Gunnar Björling

Poems by Gunnar Björling

From Resting Day (1922)

A flower beckons there, a scent beckons there, enticing my eye. A hope glimmers there.
I will climb to the rock of the sky, I will sink in the wave: a wave-trough. I am singing tone, and the day smiles in riddles.


Like a sluice of the hurtling rivers I race in the sun: to capture my heart; to seize hold of that light in an inkling: sun, iridescence.


In day and intoxication I wander. I am in that strength: the white, the white that smiles.

To my air you have come: a trembling, a vision! I know neither you nor your name. All is what it was. But you draw near: a daybreak, a soaring circle, your name.

So I grasp you, language of gods: confession of those fallen silent and transport of poets. So I grasp life that soars and exults, flits and breathes. So I grasp you, only one: day above all!

Holy vision, so you were born, wordless tone on my forehead! And day was a silence. And quietly in objects I lay.

A singer I wanted to be, to give the suffering day, give the happy a longing. A singer whose song would strike hard through the day.

And the word was nothing but sounds and light in my heart!

Most is merely silent words and lies —
to the eye of day! that moves aside.
All is silent words —
to your eye: aimlessly light and fleeting, like the silence of an affliction.

And all is the same dance.
And day is life, and is

And all is the same dance: not to look, —
and to look: with the naked eye, to look in the eye! — clearly —
the hidden guest.

I walk alone
down the road. A burning of sun. Is it summer,
the country?

Yellow buttercups! And nettles and burdock, in fields; nettles, —
burdock! Not town, and not country!

I walk alone.
Yellow buttercups light my way.
In the wood, towards the meadow: boys on a path.
Boys — the mere sound of it: wood! meadow!

Edith Södergran

Prophetess: downtrodden, and in hearts
You give the courage to go down that way where are the arrowshots
of clear, bright eyes,
Where there is day in which, breaking,
to be delivered —
eternal seconds!

You called out, in the grey day
Outstretched hands —
crouching down —
nothing: endlessly, endlessly.

Baruch Spinoza

A man sat there and fought and fought. And thought raised stone on stone, until the building stood complete, the temple without rhetoric or ornament, a young man’s dream: in longing manly, whole —
Heaven stood raised, a fervour of reality, and — you beneath
it, and a world therein.
You were alone no more.

Alyosha Karamazov

The kiss of Christ is set above the world. And you realise:
this was — was all! The power of sacrifice, a kiss. And longing of all struggles, kiss: nothing but radiant gentleness. And day, made fertile!
There was nothing but a kiss.


Words are not castles in the air, mirages. Words are not the jangling murmur, not the songs that vanity hurls past.
Words are endless silent miracles. Words are — ourselves! Words bear a scent of longing, words bear the life that is silent.
Radiant clarity, scent-bearing silence: word that is mine.


bottle and chamberpot, thunder and bang, hah-hah-hah! lice on your ashes, toot-toot-too!
that’s the song of life!
Tears and rejoicing, abracadabra, abracadabra! —
for nothing!
All peace is in heaven
Toot-toot-too, tral-lal-la! —
A silence rests; longing
brings its flower to light.

A silence rests

A silence rests; longing

Brings its flower to light


From The Cross and the Promise

The raving mystic.
God struck me, I slapped him one back. Dead, and peaceful, corpse-white foreheads will come crowding towards me. But I will stamp my foot and roar day of rejoicing: oaths! I shall walk in God’s burning noctambulation. There the wind’s soughing surges in the gods.


Shamans and singers! I did not become a shaman. I lacked a singing voice. I became a singer, a singer-


The Master looks, and in his eye there are no visions. There are stones in his heart. Unbowed, he stands watch over the sleepers. When they awake it is day, and the burning night is over.

‘The Statue of Beauty’!

To hurry through life ‘in a drunken stupor’,
‘to fetch that rose’ ‘that never dies’ —
you ‘need nothing but God’s mercy’.
‘When the time comes
you will give the heart from your breast.’


Our lives are automobiles and railway trains and pawnbrokers’ and banks, and coffee, cakes, sausages, broadcasting, concerts.
Our lives are newspapers and bathrooms and lavatories, and schools or offices. Our lives are God in military music, and Christ in business. And great grey days of trial, and no flypaper dangling down as a reprieve.
And great and motley we draw a tiny picture on the lantern of heaven.
I raise romantic hands, I walk on classical feet.
I am will, not expiated.
I am weak as a cloud blown by the wind.
I bear heaven in the soiled day.


I am a little Chinaman.
Suffering is not pretty, bellowing is not sweet.
I am a little Chinaman under a wide-brimmed hat, my feet go toddling along. I hang by my pigtail in the sky.


God’s style — power of becoming: rest!
Style — keeping within one’s limits. All limits change. The narrowest, purest style:
style of the growing, and of perpetual choice!


God is all the words you are capable of saying, and one more: the unsaid.
The cross and the promise stand timeless, two hands seeking each other.

Does God exist? God is
that thing in your soul —
the crane!


God is death’s
blood-red flower: life!
gentle kick, that sends
the world flying.

I belong to no one, and everyone! I have a choice, and I have a smile. I am in the process of becoming —
nothing, and everything!

Edith Sodergran


You stand as high as ‘happiness, the new disease’. I feel your triumphant moments. I see death leering. The silent stands eternal.

And you, ungraspable, you gave truth more than the others. You gave death, and burning stars.


Christ and Nietzsche and others.
Incarnations of strength: whom people do their utmost not to comprehend.


As a young man, in the obscure years of his apprenticeship, Christ beheld a holy image of Buddha. And he did not know whether to be silent, to remain where he was, or to beg.
He went gathering his Master’s gifts, went the way of the cross.


Death will not liberate you — it will cut everything off.


