Mirjam Tuominen

Poems from “Under the earth sank” (1954) by Mirjam Tuominen (1913-1967)


Down in straight lines the birds
silent O silent
down down
into an earth that opens like a sea
into a sea you plunge.
Up up.

It closes.


Make me pure
teach me silence
make me whole
teach me new words
words that are not words
words that are like silence
whole pure
not self-abandonment
not accusation
not defence
not thesis
not antithesis
but synthesis.

May life and death
hold each other in balance.


The night is near.
The dark is rising.
It has already risen high.
Death is near.

Place counterweight against counterweight
on the scales of life.
The scales of death are full
so steeply is the balance tipped.
Place counterweight against counterweight.
The one so light the other so heavy.
Counterweight against counterweight is needed now.

How easy to be caught in a crevice
to incline sheerly to fall.
To close one’s eyes to sleep only sleep
in this embrace as light as air as space
and for always forever.
Forever: O death
dark truth-sayer
gentle exposer of lies
filth evil.
Take me! Hide me!
Let me sleep!
Infinitely O infinitely
you allow your own to sleep.
Sleep sleep sleep
while the truth works
on their closed eyelids
and resting hands
resting like cut flower-stems.

I had already forgotten
that it would be so easy.
It had already had time to become
new unfamiliar.
It frightened me.
I understood now
that it could be shocking
this violent way
of keeping not only life company
but also, devotedly, death
the reverse side of the medallion
the up- and downturned scale
the one that catches darkness
as wide as oceans and earth
and the heavenly vault
that is stretched over oceans and earth.
And the stars’ blindly gazing eyes
and the bloodthirsty moon’s
indifferent wishing towards new fullness, new wholeness.
Life and death inseparably united.
Murder and birth
Birth constant birth
and birth too is death
death and life inseparably united
but not mingled together
that is the cycle
that is the moon’s blind will
and the blind will of man
and the blind will of all things.

Long enough death’s kingdom held you
Long alas long enough
you sojourned there.
It set you free.
It gave you life
when everything collapsed.

Break the magic circle!
Mingle no more together
with life!

Will there not still come days and nights
when the snow falls soft?
Encircle engird fence round!

Can an accuser lower himself
to a marriage with his accused?
What content of joy
could be extracted from such a marriage?
The prosecuter accuses
the accused defends herself.
The accuser pronounces or defers the sentence
the accused lives in taut expectation.
Is that love?
I ask I ask I ask.

One day the bow will be stretched too taut
One day it will have to snap.

From you alone.

Fresh snow will come
fresh white soft snow
stillness goodness work
Work illness poverty
that is the trinity:
Stillness kindness work
which alone and solely signify
work illness poverty
Live for that
that was what met you
when it was happening.

The magic circle is broken
the accused is free
executioner and victim are a construction.
Whoever lets himself be accused
becomes an accused
whoever lets himself be victimized
becomes a victim
whoever lets himself be crucified
becomes a cripple.
And whoever spreads fear
yes, he spreads fear.
not to let oneself be accused
not to let oneself be victimized
not to let oneself be crucified crippled
not to spread fear.
The one who wants to prevent fear
exists in fear
and perhaps attains reconciliation.
The one who wants kindness
is neither executioner nor victim
but simple
The one who is appointed executioner
becomes an executioner
if he allows himself to be appointed executioner
the one who is appointed accuser
becomes an accuser
if he lets himself be appointed accuser

But it is not the accusation
(which is perhaps false)
not the defence
(which is always pointless and unnecessary
if the accusation was false)
not the sentence
only the deed that convinces.
Some must die.
On their closed eyelids
their resting hands
resting like cut flowerstems
on the ash the dust of what they were
the truth works
implacably incorruptibly.
Not self-surrender
only unavoidable death
or continued life without self-surrender
is the deed that convinces
sooner or later
later or sooner.

So build life’s ship
build it strong
build it with good will
honest desires uprightness
build it
on solid foundations
on death’s foundations:
your foundations
on life’s:
also yours.


Beyond the seven mountains
the seven valleys
the seven rapid torrents
the seventy-seven nights
the seventy-seven days
the seven hundred-and-seventy-seven days-and-nights
the seven thousand and seventy-seven paradise years
inferno years purgatory years
shut up in the mountain
beyond the valleys
beyond the rapids
beyond the nights the days
the days-and-nights
the paradise years
inferno years purgatory years
inside shut in
outside shut out
I cry: ‘Awake!
Come back!
Why did you abandon me?
A whole is more than a half.
A half cannot live as a whole.
Awake awake awake!
Go back the long way
the hard way
over the seven mountains
through the seven long valleys
Soar float plunge
over through
the violent currents
the dangerous whirlpools!
I look like a human being
and am a semblance
a hollow shell
without you.
You say that you are dead.
I say that you are asleep.
I call you back
I cry out for you
I beg I appeal:
The darkness takes me
fear screams
shrilly with a bird’s voice.
Fear O fear fear
nothing but fear
you gave me life.
Give me back
set me free
the chains rattle.
I weep
there is blood where I walk.
Fences grilles barriers
the birds are eating from my eyes
those cruel birds with strong beaks
and averted gaze
O birds birds birds
harbingers chosen ones shimmering white deep-black
not those cruel ones, not the eagles
but you
mortal harbingers
you that travel with messages from death
take me on your wings
fetch me back
birds birds birds
sorrow-swan black swan lonely swan
I call upon you I cry out I beg
wild swan
you that do not exist
I who do not exist
gentle swan:
Fetch me back
give me back
my living entrails
out there outside
inside shut in!
Give me
grant me
fetch me!
Sorrow-swan black swan
harbinger from death’s kingdom
together we must plunge
soar float
the veils of the water are soft
the sky without weight.
It is easy to soar
hard to walk.
Breathe breathe breathe
like the bird
when it floats.
I want to travel the long way
return again


Let go of my hand you idle grasp!
Here no human hand can help
Neither father nor mother.
Neither brother nor sister.
Neither husband nor wife.
Neither doctor’s advice
nor doctor’s knife.
A child has known what you know.
Do not fear
the fall, the deep one!
only takes the one who is afraid.
Be silent!
Go forward!


Wild thickets thorn hedges
bar your way

But the insight
at the bottom of all our souls
the same: and only.

Our only common inheritance
our only common ground
and bottom in depth of the most extreme necessity.

Amidst thorns and wounds
all at once
fragrant wide-open exhaling.


I sit abyss at your brink.
Only those who have themselves been seized by vertigo
know what fear is.
The child does not break faith.
Nor the one by childlike insight led.
Green-gleaming valley at your brink.

I sit abyss at your brink.
Does not the conscious rise up.
Does not the unconscious sink down.
Peaceful beautiful face
you help me.
Deepening valley at your brink.


You climbed down from your mighty rock.
Looked at me looked at the rock.
‘What a beautiful rock,’ you said my child.
‘What can a rock like that have in it?
Surely it must be something beautiful?’

A rock is a being enchanted
by the earth, child.
It cannot fall deeper
than that earth receives.
But if the earth stops.
If it disintegrates
or fire surges out of its entrails
or a strong quaking a violent shaking
pass through it
then the rock will hurtle falling
down down down
until new earth comes to meet it.

‘And what if it hits against something harder than itself?’
Then the rock will split into many small fragments
which all of them each and every one
are the rock and only the rock
that contain nothing but rock.

‘And what if no new earth comes?’
Then the rock will fall eternally forever.


A world a ball of fire
torn loose from its orbit
hurtles through space
hurtles without peace
falls without blessedness
finds no coolness.
Hurtling hurtling falling
fires through space.

Earth into earthlessness casts out what earth will not

Without peace or rest
restless without peace
peaceless in the land of a thousand lakes
torn in the barbed-wire land of many limits.
A mother-tongue a weight
towers of brick hurtle smother fall
mountains of rock transform rock.
A land where the fathers lived
but they rushed past
abandoned for centuries: stranger
in the prehistoric land.

But what concern is peace of yours
what concern joy blessedness?
Blessedness was never a concern of yours
you want to go to Inferno
to the people there
you rush you fly
their locks burn in fire
and yet are not consumed
in Inferno the people are pure
pure though without peace
the fire inextinguishable equal.

What is life to you
what is death to you
what is anything to you
what is fever to you
what is tiredness to you?

You are dead.
What is the child to you
what is even the child to you?
Feverish illusions
the veils of tiredness
they are something to you
they are still something to you.


child’s way of seeing




In Inferno the people are pure
like the fire
burning inextinguishable
and alike


There is a cry in the forest:
I want to go home
the keys have fallen
the paths have disappeared
I cannot get there
I am badly frightened
I have frightened myself very very badly
they have frightened
I have frightened
I want to go home to the dolls there at home
home to the stove the fire the hearth.


The swallows fly
in towards bluer sky
down beneath darkening clouds.

In the midst of the state of mighty never
in the interior of the mine
one can see what was not seen
hear what was not heard
feel what was not felt:
buried alive.


Burn witches
witches bewitched ones burn
bewitched in witchery by witchery
witches burn
you guilt’s enchanted
burn to death in fire
you who never were
it was in the land of somewhere
you who always were
it was in the land of elswhere
burn burn to death
that which ever was
it was in the land of nowhere
self that seldom was
it was here in this land
all of you burn burn to death!


All your words came to me with another meaning
a sealed meaning.
Beyond your words I sensed your faces.
The faces you bear are not your real ones.
You were disguised masked veiled.
Your unveiled faces are more beautiful
you were all prisoners in the veiled.
You hinted you insinuated you concealed
but all this did not reach its goal
it was stabs in blind scratches in the skin
the real was always much further away
it sometimes reaches us like an echo
it is the game that perpetually must fly.
Who says that Narcissus has been enchanted by his own
Whoever it is has never looked into the water.
Few have looked into the water.
Whoever has seen his own face in the mirror of the water
has seen all the others’.
Whoever leans over the water
and perceives his image
will not return, he will vanish.
Your unveiled faces come to me
they are beautiful
unalterable because true
they reach their goal
the truth is always beautiful
redeeming freeing giving.
I am divided from you by a singing stream
you will never reach me again.

