Tuesday 31 March 2020

Erik Knudsen: 'Fisk'


Strange fish from imagination’s freshwater:
Tiny à la fireflies, large grey
                      porous as pimpstone,
Yellow, spotted,
                      some violet with a prayer on their lips,
One brown and quivering like calf’s liver, another
Pink and transparent, its own x-ray photograph –
Yes, it’s exciting to drag for them
Completely alone in the forbidden forest,
Where one can calmly glide in one’s boat
And make friends with dragonflies
and opulent blond clouds –
See how they squirm in the net, the strange creatures!
Inedible – but I haven’t the heart to throw them out.
I’ve an old aquarium at home,
Model 1804 or thereabouts…

Ingemann: 'Tit er jeg glad'

(Based on the Swedish).

La bienséance est la moindre de toutes les loix & la plus svivie. 

I’m often glad, although I feel like weeping;
For no heart shares the joy in my sole keeping.
I’m often sorrowful, though laugh with glee,
So no one all my frightened tears may see.

I often love, although I feel like sighing;
For my heart needs be mute and hid from prying.
I’m often angry, though must wear a smile;
For those who anger are but fools that rile.

I often burn, yet in such heat I shiver;
The world’s embrace is like an ice-cold river,
I’m often cold, yet sweat stands on my brow;
For many tasks lack love it seems somehow.

I often speak, though would refrain from prating,
Where mindeless words for thought need not be waiting.
I’m often dumb, and would to ease my breast
Have thund’rous voice when it is most oppressed.

Oh! You alone who can my joy be sharing,
You at whose bosom I can weep uncaring,
Oh! dearest, if you knew me, loved me true,
I could be always as I am – with you.

Monday 30 March 2020

Erik Knudsen: 'Schack Staffeldt'

Schack Staffeldt

You light candles in all the windows
So as not to see the grinning predators.
But the daughters of the night call you out, lure you 
with golden apples and shameless orchids.
Your shadow grows fantastically, skims
the Milky Way, swings across the moon’s torso.
An organ plays in soughing deciduous trees.
You listen in close to your naked heart
And hear an echo from memory’s mountain caves.
The stars laugh with delighted eyes.
One of them is you. But which?
A fever in the blood. A longing for home. – If only you could
be free of your dead weight! pull your thoughts up by the root!
Calmly in the distance
An objective mainland sways. – If only you dared
Leap out of your damned volcanic island!
Your breast is heavy with lava.
No delivery, no flight.
You are sore constricted between heaven and earth,
Groan under the weight of a thousand atmospheres.
The candles flicker behind the wet window-panes.
You have no tears, no reality.
The dream is your only element.
But you are alert and lucid.
Without a telescope
you find yourself:
An extinguished planet in a sea of fire.

Schack von Staffeldt (1769-1826). 'Staffeldt was not held in high regard in his own time but is acknowledged as one of the most important Romantic Danish poets by later generations' (Wikipedia).
Check the index for translations into English of poems by him. Here's one to start with.

Erik Knudsen: 'Horbelev'


When we buried my aunt
and stood in the graveyard in black clothes
I suddenly saw the land of the living:
The wood down there by the Baltic
blue in the shimmering heat
blue as when we ran along the shore
and built rafts out of planks and
jerry cans
and dived and saw the world from the inside
clear as glass, green with sun.

Sunday 29 March 2020

Erik Knudsen: 'Min Lundbye rus'

J. Th. Lundbye (1818-48). Danish painter, drawer and graphic artist

My Lundbye ecstasy

I was not myself, I was Lundbye,
sat securely on a child’s stool in mid-nature,
happily alone in the open landscape.
The low-lying plain, the sky’s oceans
were noted down and on the paper filled
as little as the shadow of a clover leaf.
And I gained eyes. Everything flew open like doors –
I drew away and wrote, I did not want
the dream to fly away. I was stubborn.
I held on tight. There I sat, twelve years old
with the world like a dog at my feet.

Ragnar Thoursie: 'Kråkorna skrattar' (The crows are laughing)



Chorus of crows’ and old men’s voices:
Motto from Esias Tegnér’s ‘Spleen’, 1825

I                    (To annihilation)
II                  (November)
III                (Hearing of prayer)
IV                (Death unavoidable)
V                  (Death’s kiss)
VI                (The crow and the old man)
VII               (The old man and the swallows)
VIII             (Downwards)
IX                (The final room)
X                  (The waiting)
XI                (Tired of life)
XII              (Wordless poem)
XIII            (Repairing tailor)
XIV             (Washing day at the old-man poet’s)
XV               (Poet at twilight)
XVI             (Madman’s guard)
XVII           (The devil’s mirror)
XVIII         (The harangue)
XIX             (Cancer’s secret)
XX               (The old man’s complaint)
XXI             (The mark)
XXII           (Alone)
XXIII         (On sight and care)
XXIV         (Cold)
XXV           (Understand first now)
XXVI         (Lamentation)
XXVII       (Blessed beverage)

Seductive voices

The view of the old man
The young woman
‘Die Frau und der Greis’
Love’s last act
Among the rejected
Eddies in Norrström
Poised for flight
Poor old man

Dies advesperascit
Motto taken from the title
of a lecture by Krister Stendahl
published in his book ‘Opinions’, 1986

A new earth
Stretch out your hand
The word of the Bible
The prayer
Eternal landscape
Ancient Chinese motif
The grove of wisdom
The greatness of the perishable
The poet and the mirror
Journey in the memory
The old man and Time
Poem with needle and thread
The while with Jesus
The Hyacinth and the Eternal
The lion’s voice
The graphic artist
The thankless old man
The blind crow

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.

