Friday 31 July 2020

Danish medieval ballad: Esben og Malfred'

Esben og Malfred

‘Little Ole, little Ole, don’t journey this year!
Of me’s been foretold things you yet have to hear
While the waves pull one under.

While I was still young, of me was foretold
I’d find all my burdens too heavy to hold.

Yes, while still a maid of me it was said
That after my twelfth child I would lie dead.’

Little Ole refused to believe words such as these,
Little Malfred he answered with little unease:

‘All the soothsayers we curse and we cuss,
And take the good fortune that God wants for us.

Yes, all the soothsayers as chaff we’ll have burned,
And take the good fortune that God sends unearned.’

Little Ole his vessel he steers from the land,
Little Malfred she swoons on the shore’s silver sand.

They bore little Malfred back to her abode,
She bore Ole a son before the cock crowed.

They bore little Malfred upstairs to her bed,
But ere the sun rose in the sky she was dead.

Little Ole he slept on soft silken sheets red,
he dreamt in a dream little Malfred was dead.

Little Ole he slept on soft silken sheets white,
he dreamt little Malfred a corpse she did lie.

Little Ole his vessel he steered toward land,
he stepped ashore on the silvery sand.

And on his way home two maidens he met,
their shoes silvered-buckled, to these two he said:

‘And where have you been, you young maids twain,
with shoes silver-buckled, I beg you explain.’

The first one she answered, her dress it was red,
‘We both have been absent, little Malfred is dead.’

The second she answered, her dress it was white,
‘We both have been absent, a corpse she does lie.’

Little Ole their words refused to believe
tilll once more back home he had reason to grieve.

But when he came home he saw everywhere
Wax candles were burning, their smoke filled the air.

Little Ole then entered, too true were his fears –
His heirs, all eleven, had cheeks wet with tears.

‘My children, why black do you bear? tell me pray,
You all wore bright crimson when I sailed away.’

‘These black clothes we’ll bear now for many a day,
Our mother she died, father he sailed away.’

‘Be quiet now, be quiet now, young children of mine,
No stepmother ever will cause you to pine.’

The white pall he lifted, looked down on the bier,
‘Alas you lie here, my delight and most dear!’

He lifted the linen, on her he gazed down,
‘Alas you lie here, once my joy and my crown!’

He lifted up each of her fingers ten,
A gold ring he placed on each one of them.

He took from his finger a gold ring as well,
and gave to the man who’d be tolling the bell.

Another gold ring from his purse he gave
to him who would dig her a spacious grave.

‘Now dig her grave both wide and deep,
So both of us our church may keep.’

He placed his sword-hilt against a stone,
For its tip to pierce his heart to the bone.

He placed it against the earth so chill,
For its tip to make his heart’s blood spill.

So both of them are now dead and gone,
Their children starve, are pale and wan.
While the waves pull one under.

Werner Aspentröm: 'Slutstriden'


Darrgräs, harkrankar, människor
utan intresse för vapenvård
arméer att hoppas på
den slutliga händelsens dag.


Quaking grass, crane flies, humans
without interest in the care of arms –
armies to hope for
on the final day of reckoning.

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Torild Wardenær: 'Arvestykke CCCXXX'

Inheritance CCCXXX 

Field studies II 

The seaward approach calm and without engines across green lakes with mountains that descend into the water and Jalapeño birds in flight over them – how can I explain this: every morning to get a new watermark when arriving at field I from field II, these areas not so dissimilar, but often
this journeying between them describes some strange distances along the dark mountains, beneath the hunting birds and in this demotorised sailing trip from the particular exactness of sleep, an ecstasy that can only be measured in its own ecstasy and in the firm admission of the sin of the waking world and in the great initiations that have to be counted on every night – all this in the greatest intimacy
and exactitude along with some outburst or other from animals or humans in distress or joy, the scraping of claws against an underlying surface, water in motion, the rattling of strange ceremonies and customs, the war in progress, the almost soundless cardinal fish, the whoosh of the closest fixed stars.

