A Tour through the Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by Gösta Ågren


History is thought, a
pattern that conceals the
true story, where
the swallow grows bloody
from flying through the
murky bombast and
facts stand like a higher
race above the souls’
morasses, and the annals
challenge in vain. The object
of this wild conversation is
the community, a magic behemoth,
a togetherness with no other shield
against the fire than ashes.



The sunrise resembles
a religious idea; so
helpless is our existence.
Sometimes the sparse death
thickens to war. Then
the names sink away in
their own mass. Outside
society awaits bondage,
where the slaves’ sick hearts
at last pound themselves
apart. But in here the freedom has shrunk to
decrees, and words are now so
clear, they signify only
sound. The silence is silenced
by music, but here
too you must



God is a simplification
and the word soul says plainly
that human beings are only
symbolic, as if
there were houses without
emptiness. Alas,
nothing is compensated
in the eternal accounts. The
murdered are chosen,
the whipped still
burn. A rival overturned
Theagenes’ victory statue, and came
finally first to the finish, crushed
beneath its weight.


Spiritual Laws

That which is limitless cannot
be seen. It surrounds you
with its emptiness, which
slowly dissolves you like
a carnivorous flower
its prey. Only the quest
sustains you. Without
ideals no one can keep

their memories pure. Without
certainty and actions
the laws of matter take
over and turn
this wild event
into something lost.



Love is a message
from the skin. Hands
begin to long for their meaning.
A story awaits, but
the one who has nothing
to lose does not dare
to losing that,
too. Only the one who has everything
to gain, is not afraid
of his courage. He has been
pitiable. Now
he turns
against himself. The heart pounds
like a helpless child,
but he writes his
bad poems. They cry
as wordless
cranes cry
in spring.



Words of command
remain like a direction
in the silence. We must
obey or refuse
to obey. There is
no choice.
When words are clumsy
and hesitant like unfamiliar
footsteps on parquet,
they say something. When
they are handsome as enemies
they hide something. Do not
play with them: they are
laden. Only
friendly words say
nothing special.
They contain only
friendly words.



Between the high years we glimpse
the ocean. Yet we must
arrange our life in a line,
for the present is merely something
constant; everything else
changes. We have control
of memories and plans,
two branches without a trunk,
but both require courage, great
as fear, and the steady
rhythm of the heart, that does not
constitute a symbol but is
a gymnast in the world of
the senses, whose only routine
consists in keeping the powerful
tree running.



Heroism is a state
of cruelty, the hawk’s sudden
line towards earth. Then all
that is cowardly risks fading, as though
history were something different
from life, and the days merely
sand beneath the weight of years.
But when the hero flees to the deed,
beside himself with contempt, trembling
like an engine with fear,
cowardice protects the seed as though
it were a sensitive emotion
in the sea of weeds, and thereby
keeps the escape route open for
the true route.


The Oversoul

The soul is a daydream
outside our name, a garden
for the god, where mind
and will hysterically
degrade. Afterwards, the present
is too big; we dare not
fall asleep. Who can sleep
with a god in his soul,
an oversoul, that uses
us to be, and is itself
free? We should be operated on,
but no knife cuts him
apart, and never will
the spiritual heal
its victims. We ourselves



The circle has no centre:
it is a demented cell
that swallows everything, even
the emptiness that assails
feelings and days,
and the forgetfulness that
preserves everything. For
the essayist the circle is

life, but for the poet only
a horizon without habitations,
where people conceal themselves
by being, and the everyday
is inscrutable as a ritual,
the meaninglessness
a strange


The Intellect

The intellect is a room without
years and walls. You have to imagine
them. Well-worn footprints
point to principles, but
they are old now, prisons
waiting for their prey.
You have to go as
a stranger would go
into your brain and there
declare all the accumulated
commands invalid and expand
it to a lifetime without
the altar, a chapel where
you can think as though
everything was sacred.



How could decorative
messages compete with
Altmira’s bulls? They stand
in the darkness, sketches

of the body’s drama. Art
is magic, but the light
in the museums glows as if
they had nothing

to hide, and the young
rebel against rules
as if form possessed
meaning. When the artist

fought the pictorial creature
in faltering torchlight
he was wild and pure
as arrogance. The journey

was towards the inner creature,
his real strength.,
that waited for him,
patient as his shadow.


The Poet

The seventeenth century was everywhere
but some still escaped
as though they were
in disguise, and only
needed to think in a
hitherto unknown way
in order to become empty
and pure as strangers.

In their poems form protected
many weak
lines, but suddenly
a verse could vibrate,
desperate as a wing
seeking its bird.



What we leave undone
is a part of our action.
Without the dreamed ship
the bark boat would capsize.
Without all that we merely
pass by we would never
get there. Even
the boredom is laden

with existence. Its emptiness
is only a form of
patience. The work
waits like an adversary,
and the footsteps begin
to point again.



The events are small, but
the chains endless. There is
a wildness in every name,
an I that wants to go and leave
the shackles behind. But flight

too is only a link:
the chain cannot be broken.
Where you go, into the latent,
you always meet
the same figure.



Long ago people saw
that seriousness threatens small talk,
and began to smile the silence
away. Many

also sought protection in
phrases, but phrases
are words, and cannot
be revoked. At last

fellowship became sheer
politeness. They understood
finally how important
it is.



A giver tries to grow
greater, not with the help of
the recipients’ gratitude
but by diminishing them

with his gifts. Fame
or beauty work in the same
way, even if all they give
is their aura! When

a gift has permeated
the inscrutable defence
and reached the entrails’ warm
hatred, the recipient

convinces only by making
his face and voice
manage on their own.
He himself goes. His back

is stiff as a shield
and his clothes do not hide him,
they reveal him. At
the roadside another back

sprouts when wings unfold.
It shimmers like blue
metal. Only the beetle is
its own present.



