Clouds, by Karin Boye


See the mighty clouds, whose distant lofty tops
proud, shimmering rise, white as white snow!
Calmly they glide on, at last in calm to die below,
slowly dissolving in a shower of cool drops.

Majestic clouds – smiling onward they go straight
through life, through death in brilliant sun,
in ether so clear and pure, dark care unknown,
with quiet and grand contempt for their fate.

Would I were granted, festively proud as those,
to climb where the bustle of worlds does not tread
and bear the sunlight’s golden wreath around my head
no matter how angrily round me the storms’ roar goes.


Unlocked is the world’s copper gate.
High in its gate-vault here I stand,
and what I see is infinitely great,
and no sight is so without end.

However deep I look, however far,
my gaze receives no help beneath.
All that I know exists no more –
not great, not small – not life, not death.

One single step on pathways free,
and for me all return is closed…
Why do you quake? Up, follow me!
For the universe’s copper gate is forced!


Half awake the summer night broods
quietly on dreams that no one knows.
The tarns’ glistening floods
reflect a twilight sky’s
infinity, pale, morose,
Whiter grow the stars on high.
Afar, afar
the nightjar
sings alone her toneless, comfortless melody.

Never boldly, towards the heights she swings,
because of her lowness hovers low.
Downy twilight wings
seem bound to the earth,
by dust and soil weighed down below.
Woe to him whose wings in pair
cannot rise,
only linger,
helplessly drawn to the mud, whose colours they bear.

But the whitest of white among swans,
that travel in morning’s bright space
their royal lanes,
never cherished a yearning
such as the nightjar has.
None has a longing so true
for the distant and far
as the nightjar
for the ever beckoning, ever yielding blue.


You are like the mollusc in chilly ponds
where sunbeams never get.
She never creeps out from her shell,
her prison she cannot forget,
she can only hide
her deepest essence
and dream of exploits great
among the waterweed,
but never wholly
and undividedly
empty herself into word or deed.

With irony your speech full spills.
You try to cover
with pretended cold
life’s warmth that inside dwells.
But your voice trembles,
is strangely weak,
A blush hovers
behind each pale cheek.
A sea of fire burns
in a secret place
that no one knows,
no one can trace.

You are too frail and too weak and tame
for all the discords that sever:
to wear armour you must endeavour
in life’s hard-handed game.
You are like the mollusc in chilly ponds
that never creeps out of her shell,
so unattainable,
so incomprehensible,
that no one will near you, ever.


Here I go not. This is not I.
This is a lying reflection alone,
asking, wondering where I have gone,
yearning one day to meet its reality.

The legend tells: far in a distant land
flows a mirroring flood from invisible source.
Thousands of beings, blessed, holy souls,
lean like lilies o’er the banks of sand.

Light without limit envelops their eye,
air trembles, sated by a beauty without like.
In this realm perfect spirits walk,
There stands in eternal light my true I.

The reflection is gone from the glittering surge.
It was once torn away by the angry stream,
wanders around, unreal as in a dream,
unfinished, broken, of itself in search,

Do I not hear the flood’s waves far away?
Deep from my inmost depths its water flows.
There, where life’s swell into day breaks and goes,
it waits for me concealed, my god-begotten I.


No time is like this one,
the evening’s final, silent hour.
No sorrows burn any longer,
no voices crowd any more.

Then take now into your hands
this day that is past, like a token.
For I know: into good you will turn
what I have held or broken.

Evilly I think, evilly I act,
but all things you heal and cleanse.
My days then you transform
From gravel to precious stones.

You must lift, you must carry,
I can only leave all things behind.
Take me, lead me, be close to me!
Show me what you next may intend!


Candles I saw burning, yes, holy candles on the eternal
Blessed ones walked there in a trembling mystic light,
radiant with God as with the sun the falling drops,
radiant with sleep in worlds where time was not.

Woe is me, my foot is too heavy for those giddying high paths,
woe is me, who was formed from clay and whose thought is steel and
Never will I find a place among those dreaming holy silent ones,
never will my head by seeing’s halo be crowned.