From far away sometimes an echo reaches me.


You were the slave of your false fancies.
In this paradox such an irony:
your life
the child’s struggle to become a man
the man’s struggle to renounce being a man
the youth’s struggle to remain a youth
to die old
who was more powerful:
the sultan or sickness?
Scheherezade or imagination?
And who was the one
who the other:
one gaze was turned away
another turned towards.
The loving was cruel
the cruel was loving.
Thus is a life motivated
thus is born an idea with variations
without end
Am I different?
Were the others different?
Was anyone different?
The same thing manifests itself differently.
Everywhere prisoners
Everywhere a virgin concealed
(out of the sea she rose
into the sea she fell
ebb and flow)
captured by dragons and djinns
pursued even into the secret castle’s
most secret interior.
Where now is Françoise the French the fresh
holding the pillar upright?

The Duchess’s feet are shod in those brilliant red shoes
when anyone dies
the Duke hurries off to another masked ball
and the haste of the disputatious doctors is stilled.
(Just observe
the nervousness
among the individual animals
the individual plants!)
During solemn speeches
with measured gestures
they give themselves time
prepare the poisoned brew
the brew that initiates
into the last redeeming transformation.
In this paradox
who was more powerful?
The one already condemned to death has fled
a strange object lies there.
The books stand on the shelves.

The sensitive is fleeting and profound
it couples badly
slyly or briefly with the sensual real
it contracts to the touch
grows speechless blind
loses its grip
finds no refuge
couples with a mobile clear vision untouched
turned away
(sultan: you were never any concern of mine!)
turned towards
the intellectual
finds connection.


Behind the forehead is the realm of the dreams.
But your forehead bears the seal of peace.

Monologues wonder softly
if life is more than death
if death is more than life
if the two might not be reconciled
they quarrel in the realm of the brain
tear apart the realm of the heart.
You sob are bitter
joke jeer
degrade all that is holy.
Give me back my reason
O lord our king!
Behind the forehead is the realm of dreams
Dreams dream that dreams
dream that dreams that dreams.
Dreaming you dream
to an end
know no way out
no end.
Where is the road
the path
the pass
out of the dreams?
for dreams only dream
more dreams to dream
dreaming they dream themselves out
know no end
where is the road
the path
the pass?
here there are only dreams
O lord our existence!
You are just an imagining
yet so despotic
where is the dreams’ way out?
when will the dreams come to an end?
O sovereign over life!
O queen death!
Let me out!

The queen is near.
The king by her side.
How were the dreams woven behind your forehead?
Here is the father.
Here is the mother.
There is the child.
The king is near.
The queen at his side.
You do not see them.
Ophelia is married
has children.
Ophelia is already a matron.
You see none of them
You know none of them.
You hear none of them.
You want none of them.
You want to go behind the realm of the forehead.
You want your inner realm.

Behind the forehead is the realm of the dreams.
But your forehead bears the seal of peace.
Where you lean your forehead
in the moon’s reversed sign
O Prince of Denmark!
in the moon’s transforming radiance
in the pellucid night
there the realm of peace is mirrored.


You discovered the meaning of reason
of logic
of consistency
of anti-mysticism
of irreligiosity.

You rushed to the church
you called to the Virgin Mary for protection.
You were logical
you perceived
the consistent.


Out of simplicity
into multiplicity
composed of simplicity
through simplicity
deduced from simplicity
leading to multiple
again leading onward
to new multiplicity
simple deductions
all the way to the most
simple thing of all
the simplest simplicity
the whole.


How long after all can a story exist
a poem
and be treated as real?
Unreal real
real unreal.
Do not come too close to me!
I am dance I am song.
Do not make me real!
Reality kills.
The spirit of the dance cannot be captured in a number.
The immaterial cannot become material.
The finely-drawn cannot be made crude.
That which is without artifice cannot be made artificial.
The swift cannot be transformed into the sluggish.
Do not treat me as real!
A paradox cannot be resolved into simpler factors.
A paradox is a paradox
an explanation challenge exhortation
a flame
clear in itself
declaration of love
with no other answer than love
is a synthesis.
In the synthesis the spirit of mobility is
the spirit of the dance.
The synthesis lifts its wings
is mobile in a different way from heavy analysis
it rises above its captured mobility
and is mobile in the mobile in mobility mobile
in every nerve intermediary nerve inner nerve outer nerve
in every nerve-fine nerve’s nervous nerve’s
nerve of nerve-fineness nerve-resilience
nerve of nervous nervosity that is nerve
that lives nervily nervously nerve-finely
strong-nervedly resilient-nervedly nerve-susceptibly
nerve-sensitively in nerve’s nerve-receptivity
in every nerve’s nerve that again is nerve
that lives nervily nervously intensely nervily
most nervily in stillest movement
in the unseen play of muscles compelled
muscularly muscular sinewily energetically resiliently
controlledly muscularly museanly musically
sounding silence’s movements of stillness.
That is dance. Now I dance it.

I the spirit of winged dance
rise fall fall rise
fly in Indian dance.


You who do not want to believe
you have never looked into your brains
I have looked into my brain
I have looked into a shaft
I have burrowed in a mine.
Forty years I burrowed
Moses in the desert in a mine
half a human lifetime
until I got there
A trauma lifted
a pressure vanished
I was inside the vein
brilliant gold flowed out.
Half a human lifetime
in order to get there.
I am in the subconscious.
Another half
in order to will the pure.
My patience is long
as the prophet’s in the desert.
A cry comes from mountain peaks:
‘I am a stranger
in a land that is not my own.’
I am making it my own.
I will only be content
with the best
the best in man.
Sediment is not water.
I will only be content with water
clear fresh from the primordial source.

Death analyses so inexorably in syntheses that vary the varying theme varied
monotonously monotone the varying in the infinite’s nuances develops grows the
theme that which was fettered in order to fetter all over again more and more
fetter more clearly more inexorably fetter the already fettered until caught
in the captivity of the final synthesis it lifts its wings and flies through
the transparent thinness out into the great nothing. Nothingness is all.


people of the exception:
in the depths of the people except
let go under
I do not belong to you.
Human beings human beings only
everywhere human beings not exceptions:
I the daughter of men
am going to the very bottom
lower than God’s chosen people
through torment shame
annealed in the fire of the camps gassed gassed to death
I love the human being
in the mine in the shaft
black sweaty sooty
laughing childishly
with hungering thought
playing eyes living.
Do not turn arithmetic into figures
arithmetic is not figures
the arithmetic sings in Greece
sounds in Hellas
do not turn geometry into figures
a vibrating field it shines
listen in through hearing’s shell
no longer incomprehensible you will get
silence out:
swift fire of the pulse-beats how it oscillates
quiet incalculably not perceptibly not in second
far from minute


In vineyards I tread grapes
meet there in the past in Hellas
the human being sun-drenched happy called the Messiah
invisible lonely
to be nameless is to be lonely
to be lonely is to be without form.
Raise raise up!
the position of the people of the exception
there are no exceptions
I deny
I am burning
burning to death
all are equal
suffering makes equal
I give you of my brain
make use make use of that knowledge!
Man cannot be cured
logic does not count in figures
cannot be exterminated you will exterminate man’s soul!
Man cannot be turned into a number
arithmetic is something different from numbers.
geometry is something different from shapes.
Only listen:
lives in the logic of the universe
in the love of the universe
must lead to love
to the effacement of the exception.
Raise raise up!
All proud ones are chosen ones
in love humbled transforming logical


Palms of hands spread out with no skin
soft kneecaps’ command
will not let go of crooked legs
soles of feet yearn for skin
toothless mouth
endless weeping
from wells of sorrow
newborn child.


I write it shows in the eyes of the dog
it creeps in the paw of the cat
it shimmers in the solitary fly’s pair of wings
it leaps in foaling withers
it flies in the flight of birds
it flies
it sinks
in the earth down under roots
it smiles in the infant’s eyes
it grows in the eyes of children
it wonders in young eyes
it yearns in human eyes.

– translation © 2011 David McDuff

Solveig von Schoultz

Poems by Solveig von Schoultz (1907-1996)

30. XI. 1939

That day, too, became night.
The light our lantern threw
Past house after empty house
Shook on asphalt, empty and blue.
We walked on windows’ torn corpses,
On a broken splintering seam
Carefully, as if somewhere
There lay hidden a scream.
But the street was already dead.
Walls from wounds grown grey
Stood with grief-dimmed eyes.
Here children stood yesterday.
Acrid and alien
The smoke from fires passed us there.
The window nearest our lantern
Gaped speechless and bare.
Curtains stiff with soot.
A night wind made them roam.
They lifted like black wings,
Birds without a home.

My Time Is Brief

The holy disquiet knocked at my door.
‘I haven’t the time, I’m baking my bread,
the dough is rising, the oven is red.
Wait, as you’ve had to wait before.’

The holy disquiet went from my door.

The holy disquiet tried my lock.

‘Don’t come near me, my child is fresh,
It’s sucking my blood, my marrow, my flesh.
Leave me alone with my son, I say.’

The holy disquiet went away.

The holy disquiet stood in my house.

‘The chimney is smoking, haven’t you seen?
I’m sweeping my neighbour’s kitchen clean.
My children are crying. But nice you should call.’

The holy disquiet turned from my hall.

The holy disquiet sat by my bed.

