6.04.2017

"The Words of Svend Herlufsen" by Knut Hamsun

 my translation of "Svend Herlufsens Ord" from Det Vilde Kor, 1904

I
My beloved is like this I say

In the East Indies lives a predatory spider,
a creature the color of a red orchid.
In the middle of the day it lies about contorted,
with legs spread wide and belly up it lays there.
Motionless, the spider seems dead.

The butterfly knows nothing of the spider,
and down to the red orchid he flutters on a whim,
just a beautiful flower laying below him.
The butterfly will not fly back up from there.
Into the arms of death he flew.

The orchid will go on laying there, unmoving as before.
To it new butterflies will come and die, always more.
And after each the flower will again unmoving lay.

My beloved is like this I say.


II
Do you want to know

Do you want to know that love that only she can profess
and how hot your own fire will burn when awakened?
Then seize her and hold her to your wicked breast
— that is, if she allows herself to be taken.

Do you want to know how to keep her love for you
and how to stop her from ever leaving?
Then grip her by the arm, never let her out of view,
and with your whip give her a beating.


III
I have this

I have this: a single thought pursues me,
an odd pain pulsing in my forehead,
the coming breakdown of my sanity.
Through my veins a fiery waltz spreads
and beneath my feet the floor turns red —
The chimney is howling — the Devil howling with glee,
and the fire leaves a strange soot instead.

Dear God! I hurry to the room above,
I stand and look out for the moon there,
and I see only the face of a dove,
crouched and curled up without a care.
Together we two coo blindly as a pair.
With the fire dead came the darkness I've such fear of.
My heart was left red and rough and bare.

And it was a mighty love for her I did declare,
As my bride at my side she was a godsend.
But what happened ended our joyful affair:
In the dirt I now grovel, to her I attend,
Upon her I rely as upon God I depend,
all in vain . . . . . To Hell with this despair!
Will that howling in the chimney never end!


IV
See, the night is life

Listen to how it rumbles on a calm night!
Put an ear to the earth and hear it played:
an insistent sound, familiar yet slight,
a tone that does not fade.
But what is it? Maybe like fermenting wine its sound.
No. More a seething and dissolving and corroding underground
— Or upon the world a kind of scratching made.

What — is it for that silence of night you wait,
where the spring and life itself has its seat?
It comes as a quivering struggle boundless and great,
the animals appearing to meet and greet.
There in their chicanery, chiding and cheating
their testing, tormenting and entreating,
as eye to eye they mate in heat.

At midnight a wanderer makes his escape,
such is your blessed right.
A wound is a wound, and this but a scrape,
a minor change to your plight.
You patch yourself up with laments and prayers,
and drink yourself drunk with despair
— Only then do you feel contrite.

You come upon a procession you will forever remember —
for where are these creatures headed so fast?
To the observer, it is horses ridden along together,
in all their knowing honor stomping past.
— See, the night is life and it is ruled by women,
and men are but oxen over the earth driven
by that tone pulsing on to the last.

5.13.2017

"In One Hundred Years All Is Forgotten" by Knut Hamsun

my translation of "Om Hundrede Aar Er Alting Glemt" from Det Vilde Kor, 1904

Tonight I'm adrift, conflicted, and in doubt,
I feel like a capsized boat,
and for all I suffer and moan about
I have found no antidote.
    But why should I feel so rotten?
    In one hundred years all is forgotten.

I sing songs and prance about in pride
and live my life as a beautiful novel.
Like a full-grown troll I eat at God's side
and drink like the Devil's apostle.
    But why act in ways so misbegotten?
    In one hundred years all is forgotten.

It is best to end this struggle without delay
and into the sea with my tormented soul I will head.
There the world will find me one day
by the bitterest of drownings dead.
    But why come to an end so ill-gotten?
    In one hundred years all is forgotten.