Seductive voices

and other indecencies

The view of the old man

‘Les Maîtres de l’Affiche’

Shifts a tray to lap height.
Shoulders narrow, hips broad, head dexterously
                                                                covered by a dreamcloth.
Then she comes forward: ‘Prenez du Cacao!’
Rowan-berry necklace, rosy lips, sleep-drowsy eyes.
Over over-ripe breasts a gleaming shawl
                                                                of flowers,
Ankle-length scented skirt, feet wheaten-bread-white.

Then she comes forward in gold-print: a Van Houten’s advert.
Memory and dream all in one, a drink for the feeble old man.

The young woman

Turns towards him: bites into
his loneliness. Suddenly
death gives a start. The many meaningless years
rise up defiantly: head of rose petals.

Fingers that are covered in emeralds and kisses.
And how obscene her guileless gesture.

‘Die Frau und der Greis’

Hamburger Kunsthalle

With her gaze she measures dispassionately
but insatiably his sex. Hung
up in the Seventh salon. She sees
as in her memory a husband, a lover,
a stranger always present. A gaze,
a hand that lends a shimmer to the painting
                                    of timeless security. – Oh, futility!

Love’s last act

Two nymphs by the Neva, the one skinny as death,
the other chops-smackingly fat with piggy-pink skin.

To their concealed retreat they invited The old man,
tasted his sex, opened their double

heat with the fat one, snow with the thin one,
two laps in one. Half-erect he sought his pleasure;

in vain, in despair, on stained
slavish slavonic sheets already soiled by others.

Among the rejected

At the teeming bottom among the swollen
bellies jostles also the often

practised flight, thrusts deeper
into the alienation, joyously.

. . .

Is rejected and born anew
tastes the loneliness immeasurably

squeezed in the cold
sea of power-gorged bellies.

Eddies in Norrström

Feb. 1989, à propos PM 100

A little finger, lifted at the Devil:
transparent bustling shrimp in suddenly deep water
with Fi – the Evil One, himself invisible,
close by. Neon strip provides moonlight
in the night and computer screens blink. When day

breaks: in a neat unprofitability
estimate Welfare lined up
for execution by Expressen, a
placard. Trippingly arriving the grizzled

Poised for flight

A crow flew out
the small holes’s nook.

On his bent toe
its landing took.


And on a pine-branch it then sat.
– This life is oh so grey and matt!

She waits, she waits while time now flies 
the pale old man’s demise.

Then flew off with a wave
and laughs upon his grave.

Poor old man

Poor Old Man, why your striving?
Scatter your silver; give the young
Nymph sex’s pearls; dry away
your nose’s tears! Be glad that the hour
is still in place – soon another Guest will arrive!
Soon you will rest bloodless and pale, and but
four planks’ eye-porch see you!

Dies advesperascit

Signs of insight

‘Immortality is something far too large
and something far too small.’

A new earth

2 Peter 3: 13-14

Is it the heavens that have made earthly life
worth living? The heavens with angel-like
cloud-wings. The heavens with their gleaming hem
now in an incipient autumn: perhaps the last.

All of them looked up to the heavens –
father and mother, their fathers and mothers:
casual labourers, crofters, enslaved smiths

Yes, over all the earth’s people in need arches incomprehensibly
a heavenly assurance: of another life –
a life, worth living.

Stretch out your hand

Just trifling matters – trifles! That
is what I busy myself with while waiting
for the great matter, for death.

It would be better for me to calm down,
cross my legs, close my eyes
like the all-wise Buddha

. . .

No, think, take yet one more step
on the long road to life –
the greatest:
that which time after time today is denied
millions who hunger and thirst!

Open your eyes, stretch out your hand!

The word of the Bible

Such is the Word:
a necessary commodity! A bowl
of rice to hold in the hand.
A cup of hot tea with honey.
A piece of meat for one who is hungry.
Consolation to the one asking
       for justice.

The prayer

Who can I speak to?
To you, who are not here
       and yet present.
You who without touching me
       takes hold of my hand.
You who lead me
       where the eye cannot see. To you

I whisper in the dark.

Eternal landscape

They still speak to me,
       the trees, the clouds, the blood-
red houses: ever eternal.

       Transient am only I who observe.
Soon it will be over – my time.

       To others they will then speak.

Ancient Chinese motif

Defiantly at the sky
the water buffalo turns its muzzle.
There is power in his loins
       though his sex is maimed.
Lyrically curved his horns.

Humbly though the old Chinese
peasant pauses; reins in his hand.
Wordlessly he asks the highest of the gods,
Buddha, concerning the end of his day’s work.