Truth — life: process of becoming, not accomplished. Your heartbeat, completed in the moment of longing.


You had better not use fine language when you come face to face with God.


Christ believed in God. You “believe” in your own salvation.


The priest of light: white, and naked!


Pure motto:
God, and excrement!
the poles that support each other, and make: white! the airs sing, the stones breathe.
Nothing is ugly: in the eye of God-the-Becoming!
Nothing is beautiful, only to God:
equilibrium: fire!


August Strindberg

You stood against the pack of villains, you stood on the side of life’s poetry, not its fine polish. You, heckler and fighting-cock, cynic and saint, with an express ticket to heaven and hell.

I am five hundred years old, yet I don’t grow old. I am five thousand five hundred years old, and I am in despair. I am a man who has stopped growing. I am a death-man alive.

From Quosego

2. My ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’

Kili kili-kau!
kili kill kau-kau!
kili kiliman ja-ja-ja!
kili kili kau —
kiliman kiliman kiliman kiliman —
kiliman kiliman kiliman kiliman —
ki-ka-ki! ki-li-li-li!
kili kill kili
kiliman kiliman —

58. Pigs can be recognised by the sugar around their mouths.

68. We cannot give truth to those who want to determine what it shall be like.

From Kiri-ra! (1930)


Today is next spring
spring, spring, spring,
hi, hey-ha-ho, ho ho ho!
what am I in this sunny part of town with tall rose and platinum
it all goes in my mouth,
cider and milk, dear me!


Screeching, drumming,
we’re dancing, scampering
out into the world.
Was I born with jazz in blood and belly, tell me, how’re things dancing
for me as a millionaire?


Are we going crazy?
Our tails wagging
our feet clattering
on the floor, nothing else: dancing and not standing


Oh, how they laugh
market of youth
these carpets and the beat!
Who’s drawn lines clear?


But our tongue’s bawl
is a carnival
and love’s wave


Twelve o’clock cha-ra cha-ri cha-ra!

ha! It’s sponge-cake
music from now on
crash! this coloured top
cuts strips of board, violin and saxophone

clip-clap! Taramtamt-



Please please
my tears are burning
my pain is blessing,
my ego’s obduracy
one minute


It’s the time when lamps glow faintly
clatter of cups and glasses
music puts on its blue jacket
the echo is heard from different tables
I have said my last step’s

* * *

I am analysable
to those who have accepted.
Slowly my words are dying, like the rest of the verbiage.
We live long in the soil of others’ hearts.
On us soundlights are constructed.
— that we are, that is the platform.

* * *

I am an old pecoralist*,
I am not very talented,
I am perseverance and a future —
I am a new bacillus.

*Sw. pekoralist: an author of trashy literature (from Lat. pecus [cattle])

This morning. Calm
and the cry of gulls.
A boat and a flower
are land and water.
The flower’s boat is the day’s
air below the horizon.
The leafless branches rise up out of the ground,
it is bare and hard with light-flying snowdust over sand and rockfaces.
The colourless belt of the waves beneath the autumn trees’s immobility.
The red light in this lifelessness;
and the sea’s roaring has an even greyness.
The microcosm of a word’s line. But I remember the unreflected long afterwards.
The and-or-not of our motley existence!
We all know that now, and the darkness of chaos when day knocks us down.

Is not dada necessary for lightweightless eyes?

I slay dust beneath my foot,
I am the voice shaken out into space,
I am the sieve that let through
and built the hail of pillars.

Your lip gives off its colour and the tongues twist, you change your head, you meet the gaze of your fate on the streetcorn right in front of your very nose’s cut-out.

From Sungreen

The Temptation:

Now is the hour of the sunshine’s longing
and I get up on the trampolines and move to and fro

up here. Jump down, they call to me from down there. But I know that I can’t; no one can.
For no one has flown up here where no limits prevail. I stand with my arms thrown wide, and point to my black
birthmarks: is it not enough?
And the sunshine which has not hesitated!
Then I shall climb in fire-beautiful flame to the drowning gods of the darkness.
I want to live in the city as it is
with WC, electric light, gas-stove
and swept streets
a rich man’s park at every other corner
and palaces and cafés, abundance spread out in windows,

and for five marks or 2 marks a rectilinear

a sea of light and motley colours
and faces, fates
and the light of the sky — an irritant to thoughts and struggle and newly-ignited love
for one and one
and for all, all!
to be like a plant in a spring meadow
to stand like a tree among trees
to fill one’s place like a stone among stones
in a building,
to know that thousands love and rejoice and have worries
and the same lovely eyes smile tears and burn and suffocate, dream, stumble, go under,
but will go towards a realm for all and a heroes’ feat with light perspectives.
— I rejoice in the city’s streets, factories,
and beauty is outside and inside.
The sky and the water stand equal
and the night is not so dark beneath streetlamps around street and water.
Emptiness acquires sound from the dance of the whole, from its cries despair and solidarity with the manifold familiar,
and it is lonely to bear one’s fate amidst the gaze of thousands, and to struggle in their swarm
is like struggling in a tunnel beneath the burdened vault of the forest
with the vault of the stars concealed in one’s heart.
The rumbling of cities — all!
an equal and brother to all
and the struggle against all
and finally the eyes, the many eyes
not-so-familiar, that we carry about as in a bowl
so that they will not spill out.
The formula?
because we can’t stop — because we race like bloodhounds after the pig we held by the tail, and devour it with its ears still raw.
The formula?