‘Oh, is it you? I’m too tired now,’ I said.
‘I would have loved you young or dead.
Was there something you wanted? My time is brief.’

The holy disquiet left, trembling with grief.

The Water Butt

The water butt by the corner
has an eye that I love.
In the morning it laughs
when the aconites borrow its mirror
adorning themselves for the butterflies,
in the heat it lies shadowy, out of reach,
talking to the honeysuckle’s leaves,
sometimes it plays with the children
curling pygmy waves for their bark boats,
but only at night, when children and grown-ups are gone,
does the eye come wide awake
grow clear and listen,
open itself to the darkness above the pines,
in a cool lap girding

Accept It

Accept it, God.
I give you my defeat.
Take in your strong hands
the knife that cut.
Cut deeper,
cut bolder. I am said to be hard.
Prise my shell loose,
the dark shell I carry.
Force in your knife
and tell me, God: is the kernel there?
I close my eyes, await the knife.


Linger, bread, between my hands,
Give warmth of life, O you, divinely generous,
and let me put my cheek against your rough bark,
faithful bread.

How happy your brown scents are:
corn grown sweet in sun, dark kiln, the rattle of grain.
Blood has flowed into you from the earth’s entrails,
blushing bread.

Pagan women shaped you with their spells
and Christian crosses set a ring around your holy bed:
dark weapons were surrendered before your eye,
mortals’ bread.

Venerable bread, you that saw the origin of the ancient families,
you, born from soil, interred in soil and born again,
do not forsake us on the last day,
merciful bread.


Like a woman, hesitant and caught
amidst life’s blond and downy-feathered years,
a mother, bowed at low beds, who forgot
to look up where the midday sun appears,
she upped and left her warm and twilit nest,
now grown too small for all her brood and her.
She found a truth where she’d refused to trust.
She found that summer had stepped far, O far.

Her feathers were still sleek and brilliant,
her breast still soft from nights of harmony.
And suddenly she knew just what life meant:
one brief, hot summer, woman, you have left.
One brief, hot summer. Hurry. You are late.
And then? The journey that is mystery.
A day in early autumn — clear, mercy-bereft.

The Woman of Samaria

At the sixth hour our thirst enlarged
and the man in my bed bit my heel
and said: water.

And I sounded hollow as my pitcher
and my throat was sticky as from sacrificial blood
and my loathing was like sweat.

And I bore my pitcher to Jacob’s well
throughout years of clear, red hopelessness:
to thirst in the midst of thirst.

And lo, a stranger sat on the well’s stone rim
beneath the merciless dark blue
wrapped in the folds of his rest.

And the man’s voice sank into my pitcher’s clay:
if you drink this water
you will thirst to eternity.

That was at the sixth hour. The sun was absorbed
into his eye and grew as narrow as a spear
urgently burning its path.

And the man stepped into my gaze
and men stood concealed there, he touched them
and walked past their ashes.

That was at the sixth hour. And my thirst
lay exposed as a riverbed, dark brown
in its arid immensity.

By the panting furrow he bent down:
I will give you the springing water
I will give you living water.

And the coolness sank from my throat to my heel.
I hear the aching tremor from deep within me.
My brim is dark with moisture.

I will rise and go. I do not know where.
A sea has been born in me. I do not know how.
One thing I know: living water.

The Heart

We gave her seed; not much,
but enough so she would not grow tired;
water we gave her, a thimbleful,
to remind her of the source.
We opened the door a tiny way,
so the heavens would smite her in the eye
and we fastened a bit of mirror to her cage
so she could look straight into the cloud.
Quiet she sat, with flickering wings.

That way she sang.

Nocturnal Meadow

Here, this meadow:
the small, bright clearing of awareness
fenced and fertilised, mown to the furthest corners
where the dog’s muzzle of night-scented herbs nosed round his knees
round the boot-strides of safety.

Intrusive rustlings around scant clearing
covetously bent black walls inwards
invisibly crawled and gorged
and eyes watched, claws sharpened, wings rose
hear the warning rattle, the raucous gutturals of fate.

But still his meadow:
the light bottom of the deep-murmuring well.
And like a glass-clear cube eternity shot
straight up with spiracles at the Plough
as it moved on its mighty wheels.

Woman Cleaning Fish

With my long brown arms
I hurl entrails into the sea
wind and perch-scales fight around my throat
seaweed washes my toes
the corpses yawn
— there! My heart quivering with white lumps of fat
has taken a nose-dive; a scream
— you, omnivorous stomach grinding down like and unlike
sway in the seaweed
I don’t want to see you
— you, yellow gall, you insult to the sun
stinking bitterness
may the old corpse-crayfish take you
take the snaking subterfuge of my intestines
the cowardly constipation of mouldy memories
— with my long arms
I hurl the seagulls’ brazen laughter
tear slimy membranes
snort my blood, I will scrunch and rinse
vomit out into contemptuous cold and salt-green:
neat white flesh and a few angry spines.

The Sewing Machine

Here, in a secret alcove between the laundry basket and the kitchen
the objects that were hers crowded together under a brown wooden cover:
the trusty, sharp scissors that cut dreams to ribbons, the infinite patience of the spools
and the small pins with the motley-coloured heads of countless worries.
Here her years ran along sprouting seams
smoothed beneath a dutiful thimble.

What held them together was this: patched-up sheets,
that the worn can old be made to do, that the hopeless can be rescued.
But slowly rescue became more difficult and meaningless:
the aching of the wheel, that had been there all along,
pressed up through this: this is how it is supposed to be,
and grew dark and turned to suspicious bewilderment
and she stopped her treading and saw she was alone.


Behind what you say there is something else.
The visible is crazed by alleyways.
Scent of prophylactic herbs,
grape hyacinths’ courage.
Behind your fragments all is whole.
Hidden horses on nocturnal meadows.
Smiles, alerted, at our ignorance.
Death is only a river flowing inward
towards the plain whose name is trust.
Loneliness and hunger are only now.
How will we recognise ourselves
in the hour our purpose is made known,
and there is nothing in vain?


Three days he had lain wrapped in his resolve
with dark stains in the region of his cere-cloth:
the eyelids: they had renounced everything,
lowered over stifled vanity;
the nose; its haughty monument
to evaporated memories of happiness
before the bitter lips dried up the tongue
repenting of its fluttering to and fro;
the ears: a final lock
behind which he was at last himself
in a cavern of astonished silence,
yet most silent of all his hands
with brooding knuckles: all is in vain.

Like a bulb beneath layers of the past
a memory wintered in his heart,
a small, whitish sliver of fear,
but even this was making ready to die.
When, through the caverns of silence, a blow reached him,
a trumpet of light, and he answered with silence
stiffening inside his averted shell

until the trembling lashed him again
the close pounding of alien light
and the sliver of fear swelled in his heart
and with his dead body Lazarus cried: No.

The trumpet of the command.
An unbearable pain
streamed in his limbs, a violent light
a death to light, the bursting of the stiff bandages —
Lazarus. Arise.


There is no other way than to become more tree.
Make it up with the soil. The soil: eternally the same.
The stones the same.
The gravel the same.
Nailed for all time to this: immovability.
To move in the tree’s direction:
deeper down.

Can a tree that loves storms become a storm?
The tree can do no other than to rend its crown.
Be shaken through by cries
the tree the nailed-fast soughing
born to be tree
drives its longing inward
into the form of tree.

The dark-shadowed grows broader. Broad
the pillar descends and without vertigo sings greater
towards the cloud its heart of leaves
rest for all that travels
safety for birds and for the seeds
forever in motion
deep in its innermost wood.

There is no way than to become more tree.

The Pike

I am the pike.
Yellow-ringed green and black:
tough-tailed triumph.
To me unlimited power is given.

Who are you?
I took your bait.
Its seduction gleams inside me.
Never think I have regrets.
I wanted. I took.

True: it hurts
under my powerful heart.
But rarely: in soft spasms.
What do you want of me? Sport?
Do not think you have me.
It amuses me to come when you call.
Sometimes, to strike terror into your heart
with my sudden-stealing back.

But away!
Away from your evil eye
in tail-tenebrous whistle and whirl
nosediving into night
— my spawning-time’s shadowclear hunting-ground
my quivering small-fry my ripping jaws
my arrow-flight’s hissing will —
Go on.
Tear your barb under my wild heart.
Is it death I have swallowed?

But will you take me alive?

The Cloud

Slowly the cloud came loose and drifted over the river,
the baleful cloud the landscape had dreamt.
It moved in melancholy towards another night.
In the dream the riverbanks had flowed out into the water.
They stopped, still afraid, in their flight.
Colourless light flowed in over low reeds,
sparkling in the meadow’s rough stubble.
A buzzard burst from the banks’ uncertainty and rose
higher, until he had conquered the meadow
higher, until he alone possessed the morning’s cries
and higher, until he lay down on his strength and floated
with the brazen sun concealed in his wings:
grey and brown quiverings of light.

June Sauna

This is the body’s joy this side of age and sex:
to curl one’s toes against a sooty wall
to stripe the skin of one’s back against a baking bench
to roll shadows around in the pit of one’s stomach

to be stabbed in the eye by the peephole, small, rage-boiling green
the frayed dotted curtain
the inquisitive clump of nettles
to snort at a hissing alder whisk

to gasp for blessed air by the steaming groan of the stones
distil guile from one’s skin
scoop innocence from the water butt
to be smoothed childlike and shining wet

to crawl glowing away from the little sootblack island
absent-mindedly chew sorrel
ice-cold whortleberry flowers
whistle at the wood-dove’s weeping music

and behind a bush perform one’s evening prayer.

