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Edvard Søderberg: Denmark

In Denmark you’ll find house by house,
some thousand small ones on a line,
with reddish roofs and chimney smoke
which smells of dinner time.

Some thousand yards with flowerbeds
where herbs and asters grow –
church towers behind hillsides,
and small sailboats on the fjord.

In Denmark there runs path by path
which meet up with all larger roads;
the skylark sings, the throstle too,
in May so too the cuckoo.

In Denmark whispers the green wood,
and shines the clear, bright sun –
it shines equally on livery
and poor men’s clothes, well worn.

I love these lined-up roofs
and the cabbage patches small,
the whispering forest, the glossy fjord,
the sun that shines on it all.

I love this people, the thousand small,
who in Denmark live and work –
the poor man’s cot at the beaten track
and the fishing boat on the fjord.

The thousands of people who stay and fight
though they win for themselves merely tidbits –
cursed be them who wage war on this people
to break its courage and spirit!

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 13/1-2013

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Edvard Søderberg: Death —

In the cold room where the candle
splutters in its stick,
she lies, the dead, thereon the bed
‘tween rags, covered with a sheet.

On the wall her shadow is shifting
fantastically in the gloomy stillness.
– Good, she found peace, good there’s death’s
salvation after life’s wild violence!

Good, she found peace, that this heart
which fought on and on till the end,
this poor heart, which loved and despaired,
that it one day found its end!

Good, that after life’s shame and disgrace,
its black defeats and its red lies,
after all which we come to dream and sin,
there’s a death to close our eyes!

– In the gloomy room, where the shadow shifts,
bend over the table where the candle burns,
a man with silent lips sits still,
his head on his hands he leans.

And he stares silently into the dark,
silent, tearless in the night’s stillness…
– Good, she found peace, good, there’s death’s
salvation after life’s wild violence!

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 13/1-2013

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Edvard Søderberg: Down there in the alley —

Down there in the alley life is noisy
and people yell and deal with their affairs –
Here in my wigwam all is peace and quiet,
and everything is how I want it here.

See over rooftops the clear sky –
how blue it arches, calm and clear!
And in the distance behind green woods
it winds around the fields, sincere!

Here fades the sun, the night’s stars shine,
red-golden behind my window the moon arise;
all voices are heard here so distantly
from the jolly masquerade of the masses outside.

And should it be, what easily comes,
that life brings troubles once more –
well, there is advise for all things in this world
and a pawnshop on the ground floor.

And should, one evening when it’s late,
the loneliness feel heavy –
in master Daniel’s basement barroom
the jolly men drink and party.

What more want I? Here in my wigwam
is my quiet, safe harbour-place –
so close to this world’s small affairs
and yet to the stars so highly raised.

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 13/1-2013

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Edvard Søderberg: Now it’s quiet in the alley —

Now it’s quiet in the alley,
and the evening noises cease;
the last lamp is turned off
behind the window sheets.

Come, we shall walk together
in this night, the gloomy,
while all other souls rest
and the streets glisten slightly.

I love the stillness of the night,
the stars – pale and gentle;
I love this: to live,
I love this: to strive –

To feel how the heart beats,
to feel how the blood pulses,
to breathe the smell of leafs
and the winds of summer nights!

Despite all which we’ve been through,
despite all which we’ve survived,
despite all hurts which pressed
the tears into our eyes:

How beautiful, how good to live –
to feel the blood that pulses,
to breathe the smell of leaves
and the winds of summer nights!

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 13/1-2013

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Edvard Søderberg: The Beduin —

The beduin pulls his tentpole
out of the sand and sharpens his sword;
then he travels through the desert
under the night stars’ glow.

He’s bored by the whispers of palm trees,
of the homely dishes the sight –
but out there he eyed the eagle
tighten its wings for flight.

Out there sound the songs,
and the sky is ablaze.
Then he travels ahead to the distant,
sun-red fairytale place.

And the caravan of the traders,
which rocks ahead, slow and late,
through the desert, stops recognize
the whitened bones of his fate.

I too am like the beduin
without a place to remain;
I love the unexplored paths
and the night-time’s loneliness.

I follow neither people nor flag,
I suffer no mark or shield;
never did I fight in ranks
and never I fought afield.

The salesman strokes behind counters
his mammon and drinks his wine
and judges with gentile gazes
the poor beduin.

– He uses his chalk and his pen,
the poor and pitiful man,
who never for one hour longed
for the sun-red fairy-land…

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 13/1-2013

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Edvard Søderberg: A crooked fence —

A crooked fence which wavers;
a glow of sun in green windows;
some worn-out clothes hung out to dry;
a soot-covered wall; a tree that bows –

On the stairs a girl, a beauty
from the streets, in skirt and veil,
a wagon rumbling distantly; a voice
that soothes a child who wails.

Indeed, I know this picture,
I memorize it, dreaming and awake:
the gloomy nooks and creepy gates
where trolls would hide and lurk.

This adventure-land where strange
and wondrous beings as well as dark,
mysterious and strange shadows lurked
and crept behind all sheds and gates.

Where in the darkness it laughed and whispered
with strangely quiet voices,
with evil eyes that alertly gazed
through all the gratings and doors.

