Tuesday 25 September 2018

The Swedish poet Ragnar Thoursie: 'The crows are laughing' - late poems

Ragnar Thoursie

The crows are laughing

Late poems


Crows around Tegnér

Crows in sleet;
black limes against the white sky of the episcopal
residence. The scavengers flock together, laugh
at Death, the Right Reverend,
my torment. And under the Cathedral’s double spire – a
skyward claw – the scrawny city huddles.

In broad daylight, shamelessly to any eye-
witness, he comes in the litter, ‘The Old Man on the Hill’;
crows escort him – they start their
day’s work. Soon as witnesses they sit wide-eyed in a row on a roof-edge
resemble poorly-paid clergymen; black
cloaks folded on their backs and stained waistcoats.
Along with co-opted house-sparrows: peck at horse droppings
on Main Street.
                                           All this while Doctor Selldén’s wife lifts her chemise
                                                                                                   for the great man.

They believe they have seen what ought not to be seen.
They believe they have heard what ought not to be heard.
They believe something has happened anew that ought not to happen.
They caw indignantly their message
with cracked voices into the late-winter day.

. . .

What is the more shameless? To caw
like crows in Växjö – every morning the gossip
becomes World History. Or to make love
to Emili and subsequently mount a pulpit.

What does the early-bird crow care about the night’s
torment. What do those that yawn and gossip,
that flutter their black wings at the sky in the daytime
matter to you when you alone
                                                         are to meet our Lord and Maker.

of crow and old men’s voices

Earthly lamentation

‘Tell me, you watchman, how the night progresses!
Is it unceasing, will it never end?
The moon, half-eaten, through the sky’s still presses,
The tearful stars still through the heavens wend.
My pulse beats fast as in my youth’s successes,
Hours of affliction though it cannot mend.’


Today myriads of vermin, small black
bugs: on my profusely flowering Hibiscus.

And in my life they also gush forth – unexpectedly
myriads of black memory-bugs: fierce small
nips, poisonous words, mortal stings, hordes of secret signs
of hatred... Time to put an end to this, my Hibiscus!


Darkness slowly descends
over my garden. Soon only black
contours visible: the juniper on its lonely
watch in the snow, and the impenetrable hedge.
Night grows more compact around my life, what is past.
Only the longing for You lights with a flickering flame.


Else I’d expected on life’s last slope.
Carnations, not hatred’s envelope.

Clothes black as night. Faces veils are concealing.
Guests sadly gliding, with shoes that are gleaming.
Then she thanks God, who has answered her prayer.


Death unavoidable
is blocking my path.
With an evil grin,
the keen scythe
laid over his knee.

Doesn’t budge this time.
Wants to see me give way.


Don’t believe Death –
not mild, but scrawny.
No, He hacks
hungrily with the axe.

Gauges exactly
the depth of your torment.


Spruce forest snow-laden
mile upon mile.
Such is the path

up to the old one’s meeting.


Poor my preparation.
Woe, alas and dread in my soul.
It most resembles a rag in shreds.
No plucky resolve to stay silent
and suffer. No, a coward’s
moaning, when night tightly holds me.
       A kiss so cold, a claw-like toe.
       What use is welfare on
       a farewell journey. No son, no sister
       allays death’s pain,
       now numbing my heart.


Dirty grey, ruffled by rain,
heavy with years, despised.
- Crow in the courtyard. Attempts a dignified walk:
teeters, totters, scouts (like a weather-vane);

laboriously takes off, a crash,
                                           to another corner of the yard.

. . .

Behind the curtain a pop-eyed old man.
Scratches his beard-stubble, his nails cracked,
nasty taste in his mouth: lonely
                                                                the final years.


Close to the heavy front-door of my rented lodgings
       (that will be my last)
swallows have built their airy nest, briefly,
       in a ventilator eaten by rust.

Old man thinks every morning: - Ah, if only my soul
       could leave earthly life as lightly as those on the wing!


Sixteen stairs. Heavier each
time; hand on banister. Somewhere
memory fails. Seventh stair
and the old man’s forgotten:
Why did I set out? Thinks: count-
less rounds, up – and down.
Up to carry out,
down to recall. What.
Slowly life passes. Downwards.


Four walls limit
my field of vision, the ceiling a lid:
a box, rented from co-op housing.
Wait and see – when the contract
the white one signed by the Lord
may expire and the box be nailed shut again...

like a coffin – it soon shall be closed, and reassured
I once more whisper through my evening prayer.