The Pasture

The lantern is small
for those who must walk through the pasture at night
bobbing it lights
by glimpses and hardly at all
bares itself
followed by unfathomable eyes

sends sudden beams quivering:
a coarse hoof gleams in the mire

a step away that which has no name
jostles in masticating darkness
moans, shifts dully,
crushing twigs beneath its weight

arches the whites of its eyes
the lantern lights by glimpses

when it has gone
the pasture will be dark as before
the millennia will continue to murmur
and the tangled spruce trees will rock to and fro
their view concerning the stars


You threw me off.
A hail of stones
lashed my face and your hooves
vanished in glowing embers.

I know you will return
quivering, lathered.
And I shall mount you:
my spurs thirst for your hide
I shall mount you: tame your rebellion between my knees
and we shall travel forward together
as one
tautly, silently stepping,
one for one.

The Room Overlooking the River

The only calm is to break one’s calm,
to know when the water grows stagnant and acquires a smell of death.
False is the calm on a windless shore
and the house of safety has closed-up shutters.
But give me this room of river-blue air
with walls that are still empty,
this naked floor of boards
running together towards one thing: the window,
open to the flowing water of night and day.
There deceit will be washed away
in small, wicked eddies
and day and night will sough away
small pieces of myself.
Until I am as naked and hard as the floor overlooking the river
until chance takes wing like clouds of autumn finches
until I stand open like a window
on the brown sun of change.

Three Sisters

The woman stooped down and picked up her child
and her hair fell over her face
and inside her a little old woman
withered and clear-eyed
stooped down with trembling head
to pick up her knitting
and inside her
a young girl stooped down to pick up her doll
with tender hands
three sisters
who would never see one another.

Old Woman

The head had a life of its own:
on a withered neck
it raised its tower of experience.
The roof of grey grown thin
crowned its weatherbeatenness
watery recesses
stared from networks of care
small elephant-grey stones
hard with wisdom.
The head had an age of its own.
The head: a tyrant.
The body: a subjugated land
the shoulders modestly young
with dry, white skin.
The body, delayed in dreams
of waterlilies and blood.

An Unknown Beak

An unknown beak pierced my breast
and there it stayed while the bird drank
and there I stayed
almost without pain
for as long as the bird sucked my blood with its beak sucked deeper
I did not know
if I had bled to death or become a bird.


Inside unhappiness it is quiet, everyone has gone past,
all doors are shut, you hear no sound.
Sparse furnishings, unaired darkness
but rest,
face and body against hard floor
but rest
and a strange dream about God.


Thus far was he shown mercy
or its opposite:
at the moment he had heaved the boulder to the top
relief raised him up
straightened his back
forgetfulness filled his head
with a thin cool breeze
and this moment lasted just long enough
for him to regain faith and apply his weight
to the boulder again.

The Cell

Gradually he learned it.
He was very seldom there.
Sometimes, when his head hit the wall
he would return to his body
and rediscover terror.
Someone had permitted his escape.
Perhaps it was God.
He travelled far and wide.


For forty years they had lived with each other
and the language was growing harder and harder to understand
at first they had known a few words
later on they made do with nods:
bed and food.
For forty years they had coped with the day-to-day.
Their faces grew calmer, like stones.
But sometimes a chance interpreter appeared:
a cat, an unusual sunset
they would listen with an air of unease
try to answer
they were already speechless.


And then, when God had burned down on every branch
man stood
a Christmas tree bereft of needles
looking around in the daylight
dimly remembering
something that had made him shine.

The Dolls

But when she looked at all those years
she found they had turned into dolls, with rigid eyes
some dozing, some wide and transparently awake
some dressed in finery, with undulating hair
some naked, with breasts and slender arms
but all unable to move, all in a row
she stuffed them into a sack and pulled the cord
now they are gone
now they are truly gone

The Poor Man’s Lamb

The poor man’s only lamb slept in the poor man’s lap
and was like a daughter to him
eating out of the poor man’s bowl near the poor man’s beard
warming her wool at the poor man’s sorrowful heart
roughly licking the constant hand that firmly
held on to his sole possession:
his daughter.

Hold her trotters firmly, the lamb is dancing in a dream
where? On the rich man’s farm where the lambs are many
the gambollings quivering-high and the air untrammelled
where the lambs drink muzzle to muzzle from the spring
and lie down with blissful trotters
on green meadows where they find rest.

Death is like King David
with his melancholy crown of gold
death gathers treasures and gives nothing away
but even death will have to answer
for what it has done to the poor man.
Only the lamb has rest

the lamb has escaped from her father
and the pen of her loyalty.

The Angel

On my shelf stands a little angel of wood
with gilded wings and a halo like a hat.
I was given him once a long time ago
by someone who believed in angels
right then I needed
a guardian angel (it’s a need that has grown no less).
He has had a hard job.
He has lost
one of his wings, he has fallen off the shelf
during the struggle with Satan (not a stranger here)
and his gold paint has flaked off.
But his obstinacy
is as great as Satan’s, he goes on standing
here he promised to stand, a little angel
with a broken wing and a halo like a hat.

The Burning Glass

As when in spring
one focuses the sunlight in a burning glass
watching the heat grow narrow
the paper blacken
and a little dot inside
begin to glow
so also should despair
burn holes in silence.

The Pole Star

The pole star in the universe clings to itself
however much the earth may turn
however the stars may be confused
the pole star stands by its constancy.
So do I.
If I steer a steady course
nailed to the one thing I know
the uttermost and only thing I know
I can exchange glances with God.

Easter Suite


In childhood’s days Good Friday fastened still
as did the sky above the hill’s strong pines
deep blue and brightly scrubbed and without end.
One wore one’s Sunday best, as did the sky,
and was constrained to silence, and no games.
Brown fronds of willow stood in glass-blown jars
whose water contained ice, first buds of spring
that waited to be free to shed their scales.
Beneath the stones on hillsides lizards lay
in frozen boulders waiting for the sun.
We spoke low-voiced, and our own waiting grew
in shining expansivity, and made
our long Good Friday more prolonged. No games.
It was so still one walked about on tiptoe,
listening. But what happened then occurred
So deep and still that nothing could be heard.


How can one not submit?
No gaze is so radiant and dark blue
penetrating everywhere, into the snowdrift
that, hissing, collapses into the ice
that waits with red lakes, and into the heart
where winter still holds out
how can one not submit?

What death lures us with: so easy to live
when one is dead. Simply to cease to hear
and cease to see. Simply to seal the chinks
around a dark, eternal mirror-calm.
O peace, O wondrous inward-moving peace
O lack of dread. To turn one’s eyes within
on depths that do not move, and never will,
and merely silently reflect themselves.
o to walk among all living creatures
and be dead.


This fearful leavetaking of winter
the pulse of revolt beating and beating
just as much inside us as outside us
already the willows are reddening
already the water is clattering under the snow
the light compels the transformation on us
unconcerned with what is dying
the ice is made to leave like love gone grey
there is no refuge
death defends itself and makes the cold more keen.


The lower the sun
the bluer the ice, keener blue sword-sharp
the redder the catkins of the alder
the harder the birch-buds in the smoke from the sauna
Rigid, the buckthorn clutches towards the stone
but the snow burns like cold fire.


No one heard the swans that night
but still the shore is white as outstretched necks
and the water on the melting ice dark metal
like the eyes of birds.

Out of the sea of seals rises the Easter god
with pike in his hands
dark brown from solar laughter
he breaks off a willow-fork
he plods heavily in the snow
he divines the water’s path.
he willow-fork wrenches itself downward
and stays impetuously turned
towards the secret things beneath the ground.

Where are the newborn lambs?
The ones that are newly broken forth
on high, trembling legs.
Let us see newborn lambs
now as the sun is deepened, hovering
low over the darkening ice on the lakes
now when the air is becoming a bubbling density
and the grouse are erupting over the floes.

– translation © 2011 David McDuff

Rabbe Enckell

Poems by Rabbe Enckell (1903-1974)

I cannot imitate
time’s grey patina.
I love all that is new and inimitable.
I paint the earth
in the brilliant varnish of the spring torrent.
The sharp odour of freshly painted wood
will not quickly leave my works.


The sunny mass
of the Acropolis
does not frighten me.
I have seen
the Finnish knoll’s
grey barn,
its temple-like
towards the infinite expanse
of the spring sky.


The calf of one summer surveys the earth with glistening eyes.
In his great black eyeball swim the cloud and the brook’s foam and the springtime’s colourless gnat flits from the green birch leaves
to be reflected in it
as if it were one of the forest’s blind pools.


Miniature Poetry’

The morning dew has placed small weights
in the dew-cup’s bowl — the scales are even.
With quivering blades the lawn checks
the weight of each drop.
But the sun dips his finger in the dew so that nothing is left. And the nettles in the ditch know full well
that the dew’s weights are merely bunglers’ trinkets compared to the gigantic river in Pernambuco.


I am the springtime’s deepest
filled with water.
I am keeping quiet.
But one day
the forest will talk about me.



Here in the forest’s
dry-muzzled summer
my thoughts were aroused to defiance,
the heat threw into my senses
a shadow all too dark.


You smile at
my little matchstick poems.
Their harmlessness has become legendary.
But it is better to have a box of them in one’s pocket than to sleep with ten fire extinguishers in the house. They have made do
with brightly illuminating my face when they are lit
– and then going out.


We wander in your light
in order to grasp your impossibility.
It swings
like an arc lamp in the storm
sending giant shadows dancing
over our motionless houses.



I am an over-civilised
Take me in the flat of your hand,
feel how I twitch and tremble
with nerve-reactions.
its cats’ waltz
in my ear.


I have only one thought.
If life picks up its scent
it will crush me.
My soul is nothing but trust.
If it lets me down
I will have spasms of hunger in a flourbin,
will leap unprotected by instinct
straight into the fire.


