This is a collection of poetry in translation, written over a number of years and occasionally published on blogs, list-servs, & misc. other locations. No rights reserved.
Øyvind Berg, “When you look up at a tall mountain”
Øyvind Berg, “A big bag of shit thinks”
Jon Fosse, “Dark mountains”
Jon Fosse, “It is cramped under the arch of heaven”
Jon Fosse, “Two angels met us in the doorway”
Arne Garborg, “Against the rising sun”
Göran Sonnevi, “Concerning the war in Vietnam”
Tadeusz Różewicz, “Always fragment * Recycling”
Tomas Tranströmer, “Along the river”
Tomas Tranströmer, From “The Grief Gondola”
Tor Ulven, From “A Book of Records”
Tor Ulven, From “Garbage Sun”
Tor Ulven, XVIII
Tor Ulven, “Exhibition I (Sketch For a Memorial)”
When you look up at a tall mountainWhen you look up at a tall mountain The dragon rises, lifting its tail. And it rests with its tail lying down When you look into a hilly Landscape with lakes. Tall mountains kill the view, Like civil servants. It is better when the dragon Twists along the river, Appearing in the background. It is a thousand year old art To regard rocks as witnesses To decay and as speakers Of inner space Through a mass of wrinkles and holes. Painting wind through trees and drizzle Is like poking your finger into a rock. From Øyvind Berg, Blindedikt [Blind Poems], 2010.
A big bag of shit thinksA big bag of shit thinks: I would be worth much less If I wasn\'t so full of shit. If I wasn\'t a piece of shit I would merely be a bag of wind. And a dirtbag like me Have to be reasonably nice. Tie the bag up, smile blissfully. All leaks are a threat. From Øyvind Berg, Blindedikt [Blind Poems], 2010.
Against the rising sunAn elven land of peaks and moors, Arising from the sea, Is resting in an evening fair: A bluest border free. I often saw it vapor veiled Behind a foggy mist: A secretive and holy house Remote and out of reach. The peaked and pretty row asleep, Lies boundless in its dreams, Then for a moment set alight A burning fire gleams. The evening comes with burning blood In bog with bluest hail. It burns with glimmering and glows – A long-lost fairy-tale. Glaziers burn; they shake and shine In visions richly made. The air alight with glow of wine, Silver, and with jade! And yet the bleak and burning blaze Will die with fading light, And once again the elven land Lies bathed in the night. On tired tracks I often longed To know that distant scene. And yet its true it only shows When everything’s been seen. From Arne Garborg, Haugtussa, 1895.
FängelsePojken dricker mjölk och somnar trygg i sin cell, en moder av sten.
PrisonThe boy’s drinking milk, sleeping safely in his cell, mother made of stone
Svarta vykortI Almanackan fullskriven, framtid okänd. Kabeln nynnar folkvisan utan hemland. Snöfall i det blystilla havet. Skuggor brottas på kajen. II Mitt i livet händer det att döden kommer och tar mått på människan. Det besöket glöms och livet fortsätter. Men kostymen sys i det tysta.
Black postcardsI A calendar fully booked. A future uncertain. The wire is humming quietly on a folk song without homeland. Snow falls on an ocean of led. Shadows wrestle on the dock. II Sometimes death arrives in the middle of life to measure man. It is a visit that is soon forgotten; life goes on. Our suit is sewn in silence.
Along the riverConversing with contemporaries I saw heard behind their faces a flood running, pulling the willing and unwilling into itself. The creature with cemented eyes who wants to be hurled current-wise into the waterfall throws himself forward, without a shiver, in a furious hunger for simplicity. There is a pull from the increasingly rough waters, such as at the point where the river narrows and turns into a waterfall – the place where I rested from a journey through dry woods one night in June: the transistor gives us the latest news from the emergency session: Kosygin, Eban.1 A few thoughts pierce in despair. A few people are missing from the city. Floods of water hurl out from under the suspension bridge and past us. Here comes the timber! Some trees steer like torpedoes straight forward. Others turn crosswise: stubbornly, helplessly revolving into nowhere, and then there are some who run their noses against the riverbanks, steering towards the rocks and clusters of wood, getting stuck to pile up as folded hands immovable in the thunder. These things I saw heard from the suspension bridge with some boys in a cloud of mosquitoes. Their bikes were buried in greenery – only their horns peered out. From Tomas Tranströmer, Mörkerseende [Seeing in the Dark], 1970.