What can I say about this simultaneity that blends with the sharp cries from the
hunting Jalapeño birds?
A moment of absolute pitch is unexpectedly granted me and naturally I seize the opportunity,
 identify the note precisely in the transition between field I and field II and say:
‘That is a C sharp.’ 

To see the original and hear the poet read the poem, go to here

For more English translations of her poetry, go to here

Sunday 26 July 2020

Today's ZKV by A.L. Snijders : 'Barefoot'


Out in the wood only my face and hands are bare – I have to be able to look and blow my nose. The rest has been carefully covered, to keep out ticks. These tiny creatures can cause Lyme disease. When I came to live at the edge of this wood fifty years ago, the ticks used to fall out of the trees and bushes onto the unsuspecting walker, seek out naked skin and latch on. Later on, the naturalist theory changed – the ticks did not drop down but lived on the ground and would crawl upwards if you sat down for a moment to take a look at a lovely spot. The owner of the estate where I often walk has adorned the oak trees in which the processionary caterpillar lives with warning strips of police yellow tape. I always thank him with a short prayer, although I don’t know if that does him any good. I’ve been talking about natural phenomena for fifty years now, whereas before then I used to live on Oudezijds Achterburgwal and so I talked a lot about whores and pimps. This is a variant of the saying: He who pays the piper calls the tune. I have recently got to know a handyman gardener who was not born in our country but in Brittany. He is a Frenchman who is at present living in our country and who also speaks our language – I approach him with great respect. After work, he takes a swim in natural water – a woodland lake or a lively stream. Yesterday he went walking barefoot in the wood, I was greatly surprised. I knew that he regards me as a complete blank as far as nature is concerned, but the fact that his bare feet shocked me he simply found too much. The misunderstanding increased further when he told me that he had soft soles. He showed them to me, feet have to be soft, for then nature responds with softness. He believes that nature adapts itself to human behaviour. He asked me if I would like to check the softness of his feet, but if you’ve lived on Oudezijds, you don’t do that sort of thing. I would like to travel with him sometime to the bay of Mont Saint-Michel, where the water streams in and out with great rapidity at high and low tide. He was out there so often on his own as a young man that he became a connoisseur of that treacherous area. That is how his image of nature has been formed. I naturally don’t join him in the water, I stand at the water’s edge for hours just watching – an interested outsider.

Lars Gustafsson: 'Elegi över förlorade och glömda föremål'

Elegi över förlorade och glömda föremål

Vinterhandskarna som hamnade underst i lådan.
Det gamla gäddraget av mässing under flod av skruvar.

Och en hammare, med murbruk på skaftet,
som måste ha varit med familjen sedan -39

och nu plötsligt är som uppslukad av jorden.
Alla dessa ting som en gång var oss nära

måste nu själva minnas i vilken låda de ligger.

De kan inte längre lita på mig. Och är på egen hand.

Jag minns hur de såg ut, hur de kändes i handen,
Minns till och med hammaren någon sommardag

i det avlägsna fyrtiotalet när jag var
alltför liten för att riktigt lyfta den,

och hur min far varsamt tog den från mig.

Världen, labyrint för borttappade

och glömda föremål, från de gamla svärden
i de aldrig öppnade bronsåldersgravarna

till läsglasögonen som kom bort i förrgår,
minns dem alla. Ingen anledning till oro.

Och du som går omkring så ivrigt och söker?
Är du inte själv ett sådant objekt för sökande?

Och något säger dig, en kväll när något återfanns,
repat och rostigt men ändå sig likt

i lådan under floden av bultar och lås
att hela detta letande efter ting

bara var en spegel av din egen heta önskan:
att någon skulle leta efter dig med samma iver.

Elegy on lost and forgotten objects

The winter gloves that ended up at the bottom of the drawer.
The old brass trolling-spoon under a torrent of screws.

And a hammer, with mortar on the shaft,
that must have been in the family since ’39

and that suddenly the earth has swallowed up.
All those things that were once so close to us

must now remember for themselves
what drawer they belong to.

