Hidden Lands, by Karin Boye

Hidden Lands


We, we are older than you,
you earth’s children, proud and young.
Chaos’ age-old voice are we,
Chaos’ formless song we sing.

We, we are wind, we are water,
we are clouds in flight,
lamenting softly, lamenting shyly
far through the black late autumn night.

We, we are falsehood and play,
with tears a restless, playing call.
The moon, our lord, stands piningly pale.
King Ves„ll, he attracts and bewitches us all.

Children of the earth – when the rain grows cruel,
hearths and bright homes you build.
A power you have that frightens us sore,
the hard steel in hands surely held.

Come, taste the pale enchanter’s drink,
drink us out of the moon’s bowl,
submerge yourselves in Chaos’ formless power,
throw by the wayside your firm steel!

But to the sun in storming autumn
you build temples to shield against the night.
We seek woe like a drunken solace –
we are water, we are wind in flight!


Adeptly do you prick, thorn.
Well do you bite, cruel small arrows of the earth.
Slack, slow, carelessly heavy
my foot rests on the road.
Compelled harshly to tension,
when thorns sting,
my smarting foot flexes to run –
in flight onward it runs.


The sea rests morning-still,
never does it seem to have had storms,
like a mighty spirit
sunnily morning-still,
heavy with devotion – light
with clarity’s strength.
Sharply and exactly is mirrored
the cliffs’ naked precipice.
Transparently simple
lie the wide depths.
light and pure all stands,
drawn surely in airy calm,
washed in the fragrance of salt.
even and pure, with thought alone
the day strides into the sky’s light,
fine as a precious stone.


I know a way that leads home.
It is hard to go that way.
Every traveller there grows poor
and small and ugly and grey.

I know a way that leads home.
That way is bare, pure-blown.
It is like leaning one’s warm cheek
against unmerciful stone.

But he who has felt that stone
on his cheek’s frozen blood,
will perceive how gentle its hardness is,
how faithful and firm and good.

And he will thank the stone
and the hardness love will he,
and praise the only battle
that was worth his victory.


O sea, sea,
how strong that drink you brew!
Your great cold
is holy purification clear.
Your light-embrace
is cool health for human children, for us who love healing.

For you, sea,
beaming soft, roaring hard
false, and faithful always,
are a beautiful simile for beautiful things:
for the bold heart’s salt-foamed way in the world.


You my day! I do not want
to be only night, and hard dross, too –
for from your cheek spreads sweetly untouched
spring mornings’ brilliance of dew.

You my sun! I do not want
to be only autumn and wind blowing cold –
for in your gaze smiled triumph-glad
blue crystal that spring skies hold.

You my peace! I do not want
to be only defiance, war’s obstinacy –
for too young and budding golden
was the new life you gave to me.


Now it is over. Now I awake.
And it is calm and easy to go,
when there is nothing left to expect
and nothing to suffer any more.

Red gold yesterday, dry leaf today.
Tomorrow nothing will be there.
But stars burn silently all around
tonight in the sky as before.

Now I want to give myself away,
so I have not a fragment left.
Say, stars, will you receive
a soul of treasures bereft?

With you is freedom without flaw
in peace of far eternities.
He never heaven empty saw
who gave you his battle and dreams.


I have never seen your healing hand.
You come in the dark, when no one knows.
I wait in silence and reliance shy
in loneliness.

You my sister and mother, you and I and not I,
your name is night, an enigma’s dark sun,
I sense you immense and mighty and blind
and soundlessly dumb.

You know depths of horrors I have not seen,
I tremble to break your law’s secret way,
But you know a solace mild denied to me
by sunbright day.

I have silently hidden in you my wound
and ached among thorns till my soul was bare.
In the darkness you touched the bush – it leapt
into wild roses there.


Happy he that has gods,
he has a home.
Solace and a sure ground
are granted only by them.

Pledge yourself as a warrior
at an altar there.
Delivered is your soul
in the hour of prayer.

Rest there awaits you
only in battle’s stress.
Only between the shields
is there rest.

Compulsion to shiny weapons,
peril and faith, as well –
then will a home be raised for you,
where you can dwell.


You knew, then…!
For had you not known,
you would never have been able to say such things.

Strange twilight joy, that you also knew
all this heavy grief.
Your lost friendship wanders through centuries.
It calms fever’s fire.
And when I fall asleep consoled,
it feels as though you sat by my bed, like father,
and held my hand.


They have won. They rest. How their crowns shine.
Their long, long rest has no end.
They have tasted darkness. They have drunk death.
Their word was eternal: ‘Amen!’
Their faithful God
in the hard night bound their garland of honour.
Its name is more than joy.
Its name is life’s deep courage.

