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

from This Journey, by Eeva-Liisa Manner

Poems from This Journey [Tämä matka] (1956)
by Eeva-Liisa Manner

Like Odysseus, the Inquisitive, I have felt this journey
to be dangerous, and have rejoiced in it.
I am empty now,
my empty boat is tired of the adventure.

Take these cocooned words and put them away
In them are tree and butterfly and lizard and dragonfly
and snail and gastropod and spiral staircase
and snake because it too is necessary.

In them are plesiosaur and the swan’s stretched neck and song
and rain forest and the scales and the cry of the cross bill.
In them are the fleeing hoof and the memory of the injured horse,
and the memory of how human beings, snares must be avoided.
In them are slow snowy death and swift hieroglyphs
and the slender writing of toes in sedimented salt.
and the plates of the mussel shell and the spirals that ring
and the secret of the counterpoint invented by the nummulites,
– oh, how they ring –

In them are brain-coral and coral and the brain
in which all the mysterious numbers do their patient work,
practise mathematics and change
and ceremonial magic;
the numbers which are beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful thing there is,
but bring misfortune, seldom fortune
even to those who know the formulae of alchemy.

Take them and sow them in the wind
Take them and sow them in the current
Take them and sow them under the snow to overwinter

Take and deliver me from evil.



Leaves float, hours, seasons
from room to room.
Snow blows, and in the openings curtains.
Desolation leans against the walls, spreads the house,
shadows lean and creak.
Snow, like a low creature, moves,
nests in corners.
Sparse squares and eyes freeze.
If a bird strays inside, it falls.
This hand that freezes does not warm it.

only old voices stray
from wall to wall,
nest in my hair,
in the thin snow of my mind, beneath which
closed away are depth,
broken openings,
darkness smothered, and mice eager to live


I made lenses so that they would see.
I ground the surface all night,
and offered to God
fragments of my mind.
Silence. And I saw:
they all refracted wrongly.

Am I now worthy
when I bring pain, loneliness,
written ignorance.


How the houses have grown in this city,
the chasms deepened, the water become blacker,
soon it will creep on to the streets, the balustrades are fragile,
the water table is rising, the basements are already full,
fear is rising, fear is hidden
in oppressive tact,
in open crimes.
Soon boats will be needed, do you hear the roar,
take the boats, hats are no help any more,
or, if you plunge in bravely,
take word to him, the Mover,
that the distress is very great.


How loneliness spreads from me
the bushes die away,
the trees fly and the pine martens, the pine martens.
The night’s coldness slowly pushes further
than the edge of the ice sheet
and covers the small corpses.
The trees outside support emptiness,
like a stone moves from tree to tree.

and snow.


To Erik Lindegren

You picked up the planet like an egg
and set it spinning
in slow motion on the floor of the world.
The stars arranged themselves upon request
around the red magnet
and formed singing mosaics, like swallows or notes of music.
Oh, this soaring Braille, grammar of space
that makes the birds happy,
those passionate instruments
above sedimented mountains and broken church towers.
Oh, sloughed-off faces of the indifferent ones
and the grudge of those who can no longer read
(except for cruel bibles, between whose pages doves and corpses have been dried).
Oh, woe to us here in the lonely place on the moon’s side
hair and eyes in the wind, in our hands
uncertainty and the boomerangs of echoes.
Oh, these vaults of language, transforming the skies
into which the letters rise like flags of distress.

I look for the question to which this mutabor is the answer.
I kneel
to pluck the letters’ mutilated feet,
their gouged-out eyes,
in them is the wounded shining secret,
in which I lost my wings
before the development of discriminating fingers.


I thought, but was not.
I said that creatures are machines.
I had lost everything but reason.

Give greetings to all those
whose knowledge is secret,
like Paracelsus, Swedenborg and Elberfeld’s mathematical horses,
which take roots and raise them to powers,
count flowing numbers with their wise hooves, not their heads,
because hooves and trained legs and erudite body
often know more than tardy brains.
Tell them that philosophy is solitude
and solitude coldness and a dead body
that copulates with reason, and the child
is a discourse on method* and an imaginary quantity.

swift horses run over dying France
with their hooves they drum the hidden knowledge
into Cartesius’ temporal bone.
Today I am one with them.


A Sequence About The Sea And Creatures

To move across shifting borders,
black waters, imagined stairs,
to penetrate crumbling gorges, slow lines of mountains,
landslides, snowy clouds, to find the chosen stones
and arrive at a region
of double footprints, animal habitation.

To see the refracted light of the hereafter and earthly cares,
to eat the bitter fruit under the breadfruit tree
and to grow hungry;
to rise and go, to wear out corded shoes,
to seek a river and come to a shore made by people,
wash hands and hair and drink the low tide
and dream heavy dreams about the last judgement:
to be allowed to start again from a muddy puddle
full of small primitive evil, like Dytiscus or
late man.

To go, to go without taking hold of anything
through dirt and snow, alternating heat
and harsh past and ice age,
that which was, and that which is to come;
to sleep in the snow and make a melt-hole with one’s body
in the great common ice-field,
to learn the skill of hands, slow hope,
to build a house from sticks and let the rains come,
to find a worn path and kicked stones,
the mute density of stone; also people,
and to hate one’s neighbour as oneself;
to eat pine cones and the food of birds,
to share one’s meals with the animals
and learn their parables and language and rapid footprints.

To learn their parables, and confuse them with bodily things,
to learn the secrets, and forget them again,
to lose knowledge
on the journey through time and layered records,
obscure stone books and missing dynasties.
To become empty and give up superstition, belief
that is wisdom, inherited from the animals,
from all anguished hearts
and from bound plants before turning into animals.
To become empty and to give up –
how heavy is the journey without a burden,
the loneliness without the company of the beasts,
the difference that the wolves flee and fear.

To arrive at last
light, tired,
without words, tent or the sympathy of the animals
at the sea-shore, to see with one’s body all this:
The congealing light and the long, stern waves,
the hard space, that circles, howls,
and the slowly freezing winds;
to send, out of habit,
an empty boat, a cry in the wind
knowing that only fragments will get there,
or nothing.


Not a breath.
Only the polished stones
along the edge of the glacier.
Corpses of boats, sails of animals,
trilobites, weather-driven bones,
small preserved death.
Inkless fish,
writing in chalk,
flowers that are animals, stars that are animals,
animals that are boats, corals that are brains,
printed anxiously in the chalk,
dreaming, microscopically,
for lingering memoranda:

How close are the periods,
Silurian, Triassic, Jurassic, the dead Cambrian,
how far this moment, the present,
that avoids the immanent and reaches down
for Mesozoic dreams,
if they are dreams –

The shells are abandoned, and the houses tumbled down.
The stones are lonely,
the prehistoric birds
have been resurrected,
the frightened birds drag themselves
along the shell of the sky
and cry with petrified voices of prophecy.
The birds of the earth
freeze slowly, patiently
in the windy branches,
their beaks bony flutes without sound.

