Drawing by Patrycja Fjeld.


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.



A film should stand on its own. It’s absurd if a film-maker needs to say what a film means in words. The world in the film is a created one, and people sometimes love going into that world. For them that world is real. And if people find out certain things about how something was done, or how this means this or that means that, the next time they see the film, these thing enter into the experience. And then the film becomes different. I think it’s so precious and important to maintain that world and not say certain things that could break the experience. You don’t need anything outside of the work. There have been a lot of great books written, and the authors are long since dead, and you can’t dig them up. But you’ve got that book, and a book can make you dream and make you think about things.


When you look up at a tall mountain

When 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.


Against the rising sun

An 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.



Pojken dricker mjölk och somnar trygg i sin cell, en moder av sten.


The boy’s drinking milk, sleeping safely in his cell, mother made of stone

En pinande blåst drar genom huset i natt - demonernas namn.

A freezing wind is passing through our house to-night; the name of demons

Svarta vykort

I 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 postcards

I 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.

From Tomas Tranströmer, Sorgegondolen [The Grief Gondola], 1996.


Along the river

Conversing 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. saw heard from the suspension bridge in a cloud of mosquitoes, with some boys. Their bikes buried in the greens – only horns peering out.
  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.↩︎

From Tomas Tranströmer, Mörkerseende [Seeing in the Dark], 1970.


President Lyndon B. Johnson
President Lyndon B. Johnson arrives for church services in Honolulu, February 6, 1966, during Vietnam negotiations. National Archives photo.

Concerning the war in Vietnam

Behind 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.

From 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 doorway blind austerity and blind satisfaction but now they fly back to heaven to collect dreams for our sleep

It is cramped under the arch of heaven so 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 fjell og brytande bølgjer i sjela, og ein storm bråkar vilt igjennom den svarte elden i tungsinnet

Dark mountains and breaking waves occupy my soul, and a savage tempest cries through a heavy mind’s black fire

From Jon Fosse, Poesiar [Lyrics], 2016.


Always fragment ∗ Recycling

Truth 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.


Everyday Apocalypse

Sea and sky Like the upper And lower jaw Between them Serious men from anatomic posters With an entourage of skinned cats and Phoenix Witches Black ruler birds Fly out of the submarine world eye They collect small flames To feed their offspring the lighthouse But this is a tower In which we will never meet

From Tor Ulven, Skyggen av urfuglen [The Original Bird’s Shadow], 1977.



The 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.


Withering, swollen old notebooks in yellow ochre binding. Filled with unreadable notes and drafts. Woven into nets of deletions. Names and addresses of persons who have become as unknown as they once were. Times and places without a year. Pages where the writing is washed away and all that remains is the blueish murk. Errands long completed or defaulted. And those things that are simply gone. Whole or half pages torn out. Traces of ballpoint, ink, marker, red chalk. Even our individual past becomes incomprehensible by itself.

From Tor Ulven, Søppelsolen [Garbage Sun] – Memorabilia, 1989.


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.


She cannot see. But there are those Who are lacking eyes Completely. Others are born Without head. And then there are others Who are never born. Only Thought. They Have the world’s Smallest eyes.

From Tor Ulven, A Book of Records, reprinted in Collected Poems, 2000.

This page was last modified: March 12, 2024