Bertel Gripenberg

Poems by Bertel Gripenberg (1878-1947)


Lyric Poetry

Mosaic made from fragments of emotion —
A tiny drop of elixir, gold tear
Pressed from life’s dark and obscure potion —
A whole from what true wholeness cannot near —

A cipher game played with the best jewels chosen
From language and shy dreams, light, silver-clear —
Child of the present hour and of the notion
The poet creates — words’ happy, blithe fakir —

A footprint of the moment’s flying glimmer,
Of music no ear ever heard, a tremor,
A mirror-image poured on glistening floods.

An arrow shot high in the sky, ashimmer,
A drop of blood poured out from veins that simmer —
Behold your essence, poetry, game of gods!

The Lattice Gate

You call a sonnet poets’ vain self-esteem,
That mingles emptiness with glittered rhyming,
But locks life within narrow walls, confining,
Extinguishes the hearth-flames of the dream.

A tracework gate that ends the wanderer’s road —
The sonnet; but a blossomed bough is hanging
Above the wall, and through the gate comes thronging
A far-off murmur from a far-off world.

‘Thus far, no further,’ softly the wind whispers.
So stop here, wanderer, by the gold gate’s lattice.
You’ve seen enough, no more’s vouchsafed to you.

Outside that portal which, never opened, rumbles,
You may give ear to muted song that trembles
With greetings from that world you’ll never view.

The Nightingale

When pain seemed merciless and never-ending.
When torture’s bed was hot and dark and tight.
Outside my window then I heard it sounding.
The nightingale’s clear singing in the night.

He sang to reconcile me with night’s suffering,
Cool as spring water, pure, his carillon.
And all that summer’s night his notes kept filling
The shadowed white of the magnolia’s crown.

Another Orpheus in the realm of shadows
He seemed to me, and magic, without likeness
He filled my balcony that roses dressed.

Away from fever’s anguish and night’s torments
On cool, fresh waves, on silver planks of dreaming
I was encradled to the land of rest.


His singing was the summer night’s fair legend
About the park’s dark kingdom that was his.
He sang of silver clouds that slowly travel
In moonlit radiance through the dark blue skies.

He sang of how night’s velvet moths go darting
Round the magnolia in a capricious dance,
He sang of how the thicket’s scented breezes
Stir faintly in the rosebeds’ crimson crowns.

He sang about the shade that heals the weary,
About the tears of dew in the narcissi
Around Artemis’s white statue in the park.

O nightingale, with thanks I want to praise you,
For in your ditty welled the opium of rest’s poppy
That made pain flee my sickbed in the dark.

The Song is Best

The song is best that never sounded
In tones, but was gloriously dreamed.
The drink is sweetest that, offered, foamed
In the goblet, but was never downed.

The word is best that was not said
But only tremblingly presaged,
And the happiness glows most brightly whose splendour
You spied in your dream in the distance.

For songs that never were let to ring out
Never grow tuneless or cracked,
And the intoxicating sweetness never runs out
In drink that has not been drunk

Around words of love that no one hears,
Around happiness that can never be won,
In eternal beauty that never (lies
The dream’s entire nimbus is spun.


How sweet it is, how sweet it is to sleep!
In dreaming’s darkness distant the bells ring,
Tidings of rest so long yearned for they bring,
A gospel telling of the gift of rest.

Now each pang dies away, no torments sting,
And quiet voices, whispering and muted,
Promise the weary oblivion’s paradise.
Now sorrow drowses; snapped, pain’s fetter-rings.

And in the twilight nameless flowers shimmer,
In the shadow green lights of glow-worms glimmer,
On soft wings shy dreams go hovering.

On a dark island out in sleep’s black flood,
So far away from life that we sense death,
Repose’s bells far distant, distant ring.

Before All Winds

Before all winds my craft must fare
To distant sea and unknown land.
Let the waves write the legend of my wanderings
With light ripples in the sea-floor’s sand.

That glow, of whose torments I cannot be free,
Must billow up on distant seas in flame
And, blazing, sink like the sun’s disc
To rest among the clouds far at the heavens’ rim.

On all the sea’s waves let my craft be tossed,
Let all the winds sing in my sails,
Let every coastline greet me as a guest.