The only memories
of ordered notes
are slender shells,
scallops with broken hinges –
the small doors are open and lead to empty
rooms without microscopic music,
the empty murmuring chambers
no longer eat, make no pilgrimages.
is the crawling slime and spirit.


Turn the stone page and there
are the deep frozen complex buds,
the chapters of eyes.
The thousand-eyed tree, the reason for the flower and for the plant’s body,
the reason for spreading and soughing and filling the land with abundance
that rots or is perhaps reaped
like prey.
Turn the pages, in them is the reason for the trembling runner,
the reason for the trotting cloven hooves, the horns, the idea
of the horn-eye,
the reason to flee like a mountain goat, to fly with the wind,
to hear with one’s whole body the rustling danger,
to smell it on the wind and taste it
in inhabited puddles.
To see the dense stones and the danger pulsing in them,
which is set, and strikes home,

for behind come the artful creatures, that
have freed their hands and risen on two feet,
they are five-toed creatures, they
have large, heavy skulls and heavy brains,
and elongated limbs like those of the gorilla,
they are the industrious creatures, and thrifty,
at their waists they gather little heads
that rattle pleasantly in the wind
and bring good fortune, not bad fortune
as long as they go on rattling, bony trinkets,

they are the assiduous creatures, they have capable fingers
that can count to five and tauten a string,
not for music but for murder,
they adorn themselves with the numbers of killing and good luck
and sharpen stones into precise arrowheads,
in which is the throbbing reason for destruction
released from the stone
to sleep in the stone.


The moon is consumed and renews himself
and hoists slow sails,
glides, lending light and wind,
sheds his strength, pulls the oceans;

the earth yields like a woman, and gives birth much.
Plants grow, and nails and hair,
dogs howl on the hills, the dead in their graves,
and there is much murder with various weapons,
words and oozing knives.
They are consumed like the moon,
and are no longer renewed,
but in the moonlight
it is easy to die and to rise,
to cast off in a vessel, if the moon is a boat,
to cast spells, if a drum is the moon,

for the forms of the moon are highly inconstant,
he is a windy moon and voices and a moon of drums,
he is a seed and an eye and a Moon-that-makes-wane,
the setting memory of space.


If they wanted freedom

the earth’s, the sea’s creators, the slow birthgivers,
then why did they draw not birds
but fish, bladderwrack, sea-sponges, the undersides of feet,
rat, musquash, for which traps are set,
and pedestrians with choking lungs
and brains, that branch like coral
and know no more.

O darkness, which swallows everything; animals’ cries for help
that are dragged slowly through creation;
what God created this deformed Grace? was it God?
what God created these deformed people? was it Satan?
people, greedy for Grace, cruel to animals,
great in Reason, small in Mind.

Pray for the animals, you who pray,
who beg for Grace, Success and Peace,
into them, too, has flowed the immanent Spirit,
they too are souls, more whole than you,
and clear, brave, beautiful;

and if we begin from the beginning, who knows,
we shall be able to share these sufferings, too,
simpler, harsher, more infinite than ours.


The journey from Satan to God
has grown shorter,
the peaks worn down
and the chasms
full of rubble.
Flat. Brown.
Only the heat quivers
and envelops everything
like a torrid repugnance.
The brain suffers,
not much,
like an oyster perhaps.

We make our way along the edge of the void.
Legions of ants
attack and are defeated.
St Scarabeus rolls
for the greater glory of God.
We see all this,
we make our way,
holding hands,
and the other.


We are sailing. Already the Hellespont
is shimmering.
The sun is spreading into the sea
like a blood-sacrifice.
Magic and smoky
oracular utterances
receive their due honour, future knowledge.
The polytheistic temples
murmur prayers.
Only the hills, the loins
dream of peace,
not fruit.

The gastropods have united with the stone.
The lazy bodies of crocodiles
are nailed to the rock
by hot jaws and impatient tails.
The greedy throats
catch only swallows, music.
Too late.
Chalk is already flowing in their claws.
They turn to stone.
Prophetic words likewise.

But when night comes,
Poseidon spurs the monsters
and drives them on their journey.
Nothing is dead.
The stone flows,
the atoms are visited by wind and storms.
The reins are freed, and movement, and power.

The nursing bird spreads her wings
and covers crawling souls
sucking mouths and fumbling brains.
The word is in preparation.
mammals multivertebrates
go on procreating with difficulty
embarrassed, pondering what will come.


The roads are long and hot.
The sky is white. The crows fly
and blaspheme, a hoarse, screaming cloud.
Windows are eyes. My shadow is a stump.

Where should I go, my cottage
is full of strange stories, phrases like snares,
heavy words that burn like tin
and prophesy, throw shadows on the walls.

I am heavy, from my wound grows a tree
with motheaten leaves.
Through it a white-glowing sky is visible,
my understanding does not reach that far.

To speak of sorrow demands tact,
but what if you have lost everything but sorrow.
Speak with your mouth, your eyes, your hands, your gloves,
you speak into cold,
or are laughed at like a marionette
which yet reflects only the Player’s emotions.
How comical
grief is here.

Better to urge silence
on your hands that speak a foreign language,
and build from solitude and fallen words
a light windy house:
the small invisible creatures help you.

The creatures are your friends, did you not know it.
Let the coins roll along the road, cheerfully,
and the creature will come to eat from your hand which is free
of worry and fumbling and the intrusive smell of human beings.

I am tired of being strong
and always holding my breath
like a starling in a cage.
I want to open the cage and let dreams come
and let the bird walk about in the eaves
and drink rainwater
dilp dop.

Thus the rain
slowly loosens the contours
and makes everything seem softer;
loosens the lines of the cage
and the lines that mean the black bird and destiny;
loosens a light fugue from the eaves,
the sought-for notes
for the bird to drink.

The rain opens the ears for the sleeper
the rain opens the shadows for the wanderer
the rain opens the hearing, the walking inwards.

The rain opens slow lamps and blurred thoughts
brittle glass shells, blown clocks
stopped lamps in which are rainy songs
dilp pilp dop.

The rain opens the eaves to laughter, to music,
road-gutters, figures to lively preludes
of shadow and wind, to walk lightly
with a windy shadow, walk with the wind,
The rain opens an umbrella like a swaying flower, like
the skirt
of a wing and in the forgotten rhythm of the course
a paper boat, the sails of the jellyfish,
the eager ships.

I make of my life a poem, of a poem a life,
a poem is a way of living and the only way of dying
with ecstatic indifference:
to slide into infinity, to float
on the surface of God for a light chosen moment,
on the surface of God’s cold eyes

that do not weep, do not wake, do not form opinions,
look without attachment and accept everything,
cultivate order and precise moments,
protect scorpions, snakes, squids
(which human beings hate, confusing with their desires
these forms);

to confess one faith: Curiosity,
to wander the rooms of fish, scorpion and goat,
to borrow from the bird desire and distance
and float downwards
like a wind-wrapped wing,
swift freedom, bird-shaped.