The cattle’s language has only
one word. They think with its
meaning, an older and
wilder pilgrimage than ours:
it can only continue
and the goal is the beginning.

October burns like
a palace. Fate is larger
than in May, all darkness
higher. We approach
the lower, ruling
layers, where conversations

are dark chambers,
the arguments without other logic
than their existence, and the bodies
simplified to pilgrims while
the cries merge to become
a single word.



The word power means
violence. The words of the laws
are not symbols but
real. In the ruins of Ctesiphon
the state remains, a rainbow
of concrete. We are

masses; we have no
other choice. When we seekingly
look around us, we meet
only Medusa’s poor,
cold gaze, but turned to stone

we still manage to think
our dream, the only finished thing
in the crude sketch
in which we live.


Nominalist and Realist

Whoever denies the real
confirms its power. Revolt
is hard. Whoever affirms
reality drains it
if death encounters no resistance
it is merely a clump of dust
where we slowly gather.
With theories as wings
we fly with no other
direction than away. But here
on the tenth line I begin
to hesitate. The denier has
perceived that if everything exists,
nothing else exists;
the affirmer says deep withiin
that perbaps everything
is something else.


New England Reformers

There is an indifference,
empty and dead as strict
demeanour. It surrounds us,
a pain relief, which those
people who fight apparently
refuse. Yet they are
totally dependent on this
poverty. Without it

reality would
conquer them with its
limitless masses, where
the individual is only
a throat, turned
towards their teeth.


A Resumé

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote
his two volumes of essays
in order to become calm. Thoughts
are an unease that seeks rhythm.
They must be turned into waves
through the opinions; if
they harden to principles
they will be broken
apart on the shore’s
reality. They are not
incorporeal: the metaphors
make them visible, brutal
as walls or gentle
as sleepy hands,
but every time we sense
that the description
is incomplete.


this translation copyright ©  David McDuff 2017

The Cool Day, by Bo Carpelan

Autumn walk

A man walks through the wood
one day of shifting light.
Encounters few people,
stops, considers the autumn sky.
He is making for the graveyard
and no one is following him.

Silent trees

Will an unknown hand raise the continents
and the song transfix the bird,
the tide abandon the shores
or wash them with a light that will endure?
And I who form the shadow
that my soul casts over things,
will I exist in this poem
or be read by no one?
It is almost midnight,
the trees stand silent.

In the June dawn

Early in the June dawn he rowed
fully dressed, imprisoned by a tie, with rolled-up trousers
over the calm bay, lingered, looked back:
there lay the island, there slept wife and child,
the trees, the winds were resting there,
the first morning breeze came and broke the mirroring water.

Morning, evening

The grass rests cool,
it is morning, evening
in your life.
Near your ways
goes the last day
perhaps hidden in the leafage of the tree
or in those silent cities
where your cry is not heard.

The mute grass

The heart does not accord with its bounds,
nor the poem with reality,
nor reality with God’s dream.
What sort of a dialogue is it that transforms you
without you yourself being transformed?
Do not seek in the mute grass, seek the mute grass.


There, by the pale tree,
he stood listening to my mother’s footsteps
The mortal is our love and tenderness,
the day that goes miraculous because it never returns.
I who listen to your footsteps in the grass
and you who stand close to me,
perhaps in the grey twilight
they will remember who now dream?


Fleeting is the dawn, fleeting the day, but the cool evening
brings its twilight, goes like the water of the bay
among the dark trees where they stand, unmoving.
Arid among waves from a mileswide distance reach us, slowly,
voices, fragments of words that sink through the air —
fleeting, fleeting is our day but the evening lingers in a summer warmth;
cool summer warmth, linger on in the blood that here will darken
under the trees’ crowns, under the open, boundlessly open gaze of heaven’s eye.

Old woman and road

A radiance lay over the ground, where from
we could not see. Everywhere plains, forests
under the blue-lilac sky. Goldlike shimmering
stood the dead reeds by chill water.
By the shore an old woman stooped down with a pail
and walked away through the wood without seeing us.
Then our journey began.
First we learned to follow the woman’s footsteps,
her road was lost in the wood.
Then we heard the reeds before the wind reached us.
At last we saw the radiance from the sky,
interpreted that light that comes out of darkness
and smiling dies.

Under the heavenly signs

The darkness thickens and cannot be seen,
your image is reflected in the window.
The wind is beating under the stars
against the invisible in your life
and on the icy road are heard
carriages that were ordered for your death.
If you are moving through your life,
if the wind is beating against your life,
may everything change when you meet
yourself under the heavenly signs
that sway in the darkness?

The mortal

How thick that green that in recall
clothes heavy trees whose cruel shadows
clawlike stretch across the human mind.
How miraculous mortality and grass,

the sunken waves that raise themselves again,
winds that go and then return at end,
birds that flew but once more send
their song new spaces arch and vault.

You break, you die; like coolness your words
brush near the sleeping one who bears your name.
And in upon this time of joy, of fear
you seek your way, into the changes’ haven;

a darkness lasts, falls, lifts and falls.
A hair that lifts and falls now covers you;
a moment’s space, a depth that speaks
of the lost things that are hidden in you,

of the world like a grass, of the grass’s star.
The heavy winds like darkened carriages
draw you past. Thus count your hours away,
least miracles of the miraculous day.