I am greedier for my welfare
than the ant is for the grass-blade.
If anyone’s hand comes too near me
I spew ant-piss.
My whole being cranes up on two legs with quivering antennae.
My abdomen bends forward in a bow.
Under the lens you can see my spite in all its glory.


The Goods Wagon

I have been shunted onto the wrong track
and stand, a lonely wagon at the buffers.
Grey, I look in at the yellow edges of the forest.
I stand in the rain — the twilight dilates
but I will never reach my destination.


What I wrote
was a romantic compulsion.
I wanted to be imprisoned in
the dying shimmer
of a word,
to raise the echo of a past emotion.
I wanted to escape
to the world of the forest,
its dark meditations,
to find
satiety in a beast-like dream.
But luckily imagination’s silver ring
fell from my finger.
The horizon of flying images
has grown dark.
In the mirror of a magic lake
the light grows fainter and will not return.
Only thought lingers,
doubly dear to a freed eye.



A bird’s warble flies
like a swivel-bait cast over waves.
A splash of the morning light’s gold leaf
around giddying rotation
spun out
into the very fibre of disappearance.


In Rome

In Rome the heat strikes rings in lime-dry air
the eye is blinded
and the soul’s dust cakes one’s eyebrows.

In the shadow of the arch I stand as on a mountain’s shoulder
facing the sea of sun, and the fountain’s splashing reaches me
with noise and voices from the dark, much-changing faces of life.

All the gaudy baroque droops like chrysanthemums in the heat.
Imperceptibly time boils dry
like the moisture in the marble basin — sucked up and forever renewed.

There behind drapery the coolness of a church’s nave
and the body’s yearning slinks in like a lizard over chiselled stone.


As distant as the sun is from the winter blaze in a red cloud,
as distant as —! Day has altered to evening and the rosy shimmer
becomes magic darkness. Silently memory still tours
along roads whose dust
constantly recalls things that are lost.

Memory’s veil, at first transparent as the wave of heat above clear fire,
grows heavy and opaque as the shadow in a ravine.
The sheer ravine of time
plunges straight into our souls.

Beaten in the iron of terror they intercept a sound
that echoes in our hearts’ pulse; where and when?
The horn of Roland calls
deep within the light-branched, leafy forest.

Bust of Juno

Eye cooled by day, hair bound by marble
Junonian sun and the forehead’s vault:
a mask for the depth of Hades’ oblivion,
an underworld with river-waves
frozen in onyx and life’s cyphers
dispelled like a dream —
Nothing will paralyse the power of the dumbness
unjoined by commanding times far hence upon the marble. Nothing will kindle the fire
in her eyes; with her soul turned away,
swathed in the mantle of time’s distance
she meets, powerful in resemblance, day’s sun.


Longing appeals at heart to the change in all things.
The deed, once lofty and sun-illumined
is turned to a vessel consecrated in the darkness of the obscure past.
And the life which still like Pallas stands forth from the god’s helmet
will soon radiate from a world, metamorphosed by visions, embraced by death.
Time, forever ready to create
in our place the greatness that evades us,
makes us all, on the front we occupy,
into stubbornly silent deserters, happy in longing.

The eyelids stiffen. Liver-brown shadows gather
under the eye.
The heart
pumps the aching blood of fear. A void
expands infinitely —
In the brain, a windless murmuring.
The eye looks in a mirror
as sick and smarting as a salt steppe.
A movement! And chaos
floods through your veins, shrouding
your body in a veil of blind pain.


The poverty that came to me
in silent years of childhood
is the treasure I covetously hoard.
The wheel-ruts of the slow roads,
the drying-hurdles steaming in the evening sun,
the mist over the lake
conceal what I hardly know how to miss:
conceal my sense of loss itself.
O rich inheritance of poverty.
Out of loyalty’s unequivocal heart
the star has risen.
Its name is constancy.


Towards Ithaca

In sleep he is borne by waves
homewards where night and north
sweep space and immovably
the constellation of Heracles
raises its lever.

Is borne away by complete oblivion,
rich, powerful, weaving patterns of sound
squandering the nets of time
swell sinking
beneath its own fate.

He is borne so he shall not be
where flames lick up from Eos’ dawn;
only homeward and nightward —
the sleep of gods
‘most akin to death’.


High in November day flames your golden trumpet.
o herald, many times before now
your sentinel’s cry has summoned men
to strife — and proudly kindled
the fire in their minds and their impatient fighting spirit:
Still in your cry
the banner of revolt flutters before the rebel,
the clear voice of lofty obedience
is announced
to willing hearts.
— Borne far away across the dying coxcombs of the echo
on the dizzying hunt for fortune
you are
the first message to strike home;
at the door of pale suffering and treachery,
the last warning —

The Heart

The longer life continues
the more like a dream
it becomes.
Heart, sore pressed,
soon you will rest unburdened beneath
oblivion’s heaviest garlands
with the sparing blossom of memory.
All will exist only as the guest
and closest friend of death.
Yet — undying ivy will guard
the room of your pain.


compelled to poetry!
The blind satisfaction,
recognition sweet as the scent
of lily-of-the-valley, gentle but numbing, said nothing to you.
You, that lived
on sparing, inaccessible insight:
bitter roots
of a soil dragged
from afar as though in defiance
of the nearness of that sea
stingily tended to earthly needs —
You, fishermen by a storm-heavy coast,
faces flushed with cold,
day-labourers of uncertainty,
patient tillers of poetry’s Aran!
Your table unacquainted with victuals
that are not the product of your spirit’s power.
You, poets
of the difficult school!

Oedipus at the Sea

Here on the shore of the shadowless
the shadow fly —
You touch me with unfamiliar hands,
feel my face as though you yourself were blind
and with a blind man’s groping fingers sought
someone. At your touch I am
like a child —
around unkempt, grey-grown beard
you flutter mercifully,
tug at it in play.
Why can I not see you? Yet see you,
see you, sensing your depth.
Gentle as the repetition in a nurse’s songs
with their more direct way
to the heart —

The misery of a human life
weighs lightly, 0 sea, in your embrace.
The two Nereids All Things Must Pass and Sleep While There is Time
strew your bed with windwashed asters and fragrant mint.
The mist kisses one of your eyes,
the sun the other.
The night manifests its reconciliation in golden text.
However nimbly the Fate spins her thread in the here and now
for you she will always be too late,
and her action in vain.
Here on your shore
with my feet finally tamed,
here I sense that the bitterness in my life
is not towards you, that it is not you
that sickens my spirit. All that flees
to you finds a refuge.
You: who bid complaint be silent
with your hand gently laid upon the lips of lamentation,
with a divinity in your depths —
I see in everything not what it is
but what it means.
I wish that I lived in some context.
I wish that words
would find their way to me: vermin huddled beneath a stone.
There is life beneath a stone and the form of the most high
dwells in all that there is room for in this world.
That which is inside is easy.
It is as easy as Ariel and the west wind:
goes sweeping through every kernel, every word.
From the underworld nothing can be saved.
But spring is a launching board for all that goes outward.
There death’s trademark is valid as any other.

O Bridge of Interjections…

O bridge
of interjections,
you that pass over half of life in silence
and half of death
and yet are filled with life and death,
you that like a river reflect the banks
announcing their depth
0without revealing or betraying
what is hidden by merciful trees
at the water’s edge,
I will go your way like a Moslem
who approaches the mosque with covered head
led astray neither by what lies to the right or the left of him.

I will adorn my ear with sounds
that are audible only at sunrise
or towards nightfall, when each star sets out its bowl
to catch a sprinkling of the inaudible.
And I will adorn my eye with light
disclosing things that can be neither hidden nor seen,
such as breathe their scent from a distance
and cannot be lifted up and placed here or there,
since they remain with me always
wherever I am —

Among those lofty things
there is neither you nor I nor anyone else,
neither love, passion, jealousy nor revenge.
There is absolutely nothing to lay us bare
or give us occasion for arrogance or humiliation.
Those lofty things soar towards us
on the wings of interjections, transparent as the dragonfly’s:
she glows with all that is behind her or ahead of her;
colourless in herself, each moment paints her anew.
They are like a tranquil air in which scents thrive.
One breathes them in as on a forest path.
But the sea, too, the rock and the storm are lifted
on the wings of interjections.

Whoever is versed in them
is like a skilful spinner: from matted wool comes flowing yarn.
O, is it really necessary to heap up facts?
Then I am lost. In facts I was imprisoned.
What speaks through me now is merely what
is present in any moment,
like rainwater in a crevice: it has gathered there
and dries up again in order to return.

Long we go bowed under the weight of circumstances.
One senses them everywhere — like the members of a jury
they judge us, acquitting or convicting us.
As long as we live we stand like prisoners at the bar.
O who can plead in his own defence other than
in a thoroughly inadequate fashion?
On whose side is the law, on whose true love?
These are questions that cannot be settled at once,
but must constantly be reiterated in the world of the halfhearted.
The defier and the conciliator
dwell in the same breast, in the same heart’s chamber,
forever pursuing the same exchange of opinions.
In the long run we all lose out.
For what we win we allow to slip through our fingers
and what we lose comes back to us again.
In the degree to which we give it up for lost, it returns.
It returns by way of the loss that makes us reconciled.
It returns by way of the loss that makes us dream purer dreams.
It returns by way of the loss that makes us think truer thoughts and will better actions.
Verily: no one can say ‘I have won!’
For no one wins in the end, but everyone loses,
loses until they are conscious of it and realise
that only by way of loss can the flood of things that are lost
be stemmed. It is so simple. Tears are the nervous spasm
of our desire to hold onto something, they are the child who refuses to see
that the sense of loss gives to life its deepest substance.