Where the knights and dames of the street
and folks from all the world’s corners
partied heartily and happily
with liqueur and musicians.

– Indeed, I know this picture,
the hopeless elend’s kingdom; –
it hits me with a secret fear
and darkens all my visions…

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 13/1-2013

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Edvard Søderberg: It darkens in the alley now —

It darkens in the alley now,
the evening birds they flit
along the tiles and touch
with a smile my sweater’s sleeve

Her there, the little dark one,
whose laughter now we hear,
now she comes towards us!
Look how herself she bears.

The jacket tight in the waist,
and the hair curls on the brow –
What want you? Wait, it seems…
Did we not meet before?

Indeed, it is those looks
that cheeky laught which me greet;
it is the same brown locks,
and the same lips, the red.

Oh, we have dreamt and loved
and caressed lengthily…
Now she walks here in the street
and sells herself for money.

It darkens, the day bends,
the birds of the evening flit.
My cup was drained to the dregs,
now it’s been re-filled – with filth…

— translated by K-M SKalkenæs, 13/1-2013

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Edvard Søderberg: Here, in this silent alley…

Here in this silent alley,
with the shine of many windows,
where behind tiles and blackened roofs
the night sky’s violet glows –

Here, when the day is past
I wander in the hours of dusk,
knows all again and longs
towards a time that’s lost.

Oh, I love these hovels,
chalked and grey and blackish,
these crooked, reddish walls,
these deep and creepy gates –

Love this gloomy alley,
the distant golden heaven,
the stars behind the rooftops,
the street and the buzz thereon –

These men and these women,
these drunks and beggars;
the wild birds of the lamplight,
these madams and these players.

And I wander in this alley
listening to the evening sounds:
screams and fighting, women’s voices,
children’s cries and drinking songs.

Oh, I recognize these voices,
know them from past times;
strangel they sound in the darkness,
a wild, confused complaint that climbs.

Now defiant, now in pain,
it never stills, just like the sea –
it’s the resonance of the depths,
it is the street’s poetry…

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 13/1-2013

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Edith Södergran: Various Observations

One shouldn’t say: The All – for how can one in a single word sum up that which has no extent.

The free will is an absurd assumption, something which operates independently and on its own in an abstract room of thoughts.

The great shape-creating fantasy is an unreleased spirit, unless it is freed through painting.

The last and highest refinement of vanity is the end of all vanity, like a woman who most safely plays with a man she doesn’t need.

Open-mindedness is security in dealing with things.

There is something unsavoury about harming one’s own life.

The good ought to know how to neutralize his damaging effort through hardness.

It is among the most normal things in this, the world of vague concepts, to fight that which one doesn’t contain.

A high intelligence gives to the face something rich and mature, it is as if the fatness of the spirit rises to the face, the obesity of Minerva.

The evil are most often strong organisms, who feel restricted in their displays of temper. That the evil suffer the most isn’t true, their suffering isn’t deep, it is for them a somewhat comfortable habit.

Now the bell of patriotism hangs around the necks of everyday people as if it was their own.

Gösta Berling can manage by herself faced with a very spoiled teacher, who of his own insides is given the most exquisite spice; a centaur is then created.

The people of the great prosperity are realists and fatalists.

The task of the people-improver is not to preach moral, but to change the insides of people by changing the outer conditions for the moral health of humanity.

Moral begins where it ought to end, that is, by giving the one who longs for perfection a hint.

So far, everything has happened to individuals, the religions have, strictly speaking, only come to individuals. Now we can begin to sense the times where the mass must be influenced.

Small people are quite sensual in their way, in a jolly way that a great temper can’t stand.

One thing we have above all others – ourselves.

The most genuine ones are the ones that are the most cooperative, and the least cooperative.

All long roots of truth are suspicious, you only find truth in short, broken pieces.

Our weakness when we defend or attack always lies in the fear of failure which forces us to hasten, when it is sufficient to carelessly sprinkle a few destroyed suspicions.

One never gives up one’s inner faith – that would be one’s doom.

One doesn’t have enough character to forbid the highest expressions of the human spirit – detours are scholars, reporters etc. who make everything harmless.

We notice first the roughest part of truth, truth in itself, the most important thing – the speaker – we notice much later.

That life surrounds is and that we don’t have time for it heightens its temptations in a refined way, just like Heaven for religious people heightens the temptations of Earth.

The emptiness of life, which for people at the present time seem cloister-like, has caused a craving for amusement, the flesh that thinks itself overlooked demands its right. It would amuse a Mephistopheles to lead the headless, hunting mass off the thin ice – just once hand it the cup of complete pleasure.

If genius people wearing puritan blinders get to see the truth, they become incredibly inventive whilst trying to explain it away.

A non-religious person by nature always sympathizes a bit with Mephistopheles concerning the angelic chorus.

Religion can, through misunderstanding, become a source of culture when the religious people deaden themselves to worldly art and science, and avoid the genius influences they need.

It is so strange, the art of the aphorisms: the play with contrasts is lousy as a word pun, the truth often limited, and yet it is the attire of truth which is weaved, the truth raised above all else.

To say that one loves people is hysteria, to say one doesn’t love them is weakness – to have power to make them what they ought to be is the only right thing.