They have won. They rest. How their crowns shine.
May we endure. See, life is not long.
May we remember the rest. May we remember the crown.
May we remember the watchword.
In the safety of a barren sky
is our last dwelling prepared and our secure stronghold.
Its name is greater than joy.
Its name is life’s deep courage.


Each night on earth is full of pain.
Heart, learn to be silent.
The hard souls, hard shields
reflect light from the home of the stars.

Your lament makes you weaker.
Heart, learn to be silent.
Only silence heals, silence hardens,
untouchedly chaste and guiltlessly true.

You seek suffering’s ardent life!
Heart, learn to be silent.
By wounds and fever no one is made strong.
Bright as steel is heaven’s stronghold.



You faithful things
that would my faith desire,
With you I forget
that I hold people dear.

You things secure.
before you I can fall in peace,
but mists and dew
are all friendship’s promises.

You strong things,
that have no body and no soul,
Oh, make for me with you
the safest bed of all.


And yet – you, my friend,
the things you gave to me.
Your beauty, it is in them.
Else none in them would be.

You became my heavy thirst
for worlds of white relief,
You became the vision cool
that steels me to all grief.

You glimpse of distant goals,
that stretch your wing so free,
my way is a way to you.
Else none in them would be.


The night’s baptism of the deep,
you, in whose rivers
the spirit thinks it strokes against
the sea that is called death –
it is life’s sea he touches,
life’s to-be-feared

Pour your trance’s riddle!
Slowly I step out
into the subterranean
misty water
that which unseen washes
the roots of our daily lives,
that which carries
of foam of our daily lives –
that from whose darkness
raised itself, woken,
too deep for what thought knows,
the body’s fine, venerable,
immense, immense magnificence.
Pour your trance’s riddle,
wash from my spirit
the past day’s faded
dust and residue!
Death, who give life,
let me plunge again
into the light, life-renewed!


Here new ways go.
Quietly let us fare.
Come, let us seek
a new flower, and fair.

Throw away what we possess!
Everything attained, complete
lifelessly oppresses us,
not worthy of dream, song and deed.

Life is that which awaits,
what one cannot know of, or speak…
Come, let us forget!
New things and fair let us seek!


Unscathed from smoke and fire
goes he that wills a work.
Listen, o spirit, adventurous one,
listen well and mark!

Wild-winged butterfly,
every bloom is yours.
Unpunished you stepped in
to death’s bitter flowers,

flit childishly out of depths
where your need was most,
innocent and pure as fire
with your future-thirst.

laughing gently, gently
– for what way is worth tears? –
see life enticing
as discovery’s voyage nears.

Without shame, without guilt
you weigh evil, you weigh good.
All that you sought and all that you found
were merely steps to you –

steps that led to deeds.
Listen, o my spirit, listen and mark!
Unscathed from smoke and fire
goes he that wills a work.


In springtime, in sprouting time,
the seed its shell destroys,
and rye becomes rye and pine becomes pine
in freedom without choice.

A thrill of voluptuousness
passes through body and soul –
that I am I, necessarily I –
a sprout that’s come up whole,

a spring shoot whose growing power
I scarce envision yet –
but the stem’s sap of bitter taste,
with pleasure I know it.

Then begone, all my cowardice!
To my future I belong.
I take the right to grow now
as my roots will, and as strong.


I asked a star last night
– far away, where no one lives, a light -:
‘Whom do you light, strange star?
You move so large and bright.’

It made my pity grow mute,
when she looked with her starry gaze,
‘I light a night eternal,
I light a lifeless space.

My light is a flower that withers
in the skies’ late autumn, rough.
That light is all my solace.
That light is solace enough.’


Feel how near Reality dwells.
She breathes near here
on evenings with no wind.
Perhaps when no one looks, she shows herself,

The sun glides over rock and grass.
In her silent play
life’s spirit is concealed.
Never as this evening was he so close.

I have met a stranger with silent lips.
If I had reached out my hand
I would have brushed his soul,
as we passed each other with timid steps.


Victory, victory has no voice,
no rushing sound of delight.
Are there such simple and even roads
Under such soberly sparing light?

Victory, victory has no hue.
Against his gaze splendour seems thin.
Quiet and pale in his halo pale
he glides home out of falsehood and din.

Victory, victory is seldom seen,
moves past like a spirit-guest.
Blessed are those whom his clear form
awaits with light at death’s feast.


To the rock Prometheus lay bound.
A child went out in the early morning hour.
‘Stop, child, and here behold
man’s friend bound in iron
for all the good he did!’
But the child, frightened
by the words’ greatness, the eyes’ defiance,
crept past with a prayer to Zeus
away to gentlest games. – –
I would follow you silently, where you go.
The wise and the children, they play their way to
that which in heaven is hid.