because we took the pigsty and sank our teeth in, pierced the ears of the angels and smote the devil dead, burst to pieces the church wall and tore in fragments the feather-rugs of the script of lies.
The formula?
because we understood that all is lost,
or nothing. In every mouthful of sausage we consume with our hungry tongues are opened capsules
to heaven.
In every faith that is not the golden book of despair and the horseman’s spur of hesitation, we must be dead people, whom no one ever digs up.
— We must know: our happiness is as nothing, god’s distortions are all the things that do not rush through us
like the crown of the conglomerate and the self-evident argument, without meaning, without answer, without excuse, —
like the joy of being a midge on the midges’ swarming-day. Who can tell what the midges’ dance means to the midges, to us
and the soil?
that they sing so beautifully
that it is as if the cosmos were resting on its wings?
This new belly-dance and jargon and harp-sound under the fingers of our hands, what is it we want to have said?
the faith that will not loosen its grip on us!
the faith that transfigures everything and demands nothing, since it bears — in the eternally changing — the demands of life.
The faith that is the pigslayer
and the master gatherer: come all ye! —
Where there are will and violence, objects rise up and eternity’s morethanjoy
understreams; all is an aboutoneanother
on the ragfields of necessity,
the exultant breakdown of souls:
You are me, I am you
and it makes no difference how impudently false our souls are, the same night of horror
and the same infinity bear our steps
and hide away the graves in the cheekbones of our days

so that we see drunken pigs in the heavenly firmament and paradise and the mouth of laziness are our resting beds. Arise, you of the honestflame: dried footsole!
sink, radiance of emptiness
on the slightest!
Go out like these tangles, there are beautyspots everywhere and we stand still in the midst of our important doings, we wash
out the mouths of the day-labourers
and pray: sing the glory
of the facts of life!
Sing the heaven of the hungry, you have seen more than we have.
We stand still before all and say:
greater than facts is the place
of the unique gleam on your glowing, hurtling way.

We are all like “mumblers” or sun-and-fire worshippers in the pleasure
of embracing a chairleg, of tearing the ground apart and disappearing like mould, blood, saliva
in the facial striation of our paralysis.
A sound, physical, sense-movements’ commutation, erupting to universality and the miracle-dance of the voices
in our ears, mouths and lungs,
like a river we are, in Pentecostal tongue-talking, in the shady
assemblies and the dervishes’ dance,
in the temple of Isis
and at the jazz ball, in the passage of the orchestra through the eras.
There is the same raving in the pillar-saint and the Buddha- statues, everything is the suprasensuality
of the cross
and the pleasure-torrent
of the eternally coursing blood.
On beds of horsehair gods are nailed
as to splendour of secret delights,
like an enfeebled echo are the pitiful prayers of faith and the most wildly clear baritone.
The same need’s resplendent light and saturation of muddle is in every classical outline

like a mastering and a heroic feat to keep the godly limbs tensed together in an eternal coitus —,
or merely sentimental bourgeois incompetence,
or the interplay of all healthy instincts and tragic reality and voices of reason,
the reality that stands with its blue-eyed instinctual ecstasy and the reason, sense and moderation of the unique drunkenness
endless moderation, spring mountain in the eye
and sword of Damocles for all —
the mastering of the great confusion: and we know that all, all is the probing wind of common sense
and this Eros that will not let go of anyone
and will not yield, no matter where we go.
This instinct forces all into the great sperm flood.
All is like a servant-girls’ park, and is a dread
like a trembling of world instinct, primeval instinct,
of a split that wants to be joined,
and each lip that presses itself to the bread is the same as the
copulation of two bodies.
And air and lung are the same, and each image and the eye that receives it.
All is a cry from rotten shreds or fresh ones
in their master’s heaven, in their erosglee,
there is nothing a man will or can
or ought —
only the embrace with god!
It is that voice of greatness and the riddle
it is that murmur that explains
it is the sermon-text of expiation
in different languages, in all the forms of insanity and meanness. The same mercy of god in all acts of recklessness and in all
The same power of soul is the power of fate in our days, cannon salute in the silence of the heart, in the sky-highness that never dies but sees with the courage of the clear eye,

— and day stands, though villainy, crime and rape are the sparks that bear lights into the darkness.
Like a splash of God’s blood is each moment an object in my hand.
— like tufts on the skin of the ordinary we shall walk on the wrath that wells from our intestines.
Like a cosmopolitanism, without losing our balance
in the increasing movement. We
with the will of our hands, that our breasts might rest as in dissolvedness,
and all were sprays and streams
and as though all were like a well-run milkbar
in which all receive exactly as much as they can drink. And all the eras are like a hymn to themselves,
all eras are the royal infant they raise up with milk-white limbs. All eras are the world tranquillity that sways in their eyes, all eras are like opened wounds, and we suffer from and for one
all eras are like the steps of dancers with inturned toes. But there is the foal of unbounding like a smooth leap on the
there are crazed lovers who did not need to finger their sordidness
there are those whose eyes can purify.

The God of the Uncompleted

It is not death’s sweet bosom
it is not soft earth
and cold depths on bridges of moonbeams.
It is not the ‘end with a bang’ of last autumn that is forgotten for the life that beats in other hearts’ chambers
It is not the courageous eye of liberation that escaped the persecutors and thought and hoped for nothing.
It is torment that cannot end, the torment of the uncompleted the leering eyes of the living death: ‘I will arrive, you do not
know when and will not be ready

I will suck you in, you will smell my odour, the mucous wind of my teeth, the drive of emptiness over rattling bone pipes
the horrible thing you will not overcome — not to have brought order into your affairs that live on; what you have given rise to
I will disentangle,
with my black fingernails I will read the papers of your secret thoughts, the ones you did not destroy,
and I will strew the thoughts of your life’s papers like dead things onto the roads,
do not be afraid, no one will pay any attention, whether it be a king’s honour, a hero’s legend, or merely your spirit’s bankruptcy.
All will rise up and unravel in the emptiness of the world and the roses you have not won.
All that you could not manage will stand there like a confused jumble, the least and the greatest, you will not be able to pull yourself together, prepare yourself, you will not get a moment’s rest,
I see you, I come like night’s shadows out of the cupboard, rise up under the chairs,
I am the pillowcase and the view through the window when you awake.
I! remember you
I am your murdered instincts
I am your fate that lurks in wait for you
I am your happiness that stole away, I am virtue’s reward, that took the roses from you, I am the greatest darkness that will not let you smile
I am the one you must overcome from day to day
I am the ruler of mankind,
in the midst of its joy I whisper with this enervated unpreparedness, this thing that makes you turn away.
I am the master-builder of the rich cities.
When you are not expecting me, I will have arrived.
When you are dead, we shall hold hands with each other.
When you die you will see me.

