Wednesday 31 May 2023

Thor Sørheim: 'Flintøksa'




The first immigrants to the Cap of the North area hacked their way

through the coniferous forest in search of wild animals and warm inlets

suitable for settlement. While doing so, they held on tight to the grey

flintstone which increases their force. They could swing their arm

in a large arc before striking their prey. They learnt how to bind

a shaft to the stone to increase the strength. The flint axe taught the hunters


to think. For no one can think without having seen fish in the sea,

fire in the forest, bird’s nests in the trees. Their thought was fed

by smelling the earth, religion came into being after the touch of warm hands.

From the earliest settlers on the planet we can trace not a line

but a circle with groping hands in dark tunnels, rhythmic

ring dances, epidemics that were overcome by the right use


of plants and bacteria, laurel wreaths. Occasionally

the circles meshed to form slender spirals. From snail shells to

the calm in the eye of the hurricane and distant galaxies. We can count

the Fibonacci spiral and gaze far out and into infinity from Cern

deep down in the rock and the launching ramp at Stovner. We understand

how we can twist and turn to draw maps of the universe and find


new means of survival. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon

he said: That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap

for mankind. A leap that would have been impossible without

the flint axe. He did not mention the fact. But it was with a firm

grip round our oldest implement, with four closely placed fingers above

and the thumb as a lock beneath that the journey to the moon began.


* Armstrong insists he said ‘for a man’ and not ‘for man’, but that people could not hear the ‘a’.

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Thor Sørheim: 'Grønn høst'




The bank of cloud is washed away by the sun which spatters drops of light

against the white house wall. Yellow birch trees straighten up

the fields that lie in a long line down towards the river bend. The lorry

with a green awning fills out the autumn day that as yet has not

tasted frosty nights. The leaves are falling more or less


randomly to the ground. This is not to say  that nature

is experiencing the calm before the storm. The purple dome aster

holds its flowers up high. The blackberries are still

there for the picking, and the funnel chanterelle clings

to rotting pine stumps. The autumn is green, forecasting more vapour.



Monday 29 May 2023

Thor Sørheim: 'Musikk for vann og piano'




The hill outside the window has an irrigation system

that ripples away, unceasingly when I hear 

the pianist’s fingers race over white and black

keys. I am carried off in the descant rhythm of the music and

the deep crescendo of the bass line, and do not know if I am to cross

the footbridge with or without a bucket of water. The stream runs


under all piano pieces. Drained veins of water undermine

the hillside and fill the room with a longing for the music through

all channels. The clefts in the bedrock become visible, I hear

the torrent over volcanic rocks. In the movement there is the idea

of hovering, I can make out the sea in the far distance, the fire from

the sunset, before the piano concerto brings us to rest in the unfinished.


For Morten Moi



Thor Sørheim: 'Det snør'




It’s snowing, but there is nothing falling.

I walk along the road in February and feel 

I am almost airborne. The snow swirls, the wind

softens, there must be a change on the way.


There are edifying poems in the obituaries

and I think of Carl XII, the Swedish king

who attempted to lead his army over Lauvåsen ridge,

along the very road I am now following. Carolus


did not make it. Soldiers and peasants  were plentiful in

the entrenchments, admittedly, but the greatest obstacle

was the snow that had fallen thick and fast in March 1716.

The Swedish army had to cross the ridge in a column.


The deep snow prevented them from making a

fan-shaped attack, and their secret weapon was a failure.

I walk along the road that has lain here since the time

of the great migration, and cross in triumph.

Sunday 28 May 2023

Thor Sørheim: 'Lista Fyr'




The green plain curves like a love-letter out towards

the sea. In spite of the pebble beach someone has written

LOVE with bright-coloured flowery letters. The wind presses

the clumps of grass flat. The lighthouse stands erect,


but a twin-brother lies slaughtered and dismembered in the wall.

Long-haired cows graze leisurely in the evening light. All you

need is love a loudspeaker claims from the sky. It takes time

To realise that under this flat countryside trenches spread out


like blood-vessels. We can see the remains of emplacements

and narrow ditches. The war bleeds in photographs from the First

World War on the Western front, others like on the edge of

Listalandet, and at Fetsund Battery they kept a sharp lookout across


Glomma towards the enemy. Present-day bombers, drones

and missiles cannot prevent war still being fought in

the earth’s crust. A trench dug with one’s own hands

is the closest one can ever get to a living hell.