They can’t rely on me any longer. And are on their own.

I remember what they looked like, how they felt in my hand,
Even remember the hammer on a summer’s day

in the distant forties when I was
much too small to be able to lift it properly,

and how my father carefully took it away from me.

The world, a labyrinth for lost

and forgotten objects, from the old swords
in the never-opened bronze-age burial sites

to the reading glasses that got lost the day before yesterday,
has them all in mind. No cause for alarm.

And you who go around searching so eagerly?
Are not you yourself such an object of searching?

And something tells you, one evening when something was refound,
scratched and rusty but still the same as ever

in the drawer under the torrent of bolts and locks
that all this hunting for things

only mirrored your own fervent wish:
that someone should be hunting you with the same zeal. 

Saturday 25 July 2020

B.S. Ingemann: 'I Østen stiger Solen op'


The sun that in the East does rise
Drapes clouds with golden gown,
O’er seas and peaks it sails the skies,
O’er countryside and town.

It comes from that fair coast so bright
Where Paradise once lay;
It comes with joy and life and light
To great and small alway.

It brings to us a greeting fine
From Eden’s rising dawn,
Where stood the Tree with fruit sublime,
Where Life’s pure fount was born.

It greets us from Life’s home afar,
Where God’s light did abound
O’er Bethlehem with that bright star
The East’s Wise Men once found.

And with God’s sun comes from the East
A distant heavn’ly glow,
A glimpse of Paradise’s coast,
Where Life’s great orchards grow.

And all the stars from near and far
Bow as East’s sun gains height:
It seems to them so like the star
O’er Bethlehem that night.

You sun of suns from Bethlehem!
May thanks and praises rise
For every glint from Light’s true home
And from your Paradise!

Thursday 23 July 2020

Erik Axel Karlfeldt: 'Jorum'

Jorum (Death)
(By Hans Holbein the youngest from Rättvik)

Death moves on from town to town,
mouldy fiddle ready.
Old, yet sharp from toe to crown,
legs quite trim and steady!
Fairest maid he twirls around
with his tunes so heady.

Should he stand where houses meet
strum the strings quite lightly,
out come maids as if to greet
lads once held so tightly.
Off they leap on nimble feet
o’er the meadow sprightly.

Mother, homebound, gaze so mild,
smooth round cheeks now paling,
from her breast her full-fed child
now removes unwailing.
Off they dance then, both beguiled,
past the churchyard railing.

Grandma’s woken by the sound,
stretches legs out, grumbling.
On the churchyard’s grassy ground
waltzing is heard rumbling;
tired and dizzy she falls down,
’neath a large stone tumbling.

No one’s e’er bewitched  them so –
see their  legs all flailing!
Marshal, private, high and low,
ruddy-cheeked and ailing –
to the ball He bids all go,
and they do unfailing.

If in poorhouse he was holed
jostling with like vassals,
here in splendour him behold
as in barons’ castles;
graceful dancing, as of old  –
fine style that bedazzles.

Limping Lena, fat and squat,
hair a shade of ochre,
polskas till she gets all hot
and her gasps near choke her.
Off they shamble, off they plod –
the church hill’s a croaker.

Jorum in bare mountain clime
and where cows are lowing,
Jorum in late-evening time,
Jorum in sun’s glowing!
Hear the mouldy fiddle’s whine
under frenzied bowing!

Town and country brothers all,
maids and wives included!
Let our time on earth not pall
joy not be excluded,
till we bow out, great and small
when our life’s concluded.