A spring water is justice,
clear and colourless.
A scarce-perceptible and strange
fine taste it has.
But when wine is to be had,
such drink is so poor.
Nothing but water is the spring.
Yet I yearn for it there.

Nothing but water is justice,
nothing much to attain –
too close, too hard to love,
a bitter drink to drain.
Lord, give me justice,
give my soul its peer!
Lord, give me water,
colourless and clear!


You shall thank your gods,
if they force you to go
where you have no footprints
to trust to.

You shall thank your gods,
if all shame on you they pin.
You must seek refuge
a little further in.

What the whole world condemns
sometimes manages quite well.
Outlaws were many
who gained their own soul.

He who is forced to wild wood
looks on all with new sight,
and he tastes with gratitude
life’s bread and salt.

You shall thank your gods,
when your shell they break.
Reality and kernel
the sole choice you can make.


I have seen Grandfather in the summer night’s light,
alone in the night’s clover-scent.
By the well of the farm
he stood bowed,
and sharpened the harvesters’ scythes.
Like a fading shadow so grey,
as old he as the farm,
he seemed yet to live as living a life as it.
His fragile song I will not forget.

‘O masterful father in the farm,
to grandfather you are nought but a boy.
I am the first who turned your earth.
When the plough strives in the furrow,
do you remember me then?
In times beyond memory
I began, from stones heaved aside,
to raise the cairn that marks the land’s limit.

For a thousand years
I have built it and built with all of you who built,
held the plough’s shaft with all you who ploughed.
I have a share in your work,
have a right to demand.
You know well what it is:
that the holy seed shall grow
constantly, constantly
here on those fields where I
for the first time sowed it.’


Some hearts are treasures
that never can be done.
Their owners strew them generously
out in streams of sun.
Gratefully we take
the gift in cautious hand.
Hail and happy, blessed one,
who handles gold like sand!

Some hearts are fires
that burn deep below.
In coldest night thrown there
a reflection on the snow.
Enchanted thus, no one
in constant longing burns
as he that sees that shimmer one night
and forth to the fire yearns.


Tonight the heaven has no garb.
He shivers naked.
And never saw I yet his gaze
so all-too waking.

Say, when you fall asleep tonight:
A day is won.
On the road where one loses all
a rest’s begun.

Then you will live from day to day
and lose, lose fast,
and yet desire still to remain
until the last.

Then you will find life strong,
if you can burn.
Then will each loss become a gain –
for you shall turn

ever further towards that ground of life
that gave you birth,
and beyond all dreams’ deceit
the cause is there –

until in the hour of your greatest loss
your soul, burned down,
goes to the place of extinguished lights.
A day is won.


Tell me, nymph from Knowledge’s wells,
are there things to show to me here?
Dizziness seizes me, laughter and terror.
The air has paths that bear!

Alone with you, you eagle-eyed one,
I wander far, so far ascend,
frozen roads, chiming roads
without a goal or end.

All the holy days of love
their evening and aloneness know.
Faithful wait in the evening light
you that search and know.

All that I meet I will leave again.
Nymph, you heal burning woe.
Chiming roads, chiming roads
happy with you I will go.

Follow me hence through life’s days,
teach me to say at darkness’ door:
‘Nothing I knew, little know I –
yet it is more than before!’


Oh let me live aright,
and rightly die some day,
so that I touch reality
in evil as in good.
And let me be still
and what I see revere.
so that this may be this
and nothing more.

If of all life’s long course
a single day were left,
then I would seek the fairest
that lives on earth possess.
The fairest thing there is on earth
is only honesty,
but it alone makes life to life
and to reality.

So is the wide world
a dew-cup’s petal here.
and in the bowl there rests
a drop of water clear.
That single still drop
is life’s eye-apple, sure.
Oh, make me worthy to look in it!
Oh, make me pure!


On outspread wings in the heights the eagle sails.
The air is thin where he glides, and hard to breathe.
In the mountain winter’s desolate air he is lonely far.
Twilight and cold are his retinue –
his only joy
the joy of feeling himself fly on strong wings.

How high you move in the emptiest winter skies,
brave as the eagle because of a lightning will.
You abstained from striving for happiness, you chose steep
paths that frighten us weak ones.
How pale you wander,
wander with swift and resilent steps like the wind.

My world is like yours, and yet it is not like it.
Laughing, my star dances among starry riddles.
Your iron-grey joy, I love it from far in the distance.
Let me go by your side
and reach with my gaze
into your wintry world and your lightning will!


Now cries the night aloud in need,
with unknown dread a-quake.
Now light I here two candles straight
for eternal darkness’ sake.