You will I seek, my God, in the simple, the grey, despised,
you will I seek in the world, in the everyday’s striving and
The sky’s golden stillness, to which my heart aspired,
is it better than your labour, your holy, burning fight?

Lord, your bliss is yours. You gave, and you took,
and you hide yourself.
Give what you offer – not peace, but your fight, and
your spirit to fulfil.
Lord, on the world’s battlefield like sword or bow I follow you.
Give me a throne, if you wish, or a cross, if you will!


The best that we possess,
we cannot give away.
we cannot write it either.
and neither can we say.

The best that is in your mind
no one can make unclean.
It shines there deep inside
for you and God alone.

It is the glory of our wealth
that no one else can gain it.
It is the torment of our poverty
that no one else can attain it.


This is life’s silent hour,
sunny and blessed,
laughing white in power-conscious peace.
The rejoicing and the songs fell silent,
for Joy overflowed the shores.
Hail to you, Joy, Joy,
in your silent, vainglorious smile!
You alone can plumb
the secret of the worlds.

O bubbles, bubbles, o foam, foam
are all our care, all our grief,
yes foam on measureless expanses,
bubbles on the ocean
is that which we chase and cherish and fear,
but Joy, Joy is the world’s foundation.

How do I dare…? And yet!
Do you think that life’s flower,
carved a thousand times by suffering.
would continue in darkest darkness
to shine in beauty in spite of everything,
were not its root and heart
heavy, yes, brimful of bliss?

O bubbles, bubbles, o foam, foam
is all our pain, our blind grief.
Joy alone knows more than others.
Yes, in its holy white hours
rests in the leaves’ quivering daylight
the reflection of godlike depths,
smiling, smiling.

Like tidal waves, like thunderclouds
day’s care will soon envelop me.
Let me remember in tears and greyness,
that clarity’s blinding moment
forced me to say to life and death,
to the whole world and even to myself:
‘Amen, amen,
happen, then!’



A veil-light mist stands over the meadow,
and pearl-grey dew sprinkles pale leaves –
a spring morning, cool and melancholy-glad,
when airy flowers unfold from humid groves.

In the grass narcissi dully gleam in rows.
From fragile chalices a scent of spring spreads down,
when over them with dreamy gaze there goes
a noble boy from Arno’s town.

A happiness of wonder rests upon his face.
His walk is full of awkward charm and pliancy.
A book he bears, as careful as a sage.

He scarce perceives the meadow’s paradise,
but stares foreboding-pale as the spring day
at mysterious distance, hidden in morning haze.


I would like to paint a meagre fragment
of the shabbiest everyday, so worn and grey,
but radiant with that fire that made
the whole world leap from the Creator’s hand.
I would like to show how what we disdain
is holy and deep and the Spirit’s attire.
I would like to paint a wooden spoon in such a way
that people had an inkling of God!


I broke my bread which others’ hands had to bake,
and drank my wine, which I did not prepare.
Those who had the toil never got to taste
its fruit, before they trod on dark roads there.

What I have sown, tomorrow you will harvest.
Oh may my seed an hundredfold bear deep!
They bear delight, who bear others’ burdens.
they harvest life, who others’ harvests reap.


My God
and my truth
I saw
in a strange hour.
People’s words
and commands were silent.
Good and evil
my soul forgot.
My God
and my truth
I drank
in the hour of my angxiety.

My God
was salt darkness,
my truth
hard metal.
Deeply I shook.
Naked I stood,
washed by waves
of cold truth,
cold, strong,
contemptuous truth –
my Truth
and my God.


Gold and pale copper! Hoar frost on fields of brown gold!
The wide and golden world is glittering cold.

Through the clouds I see rivers, of sun and gold they are made,
forcing through, laughing chill as their wills’ sharpened blade.

Smiling, defiant, breaking forth through the spaces it goes,
sunbeam-yellow and frosty round meadows and fields it flows.

Hear, sound it acquires, and the clear expanses rejoice!
Hear how, to reply, the whole world receives a singing voice!

A thousand times beaten and sacked and put to the knife
defiant she sings the songs of eternal desire for life.


Do I not walk here drunken with fragrance of roses
– yet no roses have come! –
Does not all tremble, wrapped in divine gossamer?
The reflected light whispers secret promises.

