Thursday, June 28, 2018

iron in the soul


Les repasseuses, painting by Edgar Degas

[Image source: Degas painted four versions of the subject. This one, from 1884-86, is in the Musée d'Orsay.]

The ironing trade is an old one. It finds a place in literature in Zola’s L’Assommoir (1872), though Gervaise’s business was also a laundry. But ironing, co-located with laundry or no, continues to thrive, and Mags found a job that suited her when Alison expanded from her ironing business in Melksham and started a branch in the outskirts of Bath. The Melksham business was in a unit and had no shopfront, but the new Bath branch is in a high street and attracts some of its business from passers-by.


The workers are mostly on piece-rate. Hours are variable, and it’s important that there's always some ironing for them to do when they are there. When you start work you get a better rate for a while. The assumption is you'll take a few weeks to come up to speed. Then your rate drops down to the standard rate. This can cause a bit of friction if the newcomer happens to be super-fast already, so earns a load more money than any of the longstanding ironers. That’s what happened with Var. She made £230 and the longtime workers weren’t happy. They liked it even less when they were told not to bother to come in because there wasn’t enough ironing for them. Var just wouldn’t leave the shop. You told her to pack it in and go home and she acted like she hadn’t heard. And then customers started sending their loads back to be re-done because they weren’t up to scratch. 


But Mags is part ironer part supervisor so she's on an hourly rate. Four mornings a week she has to keep the whole place ticking over. Arrange the deliveries, deal with customers, answer the phone, keep the irons clean, look after the high-volume piece-raters, do the paperwork, and do a bit of ironing whenever she can. Unlike the rest she can afford to take a bit of time over difficult items, and some customers even insist on her, for example the shop downtown that deals in theatrical and Victorian costumes.


B'n'Bs  make up part of the customer base. The rest is private customers. They're usually rather well off. Getting your ironing done for you isn’t cheap. The workers (nearly all women, apart from the delivery drivers) come from near the bottom of the economic pyramid. Some, such as Flo and Paula are English and solidly working-class. Others are students or foreigners. The shop has a cosmopolitan air. Jeanette (French student), Irene (German emigré), Varvara (Latvian emigré) may all be working alongside each other, the steamy air thick with different accents. Add Flo’s Bristolian, Paula’s Twerton...


Jeanette, ironing a sheet and perfecting her pronunciation: “Shit. SHIT. SHIT! SHIT!!” while Paula laughingly shushed her in the background.


On a bad day you can rather resent the customers, who can afford the luxury of getting their ironing done by someone else. On a good day you can laugh at their funny little ways, the different things they ask for. Some want the cuffs flattened; but others complain if you do that. Some insist on starching. Some just hand you a mixed pile of family washing most of which doesn’t need ironing. It makes your job easy, but at the same time you shake your head over someone who can afford to be so foolish.

It’s not so trivial when they bring in their ironing sopping wet or terribly creased. One of the difficulties with an ironing business is that you can’t really charge a different rate for loads that come in like this, even though they may take three or four times as long as a normal load. It’s a delicate matter to preach to your customers – it sounds too much like a criticism of their lifestyle. Some customers have the notion that ironers prefer a wet load; they wouldn’t do if they'd ever tried to iron one themselves.


If a really awful load comes in  the pieceworkers don’t want to do it because it affects their pay. Flo's fast and her ironing is good, but she’s there to make as much money as she can and she just wants to mop up volume. Once or twice she’s resorted to slipping in a note to the customer: I done the best I can with it....Naughty Jeanette has a tendency to cherry-pick easy loads. Mags has to keep an eye on all this and to share out the unpopular loads in an equitable way. She often tries to do the worst items herself.


Despite her naughtiness Jeanette is irresistible. She’s leaving in a couple of weeks and no-one wants her to. She's a student at Bath Uni, she also teaches at Bristol Uni, speaks Japanese and Spanish and heaven knows what else, does waitressing, has numerous boyfriends (the latest one's in Malaga), takes herself off alone on a cycling holiday in Amsterdam, books herself into a tourism and leisure conference in Brussels and is a massive hit with all the stuffy old directors there, says she’s going off to the beach and has them all trailing after her in a convoy of Mercs. That covers the past week or two. In short, she’s a ball of energy, but she overdoes it. Every so often she’s so tired she can hardly speak, and once Mags took pity on her and sent her home when she’d spent an hour on one shirt and earned about 40p. 


Today Mags’s ears were a bit deaf with wax, so Jeanette spent the whole morning blaming her for everything that had gone wrong and blithely telling the others: It’s all right, she can’t hear anything. The ironers are supposed to put a card in with each load saying “Your ironing today was done by –“. Most of them (including Mags) don’t like doing it and so the compromise is to use pseudonyms. Jeanette’s is “Joshua”.


Matthew (the daytime delivery driver) came back with ten loads that he hadn’t delivered. He had made a mistake, but that was supposed to be impossible with his new fail-safe system so he blamed Mags too. Mags has to look after them all like children. She knows that you can’t have a fail-safe system. Mistakes will happen and you just have to double-check constantly. Matthew gets very upset when things go wrong and he needs a lot of soothing but you can put up with that because he does stick at it and he does turn up. They're having terrible trouble finding someone for the evening deliveries. The last two Thursdays running they arrived to find that the latest agency person had just cut and run, leaving all the deliveries in the shop , a bunch of disgruntled customers and chaos all day trying to sort it out.


There’s no time for a proper break, so they eat on the go. Mags started to get very bored of sandwiches from the Co-op down the street. “Why do they insist on putting tuna in malted bread?” she complained. It’s the malt mountain, I explained. It was a condition of joining the EU; Britain had to sign up to eat a quota of malt. “But it just doesn’t go,” says Mags. “It’s like eating fish with gravy.”    *


Janet, a customer, is back from hospital after heart surgery, so Mags is doing her ironing again.  She has big problems with fluid retention but her voice sounds a bit stronger. She still has a crafty fag – you can smell it. Her great fear is that the next time she’s “taken ill” they’ll notice if the sheets have not been ironed. For some wrinkles there’s really no excuse.


It so happens that most of the regular ironers are in their menopause years. Their parents are ancient, amazing or gone. Some of them like gardening and most of them would like to have a home in the sun. They have very little money. The tips money they bet on the horses. Matthew lays the bets. They don’t know anything about races or names, only the odds. “I told him to put a quid on at five to one on the nose,” Mags tells me.


“Ironing is a great leveller,” said Mags.


It was hard to avoid expressions like that. Just as cleaners catch themselves out using clichés like “sweeping it under the carpet”, so Mags constantly found herself saying:


“We’ve been going flat out all day.”