Morning wash

After words about words were said all still remained,
that which was moved by winds, bloodred sank
and again stood in morning stillness before the low eye,
before the hedgehog’s snout and the shadows.
With life’s mobility and indecision the poem seeks
air currents and stillness, unsuspecting waters,
the dark earth, and creates in its flight
wholeness. There in my morning rest parts of me
like the stones by the shore.
There the one I love is washing the morning’s wash,
cleaner than words, with morning water.
There is my son moving through my life
and all these images that are things and living beings
have already said about the word
what the word cannot say and what the bay says.

Outside the emotion

Outside the emotion, outside the explanations,
outside our greed, our peace and our despair,
the doing-down in print, the wisdom and its teeth:
the nights with voices like candle-flames
and your breathing.


No voices speak.
The great heavy worlds like stardust rise,
silent they look past us, inaudible, reflected
in night’s springs.
And all the clarity life ought to have
is here concealed,
as if the roads of childhood were closed by the darkness.


They came to charge you with your life,
the sunlight brushed against one of your hands like a part of your soul, slipping away,
in your other, remains of the earth that was you and belonged to the darkness.
Your life altered when they spoke, when they divided
body and soul and you were consumed by longing for the one or the other;
the sunlight sank and it became night and you said:
‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani’
as every human being cries in life’s silence,
as a bird, a bird you will see, never more.

Between the verses

Between the verses and the life,
the abandoned day and the abandoned paper,
days when you see that love is not merely wind over grass:
this is ‘life’s day’
and perhaps broken,
the day lives and is part of its own dark side
turned towards nothing.

Ski journey

I have succeeded my fate,
the snow drifts over the coarse sand,
the ice-channel cannot be seen, nor the years,
the visible cannot be seen, you see yourself,
that void that is you in yourself,
by glimpses, poling itself along
inong left-over twigs and poems
where not even the snow is enough for any fire of roses
in your confirmed soul or the dark December.

The cool day

One day in my life I could not see my life,
only skin and sinews, that soil I belong to,
as long as the day’s shadows do not rest.
They moved above me, birds or perhaps creatures
from the earth to which I seek my way.
All that was autumn stood not at all alien,
gave as springs give, leaves or shadow,
and a sharpness in the one
who no longer loves but protects the tenderness
took the objects from me, returned them to me in absence.
The leavetaking birds stretched into silence.
So goes a life from our day,
the cool day.

The boy who ran through the rushing water

The boy who ran through the rushing water
has vanished in the mountain. He shouts no more.
You see yourself, perhaps, but cannot hear his voice.
Perhaps you cannot see him in the summer darkness either.
His mother shouts for him.
Now all the flowers stand frail with frost.
It is the winter’s snow that falls on the other side of the mountain
and someone who already awaits his image printed in the mountain’s side.
It is in the unaltered landscape’s shadow
where death’s birds raise their bright song
calling his voice to mind.

The carriage of memory

The clear road that goes through childhood’s forest
is cool as the coolness in your limbs.
Infinitesimal is the weight of the ripening years.
And like a secret movement the carriage of memory glides
past the words and disappears
into the forest that has come to an end and put out its fires.

In the bright night

In the bright eye, in the bright night
the sea sounded like an echo,

of a darkness from the hard breaker
under the shadow of your mountain, my native region;

but your mouth was silent and surely spoke softer
than a wave that broke on the shore

in the bright nights, in the summer nights
when the cool wind returned.

And your heart beat like the leaves of the shore,
gentle and quick in the summer dusk,

faster, then slackening slowly
towards a sleep, as deep and free as death’s;

and from the bay came scarcely a murmur,
scarcely a murmur from the cool blood.

The road down from the mountain

The road down from the mountain
to the house, cooling dusk
between the trees’ trunks and their voices,
the silent, heavy, wonderfully young.

The years

You have arrived, the morning’s boat is here.
The years buzz like bumble-bees in the summer warmth.
Death and flowering — words
for the beetle, lightening in the mown grass,
silent in the darkness.

In timelessness

The walkers disappeared among the shadows,
their voices faded and also you
more distant from yourself,
yet near, as though the words
had lingered among the trees like trees,
or like the image of the trees.
It was in timelessness
where islands rest on water-levels of the hand.

And when the silence lasted you heard
father’s and mother’s voices;
then a bird followed on,
then their voices became one voice.
It was in the silence when still the forest
adorned life with its leaves
and the day gathered.
Short is the time when we may live.


It was the summer’s time,
a door open for the night’s breeze.
Never had you walked gentler ways
in the morning’s dew,
past sleeping shores.
A cloud came,
someone woke up,
you heard the dear voices
and the night’s shadow, the last one,
brushed against you.

You who have left us

You who have left us and where the grass
no longer in the evening dimness shows
footsteps that have returned — dark
among the trees stand the metallic flowers

and your eye sees no more that light
that gently in its hand held the earth
you created. A sea-wind
blows out the nightly candles,

the jasmine stands dim at the gate
that never opens.

The great cloud

The great cloud shaped like a wing
descends slowly in front of the sun
like a blood-red leaf from death’s tree.
And over the sea’s surface glides the evening’s bird,
touches the water’s surface with its wings,
changing, as though there were no movement
and only the miraculous song, silence.

March snow

Snow under the March sky’s flickering light —
over your life rests its dust with the savour of disappearance.
Already for you the murmur of springtimes is past.
You listen, as though a word
had issued from death, from the high expanses
and not been touched by snow.

Winter’s day

I write one winter’s day,
write off the day and the night, the planets,
go into my house from a harsh sun
and extend those shadows that are swordlike aimed.
It is a day of drifting snow
and with a voice from that which is I
or was.

The bumble-bee in the grass

Louder than the thunderstorm the rester hears
the bumble-bee in the grass that recalls
the small boy, the great cloud
and the water-enveloped years.

