Monday 29 June 2020

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!

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