Precisely, almost scientifically
pedantically I keep the ledger of my
nonsensical life. In so doing
bring order into what it is meaning-
less. While waiting.


Lion in cage.
Three paces, satiated with power.
And back. The broad nose
kisses the steel wall.

I likewise in my final
asylum: lap upon lap
my thoughts take
the last paces. In vain

searching for an exit.


Old poet writes poems
                                           about death.
As if discovered first now
                                           where life is heading.
Astonished the eye blinks at the inexorable.
No longer a play on words – no
                                           a wordless while
when you conclude your last poem.


Old trousers as if new – before
when they were turned inside-out.

But the known, accustomed
and much-turned words: turn them
around and inside out. But no
more meaning came out of that!


Old-man poet much to do:
Mops up a drop, dirty behind.
Darns a stanza that’s got a hole.
- White as a sheet, I grassp my penn.
Oh, what laundrying it would need
were I to wash my past until
clean! Here all that’s to be done is
to darn and mend and wash one’s life’s
most noticeable stains.


Seven lines, seldom more.
And yet too much.

So little his day’s work
and yet immense:

                      to find
                      the final


The deranged, demented, debilitated
deservedly guarded.

Arrogantly rattling heavy
key-bunches of prohibitions.

. . .

But no longer do the
keys fit his existence.

Seeks in vain to guard
over his own insanity.


Pointed nose, varicosed legs.
paunch heavy and ditto pouch.
Memory poor – for injusticies ever young.
Coquettish: wig awry and a wine-
red swearing to the black ulster.
Look in the mirror: Who are you like,
old man? Oh yes, the Evil One himself;

friendly smile he still bestows
on your world whose end near grows.


Like an intractable old crone:
knows plenty, has learnt little.
shuts her dentured mouth up tight
except when it ought to stay silent.
Blue veins, red eye-slits,
strands of beard – and yet coquetting
with her conceit. Boasts
of her age, insists on respect
for her ailments. Sucks on her
lump of sugar. Such is

Humanity’s last madness: wrangles with death.


Grey-stony. Stock-still. Mute.
So does the old man seem: Seals off his mind
from the world. Broods on himself;
remembers. And all the while the cancer

grows in his flesh, incessantly: The only thing
that lives – works indefatigably towards death.


Give up! All time’s no longer yours.
Your time is up! Always you
hope in vain. The Angel’s
revelation came to pass too late.
A grave prepared! From blackest soil grows
                                    worms’ yellowest rose.


Today – how far away
the present is for sure.
       How unreal
       How uncertain
the only certain thing.


All the temporary
seems permanent.
All our efforts, so futile
       richly rewarded!
All our striving, so absurd,
       the only noble thing!


The present,
the real,
the only certain thing: –
       my limbs’ mark,
       the sign of putrefaction!


Of love the grown-ups do not speak
to the lad who is in anguish.

The path to death the old man
takes alone in torment.

       Yes, all the gravity of life
       must be learnt alone.


Misty my gaze:
looks away
ever further away.

As if earlier
clear-sightedness had been
in what was closest?

No, I see
I’ve never seen –
never perceived

what is closest to me.


Crow on chimney presses.
       Seeks a smidgin of warmth.

I have recourse to the same
       in memory of you.


Understand first now
what I’ve always known.

       To live
       Is to be crushed.

       To live on –
       become whole anew.


Good thing no one can hear me – except the Lord
on high! From where he has seen so much devilry.
Buchenwald, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua and Gulag.
The question is whether he is in the slightest bit
interested in me lying here in Växjö
awake in my white nightshirt and howling soul.


                                                                Inspection of Granhult’s old church

‘The evil elf bit without warning deep into my heart.’
Then did I flee to the Lord’s sacred sanctuary –
but found here too a place full of Devils painted on wood
in great magnificence, in green and gold, with jowls
run red and venom running down for a hundred years.
What succour came from the Vicar’s words and Dove above his head!
I was tormented by endless singing, from old crones with dragons’
necks and old men like me on the edge of the grave.
Only a deceased field-mouse under the pew kept my heart
awake. Finally the litany was over. We trooped out like
criminals. Though in the parish house the soul felt freer.
– God’s word is great; but its light does not light up our dead bodies
until after talk of this and that and several cups of coffee.

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