They came like birds and were silent,
became fruits and fell
down into that which is not darkness
but a sound in the grass.

And the revolutions of the great worlds,
and the fear of the lesser stars
can be destroyed by nothing, not even the summer
when the children play in the grass.

And you who dreamed of Atlantis,
you who glided over icefields like a bird of rediscovery,
descend into this cool silence,
into this dream, so near

that its hand is a wind that cannot be lost,
a grass that will constantly grow.

The evening

The evening is near the grass,
the bay is moved gently by winds.
The sun sinks its fire
in the cloud.
Clear, without stars, is the sky.

Bitter voice

At some turning, on the way
from the day, through the forest,
in the landscape of the year
an image of the chill sea opened.
No uncertainty lingered like this one,
lay, like a bitter voice in your eye
when already new days had arrived, other voices were heard.

The early morning

The early morning and the early grass,
the roads silent, farms and meadows wide,
the shadows familiar, parts of the light
and we parts of the stillness, the lingering mind.

Through the evening

Through the evening stars shine,
a bird keeps watch.
The trees move in a child’s eyes,
the bird keeps watch
until the wind is silent.
Voyage over silent waters,
light when the shore darkens,
the islands wander and the clouds.

The inconstant

The autumn’s ice, your body out of the shadows,
the inconstant that also is love
and unknown.

Another world

Another world? Another sunlight,
another stillness?
I love that which cannot be chosen.
Two lives did not choose me,
not evening, not break of day.

Simple songs

Simple songs, morning clear —
how many lives and thoughts have set
so that these should rise,
grass, flowers, day, mortality.

Under the same clouds

Shadows mingle with shadows,
the grass with her hair,
dead rests someone, someone who died
under the same clouds.

Boats were setting out their lanterns

It was dark, boats were setting out their lanterns,
fish were being pulled from the water, pale as your skin,
how silently moved boats and men, the sea closed like your gaze,
a world was effaced.

The day opens

The day opens,
birds hover over the water,
a cloud moves by
and I take up my work again
in order from two words to win back one.

The horses

The horses stood with bowed necks. When they stretched
he saw the play of their hide in the summer light.
The darkness in their eyes absorbed June’s greenness.
He stood and watched them. Suddenly
they caught wind of him, dashed off towards the horizon,
that light space under a pale, distant moon,
as though he had frightened them with his certainty.

At the table your figure

At the table your figure,
over your hand the shadow of the child’s head, a fruit,
your gaze through the window fixed to the trees’ movements,
the movement mirrored in the knife that cuts the bread,
the use and clarity of things.

The lips

The lips
broken out of the mountain,
an echo
raised to the day.

The army

Reflected in a shattered windowpane
the army passes by and disappears
in the town that closes up,
in the wound that never closes.


Conversations built over the years
or traces of your love —
I go into the pinewood’s greenness,
with the clarity of a spring the light
streams towards me like a newly-woken memory
of your perished voice —
tranquil, all-enveloped love,
sprung forth from bitter visions,
trees quietly gathered, twisted:
peace you found, Horace, and this mosaic’s pattern
that between the greenness of the trees broke on your floor
while their deep shadows settled
over eyelids and the night’s vigil.
Friendship, echo,
I see you like a figure of distance
near this fire that is lit by the earth
and like your words in coolness lingers.

Broken pattern

Where have you been, you who were well-known?
— In a darkness,
abstract, crazed.
There walks he who must be transformed
and like dogs
the winds run through his limbs.
You resemble him. From you I can expect nothing
but suffering that is consumed happiness
and near the utmost darkness
the happiness that is consumed suffering
and breaks the pattern.

The flock of birds

The one that has sung grows silent.
Lights go out, clouds
glide over scrubby treetops and through me
the silence follows the distant,
ever more distant flock of birds.

Tell me

Tell me before you leave me to you
about the tiredness I have felt even at night,
about the world that never slumbers, footsteps
that move towards the same goal —
tell me before you leave me
if anything has been said or unsaid,
you who know everything and do not answer questions
but move above the fields like a heraldic bird.

Speaking rivers are silent

Speaking rivers are silent, the first bright
flakes whirl through the naked days.
In the way that an autumn dies also the harsh
stars’ brilliance is silent and our conversations
grow still in a wintry circle where formerly wild the song was sealed.

Long night

Some day when the border between the day before and the day to come
is a scarcely perceptible change of light
and the trees stand like guards outside the window,
some evening in the age of your ripeness a cold wave washes
slowly through you.
You know nothing of that darkness that has settled;
it is God who observes you and turns away, in moonlight,
and the life you live is, compared to this night, short.

People and clouds

With wings the light spreads in the June greenness.
People and clouds cross over the boundaries of beauty,
like the darkness over the evening vault,
the water over the bursting deeps.

The green tree, the blue sea

The green tree holds above the child
its still arms.

The blue sea is silent, its breathing
mingles with the child’s.

It is years ago. You see:
the tree, the sea remain,

the green,
the blue.

The child walks through the grass

The child walks through the grass.
Child, I have sought you
with hands like cotyledons,
with blinding dreams,
through the earth, the tree
I seek you, the sea’s tone
and the lifting wave.

The child walks through the grass.
I follow his path
and enclose him in darkness.
Free me! the child calls
through the earth, the tree,
breaks out of life for a dream,
heavier than life and with its knowledge.

The child walks through the grass.
Out of the summer his voice sounds
to grass and earth
like overflowing rain,
the whole of my country stands clear,
mountains shimmer green,
waters freeze still,
the autumn draws near and sees my eye.

