Ten poems by Swedish author Karin Boye, from the book Complete Poems, tr. David McDuff (1994)
INWARDS (Clouds, 1922)
and my truth
in a strange hour.
and commands were silent.
Good and evil
my soul forgot.
and my truth
in the hour of my angxiety.
was salt darkness,
Deeply I shook.
Naked I stood,
washed by waves
of cold truth,
contemptuous truth –
and my God.
SONGS ABOUT FATE (Hidden Lands, 1924)
Fate is a desert.
God dwells in its sand.
If you seek your Sinai
you receive his command.
Fate is a strip of land
with many stones spread.
Happy he that endures:
he shall earn bread.
Into heaven’s halls
no one goes before
he has stepped unafraid
through Fate’s door.
You know you bear a shackle
and hear the chain rattle.
But one who hammers hard and long
Can make a shield of its metal.
You know you bear a poison.
But all death’s juices
becme in a wise and careful hand
kind healing forces.
You think you bear a cross,
but it’s a tool, you know.
Your life’s the material. Look here, take hold,
and let the martyr go!
Wish for nothing that others have had:
all happens one single time.
Wish for nothing that some bard
has sung in his loveliest rhyme.
One star-bright night, when you lie awake,
Fate will knock at your door
and seek you with eyes of colour strange,
which no one spoke of before.
She fell like dew from the air,
from the bosom of space she came,
and no one, no one has met her gaze,
and no one has given her a name.
To you she has come from Nothing’s land,
she has been created for you,
and no one, no one in age upon age
has kissed her lips more than you.
I WANT TO MEET… (The Hearths, 1927)
Armed, erect and and closed in armour
forth I came –
but of terror was the mail-coat cast,
and of shame.
I want to drop my weapons,
sword and shield.
All that hard hostility
made me cold.
I have seen the dry seeds
grow at last.
I have seen the bright green
spread out fast.
Mightier than iron
is life’s tenderness,
driven forth from the earth’s heart
The spring dawns in winter’s regions,
where I froze.
I want to meet life’s powers
THE WORLD IS DREAMT… (The Hearths, 1927)
The world is dreamt by a sleeping god,
and the dawn’s shiverings moir‚ his soul.
The memories of things that happened yesterday,
before the world was there,
That in whose being we have no part
meets us where the way bends,
it breathes a horror that is not ours,
from the limits far away,
from worlds with other laws.
Sleep, sleep heavier, slumberer,
until the dream torments you no more,
or waken to the day, creator,
and make us real!
THE WORLD’S HEART (The Hearths, 1927)
Say, where does the world’s heart burn,
the world’s heart of fire?
It lives on coarse, heavy prehistoric coal:
black darkness, dense night, Chaos.
For thus is the nature of fire:
strong with its foe’s struggle –
itself a struggle, glowing struggle –
has no other nature.
And the victory? When the darkness has disappeared in
Is the victory death?
Empty question and empty fear!
The world’s heart is fire,
and fire wants to conquer.
THE STONES (The Hearths, 1927)
God had given us heavy souls of stone.
Then we stood on the shore of the sea,
where the sunbeams leapt, where the foam danced, where the gulls sailed in light.
Then we hurled the stones in a game of dying. One must do something with stones.
They grazed the surface, they bounded in arcs, they glided
over the deep like winds!
And happy is our sleep: it is touched by wings, by swallows that hurtle over the water.
WALPURGIS NIGHT (For The Tree’s Sake, 1935)
At last I stand near the mountain of the fates.
All around like stormclouds
crowd formless beings, creatures of the twilight,
Shall I stay? Shall I go? The road lies dark.
If I stay peacefully here at the foot of the mountain,
then no one will touch me.
Calmly I can see their struggle like a play of the mist in the
myself merely a lost eye.
But if I go, if I go, then I shall know nothing more.
For the one who takes those steps
life becomes legend.
I shall ride on coiling snakes of fire.
I shall fly on winged wind-dragons.
myself lost in the storm
I shall fling myself forth dead or living, a fate future-heavy.
YES, OF COURSE IT HURTS (For The Tree’s Sake, 1935)
Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking.
Why else would the springtime falter?
Why would all our ardent longing
bind itself in frozen, bitter pallor?
After all, the bud was cover all the winter.
What new thing is it that bursts and wears?
Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking,
hurts for that which grows
and that which bars.
Yes, it is hard when drops are falling.
Trembling with fear, and heavy hanging,
cleaving to the twig, and swelling, sliding –
weight draws them down, though they go on clinging.
Hard to be uncertain, afraid and divided,
hard to feel the depths attract and call,
yet sit fast and merely tremble –
hard to want to stay
and want to fall.
Then, when things are worst and nothing helps
the tree’s buds break as in rejoicing,
then, when no fear holds back any longer,
down in glitter go the twig’s drops plunging,
forget that they were frightened by the new,
forget their fear before the flight unfurled –
feel for a second their greatest safety,
rest in that trust
that creates the world.
A STILLNESS EXPANDED (For The Tree’s Sake, 1935)
A stillness expanded, soft as sunny winter forests.
How did my will grow sure and my way obedient to me?
I carried in my hand an etched bowl of ringing glass.
Then my foot became so cautious and will not stumble.
Then my hand became so careful and will not tremble.
Then I was flooded over and carried by the strength from fragile
RIPE AS A FRUIT (For The Tree’s Sake, 1935)
Ripe as a fruit the world lies in my lap,
it ripened last night,
and its rind is the thin blue membrane that stretches
and its juice is the sweet and fragrant, streaming, burning
torrent of sunlight.
And out into the transparent universe I leap like a swimmer,
submerged in a baptism of ripeness and born to a power of
Consecrated to action,
light as a burst of laughter
I cleave a golden sea of honey that desires my hungry hands.
About the book
- Bloodaxe Books, 1994, tr. David McDuff , 208 p. Goodreads
- My rating: 4 stars