No, it is better to wander about and stay alive
and write a new book every year
and for the noblest lines continue to strive
until I die a writer of great revere.
    If that's all there is, where then do I begin:
    In one hundred years all is forgotten.

** Previously translated in free verse here 

4.29.2017

"A Consideration" by Knut Hamsun

my translation of "Betragtning" from Det Vilde Kor, 1904

These Muslims should be shamed for their profane talk,
by we who here follow the Protestant or Catholic walk.
Their God they call Allah, their Bible the Quran,
a Devil they have too, but without any fans.

Our Christ learned from them they claim,
and in place of Christ their Muhammad came.
By that "hypocrite" and "viper" they in heaven are received.
Ha ha, in what nonsense these Muslims believe!

If they are to be saved there is just one way,
become sheep in Christ's flock, to them I say.
For what are your Mosques? Build churches instead.
A heathen receives no salvation when dead.

Will they learn anything from what I here argue for?
No. To these pagans we are "Christian dogs," nothing more.
That I believe not in the Quran they judge me brazen
to have a faith so blind as beyond all imagination.

But watch how God becomes angry. Persecution He does not tolerate.
Muhammad, the Quran and Allah himself He then sets straight.
And thereafter door to door through Muslim lands He goes
meting out upon them a boundless justice as only He knows.

This text at a Sunday sermon would find its place,
for Muslim heathendom is an unambiguous disgrace.
Still, God's patience is vast and allows for grace to grow,
though in death His mercy He can no longer bestow.

Oh, loving Creator, so what then is it all about?
Why allow some to live and die in a heathen faith devout?
Muhammad was, these people believe, God's greatest prophet;
perhaps as a limitation of nationality God accepts it.

For our sins He sacrificed His son, and He was a Jew,
and only by belief in Him do His descendants live on anew . . . . .
Yes, for so long as the world goes on His Word is greatest
and should by all of His true sheep be reaffirmed on a daily basis. 

3.21.2017

Alaska

View of Resurrection Bay from the second floor of the Seward Library

In the summer of 2014, to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Good Friday Earthquake in southern Alaska, the Seward Public Library exhibited a series of crayon, pastel, ink and pencil drawings made by a class of Seward schoolchildren in 1964, one week after the 9.2 magnitude quake.

On display were marvelous renderings of the fires that burned on the waterfront, billowing black smoke, buildings and homes and cars destroyed, exploding Texaco and Standard Oil tanks, Resurrection Bay covered in a burning oil fire, boats washed up into the town, and tiny stick figures fleeing towards the mountains from a giant tidal wave. 

Most interesting among the drawings were two by little Jimmy Bradford. In what a half century later would be labeled "Fake News", little Jimmy Bradford had illustrated two alternate factual accounts of the tragedy and its devastation. 

In the first of little Jimmy Bradford's drawings a Nazi warplane flies over the town dropping its munitions onto the defenseless citizens. In the second, a giant reptile, perhaps a dinosaur, has emerged from Resurrection Bay and is rampaging through the buildings on the waterfront.

Perhaps the Seward boy was expressing his incredulity with the official explanation for his town's destruction. But it should be assumed possible too, that little Jimmy Bradford did indeed observe a giant sea creature and an enemy bomber from a war concluded 20 years previous, and that his account was deliberately left unreported by the main stream media.

3.17.2017

On This Day, 3 Years Ago

Some members of Front Dock at Tony's Bar, St Patrick's Day 2014

Only Jason was in green. The Russians were bringing in the p-cod. This was us at Tony's, where we started the celebration. Dominic, pictured laughing, was still with the dock crew. He would be fired in the last days of p-cod season, when the work ran 20 hours a day, the Russians arriving in boats one after the other through the night and it was blowing a gale with wind and sleet and snow. Dom couldn't handle it and walked off the crane. Even Charles was down on the dock pitching fish and running one of the cranes and raving like a madman. I got on the crane Dom abandoned and had to  forklift two boats at a time. It was a helluva spot Dom put the crew in walking off. But this picture comes before all that. Dom was a good guy after all. This was St Patty's Day and we were just getting started here. Mad Jack had brought us downtown in his quacking taxi. 