All day I have sat under an old friendly tree
and looked at my dreams and conversed with the dead.
Rains come and go, I sit and sit,
my hands are inactive, my eyes know much,
I eat grain like the birds, my stomach grows,
what could I do but think with crossed legs.
But the dreams are long, the dead long-lived,
they have many spirits, I feed them with my grain,
I envy the diligent birds and am bitter to myself,
tired and full of trouble.

I have grown old: I am content
with polished rice and the sympathy of the creatures.

The unschooled dog listens devoutly, tirelessly,
it is patient and knows much
of the matters of forest and wind and eternity.

And the rice is nutritious and the nuts are plump
and cocooned like the grubs of the mulberry tree;
fried, they taste like hearts,
and sizzle hot and nicely on the tongue.
I eat them with my fingers, I have seen much vanity,
I am plump and content and ripe for obedience,
for long-lasting destiny

here, in this cottage, in this paper-thin house,
which seems to be asleep,
but on windy nights lifts away,
sails through space like a weightless ship from star to star,
its pilot courage, its lamp the moon;
and its chart the signs of the creatures:
slow time moves it without whim, wind,
allowing each a destiny and a room that falls,
when the signs are favourable, turns away,
time that detains.

When my head cracks like a flowerpot,
when my bones crack, my face falls away

I will breathe through the earth what is left in me,
I will breathe through the earth all love
and wrap it around my friends both here and there,
not forgetting the creatures;

in it I will wrap books, pens and clocks,
every familiar object,
mirror, ink-bottle, lampshade,
German dictionary, dog’s collar
– let them go sparkling on from hand to hand –

bees’ nests and diligent mathematics,
trees’ annual rings and calendar lore,
snail’s philosophical house and lazy grass snake,
hedgehog’s milk charm and swallow’s German tongue,
overgrown path and porch’s rotted planks
that rain has loved and snow and wind.

In it I will wrap the dates of the calendar,
let them be strewn on paths and in windy colours;
in it I will wrap a child’s solitary shoes,
small lost footsteps:

perhaps they will
sense safety
sometimes when it is very difficult,
sense the lingering secret shelter
and go on.

The garden grows sparser day by day,
soon one will see through it like a torn curtain.
The sky blows through it, and rain, a sea of cloud, is being shed.

The trees are taking off their clothes.
The leaves are falling, rotting.
The grey hairs of the grass are falling, the grubs
are nesting in the deathbed of the fallen land.
At night
the sky’s dog runs above everything,
the morning is white and weightless and cold,
frost lies like salt after evaporation.
The lizard climbs out of the well and lifts an eyelid
from above a jewel-black eye.
The skin does not throb, the heart stops
in the throat, the diminished fingers stop,
stiffen, the creature is cold,
dead as copper.

The well is uninhabited,
the path is empty,
the house does not remember,
the windows are covered.
Rust corrodes.
Mice and funghi move deeper
into the empty core, where seconds live
in the tree’s recess.

The year is ripening.
It is autumn,
two days’ scraping cycle
before the winter month.



They all fell from my arms,
garden, courtyard, house, voices, rooms,
child: with a sparrow and a fish in its hand,
fell to the earth
which brought forth the stones.

I am an empty room,
around me the points of the compass
and snow-enshrouded trees
cold, cold, empty.
But in my hand
rises everything I loved,
courtyard, roses, flowerpot house,
house like a capsule, quiet seeds,
death and movement in their tissue,

a small well, a small dog, an invisible collar.
A small room, small windows, small lively lace-up shoes
for the heart and running.

The shoes run from chamber
to chamber, and in the blood
the child’s fingers are building
a stone jetty for oarsmen of stone.

Dreams like stones
in the depths,
numbered, dedicated to death.
And through the windows, ears
the tuned birds float
laughter in their beaks,
drops of mozart
zart zart

– translation © 2011 David McDuff and Hildi Hawkins

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

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

Standing Here, by Gösta Ågren

Standing Here


Oh! dreadful is the check − intense the agony ­
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the
EMILY BRONTE: The Prisoner




That first night of winter
the rabbit froze to stone
in its cage. Through the netting
the stars’ netting is visible.
The cold slowly penetrates
the body, whose darkness
can do nothing against
this light. The cat sees
with his two glowing
souls of metal, and goes
on his way. Crouched
around its heart the rabbit dies.
The morning was great and empty
as a beginning.


The body is that strong
sentry who in the end
kills us. The soul knows everything,
but it is free; it says
nothing. Beyond them
is a room, an island
in the screaming opera.
There the blind one leads me
in the darkness. The mute one silences
there my loose chatter,trembling
with proclamation. The illiterate one
makes there from his silent creatures
poem after poem.


Here she came, through the motion­
less Sunday of old age.
In headscarf and long dress
she came, a tall bird
of clothes. She wondered in
the sunshine outside the woodshed
how she should arrange things
so she could die. I must
write about this. For it happens
everywhere, and there are no
questions to answer. But to
ask is already insight. Only
those questions that are never asked
require answers. I remember
that her hands were no longer
part of her. Idle
they lay in her lap. She saw
with her eyes only darkness
and light. It was silent. I
thought: the silence is creeping
through her body. Soon
it will reach the heart. Soon
I will be alone




To remember is
to let the future
intervene in events.
Everything is settled. Even
chaos gets a name. No one
offers any resistance. Fate
wreaks havoc in vain.


The one who makes good use of his time,
it is true, squanders
the day, but the one
who whiles away his time
squanders the chance
to merely while it away.
Such is life; it must be


‘A man said: “I fled
into solitude. One day
I realized that I did not
like human beings. That
day I became free
and I returned
to them.”‘


If strength is never
to break down but always
to struggle, that strength constitutes
a burden that demands
great strength.


When the silence begins to feel
people ought to talk to one another; otherwise
it will stop.


To travel is
to reduce Samarkand
to reality. In the end
nothing else
remains. But also
the decision to stay
is a departure;
the corn yellows into fire
and knowledge becomes wordless
autumn. In the end only
Samarkand remains.


There are poems
so great and deep that no one
can write them. The proof
that they exist
is that they have not been
written. We
feel at the wall that
hides them, but find no
opening in the white paper.
Afterwards our poem­
attempts, fingerprints on the wall,
prove that it exists.


Memory is our protection
against pain. Even as
our wounds bleed hysterically
we begin to remember them.

No, in reality we begin
to forget them. We do not
remember our memories, only
what happened. We remember,

because we cannot forget
in any other way. We do not hear
the clock; we remember it

and when the ticking stops
and it becomes quiet in the room
it has already happened.