Beside water

Beside water
is perhaps the place where silence was born.
When this childhood broke from memory
broke also the memory of him, Christ,
for this nocturnal world
that is his heart.


The swallows that have gathered in the first cold
are silently leaving my landscape.
It is a time that grows more brittle and breaks at my steps,
a gentle autumn ice.
In the morning my fever has left me, I see:
a table, a mountain, a tree.
Thus days go, clear without consolation.


In the light coolly blooms
the snow,

blue is the shadow that falls
over your eye

where you dream of the mountain’s
clear as the sky,
followed by shadows.

The gull

The landscape must be transformed.
the moon be transformed to blood in a black sky
and the leaves on the trees become bronze.
It is your eyes that are tormented,
die and are reborn in that abyss
that divides your world from the world.
You throw yourself over it like one in despair.
Perhaps, when you fall, these your landscapes
are torn from your eye
and you are you and nothing but the gull in the black sky
with the sound of death.

In another Umbria

In another Umbria, amidst drifting smoke
the wind approaches you and you see a clarity,
the light. We rest beneath its vault.
Nothing in life is strange here where you put
your hand over mine on the spring ground,
in another Umbria, in the shadows.
With murmuring water the morning goes
imperceptibly, down the valleys
where other birds sound to the one who is silent,
the sorrow that has grown to calm,
that has held out against the changing of the light.
The day soon tall and the grass tall by the road.

-Bo Carpelan: Den svala dagen, 1961

-translation © David McDuff 2011

The Cities, by Gösta Ågren



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.

Rabbe Enckell: ‘O Bridge of Interjections…’






The cities stand out against
the evening sky like inhabited
ruins. Mankind journeys
towards its goal through the evening’s
lingering ceremony. Europe
darkens beneath the thundering
plane. A migration towards a goal
must have an end. Millions
of people are already bowing
under the weight of this thought.
High up there in the plane
a man asks: ‘What
remains?’ A woman
answers, or does not answer,
by saying: ‘We must
continue. The murmur of forests is wider
than weariness; poetry is deeper
than thought. There is always
something greater.’ He resolved
to continue, to begin
again. Down in the depths the night
tautened to a dark, nameless
people around the besieged,
burning cities.





He is cycling north towards
Jakobstad. Before him
waits the journey; behind him
waits the freedom to return.
But freedom cannot
be used; that is why
it is freedom. Like a swan
a swan flies past. He knows
what the bird sees: distant blue
pillars, spewing out paths
of dark smoke towards the future.
He already knew it all. Insight
does not console, but it is
a passion, and therefore gives
the afflicted one strength to endure
his insight. He knew
that this imprisonment in
the primordial journey
was his only alternative
to earth and clouds.


On his knees in the drainage ditch beneath
the pain he saw it clearly:
a creature that resembled
a grey smile with its teeth sunk
in his back. He was completely
motionless; the clocks went on
ticking into the future
and it grew silent. Alone
with his body, this
sudden, stiff animal,
he helplessly awaited
its decision. It came, a
cry. He had to open
his hands, so that they heard
his comrades’ questions, and
had to get up, with the help
of the pain. He had to climb
up out of the deep ditch, that
long grave they were digging
for themselves. He lost
his spade, but continued
towards the future. Only that way
can it be postponed.


The street fills with people
at four o’clock. For a while
it is eternal as a river,
this evening migration homeward
from the temple. That word
is poetry. We only
make things. We do not
build a church as a protection
against God. We do not build
like the Greeks a temple
in order to conceal its emptiness.
No, we fill the emptiness
with things, just as we ourselves
fill the street at four o’clock
and then leave it
empty again.


The shift­worker serves
at night in the factory the
automated altar.
He is lonely. He is thinking
about something else. It is a matter
of drowning out the loneliness
that in reality is
life. We live, he thinks,
inside a mighty God who has not
noticed us. We must ourselves
punish ourselves for our sins
and we do it by
committing them. We defile everything,
death by killing, life
by living. He stares
into the clattering of the nail­machine.
The man in me is only the thought
that he is, not this animal
that thinks him. He has succeeded in
taming it, and locking it in
here. So he thinks, but precisely then
it is all drowned out
by the dawn.


In wonder he saw how
the mourners hid the coffin
under flowers, the
transitory’s telegrams
to eternity. If
they could, he thought,
they would bury
the grave too, as
Pharaoh did
when he hid it
in the pyramid.


He was afraid of freedom,
for he wanted to be free to
choose it. He was afraid
of happiness, for he was afraid
of the time when the party is
over, also that part of the party
that consists of the time when
it is over. He was afraid of
life, for it lacked
secrecy, and therefore
mercy, and the reward

for living, death,
was not enough, for
he was not afraid
of it.


During the night­shift one man saw
God, mighty as a face,
and worshipped him, with
lifeless eyes and burning
foam round his mouth. An­
other was wordless, and therefore
full of storm. When it broke out
he had to drink day after day.
One prophesied. It is a matter,
he said, of enduring that one
endures. A day will come.
Everyone understood that he was speaking of
the day that will never come
and precisely therefore consoles us. A
man who always seemed calm,
told stories about the war. A shot
does not start in one’s index finger,
he said, but in one’s heart.
One was young, but was on the point of
waking from his waiting. He
looked at the others, and thought:
Life is a defeat that
demands struggle. It is important
not to win.


What is going to happen has already
happened. Now all that remains is
to act it out. One can
take new decisions, so that everything
changes. One can stop
events by hesitating,
which is hardest and demands
resolution. Whatever one does
it is a part of the role. Yes, one
can break off the performance,
but that always happens
when it is over.


