the pick-up arm weaves and pitches
as it surfs the groove
defies the idea
the speed is the same
at the rim
as where the track unthreads
at the endless inner circle
grief is my anchor
love the wind in my sails
These are recollections about three dogs. The first dates back thirty or forty years. Someone visits me unexpectedly with a large dog, a cross between a Great Dane and a Bouvier. The man is no stranger – he has once done some work on the house. Sometimes he took his dog with him, so I am not afraid. This time he doesn’t come to do any work, he has a question: ‘My wife and I are getting divorced, could you take over the dog?’ I say: ‘You do realise I’ve got two? I’m afraid I’ll have to say no.’ We talk for a bit and as he is getting into the car, I ask him where he’ll take the dog now. He says: ‘To the vet, to have him put to sleep – I can’t find any other address for him.’. I say: ‘Well, leave him here in that case.’ That’s what happened, the dog was a giant with the character of a medieval nobleman. He never got involved in anything, except stormy weather. He was scared stiff of it. If there was no one at home, he would break every door down so as to escape the heavy crashes or to forget them. He lived for a number of years and died a natural death. I can point out the spot in the garden where I’ve buried him.
Adriaan Morriën writes: ‘In the park a large dog, dazzling white (not a Great Dane – this one had the size of an Alsatian). His master, a young man with a moustache, is wearing dazzling white trousers. Does that indicate a spiritual affinity?’
I am unable to answer this poetical question. Morriën is a poet, he doesn’t think much about a dog with a soul.
The third dog was a hunting dog. He was the property of a fanatical hunter who was the owner of a chicken feed business. I used to buy chicken feed and knew the hunter. He trained the German Pointer every day, but one evening, the dog had vanished. The hunger combed the local area painstakingly – the dog was nowhere to be found. After a year, in autumn, I discovered the hunting dog in a small shed on my premises. The animal was tame and did not look neglected or shy. I thought of the hunter and phoned him. He could not believe his eyes, it was his dog. During that year I had often seen the man, he occasionally used to visit us. I later heard that he asked around in the neighbourhood because he suspected that I had had the dog in my possession for the entire year. But no one had ever seen me with the animal. He never found out where it had been that year, but he suspected me. I heard in the neighbourhood that he had said there was no other possible answer. Whenever I bought chicken feed from him, we both kept quiet about the incident. I have always cherished this mutual secrecy, perhaps I dreamt that he was right and when I woke up felt disappointed that I had not protected the dog against its owner.
Spring’s joyous choir of birds
(Dedicated to Staffan Söderblom)
Ah those joyous voices of birds in spring!
How well I too remember the choir
of those small wingèd singers
They were borne in on a special tray
by schoolmaster Gustav Edin,
extremely dusty, increasingly pale in colour
and – it might possibly seem –
sparrow and nightingale, hawk and pied fly-catcher,
meadow pipit and dipper –
And from a gramophone record
from Radio Sweden, much over-used,
all their joyous voices were played
I never learnt
to distinguish one chirp from the other
And now in October the dull voice
of the curlew is all that is left
I did however
finally learn that one
Gamble man han lijknas
widh Barkelösa Ek,
Alle sine gräner
fäller hon från sigh,
hon Rotner i Röter,
hon faller nidher i tåpp,
Gamble mannen faller af,
then vnge wexer vp.
Fatigdom och siukdom
the ginge sigh om bÿ,
Mötte them sårgh oth quelle,
Så wåre the Sÿstrar tre,
The ladhe sin stempna
widh gamble mansens dör.
Herre Gudh nådhe then gamble man,
som ther bor innan före.
Gamble mannen strÿker
Frender hafuer han månge,
och wenner hafuer han få,
Nådhe honom Gudh i himmelrijk,
som ther skal lijtha opå.
Gamble mansens näsa
böijes nidh som quist til Jordh,
werden är så suijkful,
Som ijsen ligger på flodh,
Han bräker och brakar
han brister och siunker i grundh,
Så går enom gamble man,
som lefuer en långan stundh.
Dödhen han lijknas
widh jägare tw
Han slepper vth sine raker,
Bijter han en roo,
han bijter wäll ene
han bijter wäll twå,
Han bijter wäll alle the diur som äre
bådhe store och små.
Old man he resembles
an oak with no bark:
sheds its many branches
till it stands stark,
its roots start to rot
it thins out on top.
Old man falling off,
young man coming up.
Poverty and Illness
the city would see,
at evening Grief met them,
then were they sisters three.
Arranged a meeting
at the old man’s door;
Almighty God spare the old man
who dwells within for sure.
The old man strokes
his pate of grey hair,
old age tries the patience
of his kin everywhere.
kinsmen he’s a-plenty,
precious few friends has he;
may God in heaven spare the one
whose trust in such must be.