The one who does not accept
his defeat is




Motionless as a spaceship
Easter Island stands in the infinite
sea. The people sought protection
behind tall stone faces
which they turned outwards towards the sky
and the ocean, not to
observe but to be dazzled
by nothingness. But locked­up
people have no protection
against consciousness, which is
sickness; a fever with no answer.
There was war on the island. After
they had locked out eternity, that
immense defeat whose cooling freshness
makes it possible to live,
people began to kill one another.
The truth, its subjugating
dust, escapes no one.


In the midst of the summer’s warm
violence it is clear that this
life­machine is only a part
of itself. In autumn
we see the reptiles stiffen
to metal. Their life is now
to be dead. In the winter
the winter never stops. It is
that white screen on which the films spring,
summer and autumn are shown.
In spring the birds come
helplessly north. They find
their wide­open nests, a few
grassblades, simple symbols
of grassblades. Being
is distinct here. Living is
as in the south
a farewell.


He seeks in his life,
but finds only
his life. Everything that is used
becomes an object, even
a life. Helplessly he turns the pages
of the unwritten book.

In the middle of the night he wakes up. Dark
sentries surround the bed;
in vain he unfolds
his wings. To use life
is to deny it. He ignites
the light’s white salt, but sees
with his closed eyes, listens
with his open hands. The years
darken. Someone is approaching
in the gloom; a being
is leaving its source. The hour
is nigh. The hour
is always nigh.




Of his strength there still remains
its calm. He has risen;
with his back towards his life
he looks out across the plain
of wordless thoughts. No, he is
not wise, only silent, only
picture. Yes, I know that wisdom
vibrates with splendid silence,
but in grandfather’s picture silence is
truth, a quiet speech.


Early in her life she became
ancient, a teller of stories.
She bore children and she tended
dying folk, gave them tenderly
to death. For her it was
the same act. She knew
that no one can forgive
the violence that is called birth.
Lovingly she touched her children
with their names. She told
mysterious, protecting stories
in the darkness of the cottage, the dungeon
below night’s castle. Thus
she taught them reconciliation
and they left her
and vanished in the future’s
dim blue human crowd
on the way towards their memories.


There they stand, seemingly without
secrets, for years and poverty
have made them distinct. Yet
the camera lies, like all who
say nothing except merely
the truth. He did as others do,
became a father, built his house.
She helped sick folk, practised
kindness. But all his movements
were fingers of ash, fumbling
as the cold floor­draught
willed. Her kindness resembled all
other: a sternness that never
exhorts, but demands. Early
she knew it was
her only protection. So
it may have been, but perhaps
our life is only a line
in the poem about our life. Perhaps
we are not the name
we write, but
the nameless hand
that grasps the pen.


The picture is true, with its
painted background that conceals
her life. She sits
there, waiting to become
a picture, in large, simple clothes.
Yet she is not visible, for the photo­
graph depicts the mother,
a figure in the old songs
that were written for woman’s voice and
the nineteenth century’s melancholy wind.
She looks out over the twentieth century’s
ruins. The price of the future
is high. It consists in the fact
that it never comes.
Mother, I am homesick
for this house, where I dwell,
and this short autumn day,
when I live.


His face became clear
in Penticton. In the pictures
from Lippjärv he is still hidden
by his youth. In Vancouver
he laboriously bears his heavy
strength. But finally
he emerges before death’s
camera. With large, wide­open
spectacles he looks at me. Yes,
now, afterwards, it is I
who am death. Someone else,
who might look at him,
does not exist. The face
belongs to an emaciated bull.
Dark and immense with calm
he enters the sun
of the arena.




A storm rages, locked up
in its narrow hours. Blood­red
the palm of the hand rests above the forest
of spears. Her death was
too great. What happened
only happened. It was morning
or evening. The birds fumbled
on the surface of the sky. The very
great does not happen; it is.
Near my writing hand
I sit now, motionless
with yearning, but without sorrow.
She died, only died.
And the storm abates;
it is free again.


The headscarf’s black bird
kept its protecting wings
about the cheeks. The clothes were
the only caress that reached
their bodies. They moved about
the village, they wandered around
in ankle­length skirts, inside tall,
alien women. Yes, their
existence on earth was visible, but not
their lives. They already travelled
in regions beyond their names,
figures in a hymn without words,
wanderers in darkness, seeking
the night. Every pause was empty,
every word the last. But they said
wordlessly this: if a riddle
lacks a solution, then it is
the answer.


To die is a victory that demands
long struggle. The children thought
the old men were evil.
We did not know that they were pro­
tecting their deaths against the life
in us. Our jeering laughter was
bright with innocence. We did not
know that death must be protected
as one protects a flower
against feet, a melody against
shouting. We rushed outside. Our
games were about the next war.
We had already been wounded. In
the silence of the bedroom the old man
lay down to rest. He
no longer opened any door
with questions, and none was closed
by answers. He looked up
at the clouds in the immense
church, and fell asleep
and slept.


Nine years old I run forever
home through the forest. Its
tall, dark creatures are waiting
for me. It is thirty
below zero. In the face
up there stars are beginning
to flame. My body grows slowly
severe. It surrounds me
like something else. A shoe
bursts. I walk in the fire
of the cold; I pray to what
will happen, but all shivering
freezes to iron when that
immense breast opens
on nothingness. I came home
at last, but it was
too late.


Who is shouting, closed up
inside the creature? Who is
silent inside the tree
when it falls? Who
is coming? I remember
my questions still, and reply
now: It was you who shouted, heard
your own silence. Nothing is
only a poem, not even
this message. It is you
who are coming, not


The stallion stood like a tower
against the clouds. For a second
he was unconscious
with strength. I ran
home in a cascade of footsteps,
still without a poem between myself
and nature, the howling of God.


As a child I once found
a dying god. He lay still
between his wings, waiting
for them to let go
of him. Man is
dust; only gods can die.
In the dawn he had descended
on a mountain that now quivered
under heartbeats. Only the path’s
cord held it together. High
in the east glowing entrails welled
out between the clouds. I realized
that a god employs the whole of
reality as a body
when he suffers. Afterwards
he resembled a dead bird,
but I knew that no bird
can die so profoundly.


The body was formless and heavy
as though it had created itself
in solitude, without help,
and then waited in the shadow
under the trees, until the face
came fluttering over the meadow,
a butterfly without a body. Thus
did they meet, but now the yearning
face wanted to fly
away again. The I
always betrays
the ashes.


This poem? It shall
be about Blaze’s soul. He
ran, that spring day when he came,
on three legs and a spear
of pain, but his head swayed
like a flag and his eye looked
out over the endless expanse
as though it was there. We were
not worthy of his great
existence; we killed him.
Now only his soul remains, that
heraldic silence in which all
has meaning. That is what
the poem shall be about. It
begins here, and ends.


She was born. Reality was
hungry, and received her
in its jaws. Its black teeth
stood out against the blood from
the slow trial
in the evening sky. She closed
all the doors to protect herself
against solitude, but no one
can exist outside their
solitude. Another being
began to speak with the help of
her body. Someone wanted
to be born; someone was ready to meet
herself – a courage that must
always alter everything, the cruel
graffiti we call history,
as well as the poem we had no time
to write, and the empty
room when we have died. Out there
people are walking past. Who
was it who died in here? Was
someone with us for a while, and
altered everything?


