Thursday, May 30, 2019

Göran Sonnevi: The Ocean

I've just discovered that the celebrated Swedish poet Göran Sonnevi lives in the same town, Järfälla, as my sister. (It's on the edge of Stockholm, at the eastern end of Lake Mälaren.) In honour of that discovery, I'm dipping into Oceanen, Sonnevi's enormous poem of 2005. I thought: let's open the book at random (p. 40 of 419), and begin to translate....


Here's Ormöga    The grey clouds drift over
the level heathland    the sea horizon grey
with a glowing streak just above the land
The cuckoo calls  The snipe are flying round the fen
The early marsh orchids' dark little torches glow    The grass is
greygreenbrown, changing    All round are precipices
There's one next to the bed I sleep in    Steeply
falling night    We float over the darkness, as over
the universe, in its abstraction    In the morning we're to-
gether    We listen to music    I'm listening to nothingness too

In the distance I can see the fishing huts,  the chapel ruins
Among them stands the Celtic cross, of lime-
stone, which was itself the crucified with
outstretched arms    The hands    The head    The foot
grown over with grey and yellow lichen    Now rain
sweeps across the landscape    The hen harrier flew
from the grove towards the sea    I shall not have any defence
I'm in the streaming darkness also the pale night

I've set up as a sign
the feather I picked up by the eastern sea
My father and my mother are in the western sea, which I
also touched, with my hands    Here are the other dead, the other
living    We touch each other's distorted faces
I feel their geometry    I see the swallows' flight-curves
here too, quick switches in direction, a constant adjustment
The hen harrier has its geometry, in its flight    That's
what we touch, far away, in the distance
The feather is grey within, then brown, then nearly white
Also down at the root there's white, fluffy
The swallows are still building their nest, on the outside the clay is moist
Ay! Ay! That dark face rests behind all this

The landscape here moves in a seemingly
older economy    Same dry-stone walls, same fields
as from another time    The birds    The orchids    Yesterday
we went to the sea; within the pine grove grew
a very large specimen of Military Orchid,
Orchis militaris, pale lilac, a big spike, thick stem
Down by the sea I went to the place with Blood Orchid,
flecked leaves, boldly marked flower-lip, beside
the Early Marsh Orchid, a deeper lilac    The black-tailed godwit flew up
The cows, young heifers, formed themselves into a line in the distance
Farming going on    The smell of liquid manure in the rain, under
the mists    On the sea cargo boats go by    On the thrift's
stem glowed the lackey moth's larvae in the evening sun, with red-brown
hairs, above the light blue and brown stripes along the body
We are in a network of dependencies    Who is it that's murdered?
Who do I murder?    Everything depends on the way we touch each other

In Ormöga the blind man lives, alone, since his mother died
a couple of years back    When I pick up the post from him
he turns his ear's glance towards me while we talk
In his face is a kind of peace    The garden runs ever more wild
We're renting here at one of his sisters', in one of the houses
facing the sea    Most of them are leased out now    I told her
about Gunnar and Verner in Färgaryd, how they kept a calf
This talk touched my childhood    I'm getting ever more childlike now
Today is the last day of the year since my mother's death    We'll be lighting a candle

Everyone's asleep    Everyone is as if they were awake
in the first moment of dawn    The landscape entirely still
My mother has been dead for a year    Now I'm wholly alone
My child is asleep    You're asleep, dear one    Everyone should sleep
In the morning we light the candle in the window in the sun
between us and the sea    Here is Ormöga, where we were meant to be
a year ago    We are here for the second time

What do I see with the snake's glance out towards the sea    In my
self-sufficiency, in my lack of interest for the
life of others    The indifferent's geometry    My tower here is
turned towards the sea, since the proprietress locked the other room

I shan't break open the other's room    Only my own
Yet nothing can be repeated    The swallows' geometry is constantly new
Perhaps we go into each other's room    As into a chamber of Hades?
We will be in each other's intolerance    There love finds us

My mother has gone in to my silence, is now part
of it    There she can no longer disturb me    It's
not required now either    She touches me with every leaf
In the grey afternoon I go alone to the sea
The black-tailed godwits fly up, circle around me, cry
The curlew flies up too    In the pine grove by
the sea a red-brown cow has got over the dry-stone wall    She
follows me with her gaze    I follow her    Down by
the sea I touch the water, follow the beach    Look for
avocets in the bay towards Kapelludden, but there aren't any

My mother's silence breathes    I am in my breath    The deep
voice is heard, within me, in the silence    Whose turn is it now?
Ay! Ay! The swifts' young are flying, already supreme    I breathe
in    Genders, animals, creatures, society, people    They breathe
also within me    I delete nothing    The voice is in its
divisions, infinitely subtle    It isn't subject to anyone

I'm waiting for the dark pain    That will come
and break its way in as my mother    She comes also as
a woman, and I rest in her transparency
She's terribly jealous, doesn't tolerate that I'm
with anyone else    There is no sleep    I'm with my dear one
We are lying within the extended sofa's wooden frame
Over the heath and the wood stands the moon, a bit bigger than a sickle,
waxing    It shines with silver-gold light in the pale night
Still June    Later in the night I hear the shriek of the black-tailed godwit