The old man’s nose bends
like a branch to the ground.
The world is as treacherous
as river-ice unsound;
it creaks and it cracks,
it breaks and sinks away:
so fares an old man
that lives for many a day.
Death he most resembles
a huntsman of stubborn mind:
his hounds he unleashes
to hunt a single hind,
he hunts perhaps just one,
it could be he hunts twain,
or maybe creatures one and all,
till all of them are slain.
Ingen har lettere halefjær
og rødere silkeskjorte.
Og ingen kan være så plutselig nær
og bli så plutselig borte.
Hvile seg litt på et lubbent nek
og muntert på vakt med blikket:
Mennesket er et ufarlig krek,
for fly kan det heldigvis ikke!
No one has tail-feathers quite as light
and red silk shirt any brighter.
And can quite so suddenly flash into sight,
so suddenly vanish either.
Resting a while on its chubby neck,
its gaze so merry yet wary:
Humans are hopeless, can’t even peck
and since they can’t fly quite unscary!
USE AND ABUSE OF THE CHEQUERED BLUE BUTTERFLY SCOLITANTIDES ORION
Chequered Blue, you who were found where quietness reigned,
you who on the quiet were expelled by land policies,
you mirrored-blue resident of granite down by Iddefjord, on the steep slope
in at the edge and the outermost, expelled from slopes of south-facing rock
by land policies, common-sense coloured, camouflaged in the rock-face brown,
camouflaged in the mirrored-blue, almost without a colour to your name,
easily overlooked, not designed to shelter in a rose, bashful lover of shore-violets in May,
expelled from your habitat
Now that’s you’re included on the red list,
now that your copyright’s expiring,
let me borrow you, I want to borrow you, Chequered Blue, Scolitantides Orion, now that
you are brought out and illuminated on your way out,
now that you are transilluminated by your own disappearance like a star long since
extinct, now that you have your fifteen minutes of fame,
let me borrow you
Let me use you as a vessel,
let me give you an old captain,
one who can navigate, one you can sail you all the way to Orion, an old captain who will
not leave his ship while still the boat sails along,
while still the heartbeat is strong, one who can navigate for those in need to reach Orion
But you are the Chequered Blue,
you prefer to fly low, thrive when the granite rises like wings from the sea,
you thrive when sun-warm, south-facing slopes of rock rise on the horizon,
Scolitantides Orion, coloured like the horizon with dark wing-fringes,
you are not destined skywards, you are not destined for Orion,
you are to be placed under special protection
and assigned a habitat among cabins and cottages down by the sea
Did I use the Chequered Blue as a vessel for my longing?
Was it merely my longing that needed a captain?
A captain who can navigate the Chequered Blue to Orion? What should it be doing there?
I have a friend who was born and brought up in Auvergne, but now lives in the Netherlands. That is easy, for the Netherlands and France are both members of the European Union. You can come and live here just like that, while I can just as easily go and live in Auvergne. But that’s got nothing to do with the diaries of Jules Renard. He did not live all that long, from 1864 to 1910. Today, 17 October 2020, I open the book. I read what he wrote on 22 September 1895: ‘I only like writing about everyday things, as an artist, but do not dare touch books that call for precision, biographies and critical essays. I have an aversion towards novels, poetry makes me feel tired.’
I wish to know from my friend what his view is if a writer only busies himself with little stories. Isn’t that a bit paltry? I ring him up, his wife says that he has unexpectedly left for Auvergne. Did I have an important question I wanted to ask him? Does she know if he reads Jules Renard? She doesn’t. So I just wait until he’s returned from his native land.
I now read the following entry which the writer made on that day: ‘He asked the moon of me. I went off in search of a pail of water. “Here,” I said to him, seize the moon. All you have to do is bend down. You’re unable to capture it? Work something out. It’s no longer my business. I’ve brought you the moon.’
I now ring my neighbour up, who lives in a large country house and knows all about nature – and thus also the moon. I read Renard’s lines out loud for him. He is enthusiastic, especially ‘All you have to do is bend down’ he finds brilliant. He is unfamiliar with the work of this writer, but says he’s certainly going to start reading him.
The third contribution on that day is: ‘No Paradise exists, but you have to attempt to deserve there being one.’
I don’t understand this. How can you deserve something that doesn’t exist?’
The last words for this particular day are poignant: ‘I already feel old, incapable of great things. If my life lasts another twenty years, what will I be able to fill them up with?’
Renard writes this at the age of 31 – he does not live a further twenty years.
That’s a pity.
Je n’aime à écrire que de petites choses, en artiste, mais je ne risqué pas des livres de precision, des biographies, des critiques. Les romans me dégoûtent, les vers me fatiguent.
Il n’y a pas de Paradis, mais il faut tâcher de mériter qu’il y en ait un.