In no one’s land, with no one I will stay.
I’ll go on board with forehead festively adorned
And sail away when my joy’s at its best.

Autumn Wind

In the fields the corn stands gathered,
And the woods glow like a brand,
From the trees the leaves are whirling
Like gold from a wastrel’s hand.
I feel, when the wind is howling,
[bat the wastrel is myself,
And the gold all my life’s minutes,
Adrift down time’s flooding shelf.

In the autumn wind clouds are racing,
And the air is cold and blue.
A murmur of songs and legends
Fills the aspen’s crimson hue,
A sound of wild geese surging
In the scented breeze from the north.
All space is thundering and ringing
Supreme over frosty earth.

And I am the fool and the wastrel,
Wasting the gold of the days.
And in the thickets I wander
For the sake of freedom’s joys.
And in the woods I’m the hunter,
And the hunter on field and fell,
Never hardworking or faithful,
Doing some duty well.

A murmur fills trees and thickets,
Where the flames of autumn leap.
The dance of the wind and the leafage
Is like the wolves’ hunt for the sheep.
And the days of life that go flying,
They are the golden leaves pressed
By a soughing frost-wind that drives them
Towards a distant rest.

And I am the fool, proud madcap
Who smiles at the days’ dancing ring,
At the years that have been wasted,
And the sere garland of spring.
In the wood there is murmuring and soughing,
There the hunter’s the honoured guest:
Fervent and faithful he dances
At the booming dance of death.


Why did you sing only of the moment’s pleasure,
The joy of the hour, the second’s radiance?
Why did you say nothing of the happiness that for long years
Most quietly, purely burns — did you forget its existence?
Why did you sing of darkness, loneliness and death,
Why did you sing the frosty destinies of the defeated?
Be silent, questioner! Brief, glowing as sparks
Mv moments of happiness flew by.
Ihe words of love that soon grew silent only lied,
Brittle was the crystal of my joy, volatile the wine in it.
Mine was only the blinding illusion of dream-seconds,
The twinkling fall of shooting stars, the hurrying splendour of feasts.
Everyday happiness, the ordinary, warm and quiet,
Never laid its head upon my fevered brow.
The day of work is long and longer is the night of suffering,
The winged laughter of happiness is hut a swift-spent lightning bolt.

Fly, My Dream

Fly, my dream, fly over frozen plains,
Fly over the dead trees of woods in winter,
Soar to the distance on star-embellished nights,
Never stop, keep soaring ever further.
Burn, my longing, like an eternal flare,
Burn in dark where all seemed snuffed out long ago.
To long perpetually is to live, to dare,
Fire that leaps till ashes veil its glow.
Understand that for one who never reached a goal,
Never rested slackly on the shore at last attained,
There is no death for the hot fire that burned,
There is no measure to his longing’s blue lands.
My heart’s pursued by longing after longing.
Ever anew towards an unseen coast it veers —
A poet’s longing does not obey the laws of space,
The land of dreams has no frontiers.

A Deserted Manor

Snow is falling. And a dog howls.
It howls like the song of mourners.
The darkness is dense, And a wind blows,
Whining around the corners.
The big house stands in silence and dark,
A solitary lamp is burning.
And over the floor a mighty snake.
My own shadow, is turning.

The doors to locked-up chambers creak.
And black windows are gaping
Darkly at the winter night.
And shadows’ fingers go shaping
Pictures that move, pictures that fly,
Pictures that smile and threaten.
It is a night with no sleep or repose,
With woes that no one can straighten.

Deserted house in deserted wilds.
Past is the splendour and feasting.
Where is your lineage of noblemen now,
And where are your proud guests resting?
They are sleeping under stone and turf,
Alone and unremembered,
And others live now near the noise of streets,
Serving and struggle-encumbered.

You are past — you are past — proud lineage.
Whose head was ever unhowing.
You are past – O bygone time, who recalls
The furrows of your ploughing’?
Deserted house, you are rotting away,
Decrepit, unremembered,
On a restless night I dream alone
About that vanished splendour.

The doors to locked-up chambers creak,
In the roof there’s a clatter and thunder.
Like a forgotten sentinel here
Alone and awake I wander.
A lost castle in a lost land:
Perhaps I’m its last defender,
Standing my lonely ground alone
In a land our own people surrendered.