July    Through the open window comes air from the sea
Listen to the swallows, their small chirping sound    Far off
is heard the curlew    The grief for my mother comes, outside time, it doesn't
bother about time    Saw her smiling hugeness, when she no
longer was sad    The vastness without reserve, just in existence
Here's Ormöga    The pain has no time    The joy neither
The sea glitters in the distance    On the shoreline saw the beck's cleft

I still wait for the pain to break into the future, into its
dark forms    I see the angel of the annunciation on the font at Egby,
Gotland sandstone, 11th century    It flies like the birds of the dead
on the picture-stones some centuries earlier    But with a glory round
the head, above the wild animals who attend Mary
In another scene she rests wrapped up, half sitting
on a bed, Joseph gives her something to drink    We go to
the little alvar behind Bockberget to the west    There we see the cranes stepping

Yellow sedum's blooming, and white, half out    A little
tuft of thyme glows lilac    On a dark limestone slab a light-coloured stone,
some kind of sandstone, mossy, hollowed out    A cranium
You stretch out on the warm slab, rest there    In the distance
I see you as some animal, green- and black-flecked, that doesn't exist
At night the swifts flew before the moon, nearly half full    A
single star appeared, scarcely distinguishable, in the pale night

The noise of rain on the roof    Here too in the tower of nothing
Gösta Skyle    We'll be going straight from here to his burial
He's the last of the people from my childhood    At his home was
the same luminosity, the same kindness as at my dad's    Not his torment
I didn't see that until now, in the contrast, in death
Grasp that my father didn't want to be what he was    At Gösta's I saw
a different society stand out   Where nothing's sold    Nothing bought
See that my father fled from his mum's torment, her hardness, dominance
Helge related how he used to get up in the night with the potty full of blood
She forbad Gunnar from marrying, after he came to grief in America
when the bank that held his savings went under, and he was forced to live
in someone else's house as a farm-hand    Farfar wrote to him, when he was called up
in the summer of 1941, about the harvest, and that he hoped he wouldn't have to
go to war    Seeing before me Gösta's parents, August and Selma, Gösta
took after her, remember the hornet's nest I stirred up when as a child I said:
Farbror Svensson is a Nazi      Who has said that? Where did you hear that?
The adults in a ring round me, disturbed    I understood nothing about it
Don't know, but I have no reason to think it was true
He was a grocer in Vattugatan in Halmstad, a little shop
in the basement of the big apartment block, bowed metal roof over the stairs down
His children, Gösta and Helfrid, wanted to be artists; he became a drawing master,
she became a telephonist    The other son, Sture, became a chemist; when I was
nine or ten, maybe eleven, I visited him at Chemicum in Lund
All that I see    Ay! Ay! Nothing of everything    Everything of nothing

The tower of nothingness is emptied    The hen harrier stops with
fluttering wings above the beach heath    I go out in the sun
look at the rock-roses in the grass, the burnt orchids and the
twayblades    Hear the waves, and far off the black-tailed godwit
In the night I heard the nightjar, while visiting friends
We came home over the Alvar beneath the moon    Then northward, getting
under dark clouds, in the rain    Here all the birds are sleeping
The swifts sleep under the roof tiles, with their long,
slender bodies    We sleep beside each other    I've drunk wine
Not you, who drove    This tower is emptied    Others will come
Slenderer, with their roots far down beneath the earth
The water presses up through the limestone pavement    Meets the rain there
I heard the nightjar sixteen years ago in the same place    We are older

I see a woman's sex, bright, upright, a narrow mandala
I pass in there   Into its darkness    In a violent emptying
I see history's face    Wolves pressed into Paris, through
breaches in the wall    Ay! Ay! We shall be here with each other

The sea sees me, with its horizontal glance    Level with the eyes
Yesterday I went to the mother-sea, also here    There are all creatures now
All those who see each other    The fox, the cat    Cows there in the distance
At dawn the fly runs like a sweat-drop over the face    It
doesn't sleep    The swifts are already flashing past    Everyone sleeps

Here is Ormöga    Here everything is foreign    Here we almost
don't exist    Here is the dark-grey sea horizon    All the flowers
All the birds    Yesterday I saw the swallow's young in the nest nearly above
the dining-room window    In the beach heath the curlew's young, while the parents
circled above; smaller, slenderer bill, same call, though smaller
I went the last time to the sea, alone    Everywhere water, after
the rain    The sea was completely still; I heard its voice, still
This is now my mother's sea too    Although she never managed to come here
I touched it    It is a returning    Here everything is foreign
Here is the hen harrier    Here is the snipe, keeping watch
In the night I see the moon go down, orange among the clouds    Perfect
solitude; perfect silence    While everyone sleeps    At dawn the fly wakes us
Ay! Ay! The everywhere vacant torment, in its furthermost presence
The cuckoo is heard, distantly    The swifts are in their geometry, dynamic
We take our leave of friends, chat in the dusk, after visiting
the headland    the first migrating birds are gathering, dunlins, says the newly arrived
                                                             ornithologist in the house next door
Tomorrow Gösta Skyle will be buried in Söndrum outside Halmstad    We shall be there

(pp. 40-47)


[Ormöga is on Öland,  which contains Europe's largest alvar (extended limestone pavement) -- Stora Alvaret -- , and also many orchids.

Blood Orchid = "Blodnycklar", a name given to Dactylorhiza incarnata ssp. cruenta,  a dark-coloured subspecies of Early Marsh Orchid.


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