Poems (1916), by Edith Södergran
I saw a tree…
I saw a tree that was greater than all others
and hung full of cones out of reach;
I saw a tall church with open door
and all who came out were pale and strong
and ready to die;
I saw a woman who smiling and rouged
threw dice for her luck
and saw she had lost.
A circle was drawn around these things
that no one crosses over.
The day cools
The day cools towards evening…
Drink the warmth out of my hand,
my hand has the same blood as the springtime.
Take my hand, take my white arm,
take the longing of my narrow shoulders …
It would be strange to feel,
one single night, a night like this,
your heavy head against my breast.
You threw the red rose of your love
into my white lap -
I hold fast in my hot hands
your love’s red rose that quickly fades …
0 conqueror with cold eyes,
I take the crown you reach to me,
it bows my head down to my heart. . .
I saw my lord for the first time today,
trembling, I recognized him at once.
Now I already feel his heavy hand on my light arm…
Where is my ringing maiden’s laughter,
my woman’s freedom with high lifted head?
Now I already feel his tight grip around my shaking body,
now I hear reality’s hard note
against my brittle, brittle dreams.
You looked for a flower
and found a fruit.
You looked for a well
and found a sea.
You looked for a woman
and found a soul –
you are disappointed.
The Old House
How new eyes look upon old times
like strangers who have no heart …
I pine away to my old drains,
my gloomy greatness weeps out bitter tears
that no one sees.
I live on in the sweetness of old days
with strangers who build new dwellings
on blue hills up to the edge of the sky,
I talk softly with the captured trees
and comfort them sometimes.
How slowly time consumes the core of things,
and soundlessly treads fate’s heavy heel.
I must wait here for gentle death
that will bring freedom to my soul.
Moonlit evening, silver clear
and the night’s blue billows,
sparkling waves, numberless,
follow one another.
Shadows fall along the path,
on the shore the bushes softly weep,
black giants guard its silver in their keep.
Silence deep in summer’s midst,
sleep and dream, -
the moon glides out across the sea
white tender gleam.
Of all our sunny world
I wish only for a garden sofa
where a cat is sunning itself.
There I should sit
with a letter at my breast,
a single small letter.
That is what my dream looks like.
The Days of Autumn
The days of autumn are translucent
painted on the forest’s golden ground …
The days of autumn smile at all the world.
It is so good to sleep without desire,
sated with flowers, of green grown tired,
the vine’s red garland at the headboard of the bed…
The day of autumn has no longer any longing,
its fingers are so pitilessly cold,
in its dreams it glimpses everywhere
the white flakes’ ceaseless falling.
You who never went out of your garden plot…
You who never went out of your garden plot,
did you never stand at the latticed view
and longingly watch how on dreaming paths
the evening toned into blue?
Was that not a foretaste of unwept tears
that burned like a fire on your tongue,
when over ways you never went
a blood-red sun went down?
I am a stranger in this land
that lies deep under the pressing sea,
the sun looks in with curling beams
and the air floats between my hands.
They told me that I was born in captivity –
here is no face that is known to me.
Am I a stone someone threw to the bottom?
Am I a fruit that was too heavy for its branch?
Here I lurk at the foot of the murmuring tree,
how will I get up the slippery stems?
Up there the tottering treetops meet,
there I will sit and spy out
the smoke from my homeland’s chimneys. .
A Strip of Sea
There is a strip of sea that glimmers grey
at the sky’s end,
it has a dark blue wall
that looks like land,
it is there my longing rests
before it flies away home.
God is a resting bed, on which we lie outstretched in the universe
pure as angels, with saint-blue eyes replying to the greeting of the stars;
god is a pillow on which we lean our heads, god is a support for our feet;
god is a store of strength and a virgin darkness;
god is the immaculate soul of the unseen and the already decomposed body of that which has not yet been thought of;
god is the standing waters of the eternities;
god is the fertile seed of nothingness and a handful of ash
from the worlds that have been burned down;
god is the myriads of the insects and the ecstasy of the roses; god is an empty swing between nothing and all; god is a prison for all free souls;
god is a harp for the hand of the most violent anger; god is what longing can make come down to earth!