I am what lurks beneath the ships. I am surely there.
The compass is mounted in my eye
you print your sun-eyes on me.
But I shall come and devour what your longing has not been able to bear.
I am I, like the day of pure Meaning.

– translation © 2010 David McDuff

Elmer Diktonius

Poems by Elmer Diktonius (1896-1961)


A seed is sprouting in my brain,
sucking life’s marrow and its flow.
My cask will have blood’s hue,
I know that I will end my days insane.

My grave will bear no flowered wreath,
 no Christian cross with words of light.
Wind from the north. A winter’s night.
But under ice the sap will seethe.

I will walk through the rye

I will walk through the rye
that sways in the wind
with lead-heavy ears
I will lie in the grass
and stare up at the sky
that arches deep blue
with swallows that glide
I will put my ear
to the sun-warmed earth
and listen to voices
that from the soil whisper:
all’s living, all’s living
becoming, becoming
and you’ll be what all is
when it dies:
a swaying rye-ear
a gliding swallow
a lump of soil
sobbing and whispering.
And I’ll stare at the sky
and the swallows that glide
and feel I’m already
what I shall become:
a part of the whole.

The Jaguar


From green leaves protrude
red muzzle,
eyes with triangular gaze
whiskers undulation claw paw –
you  fly! my heart’s jaguar!
so fly and bite and rip and ravage!

Biting is necessity as long as bites give life.
Killing is holy as long as corruption stinks
and life’s ugliness must be savaged
until beauty and wholeness can grow from its remains.
Thus are we, the two of us, my poem and I, one claw.
One will we are, one paw, one fang.
Together we are a machine that strikes.

We want to kill the cry of the indifferent
the compassion of the heartless
the religiosity of the sceptics
the impotence of the strong
the evil weakness of the good;
we want to give birth by killing
we want to make room
we want to see
sunspots dancing.


Do you think
strong paws feel no pain?
Do you think the jaguar has no heart?
O he has
father mother mate, young.
The wilderness is great
cold is the wind of autumn
in the jaguar’s belly dwell
loneliness despair.
The jaguar can kiss a flower.
He has tears;


Waterfalls murmur long.
The jaguar is asleep.
An ant is licking one of his claws.
Who is whispering:
the morning is coming
sunspots are dancing?


Sunspots are dancing! —
All is numbly whirling.
In a single bound
the jaguar hurls himself over
the crests of the spruce trees —
hear the laughter of stars in his roaring! —
a lightning-volt in the air:
like an arrow deep in the earth’s breast.

The Sea and the Rock


Questions die
problems shrivel up
interests approach zero point:
there is nothing but the sea and the rock and I
who am writing about them.


The sea knows:
if it wanted to
it could drown the world
(If it blew its nose
Mont Blanc would scarcely show
more than a few inches above the pool.)
But it’s good-natured
like its love-hated rock.
It allows the human mould to ‘like it’,
it frolics
when the spring-tide
licks the legs of weaklings
and when an impudent upstart
writes poems about it
it just sings in the night
as now

Threthias St Merryn, Cornwall, 7 September 1921


Fröding’s nonsense
about the seawind in the pines.
The sea cannot abide pines! —
nor stones, either: it wants
mouthfuls of rock;
wants greenly to see its serious eye
even though it come stealing
like grass,
cravenly bowing its head
in submission
to the salty discipline.


(The rock shouted:)
I am.
I am defiance.
Send them in,
your 5-storey apartment houses of flexible steel! —
perhaps they’ll stick their noses
into my navels
(the thousand caves) —
out they’ll rush
with the thunder of a 12-inch calibre gun
somewhere high up
foam will dance
like white snow —
I am!


I don’t know the names of them all
snow-anemones molluscs mussels,
some of them stared at me out of the starch blue of the swimming pool,
others were killed by my foot on the rock as I walked to the sea.
The sea carted its diamonds into a cave:
fragments of glass scoured matt-clear by the salt water (blessed bottlenecks!) —
I delighted in their radiance
and stuffed some of them into my pockets until I got hungry
(a hint
to all treasure seekers).


Never have I felt the immensity of power
as I did one stormy day on Cornwall’s coast.
Not a streak of light
from the cornflower blue of the clouds
the law of gravity scarcely keeping me
on my feet
deep below me the two love-hated ones
fighting their struggle of giants.
Roaring rushing
tossing splinters of foam around it
cold green with venomous malice, the one;
stiff-leggedly defiant
with lacerated face
laughing derisively
from broken ribs, the other —
my soul howled with the struggle’s sweetness
and the cliff quivered where I stood.


But they can also caress each other.
Then the sea tickles the knees of the rock as my soft writer’s hands might tickle
the knees of a woman.
Strange words broken sentences sobs kisses two lovers
in the same bed.