The one who isn’t yet mild himself longs more for the victory of mildness, like after something whose victory he is uncertain of and which has many enemies in himself.

The small ones are naïve and literal in their virtues, perhaps because virtue is so new to them.

A thinker of greater genius than has so far existed, would have need for fewer words than philosophers have so far used. In the future one will do a heavier and quantitatively lesser work.

Mild insomnia increases genius.

The lavishness of the proletariat is a weak life force. The proletariat is an atom of growth which the Earth asks: why do you plunder me still? The Earth loves plants who suck with deep roots.

Nobody is the master of their own star, they’re forced to follow it.

The adversary is something you get in a marriage you’ve always deserved.

If you want people to achieve something great it is less dangerous to overestimate some than to underestimate them.

The sleepwalker heads for the lottery to cash in the grand prize.

When one’s own intellect has risen high, every intellect seems distinguished whether it belongs to a human or an insect, one’s eyes are opened to the demonical of the being of intelligence entirely.

The most detestable is shown to you when something high is defiled. On such an event it once showed itself to me in dreams: I saw evil women drown little children in wooden tubs, I saw executions everywhere on the beach and ships, human hands and tree branches defiled with blood and brain material, everything so raw and detestable like you never see it in reality, but only in the enlarging mirror which an insulted, wondrous sensibility owns.

The conscious virtue, the virtue spoken of, doesn’t start till the development of the intellect. Before this everything is animalistic coincidence.

The truly declassed and outcast among people are those who have committed a mean action.

A true art critic would be a person who was able to understand the inner laws of the different art forms and art characters.

The highest we can see lies beyond evil and good, ugly and beautiful, there the highest the human spirit has created becomes small, narrow and way too human, there the things speak, future art is comical.

Nietzsche’s strength shouldn’t be sought in the strength of his voice but in the greatness streaming from his greatest experience – the eternal return.

Should every great person not, besides everything else, also have his own great fear as a certain focal point in life?

The critic is usually a person who talks for so long about a book that nobody any longer knows what it’s worth. If the criticism is to achieve its goal, the critic should decidedly, without leaving any room for doubt, say honestly what a book is. Books need trademarks, same as all other goods.

The one who has power over hearts should treat them as something holy.

The feeling of guilt is always a sure sign of a weak character, the factual guilt remains a question mark.

Most people perish because they search for something shiny and neglect the necessary. We all resemble magpies and pickerels, we grasp for what’s shiny – each in our own way.

Where the spirit is suppressed the flesh groans.

It is necessary learning to pack one’s intellectual baggage to see how elegant, well ordered and light one’s baggage is.

The greatest merit of the woman is that she has so far not provided for herself much intellectually.

Danger and uncertainty are the right elements of carefreeness, whereas civilized life is heavy to carry.

There comes a time when one tells oneself: my thoughts no longer belong to me alone, and then one devotes one’s entire life to others.

There are people to whom everything comes, and others who have the privilege of approaching everything themselves.

The three greatest gifts of life: poverty, loneliness, suffering, only the sage values according to their actual great value.

Poems about the cosmos could be but a whisper.

Does something more marvelous exist than the cheeky, divine fairytale-like force of Napoleon?

A real man needs no name, he comes, sees and wins.

What we need right now is the naughtiest person who ever answered the name of Napoleon.

The one who isn’t a man of actions says that the masses smell bad, but Napoleon has no nose and the waves carry him.

Every time a narrow feeling envelops you, you must transform it into a vast one.

Where beauty is missing, all graces take each other by the hands and flee. Then justice takes the place of love, and duty the place of royal inclinations.

It is not necessary to pray, you just look up at the stars and get the feeling of falling to the ground in wordless worship.

The great innate outer elegance, which is as rare as great physical beauty, is accompanied by an inner gentility, a delicacy in every action and movement! These people feel themselves as rulers and are also recognized as such by others.

A humanity as pure as flowers is the ideal of the future.

One doesn’t ask whether God exists or not, one simply puts one’s small intelligence aside.

The prejudice against God is the one that is the most difficult to overcome.

The houses we live in are ancient huts in comparison with the idea of a human dwelling which we carry within ourselves.

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, December 2012

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Edith Södergran: Thoughts on Nature

Life and death we see with our eyes, they’re sun and moon.

Through the All run the sun’s life-giving, the moon’s killing and the globes subjected to life and death.

Around all the diseased the moon spins its net, until the Full Moon comes a beautiful night to fetch it.

Dying natural children love death, they long for the moment the moon takes them.

Nature is used to death, it experiences it every night. It submits itself with equal ease to the enchantments of the sun and of the moon.

Death is a sweet poison – rot, but there is nothing unhealthy about death. Nature is health itself and considers death every bit as healthy as life.

In rot lies the highest beauty and the Devil is God’s highest goodness. Admirable is the rapid work of destruction in the autumn.

Nature is under God’s protection. The Devil has no power over nature. Nature is God’s beloved.

If we don’t become natural children, we don’t get to go to Heaven. For the religious, secrets are secrets about nature. They don’t thrive in Jewish temples, but they got along fine with the unknowing child who understood the lilies of Saron.