One can find nothing in life
unless one finds those words
that are transparent with
what the spirit has in common with everything and everyone.
One can find nothing unless one is able to weave oneself
a net that fits every sea and every river.

In interjections I have found a strong thread
that has been dipped in the pitch of eternity in interjections,
which are born
like the spider’s web in the light of morning:
constantly at breaking-point, it often tries the eye of the beholder,
but it holds the spider, its creator,
as the world holds God. What does it matter
that much of it is torn to shreds? It matters nothing!
As long as the thread holds its creator.
I found the pitch-thread of eternity in the spider’s web and in those interj ections
which, dipped in my heart, held fast
even when its blood flowed hottest.

When the lover makes those long pauses between the words of love
those pauses that rest in the present like a butterfly on a hot stone,
without desire, need or purpose,
he is outside desire
and is in acceptance, in which his soul rests, open.
As after a violent downpour the sun shines more strongly
than it does on a cloudless day, so our lives are strongest
the moment we set ourselves free and stop thinking about purposes.
There is always something melancholy about one who is setting out on an expedition.

Why does the soul in his eyes seem to renounce
the result in advance? why does the moment of decision
make his stomach turn?
Where does this weakness come from? It creeps out of his soul, whispering: ‘renounce’.
Renounce! You must admit that — if, like a parachutist, you took the risk —
only then did you really feel free.

There is within all of us something
that is too fragile not to break,
too fragile or too inexpedient.
Are we therefore to condemn it?
Complete expediency would never
find its way to the life that is more than cause and effect.
Complete expediency is not possessed
by the ox under the yoke, not even by the machine.
The ox contains that which is animal and is not the beast of burden.
The machine contains the incomplete, which is the human being. Expediency can make no decisive contribution
to the argument about what our lives are worth.
No: sickness, want and hope —
that is life and its redoubts, never surrendered.

Let us therefore not condemn that which has made us vulnerable,
made us fall out with life and brought us face to face with the thieving brats of reality.
The wound proves that there was something
which went beyond the bounds of necessity, something
which demanded more and found less,
was a squandering of energy until reality
converted it into blind weakness.
To me the quarry is free when it is hunted
in mortal terror by a goading pack.

To me the murderer is free when, his soul on tenterhooks,
he awaits the ring at the doorbell,
the quite ordinary ring of an errand boy at the door with a delivery
from the grocer’s shop around the corner —
and then another ring, one quite out of the ordinary, one that mercilessly
shoots the bolts of existence, discloses
the next step as a ‘come with us’ — the soft purring
of the police car from the street sounds like something in a dream —
This is a freedom you cannot escape!
A freedom which leads to something greater, something inconceivable.
One that will perhaps finally release
the most intense delight a human being can attain: the smile that
nothing will be able to avert —

In the twilight of the jail
on the stone floor, pressed
against damp walls and with the cell bars
like a cool and indifferent thought, irrelevant,
I felt for my companion in misfortune the kinship
common shame bestows.
For in a cell there is no concealing
the obvious. In jail
a man goes free of condemnation and only
the unease of his own conscience examines
what is concealed
behind the ever more tightly knit
meshes of the interrogation. Fear and unease
about the inadequate weapons of cunning and watchfulness
construct a shared world
of hours that melt like hot tin.
Yet, when the fear grows less, even jail
has its view of eternity
and over its walls, dark with twilight, falls
the shadow of the peace that is granted
to those who rest under the open sky.

Never will I forget
how well we got along
over our games of chess: the squares
scratched out on the stone floor with a pin,
the pieces made with cardboard torn
from an empty cigarette carton. Bent
over those scratched squares we found
a peaceful crevice in the now,
a field for the tournament of thought
and at times we would forget
that the morrow had already been lost
before our surroundings let go
their grip on us.
The knowledgeable thief entertained us
with songs from far and near,
always came back
from interrogation having confessed new crimes,
always calculating
what they would cost him in months
of life; yes, truly
justice did not scorn
the widow’s mite —
Never will I forget
how dear hands sent me
the book about Watteau with its pairs of
silk-robed lovers in parks suffused
with the purple radiance from distant

Thus is our life — Vain
to try to set it on a course
for the better. There is
no “better” anywhere.
Fear and distress interrupted by
the occasional relief of
sleep and oblivion put man
in his rightful place. Whoever understands this
no longer negotiates with fortune
and the rainbow.

There is something that has gone —
A cloud has gone, a light, a cloud and a star.
I stand staring at that patch of emptiness
where once it was: a cloud has gone.
I do not know why this empty patch in the sky
should bring forth such emptiness within me.
I do not know why: since the cloud disappeared
I have felt a thirst that cannot be quenched.

My lips are dry, my soul rocks to and fro
like one whose abdomen hurts.
I know full well that everything is an illusion
and that life builds cycles of illusion.
And that all transformations simply illustrate
that here have we no continuing city.
In spite of every transformation we are kept
on a diet that is far too restricted: it satisfies us before we have stilled our hunger.
Who but a conjuror could love reality for more than ten years at a stretch?
What comes after that is nothing but repetitions, which give us a certain degree of immunity,
but by no means indemnify us; on the contrary, although the symptoms grow less noticeable, the disease penetrates deep down.
Work, leisure, all that is measurable in purely external terms becomes more significant and the emotions are now the great stumbling-block we must overcome.
But we overcome them not at all, we merely conceal them,
conceal them from the sight of others and ourselves.
Increasingly we make life into a plan of action, a sphere of activity.
The most precious and sensitive instruments have been lost in the storm,
But we attempt to manage without them, we trust to our own eyes.

Can we hold the course? Do we care whether we hold it any more?
Chance and our eyes grow more and more closely wedded to each other.
In this magnetic field everything is simpler.
Even the oarsman, aimlessly rowing, has a regard to the wind and the waves.

Those who consciously describe themselves as corks before the wind do not become more so
than those who are, but are unaware of it…
To be poor is to be on the lookout —
We all stand in the queue ordained by necessity.
We do not know what it is we are queuing for, we join the queue without knowing what the goods are worth:
desirable or not, it is all the same.
The queue forms like an ice-pattern on a window
and is longest
when one is looking forward to what one cannot get. Patiently the days of our lives unfold,
frozen and wretched,
soon hopeless — and yet we go on with them
just for the enjoyment of waiting — and when we ourselves are no longer waiting
for the enjoyment of waiting with those who still are. We warm ourselves at the glow of hopefulness as greedily as the street-vendor at his brazier.

Toughness our most efficient stimulant,
a decoction of ‘perhaps’, ‘you never know’,
‘as well here as there’, ‘it could well be’.
Joined together by words and thoughts like a wire
the queue winds
binding our hearts somewhere
between belief and scepticism,
‘good luck’ and ‘that’s the end of that’.

Thus we are incapable of dying
and what we live by is what we are unable to cope with. It is so simple — in this greyness
dwell harmonies, sweet scents that make
our spirits tremble, our hearts hammer
obstinately — in painful contradiction
to all that we know —

To be poor is to be on the lookout,
on the lookout for life and death, to sense
how closely they follow each other
into our hearts, as closely as the windshadows on a flag.
Only the hunter knows the way the quarry moves,
the detours it will make, where he will find it,
only the hunter knows, and the hunter is life.
Our hearts are marshes on which shots ring out,
but we see nothing of the quarry that is felled.
That is the hunter’s secret and a secret too
is the deep silence that is death’s echo —

Like a roe-deer oneness had fled from me —
And where I walk the paths are muddled together
and all the trees look the same.
But however far I may have gone astray in the exitless,
to you, wanderer, it will one day be disclosed,
to you, that wander under happier skies
where confusion’s film of blood does not obscure your sight,
that here once the foot of a roe-deer left its imprint,
here in the valley of oneness and longing.

O bright valley, resting always further away
than thought and eye are so quick to believe!
O bright valley, there you are, glimmering in daylight more clearly
each time the mists of vanity are dispelled.
The wearier grow one’s steps the more clearly sounds the purling of springs, the light across your meadows and the water of the unattained rock cools
the throats of those who succumb but never
lose sight of their vision —

Long I sat on the bench of life
looking as though I were not looking,
saw the columns, supply vans,
heard the rumble of tanks, the frenetic din of engines.
The man at the wheel: stone gods, totem poles,
isolated, exalted in their din, while the caterpillar tracks scraped out listlessly burrowing claws in the dust.
How long I sat there looking
looking as though I were not looking
looking as one looks at the crowd on a platform
keeping one’s eyes peeled for the one whom one is to meet, only for the one whom one is to meet,
seeking a voice in the tumult —
Among leaves that have lost their sheen,
among flowers that have lost their colour —
Within the perianth they have their glow
and decay has its incense
of the past — a gentleness without limits —
So listen inwards, to what does not believe,
does not hope and does not remember; a web
of dead things that have ‘ost their forms
and are merely air or nothing!
They have drowsed away from them, they have slept,
slept long, alas, even during their lives they were sleeping
a sleep full of dreams about something
that never was —
Someone is loitering outside,
creeping in at your doors —
in search of warmth and company,
bread for his hunger —
Why does he not just come right in and say what it is he wants? Why is he creeping about outside?
Drive him away: he has dark designs.
Chase him away! But he is not there. Where is he? Where has he
vanished to?
But I know there is someone creeping about outside, someone to whom I can give neither bread nor warmth — Is it hope, dark hope?

Strew ashes, abundance of ashes,
ashes on the hard-frozen field,
on the winter snow, so that it melts away
laying bare the brown earth!
For you have an errand to me as you have to others, sun!
All your mail has the word
Urgent marked on it.
Urgent— such a hopeful word,
so warm, when sent in your letters:
your beams!