If the Lord’s angels pass by here,
the light will call to them,
then they will hear the flames sing my prayer,
and bear it with them home.

They are warriors who go in armour of fire
with word from the Almighty’s house.
Their speech has no words for harsh and sweet.
but for burning candles it has.

That is why they stand on the storm’s back
between the whipping wings’ din,
that is why they smile at the darkness’s power
and meet the cold with disdain.

O Lord my God, O terrible God,
Your mantle’s roar booms free.
I pray for flowers and pray for peace –
but give burning candles to me!



Fate is a desert.
God dwells in its sand.
If you seek your Sinai
you receive his command.

Fate is a strip of land
with many stones spread.
Happy he that endures:
he shall earn bread.

Into heaven’s halls
no one goes before
he has stepped unafraid
through Fate’s door.


You know you bear a shackle
and hear the chain rattle.
But one who hammers hard and long
Can make a shield of its metal.

You know you bear a poison.
But all death’s juices
becme in a wise and careful hand
kind healing forces.

You think you bear a cross,
but it’s a tool, you know.
Your life’s the material. Look here, take hold,
and let the martyr go!


Wish for nothing that others have had:
all happens one single time.
Wish for nothing that some bard
has sung in his loveliest rhyme.

One star-bright night, when you lie awake,
Fate will knock at your door
and seek you with eyes of colour strange,
which no one spoke of before.

She fell like dew from the air,
from the bosom of space she came,
and no one, no one has met her gaze,
and no one has given her a name.

To you she has come from Nothing’s land,
she has been created for you,
and no one, no one in age upon age
has kissed her lips more than you.




The ’sir rode over the rainbow bridge
with frost-white weapons,
glimpsed far in the Iron Forest’s darkness
the dripping monster’s maw.
The swords rang and gleamed
when giants’ names were heard.
The voices’ echoes, the hooves’ thunder
carried far into space.

The elves walked in sprouting grass
softly on supple feet.
Trees leapt into blossom when the elves stepped
lightly over twisted roots.
Earth’s kingdom rejoiced,
sprouting spring came in.
the May night shone white
with elves’ white skin.

’sir and elves went to sessions
and divided the power of the earth.
The ’sir sat like hewn statues,
heavy with primeval splendour.
The elves slid like shadows
– they saunter as they will –
shadows of all that does not exist
but one day perhaps will.

’sir and elves conferred
and divided the earth up thus:
to ’sir all that a hand can take
and all that a word can reach,
to ’sir all that is spoken
and all the time that flew –
to elves that which thereafter remains :
all that is namelessly new.

’sir and elves conferred
and divided the family of men:
to ’sir those who hold fast
to their fathers’ inherited right,
chieftain and warrior
and every sacrificial priest
and all who pray in temples –
from east and to west.

’sir and elves conferred
and divided the race of men:
to elves those who obey blindly
a day that has not yet dawned,
all who sacrifice in the forest
and do not support the fathers’ laws
and all who grow like wild trees –
all, from north to south.

Thus did they confer, and thus it was.
Thus they steer the earth’s ring.
The ’sir dispose over watchwords in battle
and visible signs and things.
But the elves they control the things
that have never had a name,
and all that they have and all that they give
is the force of fertility’s flame.



In the world’s tree nine days
sacrificed he hung
– so pale I never saw any,
god or man –
erect, with relentless mouth,
his ruler’s hands clenched,
above the sacrifice he made
his eyelids closed.
But my mind
jumped like a snake – I cried: ‘Who has done it?’
The dark voice answered, tremblingly low:
‘I myself have done it.’

Little do I know of wisdom’s well,
never yearned to be there.
Its lustre is black. I know a spring,
gleaming silver-white:
deep, deep near life’s roots
a wave washes my mind.
No one demanded my eye as a pledge.
I drink freely in there.
Like a stream
flows my day – as though I had never heard
the strange answer I hear each night in my dreams:
‘I myself have done it.’

Then the earth’s blossoming spring seems to me
like dead things and dust
against him, sacrificed to himself
in the ash’s whistling air.
Then my thought seeks in vain a well
that seems worthy of the feat.
a drink that must be cruelly won
with costly sacrifice.
No power
resembles theirs, who were silent, were silent and did it.
Through the darkness shines with splendour of flames:
‘I myself have done it.’

The old witch spoke the truth.
‘The strong,’ she said one time,
‘are born for gaze of lofty powers
and song of trembling man.
The more a strong one can suffer harm,
the more difficult things can he learn,
and dark Norns rejoice to see
how heavy a load a man can bear.’
Never yet
bore I a burden – and am not aware that I ought to.
But that dream, none is as proud as it:
‘I myself have done it.’