Vanity, sea,
empty folie de grandeur
to believe oneself something
without being you.
Hourly to produce — as I do —
poems about eternity
or Faust or 9th symphonies
or to explode
in Van Gogh orgies of colour —
brilliantly suited for insects —
until we see you until I saw you,
saw our powerlessness
the bankruptcy of our fragility
the ten-yard flight of our souls
above imagined abysses
(the seagulls are laughing).
Jokes we make noise we make
until we hear the murmur
of some of your
most lightly bursting bubbles;
the ‘just you wait’ of your nocturnal threatsong — until we become

What was I?— was I?
Something great pressed me
I expressed tiny
But I know:
to life’s big-city sahara
I shall take with me
a concentrated ounce of your explosive) power-sea.
And when my soul’s tongue is drying in its palate and all the lemons have been squeezed
it will be seen
that I have sucked at your salty breast
that I possess your foamlashing energy and fury
and I shall struggle struggle
to the end of my days (0
it will never come!)
like you


The memory of you:
a giant conch shell at my ear. It sucks and murmurs.


I remember:
the broad alleyway
in Kensington Gardens
describing the great city
with its three lines;
a summer’s night
outside Baron’s Court Underground Station
where the Piccadilly Line sticks its nose
out of a black fissure in the earth.


I have found a pawnshop in Hammersmith
which is in agreement with me
on the subject of my typewriter.
Smiling wordlessly
I fling the precious object down on the counter
in the 100-year-old hovel
smiling wordlessly
the man gives me my 3 pounds.
He knows that I will soon be back —
I know that I will soon be back.


Strawberries strawberries
buy buy!
buy souls
buy shawls buy trousers
try this wristwatch!
at one streetcorner
a mother is auctioning
her 12-year-old daughter —
at the next a spiv is whispering about ‘china’
(he probably means opium).
Buy gods buy corn-patches
buy love buy murderers! —
buy this tramcar! —
buy this street this district this city —
buy Westminster Abbey! —
the price is marked on everyone’s forehead
and I too know what I am worth
in this haggle-market.


But at the intersection of the streets
the Salvation Army man
is speaking about Jesus Christ our saviour.
A small crowd is staring dully
at his businessman’s gestures,
a boy spits chewing-tobacco
at the box the man is standing on. ‘Sins’ ‘blood’ ‘cross’
tumble embellished with saliva from the pathetic prophet’s throat —
the crowd is grateful for any kind of entertainment.
And when he speaks of ‘deliverance’
 the neighbourhood whore thinks
 of all the deliveries she has experienced.


At last, on the track of the mystery! —
Now I know what it is the paperboy whispers
in the ear of his customers
when the coin slips into his hand:
it’s the name of the favourite
in the afternoon’s next horse race!


There are many
who curse you and your name — but I bless you.
You were me: poems, hunger, love.
You taught me
that ugly faces grow beautiful
when one observes them close to.



gave his voice a mighty volume and called:
give me the most beautiful song!
And from every corner
of the universe
music streamed to his throne
songs of innocence songs of praise songs of faith —
saints and martyrs all dashed off
their best,
the angel orchestra turned on its pièces de résistance,
 there was a muddle of beauteousness
of dewdrop clarity
a most eminently heavenly
texture of euphony,
and all those present felt goosebumps
crawl up and down their spines.

But in an utterly dark niche of creation
on a little planet of uncertain rank
an insignificant worm raised
its head proudly,
pointed to its own and its equals’
festering wounds
and squeaked with its wretched mouth:
‘look, your marks of destiny!’ —
and cursed God and the whole of his heavenly retinue in a coarse earthly language.
No one heard it — except God.
Wearily, with heavy hand
he tapped the rostrum
bringing the orchestra of beauty to a halt
right in the middle of its most radiant climax and told his subordinates
to note down the lovely main theme
and put it on the shelf
together with the other music of Zion.
And he wept — but no one understood why.


A city.
A lane.
A beggar.
A whore.

This scurvy-ridden mouth!
This lank hair!
This vodka-babbling voice!

Then you come; silently.
You kiss that mouth.
You put your hand on the hair.
You go; silently.

The voice falls dumb.
The leer dies.
But I shout:
Wherefore all this?
Tomorrow it’ll all be just the same!

But it’s not all the same.
Your memory lives on,
your Christ-gaze,
your Christ-silence,
in all of us whom you caressed,
in all of us whom you kissed
little brother


The tale of the lame man.
The tale of the man
who shuffling forwards on his crutches
climbed Mont Blanc Gaurisankar etc.
The tale of the crippled man
who after myriads
of centimetre agonies
(and they are the worst)
at the summit
kicked away his crutches
and flew
(with his crippled limbs and with
the millstones of suffering around his neck)
higher than
all pilots put together.
The tale of the man who fell
(as seen from the present standpoint
of soul-aeronautics, of course)
without being crushed
in his fall
describing a line
from pretty high to pretty low

The true tale of the supermanly man
 the eagle with earth on his wings.

Arnold Schoenberg

He mumbles to himself,
and gnashes his teeth:
he laughs into the distance
makes the whites of his eyes dance:
he plucks notes here and there
and thrusts them together;
he makes yum yum out of ugh ugh
and ohoho out of ah —
he — Arnold Schoenberg —
the wild boar in the garden of music.


Knife-marks of pain
at the corners of his mouth —
in profile
always in profile
his eyes hard to find.
Trombones, pizzicati,
a silver grey waistcoat —
the violins rush towards the heights
narrow shoulders acquire a giant’s breadth
thin fingers
in ecstasy
scratch screaming notes to blood —
a drop on his forehead
fascinated eyes stare blindly —
but I cannot see them:
knife-marks of pain
quiver at the corners of his mouth.

From Pictures (Bilder)

The Balancing Man, by Goya

You that sit there
on the outermost edge of the earth,
turning your moonsilveroil-suffused
face towards us —
Aren’t you smiling, Night, because we so suddenly
leave everything
for a while:
war, peace, love, unhappiness, money —
 as friends or enemies throwing ourselves prostrate,
dreaming, mumbling
like madmen in a trance,
in order to continue the next day
 in the same old rut?