How often the gold text in your stamp is borrowed
for things and communications of such little urgency! Your message passes through so many
bitter intermediary hands that
— when finally it reaches us —
we are unable to decipher the garbled text.
But sometimes it amuses you
to throw your letters down to us
directly from above
and then there is a scent as delicate
as marsh violets —

Spring comes so quietly:
all the herb-gardens already hold
their seeds — all the herb-gardens
the gardener loves before all else.
Filled with the tension of expectancy
the rustle of the seedsticks
in the bag — now they have come to rest
in the soft folds of the soil, sealed in there.
He loves them best:
the sharp and the soft,
the light and the dark.
He loves them for the sake of their bitterness
and for their sweetness —
abundance here is paired
with fine discernment
and an aroma as full as that of the rose
here has its nearness to victuals, the frugal necessities of life.

forgotten by sound
possessed by light!
You are the girl where she sits
in the arbour’s shade, bowed over the book that is making her heart flutter.
Now she averts her gaze, her eyes pause for a moment seeking coolness on roses and blue lupins
to avoid those pages that come flooding over her
with too great a confusion.
When the voice of her mother calls her to the table that is ready laid
her own voice answers in faltering tones —
She has been far away. Will she finally have the strength
to get up and push away
the soft branches — ?

Or: you are the youth, when during heart-tearing
exertion he shapes words on his lips, words he makes as humdrum as possible
in order to hide his insecurity, his fear, despair —

O interjections
you possess the shortest way to renewal —
you know corruption.
Light as butterflies
you steer from flower to flower.
So much trouble with the manifold
in order to attain the unique!
There is no shorter way
than you:
like the arrow quivering in the target you have already reached your goal
in the honey sac —
the cup of bitterness
O interjections, there you float:
keywords of chance, rinsed clean by the storm,
transparent from the wind,
butterfly-wings capsized on a stone cairn
merely commemorating what remains of
the flight of countless butterflies in the sun —

– translation © 2011 David McDuff

from This Journey, by Eeva-Liisa Manner

Poems from This Journey [Tämä matka] (1956)
by Eeva-Liisa Manner

Like Odysseus, the Inquisitive, I have felt this journey
to be dangerous, and have rejoiced in it.
I am empty now,
my empty boat is tired of the adventure.

Take these cocooned words and put them away
In them are tree and butterfly and lizard and dragonfly
and snail and gastropod and spiral staircase
and snake because it too is necessary.

In them are plesiosaur and the swan’s stretched neck and song
and rain forest and the scales and the cry of the cross bill.
In them are the fleeing hoof and the memory of the injured horse,
and the memory of how human beings, snares must be avoided.
In them are slow snowy death and swift hieroglyphs
and the slender writing of toes in sedimented salt.
and the plates of the mussel shell and the spirals that ring
and the secret of the counterpoint invented by the nummulites,
– oh, how they ring –

In them are brain-coral and coral and the brain
in which all the mysterious numbers do their patient work,
practise mathematics and change
and ceremonial magic;
the numbers which are beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful thing there is,
but bring misfortune, seldom fortune
even to those who know the formulae of alchemy.

Take them and sow them in the wind
Take them and sow them in the current
Take them and sow them under the snow to overwinter

Take and deliver me from evil.



Leaves float, hours, seasons
from room to room.
Snow blows, and in the openings curtains.
Desolation leans against the walls, spreads the house,
shadows lean and creak.
Snow, like a low creature, moves,
nests in corners.
Sparse squares and eyes freeze.
If a bird strays inside, it falls.
This hand that freezes does not warm it.

only old voices stray
from wall to wall,
nest in my hair,
in the thin snow of my mind, beneath which
closed away are depth,
broken openings,
darkness smothered, and mice eager to live


I made lenses so that they would see.
I ground the surface all night,
and offered to God
fragments of my mind.
Silence. And I saw:
they all refracted wrongly.

Am I now worthy
when I bring pain, loneliness,
written ignorance.


How the houses have grown in this city,
the chasms deepened, the water become blacker,
soon it will creep on to the streets, the balustrades are fragile,
the water table is rising, the basements are already full,
fear is rising, fear is hidden
in oppressive tact,
in open crimes.
Soon boats will be needed, do you hear the roar,
take the boats, hats are no help any more,
or, if you plunge in bravely,
take word to him, the Mover,
that the distress is very great.


How loneliness spreads from me
the bushes die away,
the trees fly and the pine martens, the pine martens.
The night’s coldness slowly pushes further
than the edge of the ice sheet
and covers the small corpses.
The trees outside support emptiness,
like a stone moves from tree to tree.

and snow.


To Erik Lindegren

You picked up the planet like an egg
and set it spinning
in slow motion on the floor of the world.
The stars arranged themselves upon request
around the red magnet
and formed singing mosaics, like swallows or notes of music.
Oh, this soaring Braille, grammar of space
that makes the birds happy,
those passionate instruments
above sedimented mountains and broken church towers.
Oh, sloughed-off faces of the indifferent ones
and the grudge of those who can no longer read
(except for cruel bibles, between whose pages doves and corpses have been dried).
Oh, woe to us here in the lonely place on the moon’s side
hair and eyes in the wind, in our hands
uncertainty and the boomerangs of echoes.
Oh, these vaults of language, transforming the skies
into which the letters rise like flags of distress.

I look for the question to which this mutabor is the answer.
I kneel
to pluck the letters’ mutilated feet,
their gouged-out eyes,
in them is the wounded shining secret,
in which I lost my wings
before the development of discriminating fingers.


I thought, but was not.
I said that creatures are machines.
I had lost everything but reason.

Give greetings to all those
whose knowledge is secret,
like Paracelsus, Swedenborg and Elberfeld’s mathematical horses,
which take roots and raise them to powers,
count flowing numbers with their wise hooves, not their heads,
because hooves and trained legs and erudite body
often know more than tardy brains.
Tell them that philosophy is solitude
and solitude coldness and a dead body
that copulates with reason, and the child
is a discourse on method* and an imaginary quantity.

swift horses run over dying France
with their hooves they drum the hidden knowledge
into Cartesius’ temporal bone.
Today I am one with them.


A Sequence About The Sea And Creatures

To move across shifting borders,
black waters, imagined stairs,
to penetrate crumbling gorges, slow lines of mountains,
landslides, snowy clouds, to find the chosen stones
and arrive at a region
of double footprints, animal habitation.

To see the refracted light of the hereafter and earthly cares,
to eat the bitter fruit under the breadfruit tree
and to grow hungry;
to rise and go, to wear out corded shoes,
to seek a river and come to a shore made by people,
wash hands and hair and drink the low tide
and dream heavy dreams about the last judgement:
to be allowed to start again from a muddy puddle
full of small primitive evil, like Dytiscus or
late man.

To go, to go without taking hold of anything
through dirt and snow, alternating heat
and harsh past and ice age,
that which was, and that which is to come;
to sleep in the snow and make a melt-hole with one’s body
in the great common ice-field,
to learn the skill of hands, slow hope,
to build a house from sticks and let the rains come,
to find a worn path and kicked stones,
the mute density of stone; also people,
and to hate one’s neighbour as oneself;
to eat pine cones and the food of birds,
to share one’s meals with the animals
and learn their parables and language and rapid footprints.

To learn their parables, and confuse them with bodily things,
to learn the secrets, and forget them again,
to lose knowledge
on the journey through time and layered records,
obscure stone books and missing dynasties.
To become empty and give up superstition, belief
that is wisdom, inherited from the animals,
from all anguished hearts
and from bound plants before turning into animals.
To become empty and to give up –
how heavy is the journey without a burden,
the loneliness without the company of the beasts,
the difference that the wolves flee and fear.

To arrive at last
light, tired,
without words, tent or the sympathy of the animals
at the sea-shore, to see with one’s body all this:
The congealing light and the long, stern waves,
the hard space, that circles, howls,
and the slowly freezing winds;
to send, out of habit,
an empty boat, a cry in the wind
knowing that only fragments will get there,
or nothing.


Not a breath.
Only the polished stones
along the edge of the glacier.
Corpses of boats, sails of animals,
trilobites, weather-driven bones,
small preserved death.
Inkless fish,
writing in chalk,
flowers that are animals, stars that are animals,
animals that are boats, corals that are brains,
printed anxiously in the chalk,
dreaming, microscopically,
for lingering memoranda:

How close are the periods,
Silurian, Triassic, Jurassic, the dead Cambrian,
how far this moment, the present,
that avoids the immanent and reaches down
for Mesozoic dreams,
if they are dreams –

The shells are abandoned, and the houses tumbled down.
The stones are lonely,
the prehistoric birds
have been resurrected,
the frightened birds drag themselves
along the shell of the sky
and cry with petrified voices of prophecy.
The birds of the earth
freeze slowly, patiently
in the windy branches,
their beaks bony flutes without sound.

The only memories
of ordered notes
are slender shells,
scallops with broken hinges –
the small doors are open and lead to empty
rooms without microscopic music,
the empty murmuring chambers
no longer eat, make no pilgrimages.
is the crawling slime and spirit.


Turn the stone page and there
are the deep frozen complex buds,
the chapters of eyes.
The thousand-eyed tree, the reason for the flower and for the plant’s body,
the reason for spreading and soughing and filling the land with abundance
that rots or is perhaps reaped
like prey.
Turn the pages, in them is the reason for the trembling runner,
the reason for the trotting cloven hooves, the horns, the idea
of the horn-eye,
the reason to flee like a mountain goat, to fly with the wind,
to hear with one’s whole body the rustling danger,
to smell it on the wind and taste it
in inhabited puddles.
To see the dense stones and the danger pulsing in them,
which is set, and strikes home,

for behind come the artful creatures, that
have freed their hands and risen on two feet,
they are five-toed creatures, they
have large, heavy skulls and heavy brains,
and elongated limbs like those of the gorilla,
they are the industrious creatures, and thrifty,
at their waists they gather little heads
that rattle pleasantly in the wind
and bring good fortune, not bad fortune
as long as they go on rattling, bony trinkets,

they are the assiduous creatures, they have capable fingers
that can count to five and tauten a string,
not for music but for murder,
they adorn themselves with the numbers of killing and good luck
and sharpen stones into precise arrowheads,
in which is the throbbing reason for destruction
released from the stone
to sleep in the stone.