To see the original, go to here.
To hear Sven-Bertil Taube sing the song, go to here.
To hear it sung in English, with new music by Elwe Json, go to here

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Roland Jooris: 'Aswit'

Alleen het uitgebeende
schilferend versteende, het gronden
van verstorven wit, alleen
het mager kloosterlijke
licht, het derven dat
de lucht verdunt tot
alleen het radeloos
serene, het kil getik,
de al verstoven as, het
zwerk, het ongenaakbaar
naakte in de tastbaarheid
van het bestaan

Only the filleted
flakingly fossilised, the grounding
of pined-away white, only
the emaciated cloisterlight,
the lack that
thins and rarifies the

only the distraughtly
serene, the chill ticking,
the already scattered ash, the
welkin, the inaccessibly
naked in the tangibility
of existence

Ruben Nilson: 'Grevinnan'


Grevinnan hon satt i ett fönster,
hon satt i sin jungfrubur
i nattrock med gyllene mönster,
då kom det en glad trubadur.
‘Kom in här och spela en visa,
min man är i främmande land.’
‘Din skönhet, min fru, vill jag prisa,
om du ger mig ditt hjärta och hand.’

Grevinnan hon vred sina händer.
‘Min man, han är borta, min vän.
han krigar i främmande länder
och kommer väl aldrig igen.
Kom in här och spela en visa
så sorgsen jag är i mitt sinn.’
‘Din skönhet, min fru, vill jag prisa,’
sa’ sångar’n och klättrade in.

Han knäppte på lutan och sade:
‘Ak, ge mig mitt hjärta och hand.’
Och runt omkring livet hon hade
ett rosenrött sidenband,
det tog hon och gav trubaduren
att sätta på lutan sin,
– då hördes det steg i tamburen -
och greven själv trädde in.

Och greven skramla’ med svärdet
och skratta’ ett vansinnigt skratt,
och sade: ‘Min sköna, hur är det,
– min nådiga, hur är det fatt,
– vem fan är den här figuren,
– vad gör han vid grevens härd?’
och han pekade på trubaduren
med sitt långa, blodiga, svärd.

Grevinnan, som nyss hade dånat,
hon sade: ‘Det är ju en narr,
och alldeles nyss har han lånat
ett band till sin gamla gitarr.’
‘Det där låter fasan så troligt,’
sa’ greven och mönstrade dem.
‘O Rickard,’ sa hon, ‘så roligt,
så roligt att du kom hem.’

‘O jaså, förlåt, lilla flickan,’
sa’ greven och strök hennes kind.
Men trubaduren han gick han
och hängde sig oppe på vind.
Och liksom av änglar buren
till ett annat, sällare land,
där svävade trubaduren
i ett rosenrött sidenband.


The countess she sat by her window,
her gold-patterned night-gown aglow,
she sat in her bower quite chagrined, though
a glad troubadour stood below.
‘Come in, sing a song, I am lonely,
my husband’s in some far-off land.’
‘Your beauty I’ll praise, Ma’am, if only
you’ll give me your heart and your hand.’

She wrung her fair hands, did the countess.
‘My husband is absent, my friend.
His battles in far lands are countless
so there he may well meet his end.
Come in, sing a song, I am lonesome,
my misery’s almost a sin.’
‘You shan’t, Ma’am, remain on your ownsome,’
he answered at once and climbed in.

He plucked at his lute and entreated:
‘Ah, give me your heart and your hand.’
And she round her gown, finely pleated,
was wearing a pink silken band.
She gave it him when she’d unwound it
to place on his lute as a sign, 
– when out in the hall steps resounded
and there stood the count, quite malign.

The count shook his sword evil-looking
and let out a laugh mighty queer
and said: ‘Well, my lovely, what’s cooking
– my gracious one, what have we here?
– now who in the hell’s this musician,
– is all of this quite above board?’
And the troubadour with a mission
he pricked with his long, bloody sword.

The countess, who’d just done some swooning,
said: ‘He’s just a fool, quite bizarre,
who wanted to have for his crooning
a band to adorn his guitar.’
‘That all dammit sounds so suspicious,’
the count sized them up with a frown.
‘Oh Richard,’ she said, ‘how delicious,
delicious you’re back safe and sound!’

‘Forgive me, dear, I’m so hard-hearted,’
the count said and stroked her cheek twice.
The troubadour quickly departed
and strung himself up in a trice.
As if now the angels conveyed him
to another, rarified land,
the troubadour hung there still swaying
on the lady’s pink silken band.

To hear Fred Åkerström sing this, go to here