Thursday 30 October 2014

A 30 October poem from Klaus Høeck's '1001 poems'

  hints tips and good ad
  vice to a young po
et ‘ ‘it sounds so beautiful’
  i said - ‘does lofty
  poetry but po
etry is only lofty
to the same extent as life
  is denigrated
  and debased’ - i said
‘poetry ought to be more
  like a turnip in
  its fat fertile soil’

Friday 24 October 2014

One more Thor Sørheim poem

step by step

Step by step I distanced myself from the table lamp
which was transformed into a gleaming circle down there
in the hall, and the black patent leather shoes pointed their noses
open-mouthed towards the doormat. At the top of the stairs
I had come as far up beneath the sky
as it was possible to come. The world fell into place

on the dark ceiling in the shadow of solid tiers of joists
and bent piping, as at a museum
where all the artefacts are marked with labels
that state origin, properties and how long they
have been in use. For many a long year I collected dogmatics
in stiff archive boxes, for I had forgotten

that the world is there to be misunderstood, and that people try
as best they can to act in good doubt. I suddenly yearned
back to the smell of the socks with holes in the wardrobe,
the wet raincoats hung up to dry, the gleaming elegies
of the posters. Step by step I calmly descended
with my hand firmly gripping a perplexed banister.

Monday 20 October 2014

Alle Menschen müssen sterben


Alle Menschen müssen sterben,
Alles Fleisch vergeht wie Heu;
Was da lebet, muß verderben,
Soll es anders werden neu.
Dieser Leib, der muß verwesen,
Wenn er anders soll genesen
Der so großen Herrlichkeit,
Die den Frommen ist bereit.

All on earth must end by dying,
All of flesh are but as hay;
What lives here must dead be lying,
Shall it rise anew some day.
Only since it has to perish
Can the body hope to cherish
Glory such as is reserved
Those who have devoutly served.

Entry 1000 - the Dutch poet Gerrit Komrij's 'The Ox on the Bell-Tower'

Sunday 19 October 2014

Poem series by the Dutch writer Frank Koenegracht



FIRST, old-man freshwater guide, first
you stood fairly straight
in your boat with pennies
in post-war light.

Your idiotic brother scratched at night
in vain at the varnish
for no one inside
was allowed to recall

how you could have been.
Well, he’s still alive for
I saw him recently.
Still alive.

Then, old-man freshwater guide, then
a hole was punched
in your stomach as
big as an afternoon’s fishing,

but you rode right through it
on your solex and went on living.
The rest is bread and milk, beef
on Sundays and their collected works.

Now, old-man freshwater guide,
now you’ve got me
but then again not. I’m
not much of an angler

and I snow or rise a bit
and I always see everything small.
As small as you saw things
through your sight-glass of jenever.

Come on, let’s go piking and anyone
seeing us standing there will think:
that son doesn’t fish
far from his father.


LITTLE by little my father’s forgotten
all that he knew just a moment ago.

His brains are birds that go flitting past.
No cows that leave an impression in the earth.

My father was fond of clouds,
but clouds are forgetful mountains

and leave no impression in the sky
and no one will blame them for that.

Blaming won’t help anyway for
clouds do not know what they do.


HE addressed all his colleagues
and all birds alike.
Such is the gentleness of a man.
Starlings, big chickens, sparrows
were all lads.
To a blackbird in the garden he said:
what’s up then me’lad
but it was really to me.


ACROSS the sky sailed sedate mountains.
My father seemed fond of those things
and their strange communications
hanging above the houses, the bridges and the hedges.
And above the stretches of water where the fish were. At times
you had to be on the lookout for it,
just as for managers.


SOMEBODY must have slandered him
otherwise he would not stand so strangely in the room,
so leaden.

The law said that fishing with live bait was prohibited.
My father said: I have always treated
whitefish decently, lad, never a hook
in their back, always in their mouth.

Somebody must have slandered him.


SO THIS is my father.
Slow enough and carelessly protected
wearing trousers of forty-eight guilders
hoisted all the way to his tits
unmessably high and unbearably light.


CLOSE BY two or three feet away hovers
a tiny 14 x 26 cm plane, blue-grey
with red edges round it,
controlled by a helpless little woman
that’s easily put together
out of what’s left from a ball of wool, stockings,
a small necklace.

Although everyone’s asleep and has laid down
their weapons the atmosphere can be cut with a knife.

Against the window trails the yellowed land snail.


