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

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