Nature’s way to God is the direct, eternal and objective, without outer chance.

The human heart seeking God must fight the subjectivity, for the heart begins beyond subjectivity.
But Nature’s way is protected.

— translated by K-M SKalkenæs, December 2012

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Edith Södergran: The Land Which Is Not

For a more consistent reading experience; visit this collection at ScandiPoetry.com which is another website run by me and explicitly dedicated to my translations of Gustaf Munch-Petersen and Edith Södergran.

‘The Land Which Is Not’ was a work in progress at the time of Södergran’s death in 1923 and was published posthumously in 1925 – therefore it is shorter and more fragmented than the other collections. Some of the poems in this collection were written as early as 1916 while others were written very shortly before her death. They have been arranged in chronological order.

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Edith Södergran: The Rose Altar

For a more consistent reading experience; visit this collection at ScandiPoetry.com which is another website run by me and explicitly dedicated to my translations of Gustaf Munch-Petersen and Edith Södergran.

Most of the poems in the collection were written within a year – between Summer 1918 and Spring 1919. A few of them were intended to be published with her previous collection ‘The September Lyre’, but were refused inclusion there.

While the topic of this collection is similar to the last, its tone is warmer and less tense.

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Edith Södergran: The September Lyre

For a more consistent reading experience; visit this collection at ScandiPoetry.com which is another website run by me and explicitly dedicated to my translations of Gustaf Munch-Petersen and Edith Södergran.

This, contrary to Södergran’s first collection, was published upon demand in 1918.

The main topic of this collection was her self-perception, coming to term with her illness as well as herself as a literary figure.

Moreover, this is the collection where it was first becoming obvious that she counted Nietzsche among her influencers.

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Edith Södergran: Poems

For a more consistent reading experience; visit this collection at ScandiPoetry.com which is another website run by me and explicitly dedicated to my translations of Gustaf Munch-Petersen and Edith Södergran.

This was Södergran’s literary debut. Published just in time for Christmas 1916 (on the condition that the publisher couldn’t guarantee her any payment) the primary topic is the change in the perception of women that was characteristic at the time.

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Gustaf Munch-Petersen: Nineteen Poems

For a more consistent reading experience; visit this collection at ScandiPoetry.com which is another website run by me and explicitly dedicated to my translations of Gustaf Munch-Petersen and Edith Södergran.

‘Nineteen Poems’ was the last collection Gustaf Munch-Petersen wrote before he left home to fight in the Spanish Civil War. It came after a hiatus from writing sparked, presumably, by the lack of interest in his previous collections.

‘Nineteen Poems’ marks a shift in direction from his deep-dive into surrealism, to a sober, modernist and minimalist observation. The name itself indicates the shift. ‘Nineteen Poems’ is exactly what it claims to be: a mature, sober poetry collection consisting of nineteen poems.

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Gustaf Munch-Petersen: Towards Jerusalem

For a more consistent reading experience; visit this collection at ScandiPoetry.com which is another website run by me and explicitly dedicated to my translations of Gustaf Munch-Petersen and Edith Södergran.

Known as “the strangest poetry collection in Danish literature”, this is the climax of Munch-Petersen’s surrealism. This is where the poet took his experimentation to the limits, and was discarded by the critics in the process.

Where content is concerned, there’s stille the same yearning for the Utopia of ‘The Lowest Country’. The Utopia, he felt, would have to be realized through the brother-/sister-hood he observed among the lower strata of society.

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Gustaf Munch-Petersen: The Lowest Country

For a more consistent reading experience; visit this collection at ScandiPoetry.com which is another website run by me and explicitly dedicated to my translations of Gustaf Munch-Petersen and Edith Södergran.

This collections has come to be the most famous (or infamous) of Munch-Petersen*s production.

The young man of the first collection (‘naked human’) has found his mission in life: To free humanity and lead them to ‘the lowest country’, in effect a Utopia.

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Gustaf Munch-Petersen: naked human

For a more consistent reading experience; visit this collection at ScandiPoetry.com which is another website run by me and explicitly dedicated to my translations of Gustaf Munch-Petersen and Edith Södergran.

Just twenty years old at the time it was published, Munch-Petersen had even written some of these poems while still attending high school.

The collection enjoyed moderate success although critics at the time were outraged by his complete disregard for grammar and punctuation – one might say, in hindsight, that he was simply too far ahead of his time for the literary establishment of the day.

The collection describes a young man (the author himself) who is in effect a rebel without a cause. He wants to change something but is not yet entirely aware of what that might be. The passion, however, is undeniable.

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Paraphrase over Novalis: ‘An Jeanette’

English

Just take my books – my rhymes –
my home if you should want it.
Just take my sleep and dreams as well
so as easier to haunt it.

Should anything be left behind –
some bit of mind or faith and vows;
just have it. What more could you want
my love; my heart has long been yours.

Danish

Tag du mine bøger – mine rim –
mit hjem endda hvis det er hvad du vil,
og tag min søvn og mine drømmes spind
så de fra nu af hører kun dig til.

Og skulle noget stadig stå tilbage –
en rest af håb og tro – som stadig mit;
så tag det? Ønsker du dig stadig mere?
Min elskede; mit hjerte er dog allerede dit!