It was difficult to be, not
for the human in him, but for
the animal, which had not the strength to carry
the leaden weight of consciousness. The knowledge
that he was alive prevented him
from living. It formed
a sleepless face that looked
at his emotions until they crept
away like actors
from a bad performance
and that thought that he thought,
until each thought deepened to
nothing in this cold light. He
was himself the enemy, and wrote
books in order to defeat himself,
but in such a battle the only
possible victory is too great.
He won. In the silence
afterwards came a few
last fumbling words.


Early self-portrait

I am a silent sword. Blows
and kicks hammer against my
steel. I expect nothing
else. I am invulnerable. The jeering
laughter drifts by, howling
like autumn wind in darkness, but I
am the darkness; teeth are bared
in vain. I hate no one,
I have killed everyone. I am
lost, I am invulnerable.


Their knives ached
with spite. Their open
hands were traps, ready
to close around the prey.
They looked like human beings,
but reality had
made them, their cruelty
was the mammal’s, their death
was emptiness’s yearning
to be emptied. One
morning one of them heard
deep inside the hymn
a song. He tried
to hide in the light
from the immense smile,
but in vain. For if God
exists, then he is
only everything. There was
no other way
but the way.


To be born is a sentence. One may
no longer keep one’s life.
Thus does he think, and it is quiet.
Far away the century shouts.

It is not pessimism; he sows
in the desert! True, it is
sand that he sows, but he thinks like this:

It is senseless to sow
seed-corn in the desert, where
nothing sprouts. Grains of sand
sprout nowhere; they can be sown
in the desert!


Kindness came to the cottage
and took the poor man’s
poverty. After that
he owned nothing.

Kindness is
man’s way
of enjoying
his kindness.


A few walking children.
Nothing happens. Life
is a recapitulation,
not a story. In
the south the Kursk Bulge darkens
with thunder. Sicily waits;
it is all about to happen. Someone
recites the Bible from memory
in Treblinka: ‘The Lord’s day
is a darkness and not a light.’
The screams from Golgotha seek God
in the centuries’ darkness, searchlights
that pursue not those who flee,
but the camp commandant. They burn
in vain. Reality has
no name. The words cover
only a part of the poem.
Above the road towers
high summer, the North’s
temple, and the children
walk towards the river.


I wrote two poems about her
before I learned how to do this
work that is aimed at speaking
in such a way that one does not shut in
what one says but opens
it to all that is wordless
in words. Yet there is in these
two poems the script
of her life, the drama
in which she herself played one
of the lesser roles, a wandering
woman. The only dialogue
was spoken by the murmuring forest.
The play was about us all,
our loneliness and hunger. When
at last her silence
fell silent, and the dead body
was carried away through the villages and
the forest on the painted scenery,
no curtain fell; the auditorium
was empty.


When he walked past
he surrounded himself with a lamenting
song, for protection. Something
had happened, or perhaps
not yet happened: he was afraid
of his hands; they crawled a-
bout like creatures on his body.
Conversation was difficult. He heard
nothing, for he listened
so intensely in his anguish. When
he went, he had to force himself
out through the thickening
dawn. He gave an impression
of having turned round
and begun to walk back
as though he had seen a glimpse
of the future.


The cold increased. The air hardened
to glass. Reality
touched the cottage, and we
cowered in there, nameless
as foetuses before this
immense name. The sun raised
a red, sardonic eyebrow,
and set. The gypsies came.
I do not remember them. The years
already hide so many
faces. It is the pictures
I remember, those suddenly
opened doors. In the lamplight
stand the horses, dark in
the depths of their smoking steam,
enormous, naked hearts
on a journey towards their
limitless body.


Childhood is not a part
of life, it is a depth
under everything that happens later.
The life’s work that is not realized
has always stood complete, the
game of half an hour. The first
words still protect us; the forest
is forest, the mountains stand still. One
day we grow so tired that we lose
the cruelty required
in order to live. That day
my father whispered: ‘I remember
Åbacken.’ He was inside
the game’s magic ritual
again. He played
at dying.




To live is not perpetually
to live. I begin to understand that
again. I write poems,
which from the future, this
ending, observe and
sketch childhood’s raft
of days and nights, im-
mobile in flowing
time. I find nothing
but the everyday, our low
protection against the blood and the fire,
the emotions, great as animals
and clear as messages,
and the bosom to which I return
each time I have not the strength
to be born. I find
nothing but it, and it
is what I seek.


‘When I lie in my cell
I hear the spring.’ That is what I
wrote once. To describe
something is to reduce it
to description, to make
reality’s blinding
nakedness go dark. That is
how I


No, I no longer choose.
What happens is my choice.
All resistance is crushed. Neither
my life nor my death can stop
this journey that protectively
surrounds me. I am chosen.


To be young is to meet
the eyeless, staring
face for the first time
and hear it called
reality, though it is only
malice. It is to meet
with dazzled skin, in ecstatic
solitude; it is to efface
oneself with shouts, to resemble
one another in order to conceal
one’s alikeness. It is a matter of
learning how to live. Some


The oarsman’s bronze face
looks timelessly at the summer day.
A sculpture consists of darkness
that reflects the light. Accordingly
it is invisible. Really
only its existence exists, not
it itself. I know the oarsman
well; yet his face is
nameless. When a mountain breaks
among the clouds we turn homeward.
The black sound overwhelms
like the mother’s booming pulsebeat
in the foetus. There is no defence
against defencelessness. Through the rain
we see the church towering above the town.
They punish their unbelief with belief,
says the oarsman. They believe
in what does not exist:
a life after this
and death.


I will be forgotten,
he thinks. Oblivion is
a deep mother. No one
will touch you there; no one
will forget you any more.


Giving and taking are parts
of the same action. The one
who takes gives his
taking. The one who gives
thereby receives from the other
his own giving. Giving
and taking are the same


We are only creatures, helpless
as insects in the autumn night,
transfixed by the light from
the closed window. So
strong is love that
only our mechanical couplings
prevent it from growing
into hate. How could any victory
be possible except this
defeat? We know it
from the very start. Love
is immense as a touch;
it does not need its two
bodies. We subjugate it
by loving!


Freedom cannot be locked up;
it has no body, it does not
exist outside itself.
When a man is imprisoned
he must therefore part
from his freedom, and give it
to friends, as one gives
a folk song at dusk.
For freedom, too, is only
a song. It does not really
exist, like all that is


After these poems I know
that only the nameless
man is visible. I have
laboriously written a book about
him; pale and ancient
as a child he listens
helplessly to the story
of how he is slowly effaced
by time, that calming hand
over the manically seething
life. When it is all over
and someone wakes up because he is dying
and the strength, this faceless
creature, is lowered into its grave while
the tall ruins of the house
that was never built tumble
down, then, when only the name
is left, will the nameless
profile still be sensed in the red
evening light from
the abandoned

Gösta Ågren, 1988

translation © 2010 David McDuff

Clouds, by Karin Boye


See the mighty clouds, whose distant lofty tops
proud, shimmering rise, white as white snow!
Calmly they glide on, at last in calm to die below,
slowly dissolving in a shower of cool drops.