A Solitary Ski-track

A solitary ski-track trying
To escape to the forests’ deep,
A solitary ski-track winding
Away over ridge and steep,
Over marshes harried by blizzards
Where squat pines stand in sparse array —
It is my mind’s thoughts stealing
Further and further away.

A frozen ski-track vanishing
In the forest’s lonely rows,
A human lifetime dwindling
On paths that no one knows —
Far away they are, the answers
To the questions my heart nursed —
My wandering has been a winding
Across the snow’s white crust.

A solitary ski-track ending
At a sudden precipice
Where wind-torn firs are stooping
Over the edge of the cliffs —
How coldly the stars are blinking,
How shadowed the forest looks,
How lightly the snowflakes are falling
Over the snow-covered tracks.

Fragrance of Lilacs

Fragrance of lilacs, glitter of June nights,
Of darkened gold on inlets mirror-smooth,
And love that was won in triumphs of delight
And gates thrown open on worlds far removed —
Glory of lilacs in white and violet,
And shadows’ depth against late clouds’ red hue —
O, happiness, that life prepared for us
Once long ago, and never will renew.


O land that gave me in this life
The rest that I dreamed of,
When with my heart riven to shreds
I came to you in flight,
When I came like a wild beast of the forest
Looking for a corner in which to die,
0 land to which I have been faithful
Through changing snow and thaw,

How strange — although born a stranger here
I put down roots with you.
You healed the worst of my sores
With the salve of oblivion.
In the lonely years of torment
And the fire of oppressing thoughts
With fine, soft threads
You bound my heart to you.

In Norsemen’s veins there runs
A drop of Tavast blood —
In my heart there burns a glow
Whose origins I did not understand.
Among voices from east and west
Which call from all directions
I hear the strange accents
of mighty Tavast trolls.

And the trolls’ song entrances and lulls
In a murmuring minor melody:
‘It is land, it is ground that you need,
It is earth in which to put down roots,
It is the peace of lonely villages,
It is the calm of silent abodes,
It is the radiance of glowing clouds
On a soughing evening in late fall.’

When my cart rolls slowly
Out along the roads empty of people,
Where the hillocks of Tavastland
Stand serried crest upon crest,
When I let myself be slowly led
Further and further from the threats of life,
Then I feel my soul is touched
However hard I struggle against it

There a mist rises from the fields,
There’s a sighing in sleeping trees
And the twining belts of the lakes
Stand gleaming in a lead-grey light —
And lulling murmurs the song
In a murmuring minor melody —
I am taken, bewitched and captured,
I cannot, I will not be free.

Against Wind, Against Rain

Against wind, against rain the hunt goes on
Across fields stretching bare.
A storm is roaring in branch and trunk
And the sharp squalls tear.
The hunter’s cheeks smart in the blast,
His boots are stuck with clay —
October rain, October wind,
Nordic October day.
Against the shore lashed waves are hissing.
The sky’s clouds, driving, form
A black and threatening ghost procession
Before the squalls of the storm.
The dog stands breathless before the game,
Around him rain is tumbling,
In dark the rifle’s lightning flames,
But the wind drowns its thunder.
Every life is a hunter’s life,
A struggle with storm and squall.
Every throat’s menaced by some knife,
And Fate lies in wait for all.
Lucky who, alone, has found happiness
Out on life’s acid clods,
And walks a free and unbowed man
Down the world’s wide roads.

Falling Star

Three people sat out on the verandah
One velvet blue summer’s night.
Each of them was sitting
In quiet, twilit thought.
And two were young and in them
Longing hotly blazed.

But the third had been a witness
To the world’s long years and ways.
There breakers rolled on the shoreline
And quiet the forest stood,
Beyond the bay the horizon
Stood dark with a rim of blood.
From the firmament quietly glowing
A star fell in a curving band,
And the first raised up the goblet
That he held in his hand:

‘I wish for gold and honour
Upon earth’s sphere, and power!’
The second said: ‘Love only
Is what I wish at this hour.’
The third raised his hand up
To bring his brow a cool breath:
‘I wish for the prize I shall conquer —
Rest, oblivion and death.’

translation © 2010 David McDuff