— paraphrased by K-M Skalkenæs, 12/12-2016

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Friedrich Rückert: Kindertotenlieder

You are a shadow at day
and in the night a light;
you live in my laments
and in my heart survive.

Where I should pitch my tent,
you live there with me tight;
You are a shadow at day
and in the night a light.

And anywhere I ask of you
I hear about your life,
you live in my laments
and in my heart survive.

You are a shadow at day,
yet in the night a light;
you live in my laments
and in my heart survive.

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, January 2014
Note: I couldn’t bring myself to translate the title, since nothing worked quite as strongly in English as the original German.

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Goethe: To the Absent One

So I’ve truly lost you, dear one?
Have you truly from me flown?
In my accustomed ears still sound
your every word, its every tone.

Alike the wanderer in the morning
who vainly gazes skywards,
when in the vast blue realm, hiding,
he hears the singing of the lark:

Such wanders here and there, restless,
my gaze across the land;
to you sounds all my songs, my dearest;
please come back to me again!

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 31/1-2013

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Goethe: Near the Beloved

I think of you, when the sunlight’s glitter
shines on the sea;
I think of you, when I the moonlight’s glimmer
in twilight see.

I see you there, when on the distant roads
the dust arise;
In deepest night, when on the bridges narrow
the wanderer cries.

And too I hear you, when the wave cries out,
roaring violent;
in silent woods I listening walked about
when all was silent.

I am with you, however far you seem.
You’re near to me!
The sun sinks, soon the stars will gleam.
Were you with me!

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 29/1-2013

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Goethe: First Loss

Oh! who brings the lovely days,
those days of my first love,
Oh! who can bring, an hour only
to me of that precious time!

I now nurture my wounds lonely,
lament in continuous days,
dreams of the lost joys sublime.

Oh! who can bring those lovely days,
bring back that precious time!

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 16/3-2013

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Goethe: Blessed Longing

Tell no-one, except the Sages,
for the Mass will scorn my song,
among the living I shall praise
the one who for fire-death long.

In the coolness of the love-nights,
which begat what you begot,
you’re overcome with foreign feelings
when the candle-lights burn hot.

You’re no longer kept imprisoned
by this life-times gloomy shadows,
in you rise a newborn vision;
mating of a higher sort.

No difficulty lies in distance,
now you’re soaring spell-bound,
and in the end, the light desiring
you will, butterfly, be burned.

And as long as you have not
this tried: To die and be!
you will be on this dark Earth
a gloomy guest only.

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 31/1-2012

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Evening Prayers – translated from Danish

770. Tired, Now I Go To Bed

Tired, now I go to bed,
resting on the pillow my head;
Father, look with endless love
down to my bed from above!

Dear God, if I have today
against your commandments strayed,
be then gracious, be then good,
erase it with Jesus’ blood!

Look to us, oh Lord, be kind,
look to us, who share one mind,
place then your angelic host
around the world from coast to coast!

Those who’s sick at heart, stand by,
close then every tired eye,
give us all then restful peace
through our faith in Jesus Christ.

— Translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 24/4-2012
Original: Luise Hensel 1817, Kristian Arentzen 1846.

 

789. Now Closes Fast My Eye

Now closes fast my eye,
God, Father in the high,
protect me in my sleep!
Through sorrow, sin and dangers
your angel with me lingers
who guides my feet and does me keep.

— Translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 24/5-2012
Original: Peter Foersom 1813.

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Danish Folk Song: In the Woodland’s Depth and Quietness

In the woodland’s depth and quietness
where armies of singers rest,
where the soul have listened often-long
to the birds and their happy song.
There is such idyllic peacefulness
in the woodland’s loneliness,
and the longings of the heart end here
where peace and rest are near.

Hear the village bell begins to toll,
announcing the evening’s fall.
Little mockingbirds before their rest
still twitter a little bit.
In the marsh the loud quark of a frog,
now steams the field and bog.
With the bell’s silencing, evening brings
its peace as it slowly sinks.

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 14/5-2013

Original: I skovens dybe stille ro
Text by: Fritz Andersen, 1864

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Hermann Hesse: In Darkness

Strange in darkness to wander!
Lonely is every bush and stone,
no tree sees another,
every one’s alone.

My world was full of friendships
back when my life was light,
now that the darkness sets
there’s no-one left in sight.

Truly wise is no-one
who doesn’t know by heart
the unavoidable gloom
that quietly sets him apart.

Strange in darkness to wander!
Life is to be alone.
No person knows another,
every one’s alone.

— translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 17/1-2014

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Theodor Storm: The Town

At greyish beach, by greyish sea
and off track lies the town;
the darkness press roofs heavily
and through the silence roars the sea
monotone through the town.

Here sighs no wood, nor sings nearby
the birds in month of May;
the wandering geese with their sharp cry
alone in harvest nights pass by,
on the beach grasses sway.

Still clings all of my heart to you,
you grey town by the sea;
the youthful magic through and through
rests smilingly on you, on you,
you grey town by the sea.

— Translated by K-M Skalkenæs, 14/12-2012

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Introduction

That the following pieces of writing are named “essays” should be understood in the broadest possible sense of the word. Attempts at organizing my thoughts about various topics that’s one way or another related to art.