The moon is consumed and renews himself
and hoists slow sails,
glides, lending light and wind,
sheds his strength, pulls the oceans;

the earth yields like a woman, and gives birth much.
Plants grow, and nails and hair,
dogs howl on the hills, the dead in their graves,
and there is much murder with various weapons,
words and oozing knives.
They are consumed like the moon,
and are no longer renewed,
but in the moonlight
it is easy to die and to rise,
to cast off in a vessel, if the moon is a boat,
to cast spells, if a drum is the moon,

for the forms of the moon are highly inconstant,
he is a windy moon and voices and a moon of drums,
he is a seed and an eye and a Moon-that-makes-wane,
the setting memory of space.


If they wanted freedom

the earth’s, the sea’s creators, the slow birthgivers,
then why did they draw not birds
but fish, bladderwrack, sea-sponges, the undersides of feet,
rat, musquash, for which traps are set,
and pedestrians with choking lungs
and brains, that branch like coral
and know no more.

O darkness, which swallows everything; animals’ cries for help
that are dragged slowly through creation;
what God created this deformed Grace? was it God?
what God created these deformed people? was it Satan?
people, greedy for Grace, cruel to animals,
great in Reason, small in Mind.

Pray for the animals, you who pray,
who beg for Grace, Success and Peace,
into them, too, has flowed the immanent Spirit,
they too are souls, more whole than you,
and clear, brave, beautiful;

and if we begin from the beginning, who knows,
we shall be able to share these sufferings, too,
simpler, harsher, more infinite than ours.


The journey from Satan to God
has grown shorter,
the peaks worn down
and the chasms
full of rubble.
Flat. Brown.
Only the heat quivers
and envelops everything
like a torrid repugnance.
The brain suffers,
not much,
like an oyster perhaps.

We make our way along the edge of the void.
Legions of ants
attack and are defeated.
St Scarabeus rolls
for the greater glory of God.
We see all this,
we make our way,
holding hands,
and the other.


We are sailing. Already the Hellespont
is shimmering.
The sun is spreading into the sea
like a blood-sacrifice.
Magic and smoky
oracular utterances
receive their due honour, future knowledge.
The polytheistic temples
murmur prayers.
Only the hills, the loins
dream of peace,
not fruit.

The gastropods have united with the stone.
The lazy bodies of crocodiles
are nailed to the rock
by hot jaws and impatient tails.
The greedy throats
catch only swallows, music.
Too late.
Chalk is already flowing in their claws.
They turn to stone.
Prophetic words likewise.

But when night comes,
Poseidon spurs the monsters
and drives them on their journey.
Nothing is dead.
The stone flows,
the atoms are visited by wind and storms.
The reins are freed, and movement, and power.

The nursing bird spreads her wings
and covers crawling souls
sucking mouths and fumbling brains.
The word is in preparation.
mammals multivertebrates
go on procreating with difficulty
embarrassed, pondering what will come.


The roads are long and hot.
The sky is white. The crows fly
and blaspheme, a hoarse, screaming cloud.
Windows are eyes. My shadow is a stump.

Where should I go, my cottage
is full of strange stories, phrases like snares,
heavy words that burn like tin
and prophesy, throw shadows on the walls.

I am heavy, from my wound grows a tree
with motheaten leaves.
Through it a white-glowing sky is visible,
my understanding does not reach that far.

To speak of sorrow demands tact,
but what if you have lost everything but sorrow.
Speak with your mouth, your eyes, your hands, your gloves,
you speak into cold,
or are laughed at like a marionette
which yet reflects only the Player’s emotions.
How comical
grief is here.

Better to urge silence
on your hands that speak a foreign language,
and build from solitude and fallen words
a light windy house:
the small invisible creatures help you.

The creatures are your friends, did you not know it.
Let the coins roll along the road, cheerfully,
and the creature will come to eat from your hand which is free
of worry and fumbling and the intrusive smell of human beings.

I am tired of being strong
and always holding my breath
like a starling in a cage.
I want to open the cage and let dreams come
and let the bird walk about in the eaves
and drink rainwater
dilp dop.

Thus the rain
slowly loosens the contours
and makes everything seem softer;
loosens the lines of the cage
and the lines that mean the black bird and destiny;
loosens a light fugue from the eaves,
the sought-for notes
for the bird to drink.

The rain opens the ears for the sleeper
the rain opens the shadows for the wanderer
the rain opens the hearing, the walking inwards.

The rain opens slow lamps and blurred thoughts
brittle glass shells, blown clocks
stopped lamps in which are rainy songs
dilp pilp dop.

The rain opens the eaves to laughter, to music,
road-gutters, figures to lively preludes
of shadow and wind, to walk lightly
with a windy shadow, walk with the wind,
The rain opens an umbrella like a swaying flower, like
the skirt
of a wing and in the forgotten rhythm of the course
a paper boat, the sails of the jellyfish,
the eager ships.

I make of my life a poem, of a poem a life,
a poem is a way of living and the only way of dying
with ecstatic indifference:
to slide into infinity, to float
on the surface of God for a light chosen moment,
on the surface of God’s cold eyes

that do not weep, do not wake, do not form opinions,
look without attachment and accept everything,
cultivate order and precise moments,
protect scorpions, snakes, squids
(which human beings hate, confusing with their desires
these forms);

to confess one faith: Curiosity,
to wander the rooms of fish, scorpion and goat,
to borrow from the bird desire and distance
and float downwards
like a wind-wrapped wing,
swift freedom, bird-shaped.

All day I have sat under an old friendly tree
and looked at my dreams and conversed with the dead.
Rains come and go, I sit and sit,
my hands are inactive, my eyes know much,
I eat grain like the birds, my stomach grows,
what could I do but think with crossed legs.
But the dreams are long, the dead long-lived,
they have many spirits, I feed them with my grain,
I envy the diligent birds and am bitter to myself,
tired and full of trouble.

I have grown old: I am content
with polished rice and the sympathy of the creatures.

The unschooled dog listens devoutly, tirelessly,
it is patient and knows much
of the matters of forest and wind and eternity.

And the rice is nutritious and the nuts are plump
and cocooned like the grubs of the mulberry tree;
fried, they taste like hearts,
and sizzle hot and nicely on the tongue.
I eat them with my fingers, I have seen much vanity,
I am plump and content and ripe for obedience,
for long-lasting destiny

here, in this cottage, in this paper-thin house,
which seems to be asleep,
but on windy nights lifts away,
sails through space like a weightless ship from star to star,
its pilot courage, its lamp the moon;
and its chart the signs of the creatures:
slow time moves it without whim, wind,
allowing each a destiny and a room that falls,
when the signs are favourable, turns away,
time that detains.

When my head cracks like a flowerpot,
when my bones crack, my face falls away

I will breathe through the earth what is left in me,
I will breathe through the earth all love
and wrap it around my friends both here and there,
not forgetting the creatures;

in it I will wrap books, pens and clocks,
every familiar object,
mirror, ink-bottle, lampshade,
German dictionary, dog’s collar
– let them go sparkling on from hand to hand –

bees’ nests and diligent mathematics,
trees’ annual rings and calendar lore,
snail’s philosophical house and lazy grass snake,
hedgehog’s milk charm and swallow’s German tongue,
overgrown path and porch’s rotted planks
that rain has loved and snow and wind.

In it I will wrap the dates of the calendar,
let them be strewn on paths and in windy colours;
in it I will wrap a child’s solitary shoes,
small lost footsteps:

perhaps they will
sense safety
sometimes when it is very difficult,
sense the lingering secret shelter
and go on.

The garden grows sparser day by day,
soon one will see through it like a torn curtain.
The sky blows through it, and rain, a sea of cloud, is being shed.

The trees are taking off their clothes.
The leaves are falling, rotting.
The grey hairs of the grass are falling, the grubs
are nesting in the deathbed of the fallen land.
At night
the sky’s dog runs above everything,
the morning is white and weightless and cold,
frost lies like salt after evaporation.
The lizard climbs out of the well and lifts an eyelid
from above a jewel-black eye.
The skin does not throb, the heart stops
in the throat, the diminished fingers stop,
stiffen, the creature is cold,
dead as copper.

The well is uninhabited,
the path is empty,
the house does not remember,
the windows are covered.
Rust corrodes.
Mice and funghi move deeper
into the empty core, where seconds live
in the tree’s recess.

The year is ripening.
It is autumn,
two days’ scraping cycle
before the winter month.



They all fell from my arms,
garden, courtyard, house, voices, rooms,
child: with a sparrow and a fish in its hand,
fell to the earth
which brought forth the stones.

I am an empty room,
around me the points of the compass
and snow-enshrouded trees
cold, cold, empty.
But in my hand
rises everything I loved,
courtyard, roses, flowerpot house,
house like a capsule, quiet seeds,
death and movement in their tissue,

a small well, a small dog, an invisible collar.
A small room, small windows, small lively lace-up shoes
for the heart and running.

The shoes run from chamber
to chamber, and in the blood
the child’s fingers are building
a stone jetty for oarsmen of stone.

Dreams like stones
in the depths,
numbered, dedicated to death.
And through the windows, ears
the tuned birds float
laughter in their beaks,
drops of mozart
zart zart

– translation © 2011 David McDuff and Hildi Hawkins