Majestic clouds – smiling onward they go straight
through life, through death in brilliant sun,
in ether so clear and pure, dark care unknown,
with quiet and grand contempt for their fate.

Would I were granted, festively proud as those,
to climb where the bustle of worlds does not tread
and bear the sunlight’s golden wreath around my head
no matter how angrily round me the storms’ roar goes.


Unlocked is the world’s copper gate.
High in its gate-vault here I stand,
and what I see is infinitely great,
and no sight is so without end.

However deep I look, however far,
my gaze receives no help beneath.
All that I know exists no more –
not great, not small – not life, not death.

One single step on pathways free,
and for me all return is closed…
Why do you quake? Up, follow me!
For the universe’s copper gate is forced!


Half awake the summer night broods
quietly on dreams that no one knows.
The tarns’ glistening floods
reflect a twilight sky’s
infinity, pale, morose,
Whiter grow the stars on high.
Afar, afar
the nightjar
sings alone her toneless, comfortless melody.

Never boldly, towards the heights she swings,
because of her lowness hovers low.
Downy twilight wings
seem bound to the earth,
by dust and soil weighed down below.
Woe to him whose wings in pair
cannot rise,
only linger,
helplessly drawn to the mud, whose colours they bear.

But the whitest of white among swans,
that travel in morning’s bright space
their royal lanes,
never cherished a yearning
such as the nightjar has.
None has a longing so true
for the distant and far
as the nightjar
for the ever beckoning, ever yielding blue.


You are like the mollusc in chilly ponds
where sunbeams never get.
She never creeps out from her shell,
her prison she cannot forget,
she can only hide
her deepest essence
and dream of exploits great
among the waterweed,
but never wholly
and undividedly
empty herself into word or deed.

With irony your speech full spills.
You try to cover
with pretended cold
life’s warmth that inside dwells.
But your voice trembles,
is strangely weak,
A blush hovers
behind each pale cheek.
A sea of fire burns
in a secret place
that no one knows,
no one can trace.

You are too frail and too weak and tame
for all the discords that sever:
to wear armour you must endeavour
in life’s hard-handed game.
You are like the mollusc in chilly ponds
that never creeps out of her shell,
so unattainable,
so incomprehensible,
that no one will near you, ever.


Here I go not. This is not I.
This is a lying reflection alone,
asking, wondering where I have gone,
yearning one day to meet its reality.

The legend tells: far in a distant land
flows a mirroring flood from invisible source.
Thousands of beings, blessed, holy souls,
lean like lilies o’er the banks of sand.

Light without limit envelops their eye,
air trembles, sated by a beauty without like.
In this realm perfect spirits walk,
There stands in eternal light my true I.

The reflection is gone from the glittering surge.
It was once torn away by the angry stream,
wanders around, unreal as in a dream,
unfinished, broken, of itself in search,

Do I not hear the flood’s waves far away?
Deep from my inmost depths its water flows.
There, where life’s swell into day breaks and goes,
it waits for me concealed, my god-begotten I.


No time is like this one,
the evening’s final, silent hour.
No sorrows burn any longer,
no voices crowd any more.

Then take now into your hands
this day that is past, like a token.
For I know: into good you will turn
what I have held or broken.

Evilly I think, evilly I act,
but all things you heal and cleanse.
My days then you transform
From gravel to precious stones.

You must lift, you must carry,
I can only leave all things behind.
Take me, lead me, be close to me!
Show me what you next may intend!


Candles I saw burning, yes, holy candles on the eternal
Blessed ones walked there in a trembling mystic light,
radiant with God as with the sun the falling drops,
radiant with sleep in worlds where time was not.

Woe is me, my foot is too heavy for those giddying high paths,
woe is me, who was formed from clay and whose thought is steel and
Never will I find a place among those dreaming holy silent ones,
never will my head by seeing’s halo be crowned.

You will I seek, my God, in the simple, the grey, despised,
you will I seek in the world, in the everyday’s striving and
The sky’s golden stillness, to which my heart aspired,
is it better than your labour, your holy, burning fight?

Lord, your bliss is yours. You gave, and you took,
and you hide yourself.
Give what you offer – not peace, but your fight, and
your spirit to fulfil.
Lord, on the world’s battlefield like sword or bow I follow you.
Give me a throne, if you wish, or a cross, if you will!


The best that we possess,
we cannot give away.
we cannot write it either.
and neither can we say.

The best that is in your mind
no one can make unclean.
It shines there deep inside
for you and God alone.

It is the glory of our wealth
that no one else can gain it.
It is the torment of our poverty
that no one else can attain it.


This is life’s silent hour,
sunny and blessed,
laughing white in power-conscious peace.
The rejoicing and the songs fell silent,
for Joy overflowed the shores.
Hail to you, Joy, Joy,
in your silent, vainglorious smile!
You alone can plumb
the secret of the worlds.

O bubbles, bubbles, o foam, foam
are all our care, all our grief,
yes foam on measureless expanses,
bubbles on the ocean
is that which we chase and cherish and fear,
but Joy, Joy is the world’s foundation.

How do I dare…? And yet!
Do you think that life’s flower,
carved a thousand times by suffering.
would continue in darkest darkness
to shine in beauty in spite of everything,
were not its root and heart
heavy, yes, brimful of bliss?

O bubbles, bubbles, o foam, foam
is all our pain, our blind grief.
Joy alone knows more than others.
Yes, in its holy white hours
rests in the leaves’ quivering daylight
the reflection of godlike depths,
smiling, smiling.

Like tidal waves, like thunderclouds
day’s care will soon envelop me.
Let me remember in tears and greyness,
that clarity’s blinding moment
forced me to say to life and death,
to the whole world and even to myself:
‘Amen, amen,
happen, then!’



A veil-light mist stands over the meadow,
and pearl-grey dew sprinkles pale leaves –
a spring morning, cool and melancholy-glad,
when airy flowers unfold from humid groves.

In the grass narcissi dully gleam in rows.
From fragile chalices a scent of spring spreads down,
when over them with dreamy gaze there goes
a noble boy from Arno’s town.

A happiness of wonder rests upon his face.
His walk is full of awkward charm and pliancy.
A book he bears, as careful as a sage.

He scarce perceives the meadow’s paradise,
but stares foreboding-pale as the spring day
at mysterious distance, hidden in morning haze.


I would like to paint a meagre fragment
of the shabbiest everyday, so worn and grey,
but radiant with that fire that made
the whole world leap from the Creator’s hand.
I would like to show how what we disdain
is holy and deep and the Spirit’s attire.
I would like to paint a wooden spoon in such a way
that people had an inkling of God!