(By means of forbidden magic Odin had won the elf-daughter Rindur,
who according to the counsels of the Norns would give birth to
Baldur’s avenger.)

‘Dark runes I carved, which no hand should carve,
I who am called chieftain in heaven’s hall.
Heaven and earth are sick. Heaven and earth will break.
Myself guilt-bowed I will fall on Vigrid’s slope.
Once, irrevocably, happens all that happens,
lonely, eternal, carved in stone it stands.’
‘King, one thing I know that always returns:
the earth’s holy breathing, autumn and spring.’

The earth’s forests murmured quietly in time’s dawn,
murmur still, when the gods’ power is all.
Under the spinning, under the swell of the fates
moves an engendering sea of deep crystal.
Sleep, shuttle of the Norns! Nothing is transformed.
Worlds waken in new suns’ gold.’
‘Once, irrevocably, have I already acted –
yearn to pay on Vigrid’s slope my debt.’


When my door is shut and my lamp has gone out
and I sit in twilight’s breathing wrapped,
then I feel around me move
branches, a tree’s branches.

In my room where no one else lives
the tree spreads a shadow as soft as gauze.
It lives silent, it grows well,
it becomes what some unknown one thinks.

Some spirit-power, power secret made,
in the trees’ hidden roots its will has laid.
I am frightened sometimes and ask in fear:
Are we so surely friends?

But it lives in calm and it grows still,
and I know not where it strives and whither it will.
It is sweet and bewitching to live so near
one whom one does not know…


I dreamed about swords last night.
I dreamed about battle last night.
I dreamed I fought by your side
armoured and strong, last night.

Lightning flashed harsh from your hand,
and the giants fell at your feet.
Our ranks closed lightly and sang
in silent darkness’ threat.

I dreamed about blood last night.
I dreamed about death last night.
I dreamed I fell by your side
with a mortal wound, last night.

You marked not at all that I fell.
Earnest was your mouth.
With steady hand the shield you held,
and went your way straight forth.

I dreamed about fire last night.
I dreamed about roses last night.
I dreamed my death was fair and good.
So did I dream last night.

*In Norse, skjaldmey (Swedish sköldmö), an ‘Amazon’, a female warrior who fought alongside men [tr.]

Karin Boye: Gömda land (1924)

– translation © David McDuff 2011


Bo Carpelan

Poems from Years Like Leaves (1989)

A little before four, in November
when the field’s snow turns blue
the woods grow black, the sky grows deep,
life comes to a halt.
A lamp-post among the trees
lights up a shovelled courtyard
that awaits the son’s arrival.
Then the day is done,
the hoar frost on the trees
sinks into the darkness, and on fields
where a road stands empty
the wind begins. Palely in the west
the red sun has set.
Each distant lamp reflects
the sense of maybe coming home.
Against a cloudy sky
the trees’ bare boughs can scarce be seen.
A little before four, in November
the twilight deepens
like a feeling in its waiting
before anxiety violently cuts.
Five minutes later it’s all over.


Someone draws his finger over the table’s surface.
There in the mirror inside the heavy wardrobe
visible for a moment are the vague features
of a stranger who held up the threadbare gannents
in a darkness full of naphthalene and tobacco.
Years have mouldered. This silent room
stands waiting as though it still
might heai someone calling over his shoulder:
‘Everything here is just as it used to be — fantastic!
Wait…’ Then, the voice, uncertain and low:
‘Someone has been here. Look.’ Footsteps moving away,
silence like a cobweb of dreams.
In empty rooms someone has always been,
someone has always come visiting
and changed it all.

The old man asked: ‘Are the oaks still there?
There were woods in my day. Are they still there?’
He sat in a mini-house in Monterey,
could no longer remember any Swedish, spoke a few words of Russian.
He sat like his own shadow and saw
with unseeing eyes the cruelly burnt garden —
the sound of the sea was scarcely audible here, gave no coolness.
‘They used to dance, the farm-lads, when it was Saturday.’
He cleared his throat, his hands moved uneasily.
‘Bagpipes? Or something like that, can’t remember,
the trees, them I remember, the mighty oaks, the woods,
it’s as though they still could give coolness…’
He looked at me with an almost angry gaze
as though he had guessed the truth. I replied as he wanted:
‘They’re still there, it’s good to rest under them.’
There was a pause. Then, far away now, he said:
‘When the wind moves through an oak-wood you remember it, always.’
The light has grown colder, the words fewer.
People rent other rooms, die or survive
but you know nothing of them, not even from hearsay.
They keep away. It may be that on a windy street
you suddenly encounter a smell, a sound
that makes you stop, turn round:
there is only an old woman in a scoop-hat
disappearing into a stairway, an eddy of dust.
Was there something you wanted to say, note down,
something that evades you, incomprehensible signs
on an old wall next to the locked door?
With a key you did not know you had
you go inside. On the stairs you see precisely nothing.
Those who come towards you have already passed,
the woman is gone, what you were about to say
someone else has said; you are too early
or too late, you wait. You are too late.