“I’m a bit pressed for time but I’ll try to squeeze you in.”


 She spoke of “ironing out the creases”, of “striking while the iron’s hot”. And, in due course, of having “other irons in the fire”.


The good times at the ironing shop lasted for the best part of two years. But there’s not much security in this kind of job. Alison left the ironers on their own. They loved the informality and the responsibility; morale was high. Cash was just in a cashbox and when they needed something like a new iron or some diesel for the van they just took the money and wrote a note. But last October Alison came into the shop and said she was selling up.


The new owner was Debbie and she was a different kettle of fish. She already had a hundred employees in other businesses. She changed the pay arrangements so everyone was paid a week in arrears; she had a proper BACS system, not cash in hand. But a week soon turned into two weeks, then three... When you’re on a low income, it hurts. She forbade all extra hours. She didn’t care if that meant letting down the customers. They’d just have to put up with it. The atmosphere changed, people started to leave. Debbie didn’t care. Mags tried to talk to her about the effect on morale. “I won’t be held to ransom,” Debbie said. All the other things she said, except this one, appeared to be dishonest. She’d say whatever sounded good and then just carry on. It’s easy enough to make people leave and no doubt she thought it would be much more convenient if all the staff were new and had no memories of how it used to be.


Quiet, improvident Susie was the first to go; then Paula, then Glaswegian Rose. Mags stuck it out for a couple of months. Inside she was seething. She’d been there from the start. She’d created a beautiful, friendly, place to work and the customers loved her. She’d nurtured the others, nipped quarrels in the bud, filled even dyslexic Matthew with self-belief. But Debbie never offered a word of recognition, she didn't see any need for supervisors. Finally, Mags’s will was broken. She accepted her demotion and just tried to zip her lip, clinging to the remnants of her job. But Debbie wasn’t content with that, so she confronted Mags and gave her a verbal warning for being uncooperative.  That was Mags’ last day; she never went back. Anyhow, the way it worked out with the council rent and the tax and the bus fares, she’d have more money being on the dole. But how she misses it. Every time I see her she talks about her work, she recalls another funny story, as if the gang are still all there and all she has to do it get on a bus and go back. And once or twice she’s made me drive past the shop to see if the dreaded computerized till has appeared yet.



* Written in 2004. This is how we used to joke about the EU in those blissful days before Brexit.    

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Appius and Verginia

Appius Claudius, presiding, in the centre; his stooge Marcus Claudius on the left; Verginius slaying Verginia on the right

[Image source: An early sixteenth-century painting in Campion Hall, University of Oxford. It has been ascribed to the circle of Bramantino or Defendente Ferrari.]

The early books of Livy tell the thrilling tale of the early history of Rome: the most formative account, perhaps aside from the Old Testament, of how a nation starts.

It is an overwhelmingly male-dominated picture, but there are three early stories in which women are prominent, always as valuable objects in a man's world. Two I've touched on before, the rape of the Sabine women and the rape of Lucretia.

The third is the story of Appius and Verginia. In later European literature this became detached, e.g. in Jean de Meung and in Chaucer's Physician's Tale (one of those minor Canterbury Tales you tend to forget).  Shakespeare refers to the story, e.g. when Titus Andronicus regetfully slays his daughter or when Desdemona asks for a little time before being strangled. In these later renderings, Verginius' slaying of his innocent daughter has become a type of honour-killing, not indeed to be imitated but to be admired.

But Livy's original story is more complex because it places the whole episode within the political story of the second Decemvirate; ultimately, it's about what happens to a society that doesn't have a right of appeal. The wider context makes a difference. Livy and his readers couldn't forget that Appius, more than anyone, had been responsible for the ten tables, the foundation of Roman law. But now power had gone to his head. The centurion Verginius and ex-tribune Icilius (Verginia's betrothed) are grossly wronged by Appius' despicable abuse of judicial power, but they are also, in Livy's eyes, plebeian  firebrands who are dangerous to the body politic. When Appius refers to typical tribune-like troublemaking, we know he's abusing this argument to serve his own ends, but we've learnt to know the kind of thing he means.  Livy, let's face it,  doesn't often find himself on the popular side.  And in a political context, if our first reaction to a terrible event is about deciding who's blameless and who's most to blame, the deeper question comes to be about how society can recover from the evil. So when with profound irony Appius himself resorts to saying "I appeal!", and is rejected by the new tribunes (Verginius and Icilius among them), the story registers disquiet about the tribunes themselves becoming tyrants: will justified revenge turn out to be as bad as the original crime, or will Rome manage to negotiate the rocky road back to the rule of law?

Amid all this male debate the figure of Verginia herself is only fleetingly seen, but here are a few sentences:


...There was a girl of humble birth that Appius wished to debauch; her father Lucius Verginius, who was serving with distinction on Algidus as a centurion, was a man with an excellent record in both military and civilian life, and his wife and children had been trained in the same high principles as himself. He had betrothed his daughter to an ex-tribune named Lucius Icilius, a keen and proven champion of the popular cause. This, then, was the girl -- at that time a beautiful young woman -- who was the object of Appius' passion. His attempts to seduce her with money and promises failed, so when he found her modesty proof against every kind of assault, he had recourse to a method of compulsion such as only a heartless tyrant could devise. Taking advantage of her father's absence on service, he instructed a dependant of his own, named Marcus Claudius, to claim the girl as his slave and to maintain the claim against any demands which might be made for her liberty. One morning, therefore, when she was entering the Forum to attend the school, Claudius -- the decemvir's pimp -- laid hands on her, and, asserting that she, like her mother before her, was his slave, told her to follow him, and threatened to take her by force if she refused. The poor girl was dumb with fright, but her nurse shouted for help and a crowd quickly gathered.... (pp. 215-16)

[Appius ruled that]... Anyone was entitled to bring an action, and in other cases in which people were claimed as free, the demand was legal; but in the present case, where the girl was subject to her father, there was nobody else to whom the master could surrender custody, and for that reason he gave judgment that the father should be sent for and that meanwhile the claimant -- Claudius -- should not relinquish his right but should take charge of the girl and promise to produce her in court when the person said to be her father arrived in Rome. The judgement was patently unjust, but though there was plenty of muttering and indignation nobody ventured to speak openly against it... (pp. 216 -17)

At dawn next day the excitement in the city reached a new height. Verginius entered the Forum leading his daughter by the hand -- he in mourning, she in rags. ... (pp.218-9)

