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

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