I HAVE myself never
wanted to be a doomed poet, but
my father with the gentlest glee would
definitely have forbidden it
He was against any stumbling
into the wrong rented house
but above all against unrecognisedness.

He realised that unrecognisedness
is a way of being mistaken.


AND THE wind took its rest
and the evening fell and the rain
crept gently over the fields.

It’ll be a calm twilight, we said,   
a porcelain evening and old-lady night

will soon be here with her big feet
and her small face.

Thursday 16 October 2014

A poem by the Afrikaans writer Wilma Stockenström


Eendag toe hou die skepper
sy skepping soos 'n kind 'n skoelapper
op sy hand, en bibberend
spalt die gebrandskilderde vlerke.
Magtig die kleure wat gloei soos godhede

gloei, oop, toe, met groot
vertoon, die vlerke vir dag en nag.
Die skepper voel nog die pootjies
fyntjies op sy vingers en wonder
oor wat hy vermag het: oopvou

van 'n al, goudstofoortrekte lig,
en soos skeppendes maar is, bedink
hy, trots en nederig, nog ene,
nog 'n lieflike ligsinnige vlinder,
herhaaldelik, die ewigheid ter wille.


One day the creator held
his creation like a child a butterfly
in his hand, and quivering
the enamelled wings parted.
Wondrous the colours that glowed as deities

glowed, open, shut, with great
display, the wings for day and night.
The creator still feels the small feet
delicately on his fingers and is astonished
at what he has been capable of: the unfolding

of an everything, gold-dust-covered light,
and as it is with creators, he
conceives, proud and humble, one more
one more such lovely, light-hearted butterfly,
repeatedly, for the sake of eternity.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Another two from Thor Sørheim

the sound crossing-point

East is east, and the first to cross the river
probably had ice under their feet. West is west,
and the sound-man was obliged to ferry people
over to the far side, from east to west,
and from west to east. People passing the thalweg
mid-river felt secure at having
solid ground under their feet on both shores.
For east is east, and west is west,
and we always hear the cry from
the far side.


When I look at the photograph of my father
sitting slightly sprawled out on a bench in the back garden
he grew up in, a place I often visit
so as to walk in the same streets, study the erect
frontages and stroll in the inlaid parks he used to play in,

it strikes me that the young boy with the mop of
blond hair and the bright eyes must have been a dreamer.
A stranger maybe in this neighbourhood where gangs
stood on every street corner ready to intervene
if anyone dared venture across invisible borders.

Borders that I do not know, but he perhaps
did. In the yellowing picture I have seen of him his
gaze betrays nothing of how streetwise he was.
On the contrary, he is looking towards something far off,
perhaps the kitchen window on the third floor, or Ekeberg Hill.

To look at the photo of my father from the time he was a paperboy
reminds me that he was the one who taught me
to cross the street diagonally, at full pelt towards the traffic.
This gave those driving in the next lane a bit more time
to brake, so as not to attack us from behind.

Totgesagt oder totgemacht? The joys of hineininterpretieren.

Am Schluss des Gedichtes steht die Aufforderung, alles Gesammelte "leicht im herbstlichen gesicht" zu "verwinden"(V.12). Denkbar ist, dass die Chiffre "gesicht" (V.12) im Sinne einer Vision zu verstehen ist: Der wahre Künstler - Kranzflechter - versteht es mit seinem geistigen Auge über die gewöhnliche Wirklichkeit hinauszublicken, sie also nicht nur abzubilden. Damit gewänne der letzte Imperativ des Gedichts - "Verwinde" (V.12) - eine interessante Doppeldeutigkeit. Zum einen wäre mit ihm die Fertigstellung des Kunstwerks zum Ausdruck gebracht, zum anderen könnte er auch so verstanden werden, dass der das irdische Dasein belastende Gegensatz von Leben und Vergänglichkeit vom sensiblen Künstler -und nur von ihm- "verwunden" - im Sinne von "ertragen" oder "überwunden" - werden kann.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

A famous poem by Stefan George

In the library at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge - turn right half way up the staircase to Hall (the old library that is, the books are all elsewhere now) - there was what must now be a very valuable complete collection of the poetry of Stefan George, bound in deep indigo volumes and done in a most unusual typescript. Here is one of them:
Even more unusual is the calligraphy of the author:
Over fifty years later, I have come across it again. Here is an attempt to translate it:

Enter the park which they call dead and gaze:
The shimmering of smiling shores beyond ·
The unexpected blue of pure clouds’ haze
Illuminates the patchwork paths and pond.