A fireball, they say, may be
a bird that has been struck in the crown of the tree
and transformed into a burning sphere
of soot, bones and feathers —
many experts do not believe this at all.

Children who have imagination and read, they say,
dream about these birds transformed into spheres,
dream about fire, and every sound,
every voice from the kitchen, the rattle of pails
is the lightning’s boom of death and fire.

The image of the heaven’s stars as glowing spheres
leads the children’s thoughts to this:
dead birds eternally hurled towards the deeps,
distant, white as wind and bone,
giddying, frail small bodies.

The wise talk of children’s far too lively imagination.
Better to see the stars of space, their beauty
for what it is, and the earth a moon
full of children who cannot sleep,
who lie with open eyes in the silence’s fire.


As you step across the border between seen and realized,
between Always and Never Again,
do you perceive that you have given up, the dead
turn away from you as though they recognized you?
Do you believe the garden will never again bear fruit?
That people are swept like dust along streets
where the asphalt sparks with splintered glass?
Is there a mirror in you that repeats
you who turned away, after you said goodbye — is it
a fleeing thief you see, afraid of becoming pocket-moneyless?
You think you have lost your face, sit
in rooms that are foreign and judge existence
according to them: empty rooms. And not even a chestnut tree’s light
among shifting tracery of leaves can tell you anything,
or the cries of children, inaccessible, swift as swallows.
The only way out is to direct into the darkness
what belongs to the light. Hopeless has no hope.
You know it. One more spring, dirty and mute.
And yet: to the sight this fragrance of high sky,
to the ear the blackbird’s echoing song!
It is as if in spite of everything your prayers had been answered.
There a hint of approaching summer,
somewhere low voices one warm light evening,
there are Once More and the beloved, near.


Here is a field with spring dew,
a view to the south, a cloud
that stops, moves, stops
like a heavy carriage.
The light is changing over roads worn out with travel,
as though they had borne all life’s lumber.
Sunlight gleams in the water that has gathered
in the mud’s meandering tracks,
but swiftly fades.
You take a few steps towards the dark wall.
The cold wind barely moves the trees.
The darkness falls as though it rose
out of the ground and surrounded you,
leaned over you as once the mother
over her child
submerging it in sleep.


The bumble-bees that increase and diminish their stubborn song
increase and diminish the heat as well — their anger
stops up the window of the sky, divides the ground into sun and shadow.
Sleep on a day like this is confused, in the dream
the room is locked and you will never get the key —
the number is forgotten. The sun moves slowly into clouds.
It is quiet, as in the graveyard of the winds,
where each tapering trunk stands with its back to you, hiding
the meandering path. You did not think
the twilight would fall so quickly?
You thought someone would meet you before the dark?
Years are forgotten — you go trackless and listen no more,
not even to the echo of songs out of black thickets.
When you wake up you look at the window.
Even the violent light there is a sign of darkness.


There came a voice, it said:
because you are silent this is secret,
it remains between us like silence.

You will live on without noticing it,
you will see and experience many things,
rejoice, mourn, go among people

and no one but you will notice it,
there is a wind from the sea in the evening
that has brought you out to the open heights

and you see lights from the city, voices
that carry over the water, see yourself
among those who seek their way down the harbour,

but you are outside the harbour, you hear a voice,
it says: I have been waiting for you,
you are here, there is nothing between us any more,

you are on the move, are free, finally nameless.


‘They have no use for me any more.
They turn away when I say:
I speak not of truth, but truth.
It is the speech of the gods that says in me
that the day is loftier than the night,
that light shall prevail.
The light conceals and demands neither name nor honour.
It is the water that rises to the trees of the shore
and unfolds like shadows on the leaves,
those mute lips: it is not the trees that speak
but the breeze that moves through them.
So also does time’s breeze move through me,
I must stay awake, so that it leaves me open.
Fire there is, also, torches in the blood
but the true makes muddy: best is clear water.
Thus says Pindar. His goal is mine:
the highest beauty, that is the true.
Beyond that is merely conftision,
not mine but theirs who cast me out
into torments of loneliness.
Thus is the truth preserved unbroken within me.
In deepest darkness the morning is hidden.
To no one is this of advantage except to him
who sees torment’s counterbalance in the noble,
that which like a tree turns its crown towards the light.
Invisible am I
and what they see of me is indistinct, undeciphered.
But the song possesses endurance, rises like a bird
for a moment sun-illumined, and this light
remains eternally. I saw it, the song,
saw that it does not return.’



