"The Words of Svend Herlufsen" by Knut Hamsun

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

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.

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.

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!

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.

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