Pockmarked and pale the moon­brain
glides forth. The dark
forest can no longer conceal
that it conceals something,
but the open plain
preserves its secrecy.


He said: He who wants to forget
wants to be defeated. He hides the day
among the days. He closes
the doors until only death
is left, the only decision
that does not need to be taken,
the only movement that no one
needs to make. I said: Perhaps

the journey is by night, and everything
different. Perhaps
he protects himself
by losing.
Perhaps it is only thus
he can prevail.


I sat on a stone beside the road
in August and looked out across the years.
It was afternoon. The road’s river
of gravel stood still. The landscape’s
walls surrounded me, without a door.
I listened, almost in prayer,
to the silence, this mighty
insect that could be heard. I was
seventeen, unemployed and
ill. I began to remember
this empty, distinct moment
as one remembers a farewell
while it is still taking place. Nothing
happened, and therefore everything was
changed. Something
was coming to an end, perhaps
my life.


In the night train south a thought
whispers: Now life is beginning;
it is all over now.




The train came from the north, through
the spring, this slow
illness, and stopped
in the midst of the summer’s flowering
death. Soon I stood alone
on the autumn’s mountain and looked out
across time. In the east lay Lenin
and Stalin in shining coffins
in the night in the mausoleum. A third
body, between them, was invisible.
In the south, at Auschwitz, I looked at
the museum, in order not to
see it. In the west towered
the atom bomb; not even death
had any value any more. Only
the daily heaps of words prevented
people from stepping over
the border into the wordless realm
between them. I did not
turn round in order to look
north. Life was a
command; therefore
I did not obey, but already
listened to the slow waves
of heartbeats from the past
that still surrounded me. Thus
began my life’s
long vigil.


I got off the train. The opera’s
name was Helsingfors. On
Mannerheim Street, that river
by a hysterical director, I saw
the building that conceals
the House of Parliament. I listened,
but each opinion had been rehearsed
beforehand. The heart beat
or was silent; everything else
was notated in the score
and each face had the look
of being looked at. I walked
on, but the city
was invisible. Each house
was blocked by a facade that showed
how it would have looked
in finished form.


The rain was heavy, the snow
in the village was white. The forest’s
whispering movements left
nothing unsaid. Like slow,
ponderous spaceships the cows’
mooing rose at five.
Reality was not a symbol
of unknown meaning; it resembled
a consciousness.


If speech is banned,then silence
too must be punished,
for if one refuses to speak,
the ban becomes


When I was eighteen I read a poem
for the first time. Its words
had as their sole task
to protect the contents’
silence. That is why I write
now: ‘That is why I write now.
The poem is form; it has to
subdue everything, for the contents
must never consist of words.
Not even silence
must silence the poem.’


When the working day stopped
the land became clear, a
map of silent roads.
The squares tautened into eyes
on space; worn phrases
thundered with spring, the listeners
spoke with the help of the speaker
about the glory of work. We were proud
of being proud, a
sudden purity. We stopped
history as one stops
an animal, and began to converse.
A conversation is not explanations;
it is everything that does not need
to be said. Life became as distinct
as a swim in a boundless,
dead calm sea. I understood
that defeat is to continue
and that the victory must be protected
against its power.


I carried on an inner conversation, for
the language around me was a
body that touched me with thick
bellowing. ‘Do you think that this here is
the deepest reality?’ Yes.
‘But don’t you see the face
that is pressed against the grating
of lines in this poem?’ You

are I, the one whom I protect
with my fear. Without you,
that face in the darkness, that sees
me go through the primordial dance, all fear
would be meaningless, all hesitancy


You are sacrificed to the cell. Is this
breathing or dream? Between
burning barred windows and
thundering door you stand, conscious
that the poem will soon be finished
and that the words will
darken. Out there whispers
the spruce forest or death, the
truth that makes us endure,
locked into the ranks, compelled to
the insult that is called life,
and the lie that is called name,
shouting, for he who is silent
says all this, and
is punished. The grey light
of the cell is only a thin membrane
over the darkness. Your eyes
begin to look around them like
two creatures. You thought
that chaos was the part of
order that motivated it.
Now you know that order
is the darkness that conceals
the cries. That which is chaos
is radiant as the anger in
the morning sky, and growing
like the thunder from millions
of pulse­beats. A prisoner is a prisoner
for always, but you stand turned
towards this single, motionless call,
shimmering like a crown of clouds
above the last haven, which is
unattainable, and precisely for that reason
the last. The unattainable
cannot be attained. Only that way
can it be attained, and you walk
across the floor and sit down
on the iron bench
and close your eyes.


One can survive the atrocious,
but only at the price of
surviving it. After
the concentration camp the heart
continued to beat, a blind prophet
wandering through deserted villages,
with no message. He had become
old, older than the words, and when

he spoke of bread and freedom,
he was really struggling against
the prison that is greater
than freedom, and the hunger
that is more real
than bread.


It is not I, it is
my garden that sleeps,
pulsating. I myself am awake,
under dark expanses, not conscious,
only awake. Such is
the basic condition, a closeup
of zero, an eye that sees
that it does not see.

The sleeper is total
and powerless as a god.
He is everything, and must therefore
be born. In the dawn
his face becomes


The door was unlocked. He sat
there, motionless as time, looking
at the wall. All the years
stood still in the wallpaper, days
and days. Not a whisper
quivered. Nothing interrupted
that last thought. He was
a part of it.