The grove of wisdom

Other there at the limit of the terrace house’s land
a hedge of spirea, bower of roses, a corner
                                                                for herbs.
Such was the intention, and likewise a grove for

. . .

The hedge has been planted. The roses set out.
Thyme, sage, chervil and oregano
The start then of a grove

but no time left for the Contemplation.


And yet already an insight about that I
have lacked and never had time for
at times it seem to me worth all my efforts.
Working in the garden promots a certainty
about wisdom – something God alone gives time and space for
                                                                in the heart.

The greatness of the perishable

Imagine the world – solely as
a notion... What a pitiful
fabrication! Without the richness
of the transient. Without the diversity
of all repetition. Without light’s endless

wanderings in the slope of pines outside your window –

The poet and the mirror

Poem – a form of lonely address.
Seeing oneself in a mirror – with a gilt frame!
No one pays you any attention any longer –
no one! Who listens. Who answers.

Soon only an empty frame around a stained pane of glass.
Even so for some time yet there is reflected a piece of
                                                                the sky, a sighing tree.

Journey in the memory

‘Noch nicht in Prag!’ The long longed-for journey rattles
like a third-class compartment. Still travelling the same way,
and our gazes as then fixed on our separate landscapes.
You see a valley, I the bare side of the mountain.
Your gaze, veiled, dreams of a goal, a city, a space.
I linger in the memory of the life I am leaving.
Your hand is soil; but the memory of it still in hand.
We are travelling then... I am travelling then... on this silent journey.
– An insight, though almost twenty years too late, that just a word, yes, just
a look of mutual understanding can cure loneliness and powerlessness!


Born out of the sea’s foam:
a whitened shore, your hip,
that rouses the memory. Not words,
just the line of the body; havy with desire
is the thought that destroys. All that is
left to me is this moment:

a hip that is turned towards me;
a desire that is roused, a line of memory,
a shore that still exists, and the sea’s

The old man and Time

Enclosed, shut in,
shy: behind the curtain.

The birds, the unanswered.
The questions, the unanswered.
Drops of rain falling.

Secure in the nameless,
secure in the timeless –
the unheeded.

And the clock on the wall wide-eyed

Poem with needle and thread

A monogram. Like a poem –
prick precisely with the needle, and even stitches!
A time for reflection – in all
                                    the thoughtlessness of the everyday.
Still precious, though sewn on a pillow.
A faded tose – a witness
of our time of trust, years that have flown.

The while with Jesus

Overmanned around two o’clock
in the afternoon. Then the knee bends and
the eye blinks. Her white head sinks
to rest on an embroidered cushion: ‘A little while
with Jesus!’ Rose-crocheted bedspread
gives warmth to dry limbs and likewise
                                    to her soul a blanket.

So too she imagines the end: As a rest,
though longer, close to Christ’s rose-garden.
– Lived alone, died alone; yet the Lord
gently covers her with sleep.

The Hyacinth and the Eternal

The scent of the hyacinth in the Vicar’s window – he sniffs
half with reverence; hair in his nose. Ah, the flower soon
perishes! A shrunken bulb remains but will re-
form next year: a symbol (for his sermon)
of life and transience!

Exuberant life’s short fullness. It dries out, dies
and is constantly born anew: A premonition is roused
of the order of eternity... Yes, why not grasp
this, old man! The musty smell comes, Vicar,
from your own person – your selfishness and your old
                                                                dreams of immortality.

The lion’s voice

For Björn Wester

When Buddha has spoken, his words
are confirmed by a distant roaring lion in the mountains.
– That is what you related on your final sick-bed.
Brother, your learning was great, but greater
your insight into life and death. High-heeled
lady’s shoes still stand on the shelf next to the Book of Death:
‘Toure of all Toures: and Teacheth a Man for to Die!’
Your voice was faint, a hoarse but penetrating
whisper reached my ear: Learn to die – and you learn
                                                                                                   to live!

The graphic artist

For Björn Jonson

Dirty little old man on the porch. Squints
at the morning sun – yellow as at Utamaro!
Lifts his hand so as to grasp
the light, his tools (long unused)
– felt-tip pen, rice paper; his clawlike fingers
fumble. Nothing remains here. Dispersed by the wind,
to connoisseurs, artdealers, his noble
                                                                proletarian graphics.
The backyard’s immeasurable light measured up, preserved
                                                                in thin lines.
– Death his partner... but to life he has left
                                                                the observation, indelible!

The thankless old man

‘I am no longer happy, I just am!’
Said the old man and lifted his eye.
But the winter wanes; spring whispers
messages to leaf and stem; and the wise
squirrel darts. The mist raises houses and lake,
and the dew gleams. So does the young
summer re-awaken life, without you having
raised a finger Yourself! – Thank the Lord,
old man, for the day that without you
                                                                is being born!

The blind crow

Consider the birds! Their
preparations are not for certain
death – but for uncertain
life. The nutcracker hoards thousands
of pine seeds for the winter, trusts in the weather.
As do I, blind in my faith
in fleeting earthly life.