with such duress,
Where she would be for piteousness.

My son and daughter, family,
Relations, can’t have failed to see
Just how much sighing and brave tears
I have endured down through the years.

And should my pain need proof entire
And testimonials require,
Ask every trunnel, every board
That in my bed is neatly stored.

Ask every house-beam for sure proof,
Ask walls and joints, ask rafters, roof,
Ask chairs and tables – all will tell
Just how things are with me as well.

Though childbirth often is unkind
To women when they are confined;
Once to their child they’ve given birth
Their pain gives way to joyous mirth.

I though have carried and have fed
The foetus that will leave me dead,
For six years borne it undesired,
It’s hardly odd that I’ve grown tired.

Oh God, our Saviour and our King,
Who can transform most everything,
Transform my pain while I’ve yet breath!
To life or to a blessed death.