From far away a wind reached me lately,
light as a held-back breath,
full of a fragrance of shyly trembling expectancy.
Ever since then I have sensed a miracle.

I know nothing – walk as in a far-off land,
walk as in a dream, a dream of roses.
All is as before – yet all is changed.
Strange mystery over things!


If a star comes loose
and falls white through the air,
then, it is said, she answers our prayers, that reach
that short glimmering path.

I wait and wait. It is April,
a warm and sharp-eared night in April,
when the grass grows and the stars listen –
tonight they go so peacefully their way,
and not one trips and falls!

But if I fall asleep, it matters not at all:
if a star tears itself loose tonight,
then she must feel my prayer, where she descends,
even though I sleep –
for all the silent, silent night
all of wide, wide space
is completely full of my only wish!


O a blade,
yieldingly supple and strong,
o a lithely dancing blade,
proudly obeying the sternest law,
the rhythm’s hard law in the steel –
o a blade
I would be in body and soul!

You I hate,
you my wretched willow-being,
you that twine, you that twist,
patiently obeying others’ hands.
You I hate,
you my lazy dreamer-being.
You shall die.
Help me, my hatred, you sister of longing,
help me to become
a blade, yes a blade,
a dancing sword of hardened steel!


Cool is your voice as murmur of springs, and your being
tartly fresh as the autumn’s fragrant fruits.
Clear in your eye rests
high September’s chill merriment.

A fountain you are, whose sunnily glittering beam,
beautiful in its equilibrium, beautiful in its form-strict arc,
beautiful in its strength, possesses
the power to love limits and noble dimensions.

Hail to your playing calm, your springtime health!
Hail to your spirit’s sweet, godlike nobility,
drawn in your features’ purity
and the singing harmony of your limbs!


When the morning’s sun steals through the window-pane,
happy and cautious,
like a child who wants to surprise
early, early on a festive day –
then I stretch full of growing exultation
my open arms to the coming day –
for the day is you,
and the light is you,
the sun is you,
and the spring is you,
and all of beautiful, beautiful
waiting life is you!


Twilight over an unknown path…
Colourless earth-plants,
great mushrooms
sprout from the ground, where sound is choked.
Winding naked trunks
stretch up and vanish in the darkness.
Hear the fearful roar up there,
that never falls silent!

Just now in the sun
I sang on flowering meadows
Pan, Pan, the great Pan.
Scornfully whisper now
the marshes’ murmuring bubbles:
‘Here in the forest of the secret depths,
here too is his dwelling!
Do you still dare to sing
Pan, the great Pan?’

Help, my foot is sinking!
Quagmire is the ground.
Brooding lurk
black waters, half in sleep,
unmoving, unfathomable,
in wait for me, their prey.
The snakelike trunks of the alders,
grown out of the wet marsh,
twist wailing this way and that.
Fear stretches from muddy water
hands, black and gnarled,
like the damp-dripping
rotten branches on which the moss grows.
Help, oh, help, what secret
depths, that desire me!

Yet – is that not the scent of flowers?
All around above dark marshes
buds gleam,
white buds –
oh, they unfold, they shimmeringly unfold!
My foot finds a hold among white chalices,
and over the depths moves a light –
the sweetest mocking smile.

Bow down, heart,
bow down and pray!
Here in the forest of the secret depths
I sing Pan
I sing trembling
Pan, Pan, the great Pan!


When our gods fall
and we stand alone among wreckage,
as much without a hold for our feet any longer
as spheres in space –
then you are dimly seen for a moment, lofty Beauty.
Then, only then.
As stern as fire you speak consolation:
‘Whatever else falls – I remain.’
O stay, stay, holy one,
and save my soul
from the falsehood of a measureless sorrow!


Quietly would I thank my fate:
never do I lose you entirely.
As a pearl grows in the mussel,
so within me
grows your dewy essence sweet.
If at last one day I forget you –
then you will be blood of my blood,
then you will be one with me –
may the gods grant that.