...Appius gave judgement for the plaintiff and declared Verginia to be his slave. This monstrous decision was received with stupefaction, and for several minutes no-one uttered a word. Presently Claudius began to push his way through the group of women to where Verginia was standing -- to claim his property. The women burst into tears, and suddenly Verginius shook his fist at Appius and called out: "I betrothed my daughter to Icilius, not to you -- I meant her for a marriage-bed, not for a brothel..." (p. 219)

Verginius looked around for help, but there was none. In a moment his mind was made up: "Appius," he cried, "if I spoke too harshly, a father's heart was to blame, and I ask your pardon. This whole business bewilders me -- let me question the nurse here, in my child's presence; then, if I find I am not her father, I shall understand and be able to go more calmly." Permission was granted, and he took Verginia and her nurse over to the shops by the shrine of Cloacina -- the new shops, as they are called today.  Then he snatched a knife from a butcher, and crying: "There is only one way, my child, to make you free," he stabbed her to the heart. Then, looking behind him at the tribunal, "Appius," he said, "may the curse of this blood rest on your head forever!" .. (p. 220)

Verginius caused a greater upheaval in the army even than he had done in Rome. His arrival was immensely impressive: long before he reached the camp he could be seen because of the crowd of some four hundred citizens who accompanied him out of sympathy for his lacerated feelings; his naked weapon was still in his hand, and his clothes were covered with blood. ... (p. 221)

Of the two appeals for pity, that of Verginius was felt to be more just. It was the end of all hope for Appius: he refused to face his trial, and killed himself.   ... (p. 232)

Marcus Claudius, the man who had claimed Verginia, was prosecuted and condemned, but was spared the extreme penalty at the request of Verginius himself and went into exile at Tibur. Thus not a single man who had any share in the guilt of Verginia's death remained, and her ghost, which so long had wandered from house to house in search of satisfaction, found rest at last.  (p. 233)

Livy, 3.44 - 3.59, trans. Aubrey de Selincourt (The Early History of Rome)


And whan this worthy knyght Virginius
Thurgh sentence of this justice Apius
Moste by force his deere doghter yiven
Unto the juge, in lecherie to lyven,
He gooth hym hoom, and sette him in his halle,
And leet anon his deere doghter calle,
And with a face deed as asshen colde
Upon his humble face he gan biholde,
With fadres pitee stikynge thurgh his herte,
Al wolde he from his purpos nat converte.

"Doghter," quod he, "Virginia, by thy name,
Ther been two weyes, outher deeth or shame,
That thou most suffre; allas, that I was bore!
For nevere thou deservedest wherfore
To dyen with a swerd or with a knyf...."

(Chaucer, Physician's Tale, ll. 203 - 217)


There are two surviving Appius and Virginia plays from around Shakespeare's time, an early one (1576) by "RB" and a late one probably mostly by John Webster (date disputed, perhaps late 1620s). There's an interesting PDF article by Dena Goldberg about both plays (I'm having difficulty giving the link, but if you do a Google search you'll find it).  The text of the Webster play is also available on-line and it looks well worth a read. In it he returns the well-worn story to the detail of Livy, though in one respect he changes it: his Appius is conceived as an upstart commoner on whom great power has been bestowed (somewhat in the Duke of Buckingham mould...); whereas Livy's Appius was an uncompromising aristocrat, a leading light of the senatorial families.

Appius.      See, see, how evidently Truth appears.
                  Receive her Clodius.
Virginius. Thus I surrender her into the Court
Kills her.
                 of all the Gods. And see proud Appius see,
                 although not justly, I have made her free,
                 And if thy Lust with this Act be not fed,
                 bury her in thy bowels, now she's dead.
Omnes.     O horrid act!

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Monday, June 25, 2018


I wanted to write about the tough, wiry but straight stems of Herb Bennet, aka Wood Avens, aka Geum urbanum, a garden weed that's quite difficult to get rid of unless you're some sort of Bayer-head. Best to appreciate the pale green leaves, pretty yellow flowers and the spiked heads of seeds poking out from among other plants, and to put up with working on them every summer. It's a master of disguise and very good at being lost among other plants, only the hooked seedhead revealing its presence. With the ground being so dry,  it's sometimes possible to twist or rip out the whole root, but that's unusual. In normal conditions the stem just snaps, so we are talking about containment at best. The root is a magenta-flushed knobble, a bit like a miniature Pink Fir Apple potato.  I was thirsty but glad to be out in nature. Feeling below the canopy, my fingers easily distinguished the tough stems of Herb Bennet from e.g. geranium, loosestrife, bedstraw and marjoram.  From other gardens came the sound of shrieks and splashes from paddling pools. I laboured on, at the back of the bed beneath the bullace, getting ripped in my turn by slender bramble stems. Herb Bennet, on the other hand doesn't fight back. I've been immersed in it for hours and never even got a rash.

But and however, this post is about Johan Jönson.

[a page]






[next page]


I wake up.  The walls and windows are exposed to background
radiation. From a merciless and self-consuming sun. I know where
I am. in an artaud state. A müller bunker. A fanon field. I have just
woken up. May-

[next page]

be with memories from a memory collage of abstract bodies.
Of temporary vectors.  Of movement.  Of rest.  Of duration.
I lie down. I lie on my back. I find myself in a larger movement. It
is an uninterrupted movement


away.  A pattern on the beach.  I move through colonized
territories. In segmented zones. In naming map-drawings.
It is an immense larger movement. It is a soft metabolic
transformation machine. It is an uninter-

[next page]

ruptibility. It is a force that wants to bring friction to an absolute
zero. That wants immobility. That reveals a desire to die. I move
continually in also this form of death. I myself participate in the
annihilation and recon


struction.  Nobody is innocent.  Striated snake-spirals in the
desert are more complex than the mole's underground system.
I have to get away. I have to get away from the immobility of
writing. Away. Away. Constant uninter-

[from Collobert Orbital (2006). Translation by Johannes Göransson, Displaced Press, 2009.]


Antonin Artaud, French dramatist.
Heiner Müller, German dramatist.
Frantz Fanon, Martinican philosopher and revolutionary.

The names are not unconnected. For example, Müller's Die Hamletmaschine and Artaud-fragment quotes from Sartre's preface to Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth: "under the sun of torture".

Danielle Collobert, French author, took her own life in 1978. The poem is loosely based on her journals.  "An experimental writer, Collobert wrote prose poems in a haunting, pessimistic, tense and stark style. Her work showed an obsession with death as the destination of humankind, the ambiguity of gender, travel and madness" (Wikipedia). Like Fanon, she was involved with the FLN (Algerian National Liberation Front).