I broke my bread which others’ hands had to bake,
and drank my wine, which I did not prepare.
Those who had the toil never got to taste
its fruit, before they trod on dark roads there.

What I have sown, tomorrow you will harvest.
Oh may my seed an hundredfold bear deep!
They bear delight, who bear others’ burdens.
they harvest life, who others’ harvests reap.


My God
and my truth
I saw
in a strange hour.
People’s words
and commands were silent.
Good and evil
my soul forgot.
My God
and my truth
I drank
in the hour of my angxiety.

My God
was salt darkness,
my truth
hard metal.
Deeply I shook.
Naked I stood,
washed by waves
of cold truth,
cold, strong,
contemptuous truth –
my Truth
and my God.


Gold and pale copper! Hoar frost on fields of brown gold!
The wide and golden world is glittering cold.

Through the clouds I see rivers, of sun and gold they are made,
forcing through, laughing chill as their wills’ sharpened blade.

Smiling, defiant, breaking forth through the spaces it goes,
sunbeam-yellow and frosty round meadows and fields it flows.

Hear, sound it acquires, and the clear expanses rejoice!
Hear how, to reply, the whole world receives a singing voice!

A thousand times beaten and sacked and put to the knife
defiant she sings the songs of eternal desire for life.


Do I not walk here drunken with fragrance of roses
– yet no roses have come! –
Does not all tremble, wrapped in divine gossamer?
The reflected light whispers secret promises.

From far away a wind reached me lately,
light as a held-back breath,
full of a fragrance of shyly trembling expectancy.
Ever since then I have sensed a miracle.

I know nothing – walk as in a far-off land,
walk as in a dream, a dream of roses.
All is as before – yet all is changed.
Strange mystery over things!


If a star comes loose
and falls white through the air,
then, it is said, she answers our prayers, that reach
that short glimmering path.

I wait and wait. It is April,
a warm and sharp-eared night in April,
when the grass grows and the stars listen –
tonight they go so peacefully their way,
and not one trips and falls!

But if I fall asleep, it matters not at all:
if a star tears itself loose tonight,
then she must feel my prayer, where she descends,
even though I sleep –
for all the silent, silent night
all of wide, wide space
is completely full of my only wish!


O a blade,
yieldingly supple and strong,
o a lithely dancing blade,
proudly obeying the sternest law,
the rhythm’s hard law in the steel –
o a blade
I would be in body and soul!

You I hate,
you my wretched willow-being,
you that twine, you that twist,
patiently obeying others’ hands.
You I hate,
you my lazy dreamer-being.
You shall die.
Help me, my hatred, you sister of longing,
help me to become
a blade, yes a blade,
a dancing sword of hardened steel!


Cool is your voice as murmur of springs, and your being
tartly fresh as the autumn’s fragrant fruits.
Clear in your eye rests
high September’s chill merriment.

A fountain you are, whose sunnily glittering beam,
beautiful in its equilibrium, beautiful in its form-strict arc,
beautiful in its strength, possesses
the power to love limits and noble dimensions.

Hail to your playing calm, your springtime health!
Hail to your spirit’s sweet, godlike nobility,
drawn in your features’ purity
and the singing harmony of your limbs!


When the morning’s sun steals through the window-pane,
happy and cautious,
like a child who wants to surprise
early, early on a festive day –
then I stretch full of growing exultation
my open arms to the coming day –
for the day is you,
and the light is you,
the sun is you,
and the spring is you,
and all of beautiful, beautiful
waiting life is you!


Twilight over an unknown path…
Colourless earth-plants,
great mushrooms
sprout from the ground, where sound is choked.
Winding naked trunks
stretch up and vanish in the darkness.
Hear the fearful roar up there,
that never falls silent!

Just now in the sun
I sang on flowering meadows
Pan, Pan, the great Pan.
Scornfully whisper now
the marshes’ murmuring bubbles:
‘Here in the forest of the secret depths,
here too is his dwelling!
Do you still dare to sing
Pan, the great Pan?’

Help, my foot is sinking!
Quagmire is the ground.
Brooding lurk
black waters, half in sleep,
unmoving, unfathomable,
in wait for me, their prey.
The snakelike trunks of the alders,
grown out of the wet marsh,
twist wailing this way and that.
Fear stretches from muddy water
hands, black and gnarled,
like the damp-dripping
rotten branches on which the moss grows.
Help, oh, help, what secret
depths, that desire me!

Yet – is that not the scent of flowers?
All around above dark marshes
buds gleam,
white buds –
oh, they unfold, they shimmeringly unfold!
My foot finds a hold among white chalices,
and over the depths moves a light –
the sweetest mocking smile.

Bow down, heart,
bow down and pray!
Here in the forest of the secret depths
I sing Pan
I sing trembling
Pan, Pan, the great Pan!


When our gods fall
and we stand alone among wreckage,
as much without a hold for our feet any longer
as spheres in space –
then you are dimly seen for a moment, lofty Beauty.
Then, only then.
As stern as fire you speak consolation:
‘Whatever else falls – I remain.’
O stay, stay, holy one,
and save my soul
from the falsehood of a measureless sorrow!


Quietly would I thank my fate:
never do I lose you entirely.
As a pearl grows in the mussel,
so within me
grows your dewy essence sweet.
If at last one day I forget you –
then you will be blood of my blood,
then you will be one with me –
may the gods grant that.


‘Child!’ said Life to me one day.
‘How young you are! A little unripe fruit…
I want to teach you the adornment of youth:
modest discretion,
lowered eyes and quiet voice.
Go softly now – go on tiptoe over the meadows!
Silent, be silent – hold your breath and listen!
If Joy greets you, if Pain greets you,
don’t make such a dreadful fuss (you usually do)!
Be infinitely quiet! Listen! Listen!
Then perhaps you will
find the way home to my rose-garden.’


You who are called by the names of flowers,
now I want to give you another:
The Surgeon’s Knife.
A cold, hard name.
But so gleamingly hard
is your image in the silent hours.
I am doomed when I see you,
doomed like one who is sick
before your health of springtime morning.

It is good that one suffers and sickens.
You are refreshingly free from mercy
towards torments of pathos.
Afar, afar you smile mysteriously.
I would breathe your lofty air.
I would tread those dewy paths
where you walk.


I love those white mountains, the marble white
with foreheads rinsed by the heavens’ high blue repose,
and the storming glitter of the salt sea,
and Doric temples, and thought’s cool crystal.

But I have also lingered by doors left ajar
and seen inside, into sounding twilight depths,
where the shimmer of altar candles quietly rejoiced
in the face of trembling time, Advent,
while the winter morning stared dark through vaulted windows.