‘Child!’ said Life to me one day.
‘How young you are! A little unripe fruit…
I want to teach you the adornment of youth:
modest discretion,
lowered eyes and quiet voice.
Go softly now – go on tiptoe over the meadows!
Silent, be silent – hold your breath and listen!
If Joy greets you, if Pain greets you,
don’t make such a dreadful fuss (you usually do)!
Be infinitely quiet! Listen! Listen!
Then perhaps you will
find the way home to my rose-garden.’


You who are called by the names of flowers,
now I want to give you another:
The Surgeon’s Knife.
A cold, hard name.
But so gleamingly hard
is your image in the silent hours.
I am doomed when I see you,
doomed like one who is sick
before your health of springtime morning.

It is good that one suffers and sickens.
You are refreshingly free from mercy
towards torments of pathos.
Afar, afar you smile mysteriously.
I would breathe your lofty air.
I would tread those dewy paths
where you walk.


I love those white mountains, the marble white
with foreheads rinsed by the heavens’ high blue repose,
and the storming glitter of the salt sea,
and Doric temples, and thought’s cool crystal.

But I have also lingered by doors left ajar
and seen inside, into sounding twilight depths,
where the shimmer of altar candles quietly rejoiced
in the face of trembling time, Advent,
while the winter morning stared dark through vaulted windows.

Those radiant saints, those who overcame,
could be sensed, blessed, beyond the darkness,
and God’s yearners
bent their knees in prayer, lonely in their hosts,
and saw with closed eyes the Only One’s brilliance,
the soul’s innermost worlds,
and mystical truths they learned listening.
If you have ever listened near burning altar candles,
then you will never forget God’s silent, blossoming gardens –
you will kiss the stone of the gate-arch and turn away.
White mountains, marble white in dazzling sun,
beloved, distantly-seen, my home in presentiment,
I come to you!
Life is to cut and to break so that something may grow.
Everyone is so many people,
but more than one road no one goes.


To lose the soul’s home and to wander far
and then be unable to find anything else,
and feel that one’s forgotten what truth is,
and fancy one is made of nought but lies,
be sickened by oneself and hate oneself –
yes, that is easy, that is very easy.
Sorrow is easy, but joy is proud and hard,
for joy, it is the simplest thing of all.

But he that seeks for himself a home
must not believe that it exists just anywhere –
he must go wandering homeless for a time;
and he that’s made of lies and would be well,
must hate himself until the day he knows
of truth what others as a gift receive.
What point is there in grieving so for it?
Wait then, my heart, and have some patience yet!


If this life is the only one…!
Oh, these short hours…
An hour – how much an hour can become!
Those deep springs where no one yet has drunk,
the light-expanses no one yet has fathomed,
And we, we dully doze in cowardice.
Oh, these short hours…
O world of hidden possibilities,
O God in the becoming,
give us an undaunted piety,
a pure will,
and initiate us to the adventure of the spirit!


If you cannot manage one step more,
cannot lift your head,
if you are sinking wearily under hopeless greyness –
then be thankful for the kind, small things,
consoling, childish.
You have an apple in your pocket,
a book of stories there at home –
small, small things, despised
at the time, that radiated living
but gentle footholds during the dead hours.


The world streams with dirt, emptiness fills it.
Wounds that the day made heal when evening is at hand.
Calm, calm, I lean my head
on a holy vision, your lingering memory.
Temple; refuge; purification;
my sanctuary!
On your steps saved from the darkness
secure as a child I fall asleep.


Life acquires a different hue –
trembling, trembling it listens and is silent,
when like the shimmer from V„ttern’s stone in the folktale
the thought of you from the depths
rises wholly through-annealing all the world.
Newly-woken I see reality,
where aching dreams burdened me just now.
The air is living, life I breathe,
life from you, from you.


In your beauty submerged
I see life explained
and the dark riddle’s answer
made plain.

In your beauty submerged
I want to say a prayer.
The world is holy,
for you are there.

Endless with brightness,
I would die with you,
in your beauty submerged.


You are my purest consolation,
you are my firmest protection,
you are the best thing I have,
for nothing hurts like you.

No, nothing hurts like you.
You smart like ice and fire,
you cut like a steel my soul –
you are the best thing I have.


