Thursday, June 08, 2017

once we were

Eva Ström

[Image source:]

Not really sure what today's post is going to be about, but anyway now's the time to mention that I'm off to Spain early tomorrow for a week.

Well, apparently it's going to be Eva Ström, since a random Google search on "Swedish poetry" brought me straight to this, one of three poems translated by Carol Berg in a Qarrtsiluni post. (The other two poems are by Johanna Ekström.)

Dödssynder åtrår ni mig ännu?

Dödssynder åtrår ni mig ännu?
Vrede vill du blomma i mig?
Vill du driva blodet till mina kinder
och få mitt hjärta att accelerera.
Avundets korta sting,
vill du träffa mig,
låta mig fåfängt få rasa
efter ett annat liv.
Jag vill känna högmodet och gå
med högmodets vadderade ncacke,
jag vill känna den beska älskogens söta sting i min kropp,
och vila en stund på smickrarnas ockersålda mattor.
Jag vill känna hur slugheten får min hjärna att arbeta
och hur omåttligheten griper tag i mig i ett vällustigt begär.
Dödssynder åtrår ni mig?
Kan ni ännu verka i mig?

Deadly Sins, Do You Still Want Me?

Deadly sins, do you still want me?
Wrath, do you want to bloom in me?
Want to drive blood into my cheek
and make my heart accelerate.
Envy, short sting
do you want to smack me,
churn in me—vain rampages
after my next lonely life.
I want to feel pride and run
with pride’s stiff neck,
I want to feel the bitter sweet sting of sex in my body
and rest in the moment on flattery’s shaggy carpet.
I want to feel how cunning works in my brain
and how excess grips me and touches me with desire.
Deadly sins, do you still want me?
Can you still work in me?

A poem about age and youth, then.  And it is true, quite a few of the characters in the procession of Deadly Sins seem to be well adapted to a medieval condemnation of youthfulness itself: Pride, Lust, Greed and so on.

And yet, who believes that the elderly are, predominantly, better people than the young?  Who thinks that human character is improved by neurotic fear and anxiety, the grasping of security that is the true meaning of Covetousness, narrowing sympathies and increasing indifference to the sufferings and trials of others,  and so on. 

And yet, youth is a shallow, blind, self-centred thing. If my own youth was any indication.

There is excess and desire in age. Only the objects change. Excess in the form of panic. Desire in the form of clinging to old ways of thinking, intransigence to change. The elderly do over-reaction very well. Also envy and anger.

The Sins can work in every age-group. That's the bare truth.


But then, Eva Ström is not a preacher and her poem isn't really about sins. It's really about the shrivelling of life in our lives, the dulling of response, the acceptance of mundanity, the withering of aspiration.  The "shutting down" that we are sometimes accused of, that in unsparing moments we can see for ourselves.

The translator seems to have beefed up that idea with her intrusion of the word "lonely" into the middle of the poem.

A more literal translation of those lines about envy would be:

Envy's short sting,
do you want to meet me
and make me get a vain rage
for another life ....

In Ström's poem Envy has, so to speak, been reinvented as passionate dreaming. There are many Envies I suppose. My own conception of Envy is that it takes the form of a chilly dislike for those who do dream.


Eva Ström has translated Shakespeare's Sonnets into Swedish.

Translations of four Shakespeare sonnets into Swedish, with commentary.

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