Je me sens déjà vieux, incapable de grandes choses. Si ma vie se prolonge de vingt années, comment pourrai-je les remplir?
Halfway up our road there is a chestnut tree, vast, tall. I throw up sticks every autumn to bring down the almost ripe chestnuts to use as conkers. Conkers are bored through with a skewer and string inserted, a knot tied at the bottom. The aim of the game of conkers is this: one person holds the end of his string and lets the conker dangle. The other person holds his conker in one hand, the end of the string in the other and tries to ‘bash’ the other person’s conker and smash it. You take turns if you miss. If you hit the other person’s conker, you get another go. If you smash it, your conker becomes a ‘oner’, ‘twoer’, etc. You’re not allowed to cheat and bake your conker in the oven to make it harder – you can tell if it is from its matt surface.
The joys of childhood. But on my walks round the block with the dog I meet chestnuts with lots more spikes, but shorter ones. And inside them are several ‘conkers’. But they aren’t round and have a wispy tail at the top. The tree looks different – and it has pink blossom, not white candelabras. ‘That’s a sweet chestnut,’ ma tells me. ‘You can eat them – you can’t eat horse chestnuts!’ The distinction is utterly clear.
So it is in other languages. German has Edelkastanie (= noble) for a pink tree and Rosskastanie for a white. Danish has ægte kastanje (=genuine) and hestekastanje. So does Swedish. Norwegian prefers søt, Dutch zoet for the pink one.
And the Latin names indicate clearly that we are dealing with very different species. A sweet chestnut is Castanea sativa; a horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum.
I am taught in French at school that pink = marron, white = châtaigne. It turns out almost the opposite is true, although the French get their chestnut terminology all mixed up. And the terms are used fairly indiscriminately, even in French cuisine. There are even French websites that try to explain to puzzled readers:
So what I learnt at school was ‘an old chestnut’. There’s a moral in there somewhere.
I walk in danger where i tread
I walk in danger where I tread,
my soul would e’er remind me
that Satan stands behind, ahead
with fetters that would bind me;
his hidden hell-fire’s ray
can oft lead me astray
if from my post I once have fled.
I walk in danger where I tread.
I walk in hardship where I tread –
foul sin, I must forswear it;
should God’s rod rain upon my head,
with patience I must bear it;
I often see no way
along which to assay
when setbacks’ mists around me spread.
I walk in hardship where I tread.
I walk but deathwards where I tread,
all certainty’s denied me,
each day or hour is one more thread
with which he now has tied me,
a tiny breath of air
can end the whole affair
and to eternity I’m sped.
I walk but deathwards where I tread.
I walk midst angels where I tread,
whose loving care’s eternal,
and Satan’s power provokes no dread
in such a host supernal.
Begone, world’s cares malign!
An angel stronghold’s mine
though hairs be harmed upon my head.
I walk midst angels where I tread.
I walk with Jesus where I tread,
close by his side he keeps me,
he shelters through the blood he’s shed
and helps me fight if needs be.
And where he once has trod
I too will seek to plod
though some would see me fail instead.
I walk with Jesus where I tread.
I walk to heaven where I tread,
so let my heart be cheerful,
its sole goal where all pain is shed
and sin leaves no one tearful.
Begone, world’s pomp and state!
I gaze on heaven’s gate,
all love of worldly goods now dead.
I walk to heaven where I tread.
Bitter and ironic sonnet
in which Trump is infected with the
And if the antichrist at his last gasp
lay hooked to oxygen in isolation,
is hope in order? And is aspiration
for quietness and a firmer U.S. grasp
of virtue fitting? And perverse delight?
Is that for once a thing worth reinstating?
Is hate for someone who knows only hating
an act of love, a cause that’s good and right?
It is both bitter as it is ironic
that he who recommended jabs of bleach
should end up getting preferential care,
while that same care because of his iconic
Obamacare attacks placed out of reach
vain hopes of those whose lives hung by a hair.
