Tuesday 30 June 2020

HCA: 'Jeg drømte jeg var en lille fugl' (1833)

‘I dreamt I was but a little bird’

I dreamt I was but a little bird,
Over land and wave was gliding,
My heart’s emotions and all I saw
I had not a way of hiding.

I sang all thoughts deep-lodged in my breast,
Those sad and joyous sensations,
I soared and dived o’er the foaming sea
And many unknown locations.

One morning high on a branch I sat,
And chirruped songs ten a penny
The flowers in the grass stood all around
So lovely they were, so many.

But one with a scent and tint so rare
Excelled all others begotten,
On her I did gaze, for her did sing
And foreign climes were forgotten.

I there decided to build a nest,
Be even my wings forsaking,
I wished there to sing my finest song,
Till my heart at last were breaking !

Her head so chaste in the wind she bowed,
I touched the flower’s head full-flushing,
The petal’s scent I then understood,
In the morning sun bright-blushing.

And downwards lowered the flower its head,
I recall it all so closely!
My love so clearly it seemed I read
In her trusting eye though mostly.

A huntsman appeared, both bold and young,
With his gun slung o’er his shoulder,
He placed the flower in his buttonhole
Where she then did brightly smoulder.

A dewdrop fell from her petals fine,
Though maybe a tear concealing,
I sang then and thought, it’s me he’ll shoot!
For death I found so appealing.

The flower’s undiminished scent’s a home,
And never she will regret it!
From town to town I fly on and on,
If only I could forget it!

I grieve – though I sing more than before,
while I o’er meadow I’m winging,
A hunter will surely come along
And will shoot me while I’m singing!

Monday 29 June 2020

Georg Stiernhielm (1598-1672)

A sudden leap back in time. For no other reason than this is one of my favourite poems in Swedish. For native Swedes - try reading it aloud!

                             Emblema Authoris

           Bombyx ovo suo textili exiliens alis auctus.

           Pascitur hic folijs deformis; serica reddens,
           Immoritur telæ: UT PULCHRIOR EXILIAT.

           På  Authoris Sinn-beläte, En Silkes-matk.

Hålt stilla mitt Förnuft;  tig sachtelig besinna/
           Hwad thetta wara må! du sijr här en Figur/
           En vsel naken kropp/ en Matk/ ett Creatur/
Som ingen skapnad har; ther intet är til finna
Som ögat lyster see. Men märck; här ligger inna/
           Meer än en tänckia kan; en nyttig/ ädel/ pur/
           En sälsam/ underlig af Gud beredd Natur:
En Matk/ theß Spijs är Blad/ theß ijd är artigt spinna;
Theß Spona Silkes-tråd;  theß wärck och wäf är Sijden.
           Af Blad gör han en Skatt;  til theß han toom och mager/
           Inwicklat in-dör i sin wäf/ och lijfwet stäcker.
Men sij! En ny Figur med Wingar prydd/ med tijden/
           Här kommer fram igen/ vpqwickter/ fin och fager:
           En lijflig Sool/ hans Siäl med kraft/ en gång/ vpwäcker.

                             Emblema Authoris

           Bombyx ovo suo textili exiliens alis auctus.

           Pascitur hic folijs deformis; serica reddens,
           Immoritur telæ: UT PULCHRIOR EXILIAT.

           On the emblem of the writer – a silk-worm

My reason stay awhile, reflect ere you propound
           what this perhaps may be. What you see here’s a figure,
           a paltry naked hulk, a silk-worm, a mere creature
without appearance and where nothing can be found
designed to please the eye. Yet note: there lies within
           more than a mind can grasp, a useful, fine, pure nature
           of rare and curious kind in each God-given feature:
a worm whose food is leaves, whose sole delight to spin,
whose spun thread, toil and web on silk are all inclined.
           Of leaves it treasure makes, till empty, thin and abject,
           cocooned within its web its own life it then takes.
But look, a brand-new figure, graced with wings fine-lined,
           in time will re-emerge, refreshed and fair of aspect,
           once a vivacious sun its soul now re-awakes.