Saturday 27 May 2023

Thor Sørheim: 'Rutengjenger'




Nobody can claim with certainty that a dowsing rod, 

carved from a hazel bush and carried by a diviner

who holds it tightly with both hands with the point

twisting upwards, will twitch downwards and quiver towards 

the stone slab when passed over mineral deposits deep down


in the rock. Nobody, hand on heart, can say that it is impossible

for a diviner who walks cautiously through the forest

over heather and stony soil to feel that there is iron down

there along a fault line formed two million years

ago. I am no diviner when standing here at Gruvebakken,


which Tobias Kuper pointed out after having searched for ore

here in the 17th century. But I choose to believe that people

exist who with eye and hand can sense minute changes in nature

and the seasons. Like vigilant animals along pathways they will sense

with a rod that forebodes dangers lurking in covetous hearts.

I would refer you to Seamus Heaney's poem 'The Diviner' as analysed here. Also to a poem recently published on the blog on a similar theme by the Dutch poet Ida Gerhardt here.

Thor Sørheim: Det sitter i veggene'




The concrete in the Pantheon is two thousand years old,

and the dome arches up over me when I 

dive down from the Spanish Steps and let my gaze glide

along the walls and up to the opening at the very top

of the oldest temple we know. Is it the grace of the gods

that drifts down and lets us gain a glimpse of eternity, or


is it the walls that hold us in their curved hands so as

to lead our longing up towards a heaven that has given us the sun

and the stars, and for a long while hidden its myriads of planets

and distant galaxies until Galileo peeked behind the curtains? We

do not find God in the universe, I have more faith in the walls

of concrete that have withstood moisture and decomposition.


The walls do not leak, the walls of concrete contain lime

particles that originally come from the volcanic ash in the area

where Vesuvius is located. The ash from the earth’s interior is there

in the walls and seals the cracks when water trickles in. I pat the wall

cautiously and thank our ancestors in Antiquity, who must have suspected

that creation takes place where ash leaves fire.




Thor Sørheim: 'Fullmånen' (2023)




When I hang a picture on the wall and the voice

behind me says a shade to the left, a bit up

with the right corner and watch the lower edge, it is not

the motif that is being placed in the desired position.


The sudden sunlight in January that fills

a city street with diagonal shadows, the stream

that trickles under the ice, the smell of ammonia

in a newly washed kitchen are sensed independently of me


before thought has mobilised the correct angles.

The senses dance, the dogmas are threaded on a string,

preferably well above the sewer in the back yard.

What the eyes discover and a kiss leads up to


give me insight into the dark enigmas without answer

when the moon hangs up the earth in its path

in front of the sun and lets its image be taken full-size

at precisely midnight, and always to the south.



Ida Gerhardt: 'De voorouders'


De Voorouders


Ik kan niet van hen spreken,

stel hen niet in gebreke;

ik werd achter mijn tanden stom.

Hun liefde en hun veten

gaan niet meer in mij om.

Er bleef alleen het teken:

brandmerk en adeldom.

Als een fossiel in zwarte lei.

Zij slapen. Eeuwen diep in mij.





I leave them all unspoken,

dismiss their word oft broken:

behind my teeth my tongue lies still.

Their love and their rejection

have no more role to fill.

One sign’s their sole reflection:

their brand, noblesse of will.

Hid like a fossil in black slate.

Centuries deep. Asleep they wait.



Thursday 25 May 2023

Ida Gerhardt: 'Zonsondergang'




De vogelen heb ik zien komen

voorbij het zonneoog.

Ik heb hen neder zien stromen:

van vleugelen wit en zwart,

van kreten wild en verward.

Tot de zon was ondergegaan.

Toen heb ik hen óp zien staan.

Duizenden vleugelen, geslagen,

waren als één vogel,– gedragen,

zwart, langs nachts baan.





The birds I have seen this way beaming

past the eye of the sun.