Still Life, by Kandinsky

The apple is almost turning into an inkwell
and the background is almost a glass balloon.
Two lines quiver with passion
and make love in a red blot.
An X-ray photograph of a hand
and a torn-up playing card —
the Queen of Hearts! — ha! — it’s she who has caused all the uproar!

From Flash Portraits


You play the flute in a wood.
And the wood learns the melody
and turns into an organ.
And people hear its moaning
 and say: there’s a storm.


God’s weasel goes out hunting.
and meets beetle carrot
wig jazz.
And drops peppercorns
yum yum fox-poison.
The angels yell:
he’s chewing whistlepsalms
in the gateway of life!


Starcatcher! —
your net is glitter full
of godlike detonations
and the rustle of dead flowers. Unborn you saw everything; sick you cured the healthy.
No one bred poem-gnats as you did:
Light Ugly Beautiful Dark

Diktonius* is the name —
but I lie like everyone else.
It’s not songs that I sing
but concrete,
I have no thoughts —
 my interior is an iron skeleton
— My lines are those of an explosion
my heat that of a crater
 — if you seek coolness
 I will give you blocks of ice,
I understand much,
know hardly anything —
but what concern is that of yours?
* Dikt, the first syllable of the poet’s surname, means poem in Swedish.


Fire blooms in me! —
no buttercup: a crater!
Cataracts of fire and waterfalls of passion. Ash stones and coal.
lava lava.
The gravel ferments The granite comes to life rock cracks
continents shake —
man man
god god
fire blooms in me!

My face weeps in the darkness —
but I know I am made of granite.
The savage floods have ground me smooth but hard:
my soul has a strange smile.


No one sees
my gloomy passion’s
dizzying curves of joy.
But I know that my dark arrow
will penetrate the sun’s light lap
like dark lightning in brilliant day.
Then heavy-hearted weightless children will be born!


I slipped
and fell —
and became a human being.

God how I ran! —
like all the other rats.
That is what is called
the struggle for existence,
but is really only fear.

I am still
on the move
and am looking for the spot
where I fell
so that I may escape.


My rage! —
with flowers! —
Fields swoon in burning colours,
earth is out of breath sun streams
in torrents
goes precociously straight to the point.
My frenzy
makes light breezes hover
above meadows of voluptuousness.
I shout hurrah for every embrace!
My wildness
knows no restraints.


I am
the pointed entrails
of the harshest defiance
The screeching contact
with life’s satin skin
does not frighten me. I hate
the sun the moon all things
even you.
I love the sorrow of my heart
the darkness of my spirit
and my soul’s despair.


My poems are not composed in forms,
but in human flesh.
In all flesh there are sinews, cartilage,
ugly things, ganglia.
It can be beautiful — but cut it in pieces:
it’s ugly.
I am always in pieces —
no glue will hold me together.


They tore off the eagle’s talons and said:
look, it’s limping!
They smashed its beak and said:
strike, damn you!
They put out its eyes and said:
now see!
They broke off its wings and said:
now fly!
They stuffed it into a cage and said:
some eagle!

But an eagle is still an eagle
even if it’s a carcass!
Tear off its talons, smash its beak, break its wings,
put out its eyes, lock it in a thousand cages —
of such is the eagle’s great harsh fate composed,
of such is the air for the eagle’s great, harsh flight.


Far from me are all chivalrous grand airs;
I don’t contend, I fight,
irregularly and wildly,
with dirty hoodlum’s fists
and kicks that arc not allowed.
Many do not give me
their blessing.
But I sing
as I fight.
Not the glitter-stringed harp
is my instrument,
not the pining cello
or the oboe that coos
and cackles —
but the whistle that shrieks
between raw-frozen lips.
Yet I know:
it will set the train of the era
in motion.


Among dark spruce trees
a flower sprang up
Saw apparitions
visions ecstatically
lived through,
was lashed by suffering —
and God and raspberry worm and butterfly dust
in her
sang death and life
and the motley clothes of people.

It rose and rose
the stem ever thinner
and more transparent:
a pale thread,
star lace;
whisperings came,
spoke death
the moon.

Nothing broke.
Something hovered,
floated over —
two eyes became stars,
a tepid hand
smoothed away hunched-up passion,
loosened from the marble foot
the red satin shoe.


Tonight a hand brings
your satin shoe to my ear. 

O murmur of god and death and life,
raspberry worm-butterfly dust
and the motley clothes of people!

translation © 2010 David McDuff

Arvid Mörne

Poems by Arvid Mörne (1876-1946)

A Lonely Tree

An endless plain. On it, a lonely tree.
As grim as the gale on the tundra the winds ofautumn run free.
And, hard as a whistling knout with spikes in its thong,
The gusts tear the tree’s crown, supple and long.

Alas, this is the only tree on this poor, wretched plain
Where the waxwings of winter can gather to feast and dine,
Where children, in days of high summer, when sun is intense
Can pluck bouquets in shade and from berries make necklaces.

Alas, this is the only tree where two chattering finches can nest,
A place of outlawed beauty — shy, murmuring, self-effaced.
And, if a man fights through the sand in his wandering from farm to farm
He will look at the tree benignly. It guards this place from harm.

An endless plain. On it, a lonely tree.
As grim as the gale on the tundra the winds of autumn run free.
They drag the squalls from the east and snow from the lowering north.
The lonely tree whimpers, it quakes on the wind-possessed earth.

The Pine Trees on the Sea-rock

The pine trees on the sea-rock are my lyres,
And the storm is playing on them.
Skerry and islet boom. Lost fishing boats
Steer by the pine trees and head for home.