Olaf Bull (1883-1933): 'Metope'

I doubt if I ever would have attempted to translate this poem if I hadn't been asked to do so. At first I was almost paralysed by the sheer scope of it, and the use of language. Then I found it gradually possibly to focus on the issues it raises, but still don't quite know what to do with it. It is a catalyst - it changes Norwegian poetry for good, but seems to remain the same. It is is scary - a sort of Munch in words.


You I would in rhythms fondly rivet tight!
You I would hold deep and lasting in the eternal
young alabaster of the poem’s flight!
You day-dreamer, moved by the sun! With your gaze
chastely turned toward evening’s pale gold, meekly
you turn a heaven towards another, as bathed
in light and tenderness and secrecy!
I would gladly forfeit verse’s every trope
were one thing in my power: to hew firm-lined
in memory’s stubborn stone a smooth metope
that could depict your shy, frail-contoured mind!

We stroll through moist and yielding ebb-tide sand! Your ear
takes in the plashing waves of the summer sea!
Devoutly we feel that the evening stillness here
ever outward shifts its sounding boundary!
A string of fading chimes that’s slowly shrinking
behind blushing groves and gold church spires again –
and softly gleaming air-waves that are sinking
like streams of sun from mountains – which remain!

The ridges all turn blue. The stars fill in the skies!
The last clouds hasten home at end of day!
The meadow is at prayer – from air’s ebb tide will rise
mighty Arcturus! Behind grey stone walls sighs
a slight breeze through rye’s fur of silver grey!
And through your gaze a warm, deep animation –
in a dark blur of blue the eye can find
a drifting droplet, honey moistly gleaming,
and quietly I ask you: ‘Friend – what’s on your mind?’

‘I’m thinking of evenings like this I will not get to live through –
of ripening fields that rustle with corn, without me!
Of light things in motion: of ears of corn breaking,
of pale sails far out and of paths in the sea,
waves that all make for the shore, without me!
Mild daily life that no grave can dishearten,
such thoughts are mine, friend – the deep and the blue
future evenings in this summer garden, 
my mind not by yours, of that I think too!

All of it brims in my eye like a tear –
poor, scared and alone, I’ll soon begin crying!
All which this evening is ours, all things here – –
after a few, heady years must face dying,
when mists will disperse and the eye will see clear!
Oh look, love, an ebb tide so black and so deep!
How strange the shore gets when the tide’s waters fall!
Is the night of dread far off then, when we shall be
a yet grimmer shore, one abandoned by all?

Yet even so, what a sweet, blessed wonder
these meadows, the corn, scrub and trees now in view,
the mountains beyond – and where’er our eyes wander,
by our fleeting moments are covered in dew –
take that birch tree over there, how ours it is!
That lattice fence! That ancient handcart lying there
still in the grass, and long hayrack poles here
up against the rowan trees, never elsewhere,
and the ditch, green as ever – year after year!

Oh, love, could grave’s yawning abyss be averted,
I’d wish to turn into this field with hay drying,
the birch tree there, studded with stars, and the
mountain, and thus I’d be somehow preserving
our own holy garden – from just that: from dying – –!
Embrace me, my love, hold me tightly, securely –
this small gleam of hope is soon all I can know –
the brief, fervent moment of bliss will cause surely
an other eternity in me to glow!’

And I, a living man, with earth my dwelling,
from top to toe, a man of flesh in kind,
can, faint and shy, in my embrace sense something
comprising only look and voice and mind,
dissolved in painful fear and dark foreboding!
You lonesome one! I can but mutely, lightly
caress your fragrant hair, with your hand held in mine –
and there, thus eye to eye, stand Pan and Psyche
before a sea of corn – in bright starshine!

Sunday 28 June 2020

Emil Aarestrup (1800-1856)

What do they mean, these soft-pressed hands, these glances?
What’s really said by kisses, fond embraces?
Only the heart for such, sweet girl, has phrases:
My foolish one, what head can grasp such fancies?

But when I find my kisses shunned, forbidden,
My eyes, my arms by you so oft eluded,
Mine is the tiresome task, all else excluded,
Of letting wisdom flow from lips unbidden.

Know then: in part a voice may be disarming
And by poetic heart-felt force win over.
Yet that which is most sweet it ne’er advances.

Therefore let lips and arms, with bosom, glances,
- How shall I say it? - melt into each other
To form a single tongue, as mute as charming.