Take there the deep-toned yellow · the soft grey
Of birch and boxwood · where but warm winds stray ·
The final roses aren’t quite wilted still ·
Select and kiss them, braid the wreath at will.

And these last asters you must not forget ·
The purple round the straying stems of vine
That too which might remain of green life twine
In what is autumn’s countenance as yet.

A Grimm fairytale 'The Riddle'

The riddle

There was once a royal prince who felt an urge to explore the world, and took no one with him but just the one faithful servant. One day he ended up in a forest, and when evening came, he was unable to find an inn and didn’t know where he might spend the night. Then he caught sight of a girl on her way to a small cottage, and when he drew closer, he saw that the girl was young and beautiful. He spoke to her, and said: ‘Dear child, can I and my servant find shelter for the night in the cottage?’ – ‘Oh yes,’ the girl replied sadly, ‘you could of course, but I wouldn’t advise it – don’t go in.’ ‘Why shouldn’t I do that?’ the prince asked. The girl sighed and said ‘my stepmother practises evil arts – and she means strangers no good.’

Then he realised he had come to the house of a witch, but since it was growing dark, he could not journey on and was unafraid, he went in. The old woman was sitting in an armchair by the fire and she looked at the strangers with bloodshot eyes. ‘Good evening,’ she rasped, pretending to be friendly, ‘sit yourselves down and take a rest.’ She fanned the coals, beside which something was being heated in a small cooking pot. The daughter warned both of them to be cautious, to eat and drink nothing, for the old women brewed evil potions.

They slept soundly until the early morning. When they were getting ready to leave and the prince had already mounted his horse, the old woman said ‘Wait a moment, let me just offer you a farewell drink.’ While she was fetching it, the prince rode off, and the servant, who still had to tighten his saddle, was the only one left when the wicked witch came with the drink. ‘Take this to your master,’ she said, but at that very moment the glass broke, and the poison spattered over the horse, and it was so potent that the animal immediately dropped to the ground, dead. The servant ran after his master and told him what had happened, but he didn’t want to leave the saddle behind and returned to fetch it. When he reached the dead horse, however, a raven was already sitting on the corpse, eating from it. ‘Who knows it we’ll find anything better today,’ the servant said, killed the raven and took it with him.

They spent all the next day travelling through the forest, but we unable to get out of it. When night came, they found an inn and went inside. The servant gave the innkeeper the raven, which he was to prepare for the evening meal. However, they had fallen into a murderers’ den, and in the dead of night twelve murderers came to kill and rob the strangers.  But before they started their foul deed, they sat down at the table, and the innkeeper and the witch joined them, and they devoured a tureen of soup together that also contained the chopped flesh of the raven.

But hardly had they swallowed a spoonful or two before they all fell down dead, for the raven had passed on the poison from the horse’s flesh. So now there was no one left in the house but the innkeeper’s daughter, who was an honest person and had not taken any part in any of their wicked deeds. She opened all the doors to the strangers and showed them all the hoarded treasure. The prince, however, said she could keep all of it, he wanted none of it, and he rode off once more with his servant.

After they had travelled around for some while they came to a city where a beautiful but presumptuous king’s daughter lived – she had announced that whoever could present her with a riddle she was unable to solve could claim her as his husband: but should she guess the riddle, he was to be beheaded. She was to have three days to think of the answer, but was so clever that she always managed to guess the riddle by the stipulated time. Nine young men had already lost their lives in this way when the royal prince arrived and, dazzled by her great beauty, was prepared to risk his life to win her.

Then he appeared before her and gave her this riddle to solve: ‘What is it,’ he said’ that killed none yet killed twelve?’ She didn’t know what it was, she racked her brains but couldn’t work it out: she looked it up in her books of riddles, but there was nothing about it in them: in short, her cleverness was exhausted. Since she was unable to solve it herself, she ordered her maid to slip into the prince’s bedchamber where she was to listen to his dreams, for she thought he might talk in his sleep and betray the answer to the riddle. But the wise servant had placed himself in the bed instead of his master, and when the maid drew near, he pulled off the cloak in which she had concealed herself and chased her out with a bundle of switches.

During the second night, the king’s daughter sent her lady-in-waiting, she was so see if was any more successful at listening, but the servant pulled off her cloak as well and chased her away with a bundle of switches. Now the master felt he would be safe during the third night and lay down in his own bed, but then the king’s daughter herself came, had wrapped a mist-grey cloak around her and sat down close to him. And once she thought he was asleep and dreaming, she spoke to him, hoping he would answer her in his dream, as many people do.