They move under the earth mile after mile,
the meadow rests green, then withers
and leaves moulder, roads
stretch through the darkness,
the roots go so deep, fossilize,
migrate inward towards the towns,
asphalt bends and cracks,
in great heat a shadow burns
against the wall that has struck root —

the roots twist together,
what those who see call crown
is for those who know root,
its sap flows like a dark river
through sun-bright tracery of branches,
roots move up there above
in the wind that sweeps
over the city’s roofs and towers,
out towards the sea, the mute deeps.


It is silent and empty in the world.
Good to have not a thought in one’s head,
only, beneath closed eyes, quivering of a life,
not to gather it but to lie awake,
remember, forget, see the water flow,
not step in but oneself be the water,
the night and the faint dawn.

It is silent and empty in the world.
What has been said is silent, is empty in the world,
and a winter, snowless, mild as the spring
says that summer, autumn and winter
are sinking away in the silence, and the years
alone are there, without demands and heavy darkness.
He who keeps watch alone dreams alone.


He that showed you up the stairs,
opened the door to the room, then disappeared,
is no longer to be found, they shrug their shoulders,
someone else has booked the room you live in,
you’ll have to hide in a cupboard,
if you wait long enough perhaps
the man will come back, nod affirmatively: it’s your room,
always has been. He goes, locks the door after him,
you sit motionless on the edge of your bed, from the courtyard
voices are heard, cries, children and grown-ups,
sudden outbursts followed by silence.
Was this it, everything? All this, saying nothing,
abandoned when the time came.
There is a smell of floor-wax and you open the window,
see that it’s spring, hear someone coming up the stairs.
The woman in the corridor outside takes her key
and opens the double lock for the young couple.
‘Here I shall live with you to all eternity,’ he says.
She laughs: ‘Only until the next tenant.’
‘You’ll have to pay now, cash,’ says the woman,
‘the last tenant just scarpered, disappeared.’
‘We’ll take it,’ he says, ‘we’ll take it. A room’s a room.’

In the nights the trees murmur like water.
The day beneath your closed eyes is happy and pure.
You move freely, glide as on wind-filled sails
one summer when school is out and you are not sure,

you do not yearn, do not know if it is night or morning,
the skerries out there move slowly on water-currents
and rise up into the light, no one knows about you,
the day blows like dandelion puff no one knows that you exist

here in this secret clarity, like a light, high cloud.


Then I saw from the window the line of the coast
sink in waves, restlessly driven by the wind
but could not hear the booming behind the moist windows.
People were struggling out along the promenade
with heavy suitcases, as during the war.
Something was happening and was soon unbridled,
carts of lumber creaked mutely past
and the whites of the horses’ eyes gleamed with terror.
Then everything was wiped away by the mist of the sound.
When I got out the silence was near.
What I saw was hidden, as when the trees were hidden
by driving smoke in the rising wind
with the tang of seaweed and mud — all as before.
The only thing I could not hear was a living voice,
only the blare of an ambulance driving past.
What had happened was only a memory and therefore lingered.
At night I dreamed that I stood at the outermost end of the pier,
dreamed about black trees being hurled
into the darkness like glowing firewood at an open stove.
Far out to sea in half-waking a foghorn could be heard,
hollow cries from some ship on a counter-course.



The forest is flying,
haze conceals the trees. There deepest in the forest birdsong,
so loud, remote
in these quiet rooms
where the window’s curtains incline over the floor
like bridal trains.
All the windows black, swiftly sunlit,
all longing dead and new. It is so silent
where people have died, the imprints of their hands are hidden here
in things that have ceased to be. Come, see me,
like a bird, solitary,
clear and stretched
over the waters, the waters.



In the midst of a calm, bright feeling
there sometimes comes a bow-stroke of despair
as to the swimmer in summer water an ice-cold current
that makes the gaze alert, the day acute.
In the first movement of Sibelius’ Sixth
there is this astonishing, swift glimpse
down into those hidden torments
that are a part of the sea with its mirroring clouds,
and this gaze plumbs the deep,
plumbs the bottom’s wreckage and bones, cannot forget
what is deepest hidden in days of June,
quickly expiring, wind-puffs only.


Back one May evening, and the rooms silent.
Low-moving clouds in the twilight
shift the trees further away.
From the table light — not that a light stood there,
but out of the surface itself, out of that nothingness
that is filled by people.
So objects linger and begin to live
when the door opens, the fragrance of spring comes in
and keeps you company a while
and you remember who it was who said:
‘I shall return in spring, you will not escape me.’
In that which is seemingly mute
there is a mighty, unheard voice that lives there
like the tree in the forest, in the table, or
the dream in the act, the scent of flowers
before the flowers have bloomed,
before the summer has arrived.