     Such a strange night -- on the Quai des Fleurs -- I've been living here for a
few days -- very nice apartment -- They're sleeping -- the table faces the
window where I write -- the Seine -- the lights -- water -- calm came back --
like glancing crystal in the water -- rising and falling -- as real as my hand
-- my face in the pane -- the Seine's reflections disrupting the lamplight's
opacity -- like crossing dream with reality -- and then a car passes -- from
light to opacity -- disappearance --
     tranquility -- very rare peacefulness - after days of emptiness -- empty
enough to put off getting up -- because of the emptiness itself -- and after
-- completely futile efforts to fill in --
     why despite appearances I go to such lengths to achieve this feeling
emptiness -- of discomfort -- as though every gesture --every movement were
bringing me nearer to death --
     the sensation of emptiness disappeared in that orgasmic moment --

     I have possibly never been so far into that solitude as these last months --
it still might not be enough -- there is a vague form of stability left here
-- of security -- some doubt about what I can stand --
     more wandering -- add leaving the country -- breaking all bonds -- or
whatever -- being broke in a country I don't know -- maybe --
     probably an illusion -- equating being alone in a room for days -- and going
off somewhere --


     Departure -- tomorrow -- real escape -- I'm going to Tunisia -- calm --

     Tunis 1
     here with no break -- already the same life -- I go to cafés -- I make love
-- I go to films -- I talk to people -- no distance -- I've already been here
since forever --
     but still it's the East -- the light -- the colors -- the beauty -- at least
this: I have new eyes -- senses beginning to function again as though after a
long illness -- this morning very early -- in the village -- scarcely daybreak
-- through the grillwork on the window -- some noises in the covered streets
-- after making love all night -- body heavy and hot -- impression of
tiredness -- of well-being -- H. motionless -- head on my belly -- almost cool
-- a smell I couldn't place -- almonds and oranges -- old food -- and then
suddenly in the silence -- a very long sound -- very low -- the slow
modulation of the muezzin -- extraordinary beauty --
    now here -- in the café -- seated on matting -- they're playing cards --the
patron sitting on a chair by the stove closes his eyes -- head thrown back a
little -- he is tall and lean -- looks high as a kite -- they aren't paying
any attention to me -- I'm fine here -- it's raining out -- sound of rain on
the steps --

[Extracts from Danielle Collobert´s Journal for 1960, trans. Norma Cole, found here:]


Looking for a link with some good information about Johan Jönson, I came across this excellent post by Johannes Göransson:

Reading further, I discovered my own name and that I had even asked a question in the comments stream: why might you consider Jönson a conceptualist poet?  I'd completely forgotten about this. So after a five-year gap,  I finally saw Johannes' very informative response.

Dryas octopetala and Geum urbanum from C. A. M. Lindman's Nordens Flora

[From C.A.M. Lindman's Nordens Flora. The Swedish name "Nejlikrot" arises, apparently, from the root having a slight scent of cloves ("Kryddnejlika"). I must try this on the next of my (rare) smelling days. The original meaning of "Nejlika" is the Pinks, i.e. various wild flowers in  the Dianthus family, some of whom (notably the Clove Pink or Carnation, from the Mediterranean) are quite strongly clove-scented. Lindman's fine illustrations, from 1901-1905, are widely available online, e.g.]

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Friday, June 22, 2018

the four temperaments

Carl Nielsen in 1884, aged 19

[Image source:]

Carl Nielsen 1865 - 1931

Carl Nielsen, a native of the island of Funen, came from rural working-class roots; he was the seventh of twelve children (he wrote a well-loved   memoir Min fynske barndom  - "My Funen Childhood").

His most simply irresistible symphony, No 2, was composed in 1901-02. It was titled De fire temperamenter (The Four Temperaments); the four movements of the symphony are respectively choleric, phelgmatic, melancholic and sanguine.

I had the idea for ‘The Four Temperaments’ many years ago at a country inn in Zealand. On the wall of the room where I was drinking a glass of beer with my wife and some friends hung an extremely comical coloured picture, divided into four sections in which ‘the Temperaments’ were represented and furnished with titles: ‘The Choleric’, ‘The Sanguine’, ‘The Melancholic’ and ‘The Phlegmatic’. The Choleric was on horseback. He had a long sword in his hand, which he was wielding fiercely in thin air; his eyes were bulging out of his head, his hair streamed wildly around his face, which was so distorted by rage and diabolical hate that I could not help bursting out laughing. The other three pictures were in the same style, and my friends and I were heartily amused by the naivety of the pictures, their exaggerated expression and their comic earnestness. But how strangely things can sometimes turn out! I, who had laughed aloud and mockingly at these pictures, returned constantly to them in my thoughts, and one fine day I realized that these shoddy pictures still contained a kind of core or idea and – just think! – even a musical undercurrent! Some time later, then, I began to work out the first movement of a symphony, but I had to be careful that it did not fence in the empty air, and I hoped of course that my listeners would not laugh so that the irony of fate would smite my soul. I tried to raise the idea of the pictures to a different plane ...

(Carl Nielsen, from a programme note for a 1931 performance at the Stockholm Konsertföreningen)

I was hoping to find the pub paintings online, but couldn't. Perhaps they have been long destroyed, or perhaps the exact location of the pub is not even known.

[Image source:  These (and other) grimasses are now in the Royal Library of Copenhagen. They were taken at a studio in Odense in the mid-1880s when Nielsen was about 20.  They were connected with playing all the parts in an entertainment for a girlfriend.  Nielsen's good looks got him into trouble; he already had an illegitimate child before his marriage; he was later a fond husband but not a faithful one.]

Carl Nielsen in 1908, aged 43

[Image source:]

Continuing with Nielsen's 1931 Note:

 .....    and now – since that is what is wanted – I will give a modest explanation of my Symphony No. 2, ‘The Four Temperaments’, op. 16.

The first movement, Allegro collerico, immediately sets in fiercely with the following motif (see No. 1), which is developed with a later small motif (No. 2) in the clarinet, and rises to a fanfare that leads into the second subject (No. 3), which sings very espressivo but is soon interrupted again by extremely turbulent figures and rhythmic thrusts. After a fermata the second subject sings ƒ and expresses itself with greater breadth and power, which gradually wanes, then the modulation section begins, working with the motifs described above, now wildly and violently, like a person almost carried away, now in a gentler mood like one who regrets his irascibility. At the end comes a coda (stretto) with intense passages in the strings, and the movement ends with the same character as it began.