There was a movie crew rumored to be in Seward and on this night the locals thought I was an actor in this film that was to be shot. I did nothing to dissuade this presumption and encouraged it and Jason and Dom spread fabulous lies about my acting career. The movie plot was some sort of secret but we explained it all: there were Alaska bears and snowmobiles and Inuit hunters in the film. Extraordinary things were happening. We made promises to get these locals in the film and took their phone numbers. The locals offered their snowmobiles and expertise. We said we would need it all, most definitely. Dom, I said, was a production assistant. He would be in touch with them.

Then, naturally, we met more people as the night got drunker. These people were from Los Angeles and they were the actual film crew. Jason, fish pitcher and the film's head of cinematography, was now concerned our lies would be exposed, and had us flee to the Yukon where we ran into more of the Los Angeles crew. Things got sloppy after that. Things I cannot write, that I might tell you if we were together and there was a solemn promise made not to repeat these things. For a St Patty's Day is not complete if it does not get a little strange and Seward late in the night and early morning could get as strange as ever.

3.11.2017

Das Sausen Des Waldes

My German to English translation of Knut Hamsun's foreward to the 1909 German edition of Det Vilde Kor. The foreward is a letter from Hamsun to Dr. Heinrich Goebel, who wrote the book's introduction. Hamsun's original letter in Norwegian has been lost.

FOREWORD

My Dear Doctor!

The poems I have published make for only a small book, and perhaps they are not the best I've written, I do not know. Later, I will put out other collections, I have a great many verses. 

I do, however, find it disrespectful to my readers to publish early drafts and loose poetic sketches as finished poems.

Every poet knows that poems come about under a stronger or weaker pressure of mood. A sound buzzes in us, colors glow, there is the feeling of something inside trickling. It depends on how long this state of mind lasts. It has happened for me — in good moments — that before I have finished a verse the next one has begun to flow; I must then skip the half-finished verse, and begin with the new one further down on the page, and there is often only a single line here and there, which does not seem to follow the broader current. And why should I publish such a less than perfect draft? It would satisfy neither myself nor the readers.

So it is that I have a lot of poems that cannot be published until their form is improved.

I do not know how the great lyricists are working; their poems perhaps emerge completely finished and without mistakes at the instant a mood strikes them. I only wish to tell you, my dear Doctor, how my own verses have come about.

Incidentally, there is no major difference in my way of working with prose or poetry. A great part of what I wrote was penned at night after having slept a few hours and then awakening. I am at such moments clear-minded and extremely sensitive. I always have paper and a pencil beside my bed. I do not turn on the light, but begin to write in the dark when I feel something begin to flow. It has become a habit, and it is not difficult for me to understand my papers in the morning.

I do not wish to give you the impression of anything mystical in the development of my poems. That I am best writing in the dark at night is a sort of bad habit which began long ago when I had no light to turn on and was forced to make do. There is nothing mystical and nothing "ingenious" about it. The truly great poets probably have their own method, which is different from mine.

The summer is the most productive time for me. Many poems come about when I lie on my back in the forest. I try to get away from people and keep the memories of modern life far away, and I commit myself to those days of my childhood when I wandered about and cared for the animals at home. My feeling for nature — if such a thing is possible — came alive during that early childhood on the grasslands, in the woods, and in the mountains, and there I met the many animals and birds that have become my lifelong friends. Since the age of four the sea was also a part of the natural environment I grew up alongside. My home was on the Westfjord, and this fjord opens directly into the Atlantic Ocean.

Reports from the explorers on their explorations are my favorite reading. These people are not as skilled as professional poets with the adjectives they choose, yet they tell me so much. When I sometimes read descriptions of nature in modern novels, I am filled with disgust; I quickly see theirs is merely a somewhat learned knowledge of nature, influenced by some observation made on the spot, and not an inner and sacred empathy with the forest and its vastness.