I have seen them downwards streaming:

the whole earth moved, overrun

with wings that were white and black

with cries a wild, tangled track.

Till the sun had sunk into night.

Then I’ve seen their soaring flight.

Thousands of wings that in their beating

were as of one bird,– borne retreating,

black, along night’s back.

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Ida Gerhardt: 'Fair Ceridwen'


Fair Ceridwen


Die mij ontwijkt

is die ik graag win;

die voor mij prijkt

is die ik niet min.

Die mij ten dans vraagt

wil ik niet tot man.

O, dat zijn kan waagt

die hij het niet kan!



Fair Ceridwen


He who me spurns

I wish for alone;

who for me burns

my heart will not own.

Who with me would dance

I never shall wed.

Oh, would he but chance,

whose heart’s filled with dread!



The name Ceridwen comes from the Welsh – cerdd – meaning poetry

or song and – wen, (a contraction of gwen) – meaning white, fair or holy

 Ceridwen, according to Welsh legends and folklore, was a white witch

or goddess, and is considered to be the goddess of poetry, inspiration

and of the cauldron of transfiguration.



Tuesday 23 May 2023

Ida Gerhardt: 'The fire'


Het vuur


                                 de doodgraver spreekt


De kleine Matthew Jones, dàt was er een:

de dominee stond verslagen van zijn vragen.

En rood haar dat hij had! Zó rood, daar kon

hij wel de brand mee in de hoeve steken.

Dit is zin steen. Dat wordt alweer vijf jaar.

Wie het gedaan heeft is nooit uitgekomen.

zijn vader noemde hem ‘mijn zwavelstok’,

zijn moeder zei altijd: ‘Mijn vurige jongen.’



The fire


the gravedigger speaks


The stripling Matthew Jones, now there was one:

the parson at his questions was dumbfounded.

A shock of red hair too! So red a thatch,

he could have set on fire the entire farmstead,

This is his stone. Five years already rounded.

And who the killer was remains unknown.

His father’s nickname was ‘my brimstone match’

his mother always said: ‘my fiery young’un’.

Ida Gerhardt: 'Alleen'




De tafel en het bed zeggen: alleen.

De donkere kleren aan de muur: alleen.

Om huis en stallen sluipt het woord – een moordenaar

die men het mes hoort wetten op de steen.





The table and the bed both say: alone.

The dark clothes hanging on the wall: alone.

Round house and stables sneaks the word – a murderer

that one hears whet the knife upon the stone.

Ida Gerhardt: 'The diviner'


The diviner


Ik ben die de gevorkte tak,

die in mijn hand begint te beven,

voel kantelen waar de wel van leven

zich door de steenwand brak.

Het siddert in mijn vingertoppen

wat nadert in verholen staat;

tot in my hartekameren gaat

de donkere toon, het manend kloppen:

het water houdt met mij geraad.



The diviner


I am the one who the forked switch,

which in my hands begins to twitch,

feels dip to where life’s hidden well

has force no solid rock could quell.

There quivers in my fingertips

what’s drawing near but still entombed;

into my heart’s deep chambers slips

its deep dark tone, its throbbing boom:

our dialogue we now resume.



Monday 22 May 2023

Ida Gerhardt: 'Leopold'




Adelaar was hij tot de laatste strofe,

toppen òverzwevende waar geen sterveling

ooit genaakt, of naar de verlaten horstplaats

statig weer dalend.


Onverschrokken kantelend langs ravijnen,

vochtomvlaagd door daverend levend water,

schrijvende zijn vederenschaduw daar waar

eeuwige sneeuw ligt.


God zij lof om dit nimmer aangerande

trots vermogen, dat zóveel barre winters

heeft getart en de sterke vleugels wette:

Trots ongebroken.





Till his last stanza he remained an eagle,

soaring high above summits no mortal had

ever reached, or regally gliding down to

his lonesome eyrie.


Fearlessly tilting along canyon edges,

sprayed by flurries of thundering live water,

writing his feathery shadow there where the

eternal snow lies.


God be praised for this never emulated

and proud capacity, that so many harsh

winters has defied and mighty wings whetted:

Pride still unbroken.