The pine trees on the sea-rock are my beacons.
I forgot them for the sake of empty strife.
Many coasts bound me and many I saw vanish.
On this one I will live my life.

The pine trees on the sea-rock were the land’s marking
Before it got a name by human grace.
They’ll watch it die enfolded by the sea’s arms —
The pine trees on the sea-rock and the stars in space.


My poet’s lyre is broken.
A new one’s not in store.
If still you hear a raucous cry
Of gulls, sea, skerried shore,
It is the resonance from a world,
A poem-world that’s no more.

For rhythm’s spirit swells alone
In breasts that can breathe free,
And sprays of rhyme against the sun
Are white-green as the sea.
But struggle in grey and ice-cold mist
Is what fate gave to me.

With enemies behind, and enemies
Before, a struggle fought
With the rabble’s ‘but’ and the rabble’s ‘if’
For what the rabble ought,
A struggle in mire that chokes, but where
By the age’s flag we’re brought.

My lyre, like the skerry’s rowan,
Loved all the winds, but best
The roaming and spraying and singing south-west.
It sounded to the melody of the sea
In the days it sounded happiest.

My poet’s lyre is broken.
A new one’s not in store.
I’ll leave them, all my songs
Of gulls, sea, skerried shore
Inside my empty summer house,
And quietly lock the door.

My Young Beloved

My young beloved, finally we’ve risen
To the cliffs that look out on the sea of age,
The grey, the sad. Against this lichened edge
The long swell of my yearning’s doomed to lessen.

O, don’t you see: I’m autumn, treacherous,
Aiming at your heart a lance that’s poisoned.
You young one, glowing, whose love’s unloosened
Your maiden’s breast to my inflamed caress?

O, don’t you sense it, when your dress is falling
In soft white eddies at your foot,
And you, like Aphrodite, smile to suit
Some paradise’s coral shore unrolling,
That I am broken at my being’s root?

The Ploughman

The ploughman strides across the plain in the late autumn twilight.
The horse’s hooves tread steady time. The work drags slowly onwards.
The tough, grey clay is split and cleft, the Furrow’s line extends
Away towards some leafless willows where the ploughed land ends.

Hard the gnarled fists keep their grip around the worn handle.
The plain’s asleep. The marshes drowse. The reeds lie limp and yellow.
Over soggy banks of sedge creeps the mist like smoke.
In late autumn twilight strides the ploughman with his yoke.

The ploughman’s feet, like his beast’s hooves, clump on the twilit pathway.
Long till the spring, long till the green, long till the sound of birdsong.
But on cold, autumn fallow land the ploughshare’s bill and knife
Are clearing in the dead, grey clay a space for green, new life.

The ploughman cannot tell his beast’s toil from his own slow labour,
Has no lofty works to will, no lofty goal to aim for.
Yet where bowed he goes he fights the plough’s laconic fight,
The earth’s subjected, and a people rises towards the light.

A Boat in the Bay

A solitary boat. At the tiller, a solitary man.
And all around, the empty bay.
Far out on the horizon some lonely islands stand,
Solemnly looming. In the world, autumn holds sway.

How pitiably small seem human griefs,
The sea and sky sublimely spacious.
A solitary boat. At the tiller, a solitary man
With nothing more to win or lose.

The Immortal

The star I lived on is no more.
The sun in whose retinue
the star moved round the world
is no more.
The life I owned,
the life that was the blood’s delight and agony,
is no more.

That dead star among stars,
that dead sun among sun among suns,
that dead face among faces
which was mine,
I remember no more.

But I am.

The Dying Man

The dying man,
a suffering skein of nerves,
an aching world,
immobile, dumb,
raises his soundless cry:
Happy is all that dwells outside life,
happy are the pebbles on the seashore,
happy the waves that wash the pebbles,
happy the winds that chase the waves — —
happy, happy the capricious god
who sends the winds to wander.

shall never be pebble, wave, wind.
shall never escape rebirth, pain and life.
am fettered to an eternal pain and an eternal life.
shall be thus committed:
to life.

The Eye in the Dream

I stood silently in space. I was dead.
In my fall through fathomless darkness
I had attained my final point: my goal.

I stood frozen in space. I was dead,
but not exempt from the compulsion
to exist
and remember my past life.

Like a hermit doing penance
in the desert night under cold stars
ung sin after sin by name,
I stood in space — somewhere — beside my goal,
conscious of an ineradicable guilt,
surveyed by an inscrutable eye.

Walk in Autumn

Autumn rides high in the leaden grey sky
wielding the lash of the storm without mercy,
and on the abandoned summer path
the wanderer meets the yellow whirlpools of the leaves.

Autumn rides high in the leaden grey sky.
The storm’s lash whistles without mercy.
The wanderer views the great, dark sea
writhing in agony, boiling, heaving
avalanches of waves over drowned rocks
until the day is spent in twilight, disappears.

But in the silent night Autumn gazes
helplessly down at the sea’s moonlit,
gentle swell against spume-covered shores,
while the earth’s wanderer, freed,
sees his world as it really is in the unchanging
starry heaven of eternity.

The Night Is Windless

The night is windless.
Empty, the roadway’s trail.
I wanted to speak,
But to whom, to whom?
The moonlight falls
As in some fairytale,
As on the flowerbed
Around your white home.

The moonlight falls.
All the silence of space
Settles on the road
Where my steps die away.
I wanted to speak
of the heart’s greediness.
Its joy consumed
And gone in a day.

I want to remember you,
Remember, if I can.
You, whom I loved,
Do you live in my soul?
You are far too distant.
Here is the dead land.
Of your voice I remember
But a lame farewell.

Perhaps it will echo still
In my poems’ words. — —
The night is windless.
Space shines empty, alone.
I wanted to speak — —
The weights of dead worlds
Press my heart
To a bed of stone.