I remember a summer, dark
with leaves and roses, surrounded
by great, protecting years.
Then death was only a metaphor
for death, and I wrote:
‘Life must be completed.’
That summer I wanted to live
as though it were possible to choose
to live. I was strong,
but strength always consumes
its victim. In the midst of the party
I knew that this was all.
My smile stiffened to motion­
less metal. My casual
lips tried to hide it
by talking. All was
lost, for there was nothing
to lose. I fell silent,
even though I had not said a word
for several minutes, and then
I heard the birds ­ not
a message, or happiness, merely
a few drops of clear song.
Morning came, and autumn
came like a morning.




The Stockholm I remember,
no one has seen. It was the castle
Reality, far away in
the night in the radio. Shimmering
with existence the city towered
above the fairy­tale’s hunger and cold.

In the Stockholm to which I came,
in the demonstrations against the war,
I learned that powerlessness
is the only freedom there is,
that Power is not the tool
but the ruler, who needs

bodies. I have seen friends
become ministers, as formerly statues
became gods. Afterwards the statue is
only a captive god, the minister
only the actor who got
the part. That is why

the Stockholm I left
is not the city I remember.
To remember is to choose: not
what happened but its meaning,
not reality but
its castle.


I remember how the hatred began:
as a joke. The gravity of words
is hysterical; the joker too
says everything he says. In
every cell is the entire prison;
every word is exact, and therefore
total. We joked; we thought
that north of world history
there were unimportant events, for
example our lives. We
did not know that the body
is its soul. We did not know
that ‘hello’ is also a message,
and we used the primordial
everyday only as a meeting­place.
It was autumn or spring. We
lived in the city, outside
the seasons. We knew
nothing. When the knock
came at the door in the middle of the night
we still joked
about it.


During those winters
I did not doubt
the scenery was there,
the play took place. I
only wondered who
was playing my role. So
I evaded the truth:
the face’s empty oval;
the name that was only
a name; the flight
from which I constantly


The blind man sees with his soul.
His defeat is a landscape.
Between dark trees and deep
springs he journeys slowly.
Name and deed are destroyed
like every victory. At last
there remains only the blind,
mighty gaze.


There is no
consolation. Therefore
you do not need it.


Longing is not an emotion
but a memory. One remembers
one’s longing, but this silent
valley in the midst of the traffic
is followed by that screaming
second when one wakes
up, and understands
what one has longed for.


To grow old is to see
the dawn arrive, until
nothing else
remains of the feast
but the hunger. Then
one perceives at last
that life consists
of hunger. It is
not the piece of bread
the beggar is given
but the one he
hands back.


The strong man is dangerous if no one
will let himself be sullied by the immense
childish hand of his strength, if
everywhere he is met only by
empty Sunday. The lonely man
can never rest; every minute
is existence. Slowly, like
an animal, he looks around him

and kills. Murder is an
encounter, its brief oblivion.
Then his strength ceases, like every
illness. He runs away;
a foetus seeks its way
back to its death.


The action in my first play
aims at making the actors
perform a play about how they
perform a play. This one is
about the life of a petty clerk
and so the backdrop represents
a backdrop that represents
a post­office. But when
midway through rehearsals
the holder of the principal part
got a job at the post­office
this gave the chance of a
better solution, and the first night
was unforgettable. The sun
portrayed the sun itself
in the backdrop. The audience
took part in the play. The curtain
has not yet fallen,
the sun is shining


I thought: ‘Life
is too much. Film
should be simple as a
greeting, final
as an action, not
a swarming hole in
our darkness.’ Ten years
later I sold
the camera, for I thought:
‘Pictures and sound
are not essential; only film
is essential.’ This
poem is a film.


Childhood is still going on, like all
farewells. People journey,
seeking consolation, but the gods
are mannequins nowadays;
mysteriously smiling their figures
look out across the valleys
of the streets. Every animal must die,
every child must live. I
whisper ‘no’. Apollo is standing
over there in a window! His shoes
are pointed, and his tie
colourful. I protect the silence
in my decision as one protects
a message from explanations,
but the god hears, and I sense
that he will soon be ready. That
day he is going to open
his terrible eye
again. Shimmering with marble
he’ll step out of
his costume, and speak. The Pythia
is already waiting behind the counter
in this brutal existence
that will become
a temple.


There is autumn and sorrow.
An old hymn fumbles
at the immovable thought
that God is dangerous. St
George slays the dragon within
him in the church’s thundering
forest. I get up
and travel home to the
empty house that has long
been waiting. The struggle
is not over.




I arrived early one morning
in April. The houses were distinct as
drawings in the paper­white
light. Here I lived, but the years
went by. There is no use
in pulsating like a barbaric
engine. I learned that
at last. What is important
does not continue, it waits
as a shadow waits
for its body.


The music rocks like an incantation
in the darkness, in its mechanical
rhythm, where the beat is
the hook on which life’s
quivering flesh hangs,
dancing. I wrote this
in a tavern in Europe. How
old all that is happening is!
Life too, not only art,
demands form, to be in, to
fight against. Bodies
dance ecstatically between
hard hands. Death
is life’s form.


There have always been
some. Their names are unknown.
None of them has spoken.
They have listened to the silence of
the tears, and to the speakers who spoke
so loudly that they drowned themselves
out. They have studied
the blood’s unknown letters
in the sand. They have perceived
that life is barbarity, that the cloud
lacks a face. They have
vanished, as silent
as they came. Dying
was a gesture of politeness
to the executioner.


One morning I awoke here
and began to look at the scenery.
It portrayed security and
freedom. Someone had seen

that the truth is not a lie
but hope, the severity
that hides the emptiness, the
scenery that lasts


‘He tried to drown out
his life by living it
intensely, wallowing in
the days, an escape without a road.
But everything we flee from,
we drag along with us. The words
know it. They are stronger
than the poet. One day
he wrote this.’