Violet dusks …
Violet dusks I bear within me from my origins,
naked maidens at play with galloping centaurs. . .
Yellow sunlit days with gaudy glances,
only sunbeams do true homage to a tender woman’s body …
The man has not come, has never been, will never be …
The man is a false mirror that the sun’s daughter angrily throws against the rock-face,
the man is a lie that white children do not understand,
the man is a rotten fruit that proud lips disdain.
Beautiful sisters, come high up on to the strongest rocks,
we are all warriors, heroines, horsewomen,
eyes of innocence, heavenly foreheads, rose masks,
heavy breakers and birds flown by,
we are the least expected and the deepest red,
stripes of tigers, taut strings, stars without vertigo.
Far from happiness I lie on an island in the sea and sleep.
The mists rise and fly and the winds change,
I dream uneasy dreams of war and great feasts
and that my beloved stands on a ship and sees
the swallows soar and feels no longing!
There is something heavy, immobile in his inner being,
he sees the ship glide into the unwilling future,
the sharp keel cut into refractory fate,
wings bear him into the land where all that he does is in vain,
into the land of empty and useless days far away from fate. . .
I am not a woman. I am a neuter.
I am a child, a page and a bold resolve,
I am a laughing stripe of a scarlet sun…
I am a net for all greedy fish,
I am a toast to the glory of all women,
I am a step towards hazard and ruin,
I am a leap into freedom and self …
I am the whisper of blood in the ear of the man,
I am the soul’s ague, the longing and refusal of the flesh,
I am an entrance sign to new paradises.
I am a flame, searching and brazen,
I am water, deep but daring up to the knee,
I am fire and water in free and loyal union …
The Colours’ Longing
For my own paleness’ sake I love red, blue and yellow,
the great whiteness is cheerless as the snowy twilight
when Snow-White’s mother sat at the window and wished
herself black and red as well.
The colours’ longing is the blood’s. If you thirst after beauty
you must close your eyes and look into your own heart.
Yet beauty fears the daylight and too many looks,
yet beauty will not suffer noise or all too many movements –
you must not bring your heart to your lips,
we should not disturb the noble rings of silence and solitude, -
what is greater to meet than an unsolved riddle with strange features?
A silent woman I shall be all my life long,
a talking woman is like the chattering beck that betrays itself,
a lonely tree on the plain I shall be,
the trees in the wood die of longing for storms,
I shall be healthy from top to toe with golden streaks in my blood,
I shall be pure and innocent as a flame with licking lips.
To All Four Winds
No bird strays here into my hidden corner,
no black swallow that brings longing,
no white gull that tides a storm …
In the shadow of the rocks my wildness stays awake,
ready to fly at the slightest whisper, at approaching steps …
Soundless and blue is my world, blessed …
I have a door to all four winds.
I have a golden door to the east – for love that never comes,
I have a door for day and another for sadness,
I have a door for death – that one is always open.
Our sisters walk in motley clothes
Our sisters walk in motley clothes,
our sisters stand by the water and sing,
our sisters sit on stones and wait,
they have water and air in their baskets
and call them flowers.
But I hurl my arms around a cross
I was once as soft as a light green leaf
and I hung high up in the blue air,
then two sword-blades crossed in my inner being
and a victor led me to his lips.
His hardness was so gentle that I did not fall apart,
he fastened a shimmering star to my forehead
and left me shaking with tears
on an island that is called winter. -
The Last Flower of Autumn
I am the last flower of autumn.
I was rocked in summer’s cradle,
I was put on watch against the north wind,
red flames burst out
on my white cheek.
I am the last flower of autumn.
I am the youngest seed of the dead spring,
it is so easy to die as the last:
I have seen the lake so fairy-like and blue,
I have heard the heart of the dead summer beat,
my chalice bears no other seed than death’s.
I am the last flower of autumn.