The Star

A lonely summer star, inscrutable,
Steers in the light night over the skies.
Where are we hurrying? In darkness our traces cling,
Like the long roads, the years outnumbering
The single happiness, the single srping,
Ihe single, great adventure of our lives.

So far from us, a lonely summer star
Flares in the light firmament and dies.

The Black Star

Your light first shone when I was born,
You gave my soul your glow’s dark burn.
I saw it laid waste at every turn,
That world you bade me wander in,
You, black star.

Above earth’s isle eternal hangs
The starry garland of the sky,
And lives that bud and lives that die
Absorb its gentle radiance.
Eternally with our grief alloyed,
From darkness’ bosom born, you rise.
A heart’s deceived, a soul destroyed,
And there in its death-dream you blaze,
My black star.

The Summer Evening

The colours, spirits of the summer evening,
The silent beings float above the bay.
And all of them exude transfigured light,
As if the sea and sky eternally were theirs.
And all of them are suddenly beckoned, one by one,
Back by their master’s hand.

They are gone. Only the gentle blueness,
Which, hesitant, fled, returns again now darkened.
And lingers round the shore and round myself.
So speechless grows the deep, the heavenly vault so still
So quiet my soul, closed up in its devotion.
What do you want, blueness, harbinger of dark
What do you want of me, who stands at life’s evening?

The Giant Clouds of the Autumn Evening

The giant clouds of the autumn evening strode by through the firmament.
three dismal continents
in the light of judgement day.
which slowly. mysteriously moved on black and sulphur-yellow coasts
and changed into Africa
and Asia with Europe in tow.
And the earth saw them progress
laden with storms, majestically rumbling,
towards their destiny of collapsing and vanishing
without trace,

Evening on the Shore

The fir tree on the shore sees its own shadow
Wandering out across the water:
‘Dark tree with coal-black crown.
Who are you?’
The beat of the waves is the only sound.
Then the sea grows quiet.
Only a solitary,
Lost breeze has any life,
Settles on the aspen, falls asleep.
Then it grows quiet in the forest.
Only a solitary cloud is seen to glide
In the expanses reaching wide.
Stop above the mountains in the north.
Then stillness grows around heavens, sea and earth.

Space darkens.
The fir tree on the shore sees its own shadow
Wander further out across the water:
‘Fine tree with branches strangely dark,
Without a base of stones or earth,
Say, by what sap are your roots fed,
My tall likeness in an unknown world?
Around you inscrutable twilight hovers,
Your trunk shakes, your crown quivers.
Is your bosom, dark and drear,
Awaiting some night breeze or star9
Fine tree,
You look like me.
Who are you?’

The fir tree on the shore no longer sees its shadow,
Silent forests, silent lakes
Drowse and grow numb. All grows merely dark.
Between the treetrunks the night steals,
Reaches the shore, towers above the sea,
Hurries through space,
High in the heights and deep in the depths
Lights stars, trembling and clear as silver.

Inspiration Speaks to the Poet

Do you remember a veiled summer day,
When you prayed to fate: ‘Take, O take away
Whatever you will, but to my dear one give
Love and beauty in this single life we live!’
Do you remember it? — a day of haze and mystery —
You were happy then and I was hidden away.
All that you built was soon washed clear
Piecemeal by the waves of year on year.
Do you remember that it froze, your heart’s recess,
Do you remember how you lived without happiness?
Do you remember me, when rejected you sat,
Embraced by autumn on a summer night?
No one healed you — only I, only I
With a song-thrush’s first timid cry!
I was life and I hid sources leaping strong,
Stronger than happiness — and my name was song.

Listen to me — a voice that lonely goes,
Carrying onward to eternal shores,
Always equally distant, equally close.
Listen, and do not ask me who I am.

The Dead Man

That day was like the others,
Grew twilit as every day grows twilit
Towards evening.

My eye saw it. My brain thought fleetingly:
Twilight is falling.
And the stars that flickered on in the dark firmament
I found again indifferently,
As unwillingly as a spoilt child,
Blinking sleepily at its kind father
And yawning as he turns page after page
In a picture book that has been opened a thousand times.


I should have harvested eternal joy from that day’s sun!
I should have gathered eternal happiness from that evening’s stars!
That was to be the last day of my Iife
And its last evening.

I am the dead man and I sleep the sleep death
And dream the dream of (leath. eternal.
And nothing more is given me to (Iream about
Than what I gave myself in ny days of w;ln(lering
Along life’s road.

The Lighthouse Keeper

I live alone in my tower in the sea.
Through the years I witness the same sights,
In a steady cycle smoke, sails and hulls
Move along the sky’s edge, away, away,
And clouds are born in endless variousness
And the landscapes of the clouds live before my eyes,
Yet in the end I know them all too well!
All shifts around, but what happens is the same.

Once in some old book I saw
A fine name for a lighthouse: star of the sea.
I remember it when a day of sea mist
changes imperceptibly into a night of murk
And the lighthouse throws out its white spears
To shine above the desolate pathways of the ships.
I am the keeper of a star: of course.
I tread the same way through the years
Over steep paths down from my lantern room
To the deep vault in the hard rock
Where the hollow silence of eternity reigns,
And again up to the lantern and the sea.

So I live and tend to forget with time
That the lighthouse sways like a sapling in the storm,
That the sea rolls like an avalanche in the night,
Drowning the rock, rumbling, clamouring, calling
To me, a lonely sentinel, far from land.

I am a keeper and fear nothing
Except the One who is from all eternity,
Who arches the heavens and ignites the suns,
Too far away for the brief flight of my thoughts,
And yet is always near me in the sea’s thundering.

translation © 2010 David McDuff