1 On June 20, 1967 Prime Minister of the then Soviet Union, Aleksei N. Kosygin, appeared at a United Nations emergency meeting on Middle East issues after the Arab-Israeli war of that year. Following Kosygin’s talk, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Abba Eban, spoke in defense of his country’s actions against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
Concerning the war in VietnamBehind the TV the light changed from the windows. Darkness turned into grey and the trees appeared to be black in the clear grey light of the recent snow. In the morning everything was buried in snow. Presently I go out to sweep up from the storm. I hear on the radio that the USA have released a white paper on the war in VIET NAM where North Vietnam is accused of aggression. Last night as we watched a film on TV made from the Viet Cong side we heard the slow flapping of helicopter machines from the ground, from the side of those who were fired at. A few weeks ago a different film showed an interview with American chopper pilots on CBS. One of them described how he ejaculated when he finally got a hit on a “VC:” the rockets hurled him nine feet. It will surely snow more today my neighbour says. He is dressed in black, on his way to work where he embalms corpses and works as a night nurse at a mental institution. The area where I live – Lund and surrounds – is turning into an ever whiter paper, the sun appears to throw its burning cold rays onto our vast pages. The dead are numbers that sleep, spin like crystals, in the wind of the fields. So far an estimated two million people have died in VIET NAM. Here hardly anyone dies for any other reason than the most personal. The Swedish economy kills very few people, at least in this country. No-one goes to war in our country to safe-guard their interests. No-one burns us with napalm for the sake of a feudal freedom. In the thirteenth- and fourteenth-centuries there wasn’t any napalm. Here the sun rises towards midday. It is almost March 1965. Every day more people are killed in America’s disgusting war. The snow flakes in President Johnson’s photograph at the time of the latest bombings of North Vietnam – he stepped in or out of a car – fall ever more densely across the white pages. More dead, more justifications, until everything is buried in the snow of a night that finally alters its light outside the windows. Göran Sonnevi, “Om kriget i Vietnam” (first published in BLM 1965: 3), reprinted in ingrepp – modeller [incisions – models], 1965.
Two angels met us in the doorwayblind austerity and blind satisfaction but now they fly back to heaven to collect dreams for our sleep
It is cramped under the arch of heavenso I must stoop under the clouds – I had to escape but no further than to beneath a woman’s hair since there it was, the wind that blended it all together
eg har mørke fjellog brytande bølgjer i sjela, og ein storm bråkar vilt igjennom den svarte elden i tungsinnet
Dark mountainsand breaking waves occupy my soul, and a savage tempest cries through a heavy mind’s black fire
Always fragment * RecyclingTruth be told I don’t have time To finish This poem Who on earth takes the time To write poetry? In half an hour I might have to leave And finish Here. [...] 20 years ago I stood at the top of The World Trade Center Watching endless New York grow beyond Temptation... Jump The angels will carry You In their hands... Jump... You have a small fantasy grey as Slate... Jump You might learn to fly... On the wings of poetry And rise towards “humanity’s happiness”... Take me In your arms, jump, America sang. I only came to my senses In the basement Of this Skyscraper After having eaten a large pink and White portion of fromage – like shaving foam – I ate a sandwich – of cardboard and batt – And flushed it down with dishwater coffee – tasting like tea – And smiled, sweetly, To Kaźmierz And sourly to myself. [...] “Tadeusz! Look up, goddammit!” I closed my eyes I dreamed of itself behind me, Unbelievably beautiful Manhattan, With a small church in the centre – St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Like a bird’s child in a nest Of scrapers and skies P.S. Not much time Passed before the world again Turned wide (this rhyme presses like Gall) Come on, finish it, The poem asks... So 17 years have passed And some “fundamentalist” Taken into America’s bosom Exercised his “right to freedom And happiness” by blowing up The World Trade Center. Perhaps he didn’t like the coffee, Thinking (quietly) that he In the name of a just god Would blow this Skyscraper To heaven along With thousands of People. He is (surely) of “Deep faith” And not sceptical, Some rational atheist. Here I notice that Excessive eagerness is about to make me Destroy the delicate fabric of poetry And the construction of this poem, So I finish here and make a full stop. (Quandoque bonus...) December 1975 – July 1995 From Tadeusz Różewicz, “Zawsze fragment * Recykling” (1998) reprinted in Grey Areas (2017).
XVIIIThe drops of Iced water You catch with your mouth Fell Thousands of years ago And ceased Dripping Thousands of years ago They keep on falling The end of The series Has not yet Reached you. From Tor Ulven, Det tålmodige [The Patience], 1987.
Exhibition I (Sketch For a Memorial)The monument is a monument to its own forgetting. And it receives meaning only when there is no-one there to give it meaning. It is the rock you hold in your hand, the one you will never reach. Only the mirror always shows the right time. When the rock mirrors itself it is not out of vanity. The mirror reveals everything, the rock nothing. As rock and mirror is that which you most crave to know. From Tor Ulven, Stein og speil [Rock and Mirror], 1995.
This page was last modified: September 3, 2023