Those radiant saints, those who overcame,
could be sensed, blessed, beyond the darkness,
and God’s yearners
bent their knees in prayer, lonely in their hosts,
and saw with closed eyes the Only One’s brilliance,
the soul’s innermost worlds,
and mystical truths they learned listening.
If you have ever listened near burning altar candles,
then you will never forget God’s silent, blossoming gardens –
you will kiss the stone of the gate-arch and turn away.
White mountains, marble white in dazzling sun,
beloved, distantly-seen, my home in presentiment,
I come to you!
Life is to cut and to break so that something may grow.
Everyone is so many people,
but more than one road no one goes.


To lose the soul’s home and to wander far
and then be unable to find anything else,
and feel that one’s forgotten what truth is,
and fancy one is made of nought but lies,
be sickened by oneself and hate oneself –
yes, that is easy, that is very easy.
Sorrow is easy, but joy is proud and hard,
for joy, it is the simplest thing of all.

But he that seeks for himself a home
must not believe that it exists just anywhere –
he must go wandering homeless for a time;
and he that’s made of lies and would be well,
must hate himself until the day he knows
of truth what others as a gift receive.
What point is there in grieving so for it?
Wait then, my heart, and have some patience yet!


If this life is the only one…!
Oh, these short hours…
An hour – how much an hour can become!
Those deep springs where no one yet has drunk,
the light-expanses no one yet has fathomed,
And we, we dully doze in cowardice.
Oh, these short hours…
O world of hidden possibilities,
O God in the becoming,
give us an undaunted piety,
a pure will,
and initiate us to the adventure of the spirit!


If you cannot manage one step more,
cannot lift your head,
if you are sinking wearily under hopeless greyness –
then be thankful for the kind, small things,
consoling, childish.
You have an apple in your pocket,
a book of stories there at home –
small, small things, despised
at the time, that radiated living
but gentle footholds during the dead hours.


The world streams with dirt, emptiness fills it.
Wounds that the day made heal when evening is at hand.
Calm, calm, I lean my head
on a holy vision, your lingering memory.
Temple; refuge; purification;
my sanctuary!
On your steps saved from the darkness
secure as a child I fall asleep.


Life acquires a different hue –
trembling, trembling it listens and is silent,
when like the shimmer from V„ttern’s stone in the folktale
the thought of you from the depths
rises wholly through-annealing all the world.
Newly-woken I see reality,
where aching dreams burdened me just now.
The air is living, life I breathe,
life from you, from you.


In your beauty submerged
I see life explained
and the dark riddle’s answer
made plain.

In your beauty submerged
I want to say a prayer.
The world is holy,
for you are there.

Endless with brightness,
I would die with you,
in your beauty submerged.


You are my purest consolation,
you are my firmest protection,
you are the best thing I have,
for nothing hurts like you.

No, nothing hurts like you.
You smart like ice and fire,
you cut like a steel my soul –
you are the best thing I have.


Hail to those warriors who bleed in the battles,
in spite of scars and wounds shining,
hail to their hard struggle,
hail to their dearly bought victories!

But O young tree, you blossoming maple,
you I love more than warriors’ scars.
Your unacquired, happy nobility
is greater than their won battles.

Fresh in life’s morning you sprouted from the earth,
fresh, fresh you grew calmly in sun and rain;
anguish you did not know, nor remorse,
nothing of all our sickness.

You blossom in gold and gold vine; in sighings you laugh,
when the wanderer kisses your trunk.
His kiss is a prayer to the eternal beauty
your lovely blossoms thought in the day.

Blessed be, blessed be, fair-growing maple!
You do not need the combatants’ victories.
In you is the repose of lonely forests.
In you is sun of divinity.


Dream vision, dream vision,
sun-clear revelation,
lit for my gaze by a single
human creation,

dream vision, dream vision,
sweet among fighters maimed,
sweet in a torn-apart
world of pain.

dream of a race
growing forth through the ages,
proud people, who play their way to
victory in battles’ rages,

flowerlike grown
unhesitatingly harmonious from each root,
trusting calmly in a holy
earth beneath each foot,

whose flesh is spirit,
whose spirit is flesh –
flowerlike grown
like a strange person I met.


The gods’ chariots
do not shake the clouds,
they glide silently
forward like rays.
The gods’ steps are
as hard to hear
as the grass’s scarcely
perceived murmur.

Cautiously, cautiously
follow those paths
that smell of their
healing closeness.
Call no names!
They will fly, they will leave you
in an empty world.


I see a glimpse of you,
O Carolina, my friend, behind the birch’s frosty twigs,
quietest light falls on my road
like sun in mist.

Stern and distinguished
you are like one whom life has given a protecting armour,
but by a sceptical mildness’s light
sprinkled over –

like an old man’s
smile of light, light snow and autumn-gentle irony,
thoughtfully, with warmth and wisdom underneath
and inside meek humility.


Deceit, deceit –
other was never my life.
All my shame,
pen, poor thing, write.
Write of roads far, far
from my truth away,
write of a wall round all that was best…
No, stay.

Threat of unfathomed darkness
fills my mind.
thunder-oppressive budding time
is still mine.
I want to be still,
wait and see a while,
wait for the sun,
softly smile.

What is happening in the darkness,
as I smile in vain?
Is my soul dying?
Will I never come home again?
God, God,
only keep secure
a glint of my intention
pure, pure!


I once asked for joy without limits,
I once asked for sorrow, infinite as space.
I wonder if modesty grows with the years?
Fair, fair is joy, fair also is sorrow.
But fairest is to stand on pain’s battlefield
with stilled mind and see that the sun is shining.


Sparkling creaking hard crust.
Lonely, lonely is the night sky over white roads.
I am filled with a angry thirst
for the winter sky.

Will you not soon leap up before my foot,
deep earth-cold water that sometimes chilled me,
O strong darkness that
my star conceals?

Then dizzyingly hard and pure
you will drown putrid lies as before you mercilessly did.
Where are you, bitter sea
of ice and truth?


When you are gone, then wildly hungers my soul.
When you are near, I yearn even so –
in despair I see,
stiffened, closed,
how empty and vain
the minute flows.

Your being’s proud, royal flower-scent fine
I would secretly drink, a holy wine –
but mortally heavy I stand
as in dreams,
with thirst like Tantalus’
in clear, bright streams.

In solitude’s time my tongue has burned
to tell you the beautiful things I knew and dreamed –
but in your nearness
my thought drowses, dumb.
my gate is closed,
and my heart goes numb.


Many things hurt that have no name.
Best to keep silent and accept all the same.

Much is secret, with danger obscure.
Best with respect and caution endure.

Best in the secret to firmly believe
And not to poke at the growing seeds.

‘Here thought never went out searching.
All-mother, guide me with sure exhortation!’

Good to heed one’s Mother’s voice near –
wordless concern receives wordless cheer.


Pray for one thing:
deep earnestness
– that which proved fatal to many –
But pray for one more thing more,
a thing that only the strong are granted:
taciturnity of heart.

Karin Boye, 1922

-translation © David McDuff 2010