I have attempted to select and compile the following pieces several times, and it has taken me years to come up with the final version. It has been difficult for two reasons; 1) Because the scope broadened over time, from a narrow focus on poetry to a much broader scope hinting at art in general, and 2) Because every time I thought I had compiled the final version, I found myself writing new additions afterwards. I hope this will be the final “final version”. More or less.

Mind you, I can only write from my own point of view, and that is the point of view of a writer and an artist. Naturally, that influences my conclusions and my choice of topics. A literary critic would undoubtedly have approached the matter differently, and so too would an academic. I am neither. I very rarely entangle myself in theories – only when necessary to clear things up, as you will see. I prefer writing based on personal experiences I have had during the course of my work, and only expounding upon things that it is important for me to consider and express – as the following pages will show.

So be patient with the over-spilling mind of this artist. And do not search for truth and closure in the following essays – they are merely attempts at organizing my own thoughts about things that concern me and/or are directly related to my career. Consider them inputs to the millennia-old debate of the role and goal of art in itself, and art in society.

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Artistic Identification

A debate has been raging lately about identity in art. Can an artist portray someone from whose ethnic group / gender one doesn’t belong? Is is permissible to even do that? Doesn’t it further stereotypes? Doesn’t it further bias? Isn’t it implicitly sexist or racist to even think one is allowed to do such a thing in the first place?
I’ve had enough of this debate. I propose a whole other distinction. How about we identify as artists first, and everything else second? That way the problem is automatically solved! Or better yet; can’t we just agree that we’re all at least human, flaws and differences aside?
But I guess that’s too simplistic a solution for the vast majority of the human race – which is why they can’t agree on the topic.
I don’t care if a man tries to write a book from a woman’s perspective. If anything, it might teach him something. He might not necessarily get it right – in which case I can laugh it off and pick up another book. No problem. But I also refuse to write from a man’s perspective in a feeble attempt to encourage more men to read me. It doesn’t matter to me if other women do that though – that’s their choice. The main point should be the quality of the book, and the depth and strength of the questions raised by it. Not either the author or the narrators respective genders or races.
I myself prefer writing based on personal experience. But that isn’t to say that there can’t be valid reasons for adopting the perspective of others. To broaden one’s horizon. To attempt understanding. Isn’t it better to at least try, and maybe get it wrong, rather than being too afraid to broach the topic? I think it is.I think art could be a useful tool for promoting understanding – if artists aren’t threatened into only writing about themselves. If one does that, it should reflect an active choice of the artist, and not coercion by society.
I would like to think that we could at some point move past these discussions altogether and focus on the content instead – but the rest of the world never ceases to disappoint me in said regard.

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Writing vs Programming

SInce I wrote my first line of code I have been torn between writing and programming. Torn between the code and the fiction. Felt that if I spent more time on one, the other would suffer. Desperately tried to balance them out, and felt exhausted and confused at the end of the day because I wanted to do both but just didn’t have enough hours in the day.
But in reality, that was a meaningless confusion. Staring myself blind at a distinction that doesn’t really exist, or need to exist.
What I initially failed to realize, is that programming is also very creative. And the process behind writing a program and – say – a poem, is actually very similar.

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The Word “Why”

When hearing that I write poetry, most people immediate degrade it to a “hobby”, or ask whether I have been published, or whether I am studying literature.

Why instead not ask what I write? Why I write? What I get out of writing? Whether writing has enriched my life? Whether I feel that I get something out of writing that no other thing on Earth could give me – money included?

Why not rather ask whether I am writing because I like writing, instead of immediately assuming that I write to be published?

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On My Progress As A Poet

I set myself up to the task of writing this essay in 2013 after spending two days editing my earliest poems and being deeply disappointed by them. I thought them genius when I wrote them (which is also why I published them of course), but in 2013 I found most of them just barely passable. That was when I realized that I needed to assess how I have developed as a poet over the years in order to determine what I have actually gotten out of the process of writing. I returned and re-wrote this essay in 2017 to include the “conclusion” that was my newer works and the return to writing in my own language rather than English.

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To Sign or Not To Sign

I am frequently asked to sign my paintings. I don’t want to. It’s not that I can’t understand that the person who gets the painting would want it signed – I mean, it is more convenient for them. But it takes something out of the final product for me.

Supposedly it should be a great feeling for an artist to sign a product. It would finish it definitively, and clear it from the mind’s eye. However, it doesn’t function that way for me. For me, a signature is the sign of death and decay. It is a sign you mark a thing with to declare that it is all downhill from here – no further development is allowed, and from now on the object has been written off by its creator.

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Poetry Today – the Potential

There has been a lot of discussion about the validity of poetry in today’s society. A lot of good, although obvious, points have been made by poetry enthusiasts and poets who defend the claim that we continue to be creative and imaginative and thereby continue to need an outlet (ie: poetry), and that we always have, and probably always will, continue to explore the possibilities of various types of artforms. Being a poet, I do not disagree with these statements. I whole-heartedly embrace them. I have, however, noticed the lack of certain arguments in the debate, that I per se consider very basic and obvious, but which haven’t yet been put forward by another poet that I have heard of. Therefore this essay.