The time when I kept pigs is long since over. They used to live outdoors in their own territory and sleep in a hut with lots of straw that I got from a friendly neighbour. To start with, I bought their feed from a firm that specialised in animal feeds, but after a tip from someone at a supermarket, I was able after five ‘o clock to get hold of food that could no longer be sold. The pigs thrived on fruit and herbs and vegetables that were brought here in huge aircraft from countries with exotic names and great poverty. Everyone who saw my pigs were struck by their distinctive behaviour. Once someone said that he couldn’t help thinking of animals from the epoch of the Akkadian Empire between the Euphrates and the Tigris, between 2350 and 2025 BC. The mysterious power those pigs then had has never since been observed. I had never heard of this and did not go into it any further. The old understanding remained that pigs like acorns. It would have been nice if I could have gone with them to the wood behind my house and let them graze on acorns beneath the oak trees. But pigs aren’t like that, they don’t listen to commands. I could only keep them on an enclosed plot of land. This they then churned open, and took great pleasure in doing so. In autumn, the woodland paths were full of acorns and I used to collect them in buckets and take them to the pigs. I did so in order to soften their hearts. It took a lot of time that I really needed to keep the house in reasonable shape, but there was voice inside me that urged me not to consider the pigs as ordinary animals. All of this took place in the last century, I have forgotten about the mysterious power of the pigs, I actually don’t think about it anymore. This morning I was driving along the secondary road that runs through this self-same wood. The weather was fine, everyone was doing eighty. When an opposing car blinked its lights at me, I couldn’t see anything wrong, but I soon did when I saw a bike lying in the road that I was only able to avoid by braking sharply and swerving over onto the verge. The bike had fallen off a carrying rack and could have caused a nasty accident. This took place at a spot in the wood where earlier, in the last century, I had often collected acorns for my Mesopotamian pigs. I don’t find I can justifiably relate the one thing with the other, but it costs me the utmost effort.
In the mirror of the busy current
he spies flights of birds, he lets his boots
swirl on behind them, soon blood-red the day
will end in his latest delusion.
Bridges incorporate villages into
the town, a host of lighters pass beneath,
one by one they disappear round
the farther bend, he finds a butterfly upon
his sleeve that’s still alive, mad midges dance
eternal figures. Barefoot he wanders
round the quay, points upwards,
at the land, what’s happened to him?
You hear him mumbling like a monk,
he seems to talk of a ‘close shave’
or maybe says ‘most brave’ – he finally
emerges as a soldier – hard though
to discern for like a garden fence
the collar of his tunic frames his mouth.
What’s he up to now? He climbs into steel
girders of a bridge, puts writings on
a wall, then gestures to the clouds and ships
with something that resembles a salute.
Soon the distant ceiling gleams above him.
Dodemont – thus is the name his sword-
belt bears – regains the gentle ground but now
without camouflage jacket, which flutters
like a banner on a pier and without helmet
that sticks in the pit of an arch
like a monocle in an eye-socket. Where
is he bound, he has a house? His hair
hangs long, his hollow cheeks show
signs of beard. His paltry back he frees
from his knapsack, digs out a chocolate bar,
from his canteen drips slowly tea or
rum, you grant him nectar, so
low is his supply of milk and honey.
The shadow that the light had sent him
as companion has vanished; the path
he follows takes him past the town
that cranes its neck above the river.
Dodemont reaches a small harbour,
a lady standing there exposed to his
gaze, her arms open wide, avows: ‘I am,
sir, always here like war the whore’.
His body covered with sand and grass,
he finds a sunken road in which he now
takes cover. He now performs the leopard crawl,
his gleaming barrel like a jewel against his jowl,
who will he fight against and for what reason,
for what power does he fix his bayonet?
New light peers through the seams of the night.
Dodemont awakes in a kind of watchman’s
house or is it a café, he sips
at sour wine and chews at cake, fishes
up leftovers of pork and cheese from a fold
of a worn-out bag. His heart gets dope
by what his stomach is supplied with,
he belches a dead language, once spoken
hereabouts at this centuries-old water.
He’s sandal-shod, shows dagger and sword,
wears armour like the comrades in arms
in the muses’ temple round the corner.
Where is his garrison, his legion,
what brings him here, what has he come to do?
He lands up - it must be said - amongst
foot-soldiers, well-received, is surprised
that he is known by people from so far away
in this present now. From double rows
gush gladioli, wreaths,
he only needs to follow his
vocation, waving at palms
of hands. At the tribunes he lingers,
above him a plane traces in the sky
‘Gods greet Dodemont’ as it flies by.
From homage or duty, he raises
an eagle to the light amongst soldier-
talk and signs. The sea of flowers
that’s swamped him he humbly lays at the
feet of the emperors on their square,
hangs wreaths round the necks of the four
maidens at the retaining wall, who stand
like vestal virgins before the native
seasons and places laurels on the man
with the flag recalling the last battle.
People are in festive mood, and from the tower
comes the sound of bells, basses and tenors.
The horizon dims, before night conquers
it Dodemont stares at the hunting-
fields beyond the river on the other side,
what is he thinking of, of what then, just now or here?
Fireworks are let off into the firmament.
Dodemont, who’s up in arms at once, dreams
evidently of a new front: H-Hour.
Believing it too, he has a déjà-vu
of Ultima Thule where he can
possibly have been, that is before his
mind’s eye every time he marches towards
bridges, fields, hills, expanses of water.
You see him marching once more with himself
in boots and sandals as before to points
of the compass where he has already been, bound
for new honours, wreaths, graves.
O Dodemont, where have you not already been,
are you not yet sufficiently laid to rest?