The tree knows in the winter night that the spring is there
hidden in the hard earth, but says nothing.
The wind blows indifferently, bushes stand grey
and as the days lighten it gets more and more difficult,
the concentration, the work, as though darkness were needed
for a necessary calm. Sparrows, restless,
look for fallen seeds by the fence
where mice swiftly creep out and vanish again
as though there were a city under the earth,
crawling, swarming life, and, like a threat
the moth-eaten squirrel’s leap up onto the bird-table:
everything threatening in broad daylight, all the dirt visible
under a uniformly grey sky, day after day
and just cold enough so that the snow does not melt —
then a voice says from a well-concealed room:
Be still! There is a language, you know it,
it is in league with days and dreams,
bright fields and mountain slopes the sun has left.
Remember it, wait.


When we went up the stairs we noticed
that there were no windows facing west,
towards forest and sea we asked the owner:
houses had been pulled down, wall had stood against wall,
that which had been invisible was visible now,
there were views, if we would follow him.
We began this endless upwards climb
on the dark spiral staircase with its worn steps.
We felt ourselves grow older the higher we went,
breathed pantingly — what was this, a fire tower?
This was after all a house to live in.
Right at the top he, whom we did not know
and saw unclearly in the dark we took with us,
opened an iron door. There was a large hall, whitewashed,
window-splays and loopholes through which bays could be seen,
far-stretching forests, in the inlets white sails
and, deep below, trees moving slowly.
It was as if they were trying to show us something, or warn.
We looked westwards. The sun was setting, there was still a glow
on a sheet-metal roof, a childlike churchbell sounded.
He who had led us here was almost black against the light.


He who does not want to be born
yearns when born for the timeless.
Where he is he hides,
what he says is his protection
and the dark clouds that follow him
he has shadowed and given weight
so that the ground from raindrops’ fall
may turn green, trees grow, graves
fill with unpenetrated silence.
He who does not want to be born
does not want to die, and lingers in life
as the shadow lingers near the smile,
near the unsuspecting life in the light.


After such long waiting so few words,
so few colours, such lonely sounds.
Objects illumined by harsh days,
as under a grey-vaulted sky
the voice of the sea, the hour dark,
the autumn near.


When he reaches for the glass on the table
there is someone observing him so keenly
that he quickly withdraws back into the shadows
and sees the face of a man who seems familiar
lean forward so that his cheekbones gleam white
while his eyes are hidden in darkness, that darkness he sees
through the window where people are hurrying by.
He feels it as though he had been weighed and rejected
by someone who in his turn quickly withdraws
and speaks to the woman who fleetingly
tums in his direction and then shakes her head.
It feels as though the whole sat-down pub were sinking
as a wire basket sinks beneath the black electric water
among hands and eyes that barely remember
he was there with his anxious heart
and his going-away shirt.


The autumn’s silence remains, the haze
between trees of air and gentle fragrance of water,
as once on a spring morning in a southern town.
And the spring is there with birds that raise the sky
with their song, blue-shadowed like the yielding winter twilight.
Summers there are with the stillness of morning, great and lonely,
your hand warm, your gaze open —; to later
say farewell is to take a step nearer the evening
when conversations grow softer and at last fall silent
and those who are visible on the road are going away, hard
soon to see them as they walk, shadows among shadows.
And the grass that has grown tall and has stopped having colour:
here there was a well-trampled path, eager feet, the children’s,
silvery waters that freeze and something uninhabited
in each and everyone’s inner town. You try to find your way out of it.
There is a silence outside you in every language,
something is being prepared, it is not you who is doing it,
there is a conversation outside you between hand and eye,
the air is still mild and the autumn’s silence a song
in all that is most inward outside you.


There was once a calm and timeless time
when deep dreams’ trees that now are dead bled
enclosing in the resin’s honey-sheen a flower
or a dark insect, centuries of eager life,
now just a jewel in your hand.
Is there still an echo of lofty music there?
Are within the stone enclosed your dreams
and the murmur of a cool and life-filled tracery of leaves?
A shadow in a stone, soon dead and nameless.

The summer came in May and was soon over.
June came and froze fast with water-pictures by the shore.
Later, after midsummer, the darkness fell more quickly.
Each day the earth was homeless, autumnal.
As although already now he wanted to hide himself away in winter
but was driven by anxiety and longing for the shore.
What he saw there had already been used up.
Clarity existed, but was mostly emptiness.
The winter came.

– translation © 2011 David McDuff