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Of the Increased Digitalization of Art

This is an important topic to address, and it is only natural that so many people have done it already. Technically it is unnecessary for me to add my thoughts to the lot, but since it is inevitably on my mind, I’ll do it anyway. The topic is of course what consequences digitalization has for art, generally speaking. And it is a large topic and difficult to address with any accuracy, but I shall endeavor. In order to do this I will necessarily have to express myself concisely, so forgive me for the slightly compressed nature of the following.

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Art Through Participation

In the past, art has been the work of one artist, and it has been supposed to conclude in a final ”work” that was unalterable and meant for display only. But times have changed, and they keep on changing. Today, there is no rule stating that art has to result in a “work”. Technically, art can be an ongoing process. The internet has made it possible to get feedback faster and from a much wider audience, and the artists who use this venue for publication could easily use it to expand on their work over time, and change it according to the audience’s wishes. Technology makes it possible to change the perspective, the means and the goals of art altogether.

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Relics From the Past

I generally dislike talking about two things: Sentimentality in poetry, and my gender. Putting both in the same essay is, as far as my own mind is concerned, an explosive cocktail. I dislike it beyond explaining, but I nonetheless feel that it is necessary to discuss. What exactly? The difficulties of writing poetry that is not coloured by nostalgia and sentimentality – and the added burden of having to fight these things all the more because people already find it difficult to take your writings seriously because of your gender, and because of your gender specifically looks for emotional outbursts in everything you write – causing an extra burden to be placed on you, because you have to be extra careful about everything you publish. I think this says it all.

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Of My “Fiction”

I am basically not as imaginative as people might think when reading my fiction. I do not “invent” fiction – I only fictionalize reality.

I think the biggest barrier I had to overcome when I started writing prose fiction rather than pure poetry, was that I had the ideal of thinking up fiction, which was something I never succeeded at. It wasn’t till I realized that the best pieces of fiction ever written are based on real events (however fictionally coated afterwards) that I actually managed to write anything worthwhile. My short stories have come into being based on this principle: Real events, coated with fiction to a smaller or larger extent depending on their individual nature.

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Poetry and Tarot Cards

Much has been said about the revelatory nature of poetry and tarot cards. I am to say yet more, and I intend specifically to comment on their similarities.

It is no new thought to most of us that poetry is revelatory, although we may not consciously think about it every time we read a poem. With tarot cards however, that is especially key; we know it and we expect it to be revelatory.

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Why My Sight Is An Advantage

Most people who have the benefit of the full use of their senses are using them quite superficially. Ask them to look at something, and they will only award the object a quick glance – just long enough to classify it inside their brains without actually being able to distinguish it from the general idea of the category they have mechanically placed it into. And if you thereafter ask them to draw the object, the result will at the very best be a stylized and most unnatural sketch, which shows little to no knowledge at all about either symmetry or proportions – far less the look of the object in question.

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Art and Memory

Art is a creation that is based on human memory, which is, as you already know, imperfect and highly selective. Why claim that artists “lie”? They can’t wring more out of themselves than what they are given to work with. Our memories are selective, and so art becomes selective. Our memories do not always preserve all details, and so art leaves out things as well. Our memories may trick us – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It might cause us to see things in a different light, and that might turn out to be exactly the light we need in order to understand something.

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A Note on the Nature of Art

Art is merely a form of communication. Each form of art a different form of communication. But still just forms of communication. And it is the thing communicated that matters; not really the way in which it is communicated.

All the myths about the artist as a divinely inspired presence are utterly useless. Artists are (at best) skilled and have practice in perceiving and passing on information, but they are not extraordinary in any other way. Every person, I believe, is born with the ability to do what I do, but most choose to focus on other matters. That doesn’t make me particularly extraordinary. I am just a person who follows my inclination towards creating artwork, perhaps in the foolish hope that other people will someday come to understand what I mean by it, despite the fact that I don’t even always know the meaning myself.

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On the Fjord

Early morning on the fjord. The fishing boat cutting slowly and surely through the still water. Only the humming of the engine to be heard. The mist trailing on the surface, swirling around the boat on both sides, making it difficult to see the buoys and the flags. Difficult finding the nets. But they have to be found or the fish will die for lack of food.
The sun not yet warming. The cold of the night still lingering. The moon’s sickle still visible above the horizon too, but hard to see through the mist. The splashing of the water.

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Dystopia anno 20**

I.

It was a cold autumn day in-between late summer and the rainy season. The smell of rain was in the air, and the overcast sky already threatened with it, but it hadn’t started yet and could easily drag out for days. The buildings looked sharp in the grey light. A 3D animation printed onto the fabric of reality. Only the wind disturbed the image somewhat by ruffling the trees and sighing repeatedly. A few trees were yellow and red but most were still green and the orchard still showed the surreally red spots of forgotten, ripe apples there was nobody to pick.
And so the scene is set for the story.