I have seen the deep starry worlds of autumn,
I have watched the light from far-away warm hearths,
it is so easy to follow the same path,
I shall lock death’s doors.
I am the last flower of autumn.
Pale Lake of Autumn
Pale lake of autumn
heavy dreams you dream
of a spring-white island
that sank in the sea.
Pale lake of autumn,
how your ripple hides,
how your mirror forgets
days that die.
Pale lake of autumn
it bears its high sky
lightly and silently,
as life and death for one moment
in a drowsy wave kiss one another.
Black or White
The rivers run under the bridges,
the flowers glow by the roads,
the forests bow themselves murmuring to the fields.
For me nothing is high or low any more,
black or white,
since I have seen a white-clad woman
in my beloved’s arms.
The naked trees stand around your house
and let in sky and air without end,
the naked trees stride down to the shore
and mirror themselves in the water.
A child still plays in the grey smoke of autumn
and a girl walks with flowers in her hand and near the sky’s edge
silver-white birds fly up.
When night comes
I stand on the stairway and listen,
the stars are swarming in the garden
and I am standing in the dark.
Listen, a star fell with a tinkle!
Do not go out on the grass with bare feet;
my garden is full of splinters.
Two Shore Poems
My life was as naked
as the grey rocks,
my life was as cold
as the white heights,
but my youth sat with hot cheeks and exulted:
the sun is coming!
And the sun came and naked I lay
all the long day on the grey rocks -
there came a cold breeze from the red sea:
the sun is going down!
Among grey stones
lies your white body and grieves
over the days that come and go.
The fairy-tales you heard as a child
sob in your heart.
Silence without echo,
solitude without mirror,
the air shows blue through every crevice.
In the Window Stands a Candle
In the window stands a candle,
that slowly burns
and says that someone is dead in there.
A few spruce trees stand silent
round a path that stops abruptly
in a cemetery in mist.
A bird pipes -
who is in there?
Wandering clouds have fastened themselves to the mountain’s edge,
for endless hours they stand in silence and wait:
if a chivvying wind wants to strew them over the plain
they should rise with the sun over the snow of the summits.
Wandering clouds have set themselves in the way of the sun,
the mourning pennants of everyday hang so heavily,
down in the valley life walks with dragging feet,
the sounds of a grand piano sing from open windows.
Strip upon strip is the valley’s motley carpet,
firm as sugar is the heights’ eternal snow…
The winter steps softly down into the valley.
The giants smile.
The Forest Lake
I was alone on a sunny shore
by the forest’s pale blue lake,
in the sky floated a single cloud
and on the water a single island.
Ripe summer’s sweetness dripped
in pearls from every tree
and into my opened heart
a little drop ran down.
The Starry Night
the world is empty as your laughter.
The stars are falling – cold and magnificent night.
Love smiles in its sleep,
love dreams of eternity …
Needless fear, needless pain,
the world is less than nothing,
from love’s hand down into the depths
slips eternity’s ring.
Warm words, fine words, deep words …
They are like the scent of a flower in the night
that one cannot see.
Behind them lurks empty space …
Perhaps they are the curling smoke
from the warm hearth of love?
The Road to Happiness
We are not supposed to know
how miracles happen, -
there is no road to happiness,
no happy one can recall the path
that led him to happiness’s secret door.
Alas, to hunt the bird of happiness
is to go without roads
and to take without hands.
To be king in happiness’s fairy-tale
is to stand dumbfounded and amazed.
We wait for miracles from the day,
the day fades cold and pale.
Ask again, tired brain,
is your dream, the star of your happiness,
fraud and guile?
In the melancholy forest
dwells a sick god.
In the dark forest the flowers are so pale
and the birds so shy.
Why is the wind full of warning whispers
and the road dark with dismal forebodings?
In the shadow lies the sick god
dreaming venomous dreams …
In the great forests …
In the great forests I lost my way,
I sought the fairy-tales my childhood heard.
In the high mountains I lost my way,
I sought the dream-castle my girlhood built.
In my beloved’s garden I did not lose my way,
there sat the happy cuckoo