The second movement was conceived as the complete opposite of the first. I do not like programme music, but it may still interest my listeners that when I was working out this piece of music, something like this happened: A young man appeared to me. He seems to have been his mother’s only son. The mother was nice and amiable, she was a widow and she loved him. He too was extraordinarily nice, and everyone liked him. He was 17‑18 years old, his eyes were sky‑blue, confident and large. At school he was loved by all, but the teachers were at the same time dismayed and gently resigned; for he had never learned his lessons; but it was impossible to scold him, for everything that exists of idyll and Paradise in nature was reflected in this young man, so one was completely disarmed. Was he merry or serious, was he lively or slow in his movements? He was none of these! His inmost nature was there where the birds sing, where the fish glide silently through the water, where the sun warms and the wind gently brushes ones locks. He was blond; his expression could be described as happy, but not self‑satisfied, rather with a small touch of quiet melancholy, so you felt an urge to be kind to him. When the air shimmered in the heat he usually lay on the pier at the harbour with his legs out over the edge. I have never seen him dance; he was too inactive for that, but he might well rock his hips in a slow waltz rhythm (No. 4) and it is in this character that I have completed the movement Allegro comodo è flemmatico and tried to maintain a state of mind that is as far from energy, ‘Gefühl’ and similar feelings as is really possible.

Only once does it rise to an f (No. 5). What happened? Did a barrel fall in the water from one of the ships in the harbour and disturb the young man as he lay dreaming on the jetty? Who knows? But no matter: a brief moment, and all is calm; the young man falls asleep, nature dozes, and the water is again as smooth as a large mirror (No. 6).

The third movement attempts to express the basic character of a grave, melancholy person, but here as always in the world of music, a title or a programme is only a hint. What the composer wants is less significant than what the music, on its own terms, from its inmost being, demands and requires.
After one and a half bars of introduction the following theme begins (No. 7) and is drawn heavily towards an intense burst of pain ( ƒ ); then the oboe enters with a small, plangent, sighing motif (No. 8) which gradually develops into something immense and ends in a climax of woe and pain. After a short transitional passage comes a milder, resigned episode in E flat major (No. 9). A long, rather static thematic development now follows, and finally the parts enmesh like the strings of a net, and everything fades out; then the first theme suddenly breaks out again in full force, and now all the different motifs sing with interruptions, and the end approaches, falling calm with the following motif (No. 10).

In the finale, Allegro sanguineo, I have tried to evoke the basic character of a person who storms thoughtlessly on in the belief that the whole world belongs to him and that roast pigeons fly into his mouth without work and care (No. 11). There is however a brief minute when he becomes afraid of something, and he gasps for breath for a moment in violent syncopations (No. 12); but this is soon forgotten, and although the music now goes into a minor key, his happy, rather shallow nature is still manifested (No. 13).

Just once, though, it seems that he has encountered something really serious; at least he meditates over something that is alien to his own nature (No. 14), and it seems to affect him, so that while the final march may be happy and bright, it is still more dignified and not as silly and smug as some of his previous bursts of activity (No. 15).”

(Sourced from

Danish extracts of these texts, taken from various sources :

(the Zealand pub paintings)

Anledningen fik jeg […] i en Landsbykro på Sjælland. Der hang på Væggen et højst komisk koloreret Billede, som var inddelt i fire Felter, hvori ”Temperamenterne” var fremstillet og forsynet med Titler: ”Den Koleriske”, ”Den Flegmatiske”, ”Den Melankolske” og ”Den Sangvinske”. [...] En skønne Dag gik det op for mig, at disse tarvelige Billeder dog indeholdt en slags Kerne eller Idé og – ja tænk – oven i købet en musikalsk Undergrund

(1st movement)

… arbejdes snart vildt og heftigt, som et Menneske, der næsten forløber sig, snart i en blidere Stemning, som én, der fortryder sin Opfarenhed.

(2nd movement)

(modernized Danish)

...Jegholder ikke af programmusik, men det kan måske alligevelinteressere mine tilhørere, at jeg under udarbejdelsen af dettemusikstykke oplevede omtrent følgende: En ung mand viste sig formig. Han var vist sin moders eneste søn. Moderen var sød ogelskværdig, hun var enke og hun elskede ham. Han var ogsåualmindelig sød og alle mennesker holdt af ham. Han var 17-18 år,hans øjne var himmelblå, trygge og store. I skolen var han elsketaf alle, men lærerne var samtidig fortvivlede og mildt opgivende;han kunne nemlig aldrig sine lektier, men det var umuligt at skændepå ham, thi alt hvad der findes af idyl og paradis i naturenafspejlede sig i dette unge menneske, så man var fuldkommenafvæbnet. Var han lystig eller alvorlig, var han livlig ellerlangsom i sine bevægelser? Ingen af delene! Hans grundvæsen lå der,hvor fuglene synger, hvor fiskene glider lydløst igennem vandet,hvor solen varmer og vinden stryger mildt omkring ens lokker. Hanvar blond; hans udtryk var nærmest lykkeligt, men ikkeselvtilfreds, snarere med et lille drag af stille melankoli, så manfølte trang til at være god imod ham. Når luften dirrede af varme,lå han i reglen på molen ved havnen med benene ud over bolværket.Jeg har aldrig set ham danse, dertil var han for uvirksom, men hankunde godt finde på at gynge i hofterne i langsom valserytme og idenne karakter har jeg gennemført satsen: Allegro comodo èflemmatico og forsøgt at fastholde en stemningstilstand der liggerså langt borte fra energi, ”Gefühl” og lignende rørelser som velmuligt.

Kun en eneste gang kommer det til et f. Hvadskete der? Faldt der en tønde i vandet fra et af skibene i havnenog forstyrrede den unge mand, som ligger og drømmer på molen? Hvemved det? Men lige meget: Et kort minut så er alt roligt; den ungemand sover ind, naturen blunder og vandet er atter blankt som etstort spejl.

(original Danish)

paa Molen ved Havnen med Benene ud over Bolværket. en Stemningstilstand der ligger saa langt borte fra Energi, ”Gefühl" og lignende Rørelser som vel muligt. Kun en eneste Gang kommer det til et stort f [forte]. Hvad skete der? Faldt der en Tønde i Vandet, og forstyrrede den unge Mand? Hvem ved det? Men lige meget: Et kort Minut, saa er alt roligt...

(3rd movement)

forsøger at udtrykke et tungt og melankolsk Menneskes Grundkarakter


I Finalen har jeg forsøgt at skildre Grundkarakteren af et Menneske, der stormer tankeløst frem i den Tro, at hele Verden tilhører ham, og at stegte Duer flyver ham ind i Munden uden Arbejde og Omtanke. ...

