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