But he was awake and heard and understood everything perfectly well. Then she asked ‘One killed none, what is that?’ He answered ‘a raven that has eaten from the poisoned corpse of a horse and then died.’ ‘She also asked ‘and yet killed twelve, what is that?’ – ‘That is twelve murderers who devoured the raven and died of it.’

When she knew the answer to the riddle, she wished to slip away, but he held onto her cloak, so she had to leave it behind. The next morning the king’s daughter announced that she had guessed the riddle and had the twelve judges summoned and solved it for them. But the young man asked to be heard and said ‘she has slid up close to me at night and interrogated me, otherwise she would not have been able to guess it.’ The judges said ‘Bring us proof of this.’ Then the three cloaks were brought in by the servant, and when the judges caught sight of the one that was mist-grey, which the king’s daughter was in the habit of wearing, they said ‘have it embroidered with gold and silver, and it will serve as your wedding cloak.’

Monday 13 October 2014

And one by Stefan George

In beech-tree avenue’s rich tinselled light

In beech-tree avenue’s rich tinselled light

We stroll until we almost reach the gate

Through railings in the field outside we sight

The almond tree in second blossom’s spate.

We search for benches where no shadows lie

There where strange voices never drive away ·

In dreams our arms embrace as time goes by ·

We drink our fill of each mild-gleaming ray

Feel gratefully how sunlight traces here

Drip down on us to tree-tops’ soughing sound

And only gaze and listen when we hear

The ripe fruits’ gentle knocking on the ground.

Autumn poems by Rilke and Hebbel

For the Rilke poem go to here

And for the Hebbel poem go to here

Thursday 9 October 2014

A poem by the Norwegian writer Thor Sørheim

the winter oak

The brown, gnarled leaves of the oak tree
defy the winter. A slight gust, and they land
on the snow, swirl around and settle at its trunk.
After stiffer wind the winter oak arms itself against the ice.

When we feel the cold, dry bark, we can
make out traces of ants and insects. For
hundreds of years this tree has defied the cold.
Its roots are much older than the fence posts

that seek to encircle it. The oak
is owned by no one. It is a community
of cellulose, field and birdsong. Humanity
comes far down the list. We have to tip back

our heads to see its crown towering above us.
A network of branches, coexistence and leaves.
The world freezes to ice from time to time. The
winter oak resists, as if death were at stake.

'Egidius' Postcript - Where art thou?

On the time-dimension in poetry translation - file here.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Another favourite: Anna Maria Lenngren


Här vilar fänrik Spink, en hjälte, som, tyvärr,
för tidigt samlad blev till sina fäders grifter.
Hans årtal voro få men stora hans bedrifter:
han sköt en gång en sparv och red ihjäl en märr.


Here rests Lieutenant Spink, a hero death did tear
away, alas, and to ancestral tombs dispatch.
His span of years was short, his feats though few could match:
he shot a sparrow once and rode to death a mare.

Monday 6 October 2014

A Nils Ferlin classic (and a Sven-Bertil Taube one too!)


Dedicated to Victor Arendorff, Högalid

In Arendorff’s day
skies were vast, never grey,
with the stars almost touching your hat.
People laughed til they dropped;
if at night you got copped
there was nothing so special in that.
And high spirits were there for the telling,
though a barrel made do for a dwelling.
And you starved and you froze
but you won by a nose.
There was nothing so special in that.

But now life is plain hard
in both street or backyard
in a pub or café or small flat.
You sit quiet as can be,
like a bust or a tree:
can you see something special in that?
No, in Arendorff’s day you breathed freely,
mixed with barons and counts ten times yearly.
If you spoke like a lout
well, you soon got thrown out:
There was nothing so special in that.

Times were quite debonair,
but with sleek head of hair
social levelling came in to bat.
We became, hardly odd,
just like peas in a pod.
Can you see something special in that?
People pay all their taxes, are civil,
but all recklessness shun like the devil.
Now life’s zest has been quashed
like a hat that’s been squashed.
I see nothing so special in that.

Yes, you live without pause
off the body that’s yours
and then whoosh, one-two-three, that was that.
And in some makeshift dray
you’re then carted away.
There is nothing so special in that.
Should a bird feel the urge to start trilling
at your passing, t’would be almost thrilling.
Though the vicar’s no bird,
mumbles hardly a word,
there is nothing so special in that.