En eneste Gang synes detalligevel, som om der er mødt ham noget virkelig alvorligt; i hvert fald mediterer han over et eller andet, som ligger hans Natur fjernt, og det synes at paavirke ham, saaledes at Slutningsmarchen vel nok er glad og lys, men dog værdigere og ikke saa fjollet og selvtilfreds som i nogle af de forrige Afsnit af hans Udfoldelse

Carl Nielsen in 1931, from a portrait by Sigurd Swane

[Image source:]

Complete performance of Symphony No. 2, by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Herbert Blomstedt  (No video)

Complete concert performance (with video) by the Estonian Festival Orchestra under Paavo Järvi:

Carl Nielsen's childhood home at Sortelung, near Nørre Lyndelse on Funen

[Image source:]

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

But as the riper

FROM fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory ....

(Opening lines of Shakespeare's Sonnet I)

Most blossoms change their appearance quite rapidly as they pass through the few days from budding to withering, and that's particularly noticeable with roses, in fact it's part of their interest.

This may not, indeed, be the image that Shakespeare had in mind in these opening lines to his sequence, but it's the one I always think of: the fresh rose and the blowsy rose next to each other, the one succeeding to the other.

The rest of the poem:

........ But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.

Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.

Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.

Line 6: A nice etude for the would-be reciter, to have to negotiate this tongue-twister so early!

Line 12, "tender churl".  "Tender" meaning youthful, soft, loving; or  fresh, like a newly opened rose?  "Churl", mainly OED sense 6, "One who is sordid, ‘hard’, or stingy in money-matters; a niggard; a miser."    The speaker in this third octet becomes more affectionate as his critique unrolls.  Because when it comes to it, the critique is a way of saying "How lovely you are".  But it isn't just that, either. It's also a critique that means what it says, the poet's quiet sadness is there from the start.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

the lemon-yellow tints

Topeliusesplanaden, Nykarleby, Finland

[Image source: Photograph by Leif Sjöholm.]

Nykarleby's main street. Here, as in many other northern towns where the buildings were principally of wood, a double row of birches down the middle of the main street was designed to prevent house-fires spreading right across the town. A fire on 25th  June 1888 burnt down much of the city of Umeå, now famed as  the "city of birches". I remember noticing these double lines of birches when I stayed in Jokkmokk.


the ones that do not separate
the guffaws the derision  the invective
the tricks
'us lot' the proof of those fit for existence
that they are within their rights

they have made it up and are plucking
withered flowers out of the rubbish bins
and I see before me a funeral procession
as I saw it more than twenty years ago
when I was reading Bellman
I see again the lemon-yellow tints
in the black and the white
and perceive again
the eternal recurrence
with fresh recognition as though it were for the first time
I realize
that it is that yellow colour
that constitutes the streak of the macabre
forms tone and foundation in this whole
even though it is the black and the white
that dominate
while the yellow exists as dwindling
distant flecks

'Moses, you that killed our Jesus'
scream further back in time
the flax-fringed boys to the Jewish boy
in front of the staircase in the inward-turned crescent
a primordial cavern
that the sun found
and the most prickly cactus
they beat him
and his eyes accept more and more the suffering
slightly contemptuous and very reticent expression
I thought was Christ's


Watteau's L'Indifferent in shimmering yellow
Bellman's funeral cortège
Mozart's C and D
Villon's 'The Ballad of the Hanged'
which without the least waste of time
with the cool delight of the spring
serves up truth
self-evident birdsong
even though pecked and eaten by birds
with the rope dangling around his neck
jester in green and yellow
the unique the solitary
which a few seconds centuries earlier
was the spring's oblation
sometimes ready for mutual death
a few seconds centuries later
the child's dismayed smile
when it died of wounds this morning in Korea
its sudden indifference
as its face turned pale
yellow against the black hair
so indifferent was the encounter
with the knowledge of the powerful
in a land where the many cultures have met together
in order to liberate enrich teach cure
penetrate     with violence    cause    illness    and     splitting

but then also cure
civilise help
but with knowledge for death
lemon-yellow skin against black wisps
'they say what does not need to be said
they make visible what does not need to be made visible'
eyes so turned-away that only the whites are prepared to meet

experience of mutilation of the irreconcilable
and yet capacity for reconciliation
if not with .....


Extracts from "Retrospect", published in I tunga hängen mognar bären  (In Heavy Clusters The Berries Ripen, 1959). English translation by David McDuff.

The complete poem "Retrospect", along with various other Tuominen pieces, is available online on David's own website:


Mirjam Irene Tuominen 1913 - 1967

Mirjam Tuominen in Nykarleby, memoir by her daughter Tuva Korsström (in Swedish):

She lived there, especially in the 1940s (the time of her marriage, the birth of her two daughters, and the publication of her well-received short stories); thereafter more sporadically, leaving the town finally in the mid-1950s.  The small town didn't make her happy. She was remembered as causing outrage by smoking cigarettes while walking down the middle of the main street -- I suppose the birch trees were not there then.

Tuva Korsström: "Dark gods: on the prose and poetry of Mirjam Tuominen" (in English):

David McDuff on Mirjam Tuominen:

Mirjam Tuominen's Selected Writings, translated by David McDuff, was published by Bloodaxe in 1994. The jacket uses one of her own pastel drawings, from 1958.


Nykarleby is a town in Finland  more or less directly opposite Umeå in Sweden. The gulf of Bothnia (Sw: Bottenviken) lies between, and is quite narrow at this point. Nearly 90% of Nykarleby's inhabitants still speak Swedish rather than Finnish.

The poet Gösta Ågren also has Nykarleby connections, as did the nineteenth-century author Zachris Topelius, after whom its main street is named.

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

maturing silence

In the earlier days of blogging, we did a lot of thinking about this new form of writing.

These days I'm more inclined to just accept a medium that comes naturally to me, I hope in the spirit of Vincent in such posts as this:

It's simply the happy realization that the blog format suits me perfectly; or else that I’ve adjusted to its constraints, reframed them as virtues. I reject the printed book’s pretensions to completion and finality. My entries are essays, successive attempts to convey something, or at any rate to undergo something in the various processes involved in composition. The public imagination may see the blog as a spontaneous expression, like its baby brother, Twitter. They are not wrong. Within written literature, it approaches, but can never quite reach, the danger of live performance.

But my interest in the theory of blogging was reawakened recently by some thoughts of Thomas Basbøll:

Why should it matter whether you are submitting something to a publisher or magazine? Why does posting something directly to the internet undermine its status as "writing"?