Winter is for me the hardest time. I do not love the snow, its sight torments me, and I understand nothing but its deep and unnatural emptiness. I once wrote a long epic poem about winter during Christmas. But, sadly, it was not a success, although it was illustrated by one of our foremost artists.

If something happens in winter that reminds me of the summer, I always feel happiness and contentment. Rain falling upon the snow as a change in the weather, the chirping of a little bird in a tree, or the passing scent of a flower blossom, each put me under a spell for awhile; sometimes, when a fly buzzes in the window, a pang of joy passes through me in memory of the summer, now hidden beneath the snow.

Spring begins to take hold of me in February or March. The days are then clear again, one is given new hope, and the verses begin to come.

So many more poems are there ready and waiting to be finished.

This is, Doctor, what I can tell you about my poetry. Use these remarks as you wish, whether your plan is to translate them, or just to quote from the useful parts when you write your introduction.

Sincerely,
KNUT HAMSUN

2.05.2017

Swedish Box


Wooden box hand carved in 1963 at Santa Barbara, California by the Swedish exile Hans D. He then was 89 years of age and retired from steam turbine engineering. He was the holder of 19 steam turbine patents and was at one time a colleague and friend of the inventor Nikola Tesla.

1.30.2017

The Wild Chorus: Aphorisms

35. Even Reason itself is shot through with wild mystery. All the reasonable arguments have come to nothing; look at the history of your West, your politics and philosophy, your great civilization. It is not through more 'changing the world' that the world will be righted. To let the world alone, rather. Allow mystery its rightful place. The world is fine enough. But man must first recover his humility to accept a diminished place in it. 

36. Allow the wave to bear you up — those more powerful forces than men — to you know not where. There is pleasure and ecstasy in submission. To give in to the divinities once again.
 
44. When God did not answer his prayer for fiat wealth God was no longer necessary. Then no more did wealthy men attribute their financial success to divinity, only to themselves. In capitalism, men became gods.
 
49. The wild chorus is never unsung. Let the last land primates go extinct. Then remove the birds from the air, the fish from the seas. Let them all go away. Let men go next. Yet the wild chorus sings on. At that dark hour, when all appears dead, what is first heard as silence becomes a roar.
 
70. The economies of scale have defeated all other forms of life. The hunt is no more. Each summer in Alaska the fishermen are less. The world has been limited to a single species and a single language, and finally a single currency and a single form of life. The forests and rivers and mountains and skies have been transformed into numbers in a bank account. With the continuing concentration of global wealth into the hands of an ever select few, the idea of conspiracy becomes ever more plausible.
 
73. Men have learned the language of generality. They no longer can speak specifically of village life. They speak of the global, the virtual. Mars is next, they say.
 
79. Still the wild chorus sings of places and local practices, so many hidden transcripts, perhaps each year more forgotten. It sings of animals gone and animals hidden; of gods deceased and gods in waiting. And so the wild chorus will one day sing of Reason and argument, of the great ideas of men long passed. This time as all the others shall pass. There can be no progress, my brothers, and that is a good thing.

1.29.2017

"With Red Roses" by Knut Hamsun

 my translation of "Med Røde Roser" from Det Vilde Kor, 1904

With hands outstretched I am knelt
despite having heard your nay.
Take these flowers with gratitude felt
for with them you adorned my way.
I behold you now like these roses aflame
though my eyes you refuse to meet;
perchance many memories have came
some of sorrow and some sweet.

Your tears like rain left my mind in a haze
your smile was my sun anon,
you created upon the earth beauty with your ways,
and my soul in your garden lives on.
It flowers — it flowers in that garden today
and with a fragrant plea.
O come, and cast all your sorrow away,
and keep my love only!
 
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