Hail to those warriors who bleed in the battles,
in spite of scars and wounds shining,
hail to their hard struggle,
hail to their dearly bought victories!

But O young tree, you blossoming maple,
you I love more than warriors’ scars.
Your unacquired, happy nobility
is greater than their won battles.

Fresh in life’s morning you sprouted from the earth,
fresh, fresh you grew calmly in sun and rain;
anguish you did not know, nor remorse,
nothing of all our sickness.

You blossom in gold and gold vine; in sighings you laugh,
when the wanderer kisses your trunk.
His kiss is a prayer to the eternal beauty
your lovely blossoms thought in the day.

Blessed be, blessed be, fair-growing maple!
You do not need the combatants’ victories.
In you is the repose of lonely forests.
In you is sun of divinity.


Dream vision, dream vision,
sun-clear revelation,
lit for my gaze by a single
human creation,

dream vision, dream vision,
sweet among fighters maimed,
sweet in a torn-apart
world of pain.

dream of a race
growing forth through the ages,
proud people, who play their way to
victory in battles’ rages,

flowerlike grown
unhesitatingly harmonious from each root,
trusting calmly in a holy
earth beneath each foot,

whose flesh is spirit,
whose spirit is flesh –
flowerlike grown
like a strange person I met.


The gods’ chariots
do not shake the clouds,
they glide silently
forward like rays.
The gods’ steps are
as hard to hear
as the grass’s scarcely
perceived murmur.

Cautiously, cautiously
follow those paths
that smell of their
healing closeness.
Call no names!
They will fly, they will leave you
in an empty world.


I see a glimpse of you,
O Carolina, my friend, behind the birch’s frosty twigs,
quietest light falls on my road
like sun in mist.

Stern and distinguished
you are like one whom life has given a protecting armour,
but by a sceptical mildness’s light
sprinkled over –

like an old man’s
smile of light, light snow and autumn-gentle irony,
thoughtfully, with warmth and wisdom underneath
and inside meek humility.


Deceit, deceit –
other was never my life.
All my shame,
pen, poor thing, write.
Write of roads far, far
from my truth away,
write of a wall round all that was best…
No, stay.

Threat of unfathomed darkness
fills my mind.
thunder-oppressive budding time
is still mine.
I want to be still,
wait and see a while,
wait for the sun,
softly smile.

What is happening in the darkness,
as I smile in vain?
Is my soul dying?
Will I never come home again?
God, God,
only keep secure
a glint of my intention
pure, pure!


I once asked for joy without limits,
I once asked for sorrow, infinite as space.
I wonder if modesty grows with the years?
Fair, fair is joy, fair also is sorrow.
But fairest is to stand on pain’s battlefield
with stilled mind and see that the sun is shining.


Sparkling creaking hard crust.
Lonely, lonely is the night sky over white roads.
I am filled with a angry thirst
for the winter sky.

Will you not soon leap up before my foot,
deep earth-cold water that sometimes chilled me,
O strong darkness that
my star conceals?

Then dizzyingly hard and pure
you will drown putrid lies as before you mercilessly did.
Where are you, bitter sea
of ice and truth?


When you are gone, then wildly hungers my soul.
When you are near, I yearn even so –
in despair I see,
stiffened, closed,
how empty and vain
the minute flows.

Your being’s proud, royal flower-scent fine
I would secretly drink, a holy wine –
but mortally heavy I stand
as in dreams,
with thirst like Tantalus’
in clear, bright streams.

In solitude’s time my tongue has burned
to tell you the beautiful things I knew and dreamed –
but in your nearness
my thought drowses, dumb.
my gate is closed,
and my heart goes numb.


Many things hurt that have no name.
Best to keep silent and accept all the same.

Much is secret, with danger obscure.
Best with respect and caution endure.

Best in the secret to firmly believe
And not to poke at the growing seeds.

‘Here thought never went out searching.
All-mother, guide me with sure exhortation!’

Good to heed one’s Mother’s voice near –
wordless concern receives wordless cheer.


Pray for one thing:
deep earnestness
– that which proved fatal to many –
But pray for one more thing more,
a thing that only the strong are granted:
taciturnity of heart.

Karin Boye, 1922

-translation © David McDuff 2010

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