Over the next few posts, that's the question I want to address. The short answer is that blogging is a social activity, while writing is, properly speaking, a use of one's solitude. There is nothing solitary about blogging. Composing a blog post is not experienced as Woolf's "loneliness that is the truth of things". On the contrary, blogging is an engagement with social media. It's actually not the Internet that is important here. It's the blogging "platform", which robs a text of its immediacy by means, precisely, of its instantaneity. To put it simply, the platform so completely carries the weight of History that the blogger has no leverage on it, thus, none of the freedom that Barthes finds essential to writing.

I will try to make all this clearer as I go forward. I want to stress, however, that there is no implicit value judgment here, nor any announcement of an epochal shift. I'm not declaring "the end of writing" and the "dawn of blogging". I'm neither celebrating nor lamenting the developments I'm going to think out loud about. I'm trying to say that blogging has emerged as something new, something that is sometimes mistaken for writing, and something that writing sometimes mistakes itself for. I'm just trying to understand what it is. What I have been doing all these years.

Instead of writing.

Writing requires a structural displacement in time and space. When you read a novel, you are reading something in a time and place that is completely distinct from the time and place of the writer. When writing it, you are immersed in an experience that is very different from what the reader will experience.

This is much less often the case with online writing, and I want to say that it is  distinctly not the case when blogging. The blogger, like the reader, is online, often engaging with something that is happening in the moment.


I feel this is getting Heideggerian, but Basbøll gives me a sense that "writing" (i.e. writing in the true sense)  confronts existence in a space of silence and isolation. The writer musters everything in that cloaked engagement, the metaphysical battle is fully fought, and from out of the silence a writing steps forth, fathomless in its depths, mysterious in its origins, a pure gift to the reader and the world.

It's a wonderful image of a very high view of writing. (Incidentally, those posts proved to be Basbøll's valediction to blogging, at least for the past year. Presumably he's writing instead.)

Many writers, I know, do find it essential to draw back from the day-to-day of blogs and Facebook when they write books or poetry. Sometimes I feel it myself. But I would feel exactly the same if I had some Maths homework to do, or a tax return.

Now indeed, as Mrs Norris says (in Mansfield Park), a theatre without a curtain has very little sense in it. To that extent I'm with Basbøll. I think a writing should step forth well-dressed, if it's possible. Sometimes the imposition of delayed publication leads to a better, more considered, writing in the end. Horace, I seem to recall reading,  always gave his poems five years before he published them.

But when I think of Dickens' serialized novels, or Shakespeare's hand-to-mouth creation of plays for his company, in some ways they resemble the online immediacies of blogging more than an idealised script that emerges from cloistered silence.

It's true, when we pick up Hamlet today and find ourselves on the walls of Elsinore at midnight, we are stunned by the emergence of this breathless drama, seemingly out of nothing, the completeness of its separation from any vision of a mundane author scribbling away on a bench. But this is a magical effect that time has enhanced. The further away we are from a writer and the context of that writer's times, the more their work takes on this patina of completeness-in-itself.  Likewise, we pick up the Bible: Now the Lord said to Abraham, Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house...  The writing speaks to us directly, without mediation. Literature rises out of silence. Perhaps it is even the voice of God.

But was it always so? When I think of the breakneck way in which the early commercial theatre operated, the never-satiated demand for new plays, the actors and the shareholders and the febrile audiences and the collaborators, adaptors, revisers and plagiarists, I think Shakespeare must have felt "on-line" rather a lot. He would have experienced plenty of short-term feedback, he would have seen plenty of stats and he endured some pretty brutal trolling at times. Dickens, likewise, published his novels serially, anxiously scanning sales figures and quite prepared (ill-advisedly at times) to alter his stories in deference to public outcry. 

And yet Shakespeare and Dickens are writers in the real sense... aren't they?

So I'm suggesting that the important effect of distance between the artist's creation and the audience's reception is something that all writing tends to accrue over time.

But rather than focus on the differences between blogging and writing, I'd prefer to think about artefacts in general. I'd suggest that every artefact (let's say a vase, for the sake of argument) contains an element of concealment. We, the audience, see the finished vase, but we didn't see the vase being made. It has a quality of muteness, it keeps a secret.  And even when the arts are made in real time, or when they are made communally so there is no distinction between artist and audience ( -- I am thinking of our family long-dance at Christmas --) , still the concealment and the mystery remain, so that we never fully understand what happened or how it could happen. Every art contains something, every art has hinterlands.

And to come back to writing (whether in the true sense or not), there remains always some element of concealment. We are never entirely concealed from each other; even the most rebarbative text expresses us and betrays us. But we aren't completely transparent either; not even when texting an ETA, not even when "pouring our hearts out"....


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Grasses on Cley Hill

From a trip up there this morning. The photos are, to put it kindly, impressionistic.

Cley Hill is an isolated chalk capstone on a greensand ridge. Hence the conifers and rhododendrons of the Longleat estate, in the distance.

Upright Brome (Bromus erectus) .  Always described as a "coarse" grass, but it's one of the most delicate of coarse grasses.

Beneath it, Quaking-grass (Briza media)  and Crested Dog's-tail (Cynosurus cristatus)

Small Timothy, or Smaller Cat's-tail. Phleum pratense ssp. bertolonii , sometimes called Phleum bertolonii.

Yellow Oat-grass (Trisetum flavescens), I reckon.

Crested Hair-grass (Koeleria macrantha)  .... but I didn't recognize it at the time, previously I had always seen the spike in its more open state.

There were some other common grass species around that I didn't bother to photograph, as not being specially associated with chalk grassland.  For instance, quite a lot of Cocksfoot, usually small and often with only a single toe;  Yorkshire Fog, in damper spots; Perennial Rye-grass here and there....


Friday, June 15, 2018

some poems from Karin Boye's Hidden Lands (1924)

Forntidsrit ("Ancient Ritual"), watercolour by Karin Boye

The stars

Now it's all over. Now I wake.
It's calm and easy to disappear,
when nothing remains to hang on for,
and nothing remains to suffer here.

Red-gold last night, a dry leaf now;
tomorrow, nothing in this place.
But stars burn silent as before,
at night, in the surrounds of space.

Now I want to give myself
so not a single scrap remains.
Will you, stars, accept a soul
with no possessions in her train?

With you is freedom, perfect in
the peace of far eternities.
Heaven is not blank to one
who gives her dream and her unease.


Nu är det slut.  Nu vaknar jag.
Och det är lugnt och lätt att gå,
när inget finns att vänta mer
och inget finns att bära på.

Rött guld i går, torrt löv i dag.
I morgon finns där ingenting.
Men stjärnor brinner tyst som förr
i natt i rymden runtomkring.