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A Tale of Modern Paganism

There were days when the paganism of her ancestors came back to life inside her.
There were days when the cherry wine was a welcome friend.
But there were also days when it didn’t work as well as it ought to.
There were days when she didn’t need it at all – where she was one with the world around her, one with the permeating universal energy and felt the breath of the Universe itself in the wind and heard its voice in the rustling leaves, and let her body dissolve happily into the fabric it was a part of.
On those days she didn’t need the cherry wine.
But then there were other days.

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A Woman’s Story

The stomach got in our way, so to speak. This grotesque inflation. I couldn’t look at it. I felt my own stomach twist and turn. I couldn’t look at it.
She hugged me tightly as if nothing had happened and chirped happily.
“Oh, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you. What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you since graduation. Where are you living now? Oh, you must come and visit me one of these days now you’re in town anyway – do come! I haven’t seen you since… Oh, we have so much to talk about!”

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Understanding Others

The centrifugal force of words washed over her, swirled around her, made her dizzy. ‘But that’s what shrinks do’, she figured, watching with increasing numbness as the man’s lips kept moving, making words that increasingly seemed to dissipate and dissolve as they emerged into sound, ‘they talk and they talk and they talk until you barely know your own name anymore, and then they demand answers that you never had in the first place. And when you fail to answer, they’ll force an answer upon you, believing that they know all there is to know about you after reading a textbook. And at that point you’ve become too weakened by the sheer force of their words to even bother protesting.’

She thought of her childhood, as she was asked to do. But she didn’t see the connections she was told to look for. Rather, she saw glimpses of a world she could hardly believe had ever existed and didn’t feel like it held much connection to the present at all.
Sweet glimpses of herself gathering seashells, watering plants, jumping in rain puddles. Singing.
Sad glimpses of herself running away from the tears and the screaming, her mother’s furious face and foaming mouth that she didn’t understand what had caused – only knowing that she somehow got the blame.
Bittersweet glimpses of herself learning to pretend and lie since nobody cared anyway. The bottles she hid in her home. The scars she hid under her sleeves. The soothing calm of a whole bottle after work – the feeling of weightlessness. Not having to care anymore.

She thought of it all and understood less and less as she did so. But telling that to a complete stranger who seemed to have made up his conclusions in advance didn’t seem to make much sense.

She thought of all the people she thought was her friends, or hoped might become her friends. The people she grew up with. Today they were in the midst of careers and babies and living lives she didn’t understand while she felt like dissolving. She didn’t understand other people. She didn’t feel like pretending to understand them anymore. Illogical creatures, the lot of them. But what did logical thinking ever bring her, besides a free ticket to the torture that was this room, and this talking machine sitting across from her, still moving his lips.

‘Did you have a good childhood?’
‘Sometimes, I guess.’

‘Did you have friends in school?’
‘Some, I guess.’

‘How do you feel about your family?’
‘That’s difficult to say.’

‘What do you want in life?’
‘A life?’

A life. A goal. Meaning. Help. Guidance.

But since nobody ever offers me that…

Peace. To close my eyes and never open them again. To sleep and never wake up.

But you were offered help?
No, I was only offered words.

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HER 1: Waiting for Her

I.

It was raining as usual. Since autumn set in the rain had been almost constant. She had hardly seen the sun in over three weeks.
All the same, the weather fit her mood.
She was waiting for the bus. It felt to her as if all she had ever done in her life was waiting. For the bus. For Her. For the bus again. Benching. Waiting for the bus. Waiting for Her. Benching. Waiting. For Her.
The rain weighed down her otherwise fluffy hair, and the drops on her glasses made it impossible for her to see. She took them off. Not that it helped in the least bit. It just made the world blurry instead of blotched.

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HER 3: The Art of Knowing

That head reminded her of something. Something she knew she’d seen before, but at the moment she wasn’t able to accurately match it with anything in her memory. All the same, that ruffled golden hair in front of her seemed familiar. So familiar that she felt like stretching out her hand to touch it, even though she knew that the owner would probably throw a fit if she were to act on her desire.
The head turned slightly when the owner motioned to look out of the bus window. It belonged to a young woman with milk-and-honey skin and long eyelashes. A ripple of sobbing motions ran through her mind. That woman reminded her of someone, but of whom? When she turned her head a whiff of perfume was blown in her direction – sweet, flowery stuff. Like a large bouquet she just wanted to bury her head in to better sense the full fragrance of the moment. The sweet smell mixing with the humid, dank smell coming from everyone else on the bus. The smell of rain.
The young woman got off the bus at the business college. The moment’s gone, she thought to herself as the bus rode on, leaving another nameless passenger behind in the rain. She felt like crying. She had a feeling that she too had left someone behind in the rain somewhere. In fact, it all seemed so familiar to her, as if it had happened before.

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You Can’t Drown

The voice spoke loud and clear to me though no-one could have spoken it. No-one could have because my head was under water and it isn’t possible to speak down there. Your hearing is magnified but your speech vaporizes and comes out in practically voiceless bubbles if you are to attempt. It is such a relief. One of the bonuses of diving, at least for someone like me who isn’t much of a talker even on the best of days.
And yet this voice came and spoke to me underwater. I could hear the distant, rhythmic thumping of a boat motor, and the vague echo of the movements of the other divers, but apart from that all was still. And then it came. It was loud, it was clear, and it was decided. “You can’t drown!”

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