Carl David af Wirsén (1842-1912)

There is no getting round this gem of Wirsén. It did not originally have only the three verses now sung. The hymn has become very popular in a Danish version (five verses) that is excellent as such, but changes the mood of the original Swedish hymn considerably. But it does say 'efter Wirsén' = based on. You can find it here

En vänlig grönskas rika dräkt
har smyckat dal och ängar.
Nu smeker vindens ljumma fläkt
de fagra örtesängar.
Och solens ljus
och lundens sus
och vågens sorl bland viden
förkunna sommartiden.

Sin lycka och sin sommarro
de yra fåglar prisa.
Ur skogens snår, ur stilla bo
framklingar deras visa.
En hymn går opp
av fröjd och hopp
från deras glada kväden,
från blommorna och träden.

Men du, o Gud som gör vår Jord
så skön i sommarns stunder:
Giv att jag aktar främst ditt ord
och dina nådesunder.
Allt kött är hö
och blomstren dö
och tiden allt fördriver,
blott Herrens ord förbliver.

Allt kött är hö, allt flyktar här
och snart förvissna gräsen.
Hos dig allena, Herre, är
ett oförgängligt väsen.
Min ande giv
det nya liv,
som aldrig skall förblomma,
fast äng och fält stå tomma.

Då må förblekna sommarns glans
och vissna allt fåfängligt;
min vän är min och jag är hans,
vårt band är oförgängligt.
I paradis
han huld och vis,
mig sist skall omplantera,
där inget vissnar mera.

A rich, fine robe of pleasant green
has decked both dale and meadow.
Now wafting breezes warm and preen
each flowerbed fair and hedgerow.
Sun’s light on high
and wood-grove’s sigh,
midst willows waves’ soft thrumming
now tell of summer’s coming.

Their happiness and summer rest
the giddy birds are praising.
From woodland brush, from quiet nest
their joyful song they’re raising.
A hymn mounts high
to reach the sky
from blissful throats now blending,
from flowers and trees ascending.

But Thou, Oh God, who makest earth
so beautiful in summer:
Grant in Thy word I find most worth,
Thy mercies without number.
All flesh is grass
and flowers shall pass
and time all life can sever –
God’s word though lasts for ever.

All flesh is grass, and life is short
and soon the grasses perish.
With you alone, Lord, death I thwart
and lasting life can cherish.
My spirit plant
and new life grant
whose blooming knows no ending
when winter’s hold’s unbending.

For soon will summer’s glory pine,
and all that’s vain will wither;
my friend is his and he is mine,
our bond will last for ever.
In paradise
he, kind and wise,
will one day see me planted
where life eternal’s granted.


no path to stray from

there is no beauty other than what’s beautiful
no pattern formed by sudden glintings in the now
the need for solace makes no sense but is insatiable
no knowing why yet sparks of flint at sensing how

Henrik Wergeland: 'Pigen paa Anatomikammeret' (1836)

This poem by Wergeland continues to shock and amaze me. There is a modern anguish at the loss of innocence one can find in Blake, Baudelaire and Dylan Thomas (the crooked rose and crooked worm of 'The force that through the green fuse drives the flower') in it, and yet it dates from 1836.

The girl in the dissection room

– – Yes, it is her! Oh light here, quick!
Let not the knife yet even flick
       across this poor girl’s heart!
Oh, what cruel irony does glow
in this lamp’s gaze that stares down so
       on dead pain set apart.

So cold, yet when it breathed did not
the proud world gaze at it a lot?
       And bold eyes soon sliced through
the veil of golden dreams that she
the poor girl against poverty
       wore when as child she grew.

Like flower frozen in the ice
this cheek bears traits that in a trice
       should be well-known to me.
For childhood games that brought me joy,
before I was no longer boy,
       – Oh surely it was she.

She lived just opposite from us,
of humble birth, like in its moss
       the roof’s heartsease could thrive.
Fine folk could hardly contemplate
that blood so fair and delicate
       from paupers could derive.

Ah, many a face as this saw I
like monthly rose’s splendour die,
       as butterfly-dust brief!
Fate’s hand too firmly must have grasped,
and sin’s trace to such lives have clasped
       like snail’s slime on the leaf.

To see the original poem, go to here