‘But he was frightened of poetry’s
poverty. The conversations
it depicts are great as
landscapes, the words few. A
stern waiting surrounds them;
one must endure oneself,
day after day, speechless as a

‘There is meaning. This
incomprehensible poem we
live in contains some
lines so dark, so physical,
that they must have meaning. That was
what he feared. A meaning
in the sunrise renders it

‘He wrote that he was afraid of
his courage. How he has stopped,
an action that has been waiting
like an immovable rock. He could not
get past. Now he must
write poetry.’


The body grew great, but I,
the child, remained, hidden
in its gloom. When
one day the hands caressed
a woman’s breasts, gentle as
spring air, I suddenly noticed
that she was looking at me. The light
from her immense eyes was
blinding. Darkness and silence
are after all only existence, not
protection. All the same I endured
until those Byzantine eyes
grew dull in ecstasy. Everything
exists. The physical
is the depths. There I am still
waiting, a child with no body.
It is my longing
that exists. One day or night
I will rise from the ashes
when nothing else is left,
for it is I who will die
while life heals
to a soft
song, not he.


The children long for
the future, the grown­ups
for the holidays. The
old long for
childhood. They remember
the future.


I do not dare to forget. To
remember is to endure, even
if the most difficult thing, the darkness,
remains the bottomless lake,
of which only the metaphor
is visible: the bottomless lake.
Everything else is over. On the shore
rests the dance of the giants: petri­
fied bones, from which the steaming
flesh has dripped. They were
too great; their passion could not be contained
within them. Its cruelty forced its way
out, and became their dance, body
for thousands of creatures, but now
there is only the lake. Without mystery
or bottom its darkness


We do not need the truth.
Those people who hide
their faces in their hands before
the morning light, know it
already. The sexton’s
pain­racked body has endured it
long. The woman whose
face is slowly becoming a wound

knows everything. For these
only God remains, not
as another truth,
not even as faith
or hope, only
as song.


There is no evil;
the claws use
the cat. There is no god;
so mighty and invisible is he.
There is no sorrow; that word
does not suffice.

There is a soul; man
needs a name for the cage
he has been trapped in. There is
a peace, a continuation
without words. There is a
reality; it hides everything.


No, I do not seek peace
but a cry, more lasting
and stronger than the compulsion
to be born and subdued. I seek
the creature before it became child
and the child before it became prisoner.
The prisoner I do not seek, only
his longing before the days
came and he was


We are not going away; we are coming
home. No reconciliation is possible,
but we must find out why
it is so ­ the only reconciliation
that is possible. To be beaten
is like being born: one is shut out.
It is not possible blindly to return
to the blows or the womb. Neither
can you abandon a child
on the floor, under the coping
of faces, even if the child is
you yourself. You can only stand there
with the boy in your arms, a blind
poet who listens while
life moves by: a monotonous
song about the clock, a tawdry
opera about Saturday night. When
the hour finally breaks, and you
write this poem, your no
will not fall silent, but will become
impersonal, like the forest’s
murmuring silence, like all




The full moon stands like a soundless
roar above the village. Paper­grey
moonlight lies on the floor;
the wind flings itself at the house,
a groaning orgy. It is
autumn. The years are gathering
to a sum­total. All that has happened
is now all that has happend; it was
a storm, not a mystery,
Our memories become with time
the memories of memories. That veil
soothes our pain, it conceals
and preserves. So ends
this poem.

– 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

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

Gunnar Björling

Poems by Gunnar Björling

From Resting Day (1922)

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edith Södergran

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

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

Baruch Spinoza

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

Alyosha Karamazov

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


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


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

A silence rests

A silence rests; longing

Brings its flower to light


From The Cross and the Promise

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


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


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

‘The Statue of Beauty’!

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

Edith Sodergran


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The priest of light: white, and naked!


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


August Strindberg

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

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

From Quosego

2. My ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’

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

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

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

From Kiri-ra! (1930)


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


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


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


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


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


Twelve o’clock cha-ra cha-ri cha-ra!

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

clip-clap! Taramtamt-



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


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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

Is not dada necessary for lightweightless eyes?

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

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

From Sungreen

The Temptation:

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

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

and for five marks or 2 marks a rectilinear

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God of the Uncompleted

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

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

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

– translation © 2010 David McDuff

Elmer Diktonius

Poems by Elmer Diktonius (1896-1961)


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

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

I will walk through the rye

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

The Jaguar


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

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

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


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


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


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

The Sea and the Rock


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


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

Threthias St Merryn, Cornwall, 7 September 1921


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Arnold Schoenberg

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


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

From Pictures (Bilder)

The Balancing Man, by Goya

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

Still Life, by Kandinsky

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

From Flash Portraits


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


I slipped
and fell —
and became a human being.

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


Tonight a hand brings
your satin shoe to my ear. 

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

translation © 2010 David McDuff

Arvid Mörne

Poems by Arvid Mörne (1876-1946)

A Lonely Tree

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

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

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

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

The Pine Trees on the Sea-rock

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

My Young Beloved

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

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

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

The Ploughman

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

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

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

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

A Boat in the Bay

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

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

The Immortal

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

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

But I am.

The Dying Man

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

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

The Eye in the Dream

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

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

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

Walk in Autumn

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

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

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

The Night Is Windless

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

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

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

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

The Star

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

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

The Black Star

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

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

The Summer Evening

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

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

The Giant Clouds of the Autumn Evening

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

Evening on the Shore

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

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

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

Inspiration Speaks to the Poet

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

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

The Dead Man

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

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


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

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

The Lighthouse Keeper

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

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

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

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

translation © 2010 David McDuff