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

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