Nu vill jag skänka bort mig själv,
så har jag ingen smula kvar.
Säg, stjärnor, vill ni ta emot
en själ, som inga skatter har?

Hos er är frihet utan vank
i fjärran evigheters frid.
Den såg väl aldrig himlen tom,
som gav åt er sin dröm och strid.

New Paths

here they start   new paths
let us walk in calm
come let us search for
some new and lovely bloom

cast off what was ours!
things won and complete
lifelessly oppress us
not worth dream and song and feat

life is what is waiting
what no-one can know
come let us forget
seek where new and fair things grow.

Nya vägar

Här går nya vägar.
Låt oss vandra fromma.
Kom, låt oss söka
någon ny och vacker blomma.

Kasta det vi äger!
Allting nått och färdigt
livlöst oss tynger,
dröm och sång och dåd ej värdigt.

Liv är det som väntar,
det man ej kan veta...
Kom, låt oss glömma!
Låt oss nytt och fagert leta!

The Star’s Prize

I asked a star last night
– a light far off, where no-one lives –
“Whose path do you light, strange star?
You shine so bright, so big.”

She gazed with a starry eye
until my heart grew dumb.
“I light an eternal night.
I light a lifeless vacuum.

My light is a flower that withers
under late autumn skies.
That light is my only prize.
That light is sufficient prize.”

Stjärnornas tröst

Jag har frågat en stjärna i natt
-- ett ljus långt bort där ingen bor --:
"Vem lyser du, främmande stjärna?
Du går så klar och stor."

Hon såg med en stjärneblick,
som gjorde min ömkan stum:
"Jag lyser en evig natt.
Jag lyser ett livlöst rum.

Mitt ljus är en blomma som vissnar
i rymdernas sena höst.
Det ljuset är all min tröst.
Det ljuset är nog till tröst."

The old dad

The old dad, I have seen him in the dusk of a summer night,
in the clover-scented night, working on his own.
By the spring that belongs to the farm
he stood, a bent figure,
sharpening the haymakers' scythes;
he was barely a shadow - so grey,
and quite as old as the farm,
yet he seemed to live on with as sturdy a life as it.
His fragile song, this I shall not forget:

Oh you, the lord and master of the farm,
to the old dad you are only a boy.
I was the first one who broke your soil.
When the ploughshare labours in the furrow –
then, do you think of me?
In ancient times 
with the stones I threw aside I began
to raise the stone-pile that marks the edge of the farm.

For a thousand years
I have built it now and built beside all who built;
I have held the ploughshaft with all who ploughed.
I have a part in your work,
have a right to claim.
You know it well:
that the holy seed may grow
always, always,
here in the fields
where I first sowed it.



Gamlefar har jag sett i sommarnattens ljus,
i nattens klöverdofter blitt allena.
Vid gårdens brunn
stod han böjd,
slipade slåtterfolkets liar.
Som en vissnande skugga så grå,
så gammal han som gården,
syntes han ändå leva så levande liv som den.
Hans spröda sång, den glömmer jag icke.

"Du myndige far i gården,
för gamlefar är du pilt ändå.
Jag är den förste som vände din jord.
När plogen strävar i fåran,
minns du mig då?
I hedenhös
började jag av undanvräkta stenar
resa det rös, som gärdar ägornas gräns.

I tusen år
har jag byggt det och byggt med er alla som byggde,
hållit i plogens skaft med er alla som plöjde.
Jag har del i ert verk,
har en rätt att kräva.
Du känner den väl:
den, att den heliga säden växer
alltjämt, alltjämt
här på de marker, där jag
för första gång den sådde."


I want to live the right way,
and die the right way, too.
Let me hold on to what is real
in grief, as much as joy.
And I would like to be still,
to reverence what is here
for what it is, for what it really is
and nothing more.

Suppose of all my lifetime
only one day remained,
then I would want the loveliest
thing that earth contained.
The loveliest thing on earth
is merely, Honesty.
For that alone brings life to life
and to reality.

The whole wide world is 
an Alchemilla-cup,
and resting in its greenness
one clear water-drop.
That one, still, drop
is the apple of life’s eye.
Oh make me fit to look in it!
Oh make me purified!


Ack låt mig leva riktigt
och riktigt dö en gång,
så att jag rör vid verklighet
i ont som i gott.
Och låt  mig vara stilla
och vörda vad jag ser,
så detta får bli detta
och inget mer.

Om av det långa livet
en enda dag var kvar,
då sökte jag det vackraste
som jordlivet har.
Det vackraste på jorden
är bara redlighet,
men det gör ensamt liv till liv
och verklighet.

Så är den vida världen
ett daggkåpeblad
och ini skålen vilar
en vattendroppe klar.
Den enda stilla droppen
är livets ögonsten.
Ack gör mig värd att se i den!
Ack gör mig ren!

Burning Candles

Now night is crying aloud in its need,
oppressed by an unknown sickness.
Now I’ll light a brace of candles here
for the sake of eternal darkness.

So if the Lord’s angels pass this way,
the gleam will summon them,
they’ll hear how the flames are singing my prayer,
and they’ll carry its burden home.

They're warriors sent out in fiery mail
from God Almighty’s house.
Their speech has no words for bitter or sweet,
but for burning candles it does.

That’s why they stand on the stormcloud’s back,
within the clap of its wings.
That’s why they smile at the power of darkness
and think its cold is nothing.

O Lord my God, O terrible God,
I hear the surge of your mantle.
I pray for flowers and pray for peace,
but give to me burning candles!

Brinnande ljus

Nu ropar natten högt i nöd,
av okänd ångest full.
Nu tänder jag här två raka ljus
för eviga mörkers skull.

Om Herrens änglar drar här fram,
så kallar skenet dem,
så hör de, hur lågorna sjunger min bön,
och bär den med sig hem.

De är kämpar, som går i brynjor av eld
med bud från den Väldiges hus
Deras tal har ej ord för hårt och ljuvt,
men väl för brinnande ljus.

Det är därför de står på stormens rygg
mellan piskande vingars dån,
det är därför de ler åt mörkrets makt
och möter kölden med hån.

O Herre min Gud, förfärlige Gud,
jag hör din mantels brus.
Jag ber om blommor och ber om fred --
men ge mig brinnande ljus!


English translations are by me...

"Stjärnornas tröst" turned into a song by Andreas Lång:

The poems of Hidden Lands, like the watercolour at the head of this post, are said to show the influence on Boye of Viktor Rydberg (1828 - 1895), Romantic novelist and self-taught scholar of mythology (he was the son of a soldier-turned-prison-guard and a midwife).

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