Thursday, 24 November 2011

Translation of a poem by the Swedish poet Esaias Tegnér (1782-1846)


I stood where my life’s slopes had reached their summit,
Where watercourses strain and would untwine
And with their foaming wave would downwards plummet;
There it was clear, and standing there was fine.
I gazed towards the sun and all its planets
Which, after setting, in the sky did shine;
I looked down at the earth, so green and fair,
And God was good and man was honest there.

An evil spleen-filled elf appeared, who merely
Bit without warning deep into my heart;
Lo, all at once the world was void and dreary,
And sun and stars quite suddenly went dark;
My once gay landscape lay autumnal, weary,
Each grove grew dun, each flower stem broke apart,
All vigour died within my frozen mind,
All joy, all courage shrivelled up and pined.

What’s it to me, reality’s dead matter,
So dull, oppressive and so coarsely raw?
How hope’s once rosy hue has, ah, grown flatter!
How memory once blue, ah, clouded o’er!
And poetry itself! Its idle patter,
Its tight-rope saltos I would have no more.
Its vain illusions none can satisfy,
But skimmed from surfaces of things nearby.

For you, mankind, I should be praises saying,
You in God’s image made, how apt, how true!
Two lies though you are guilty of displaying,
Woman is one and, by her, man makes two.
Of faith and honour the old song needs praying,
Best sung when we deception would pursue.
You heaven’s child! What’s true, I would maintain,
Is, branded on your brow, the mark of Cain!

So legible a mark, writ by God’s finger,
Why did I fail to notice such a sign?
Through human life a corpse-like stench does linger
Which poisons spring’s air, summer’s pomp maligns.
That smell comes from the grave and seeks to injure;
Graves are walled up, by marble guarded fine.
Alas, though, foul decay is on life’s breath,
No guard shuts out its constant reek of death.

Tell me, you watchman, how the night progresses!
Is it unceasing, will it never end?
The moon, half-eaten, through the sky’s still presses,
The tearful stars still through the heavens wend.
My pulse beats fast as in my youth’s successes,
Hours of affliction though it cannot mend.
Each pulse beat’s pain, how endless and how raw!
Oh, my poor heart, devoured and bleeding sore!

My heart? Within my breast I none discover,
’Tis but an urn wherein life’s ashes lie.
Show pity on me, Hertha, you green mother,
Oh, let that urn be buried by and by;
In air earth’s pain erodes but still will smother,
In earth, though, surely it must cease its cry,
Perhaps time’s orphan, when earth’s school is done,
Will see its father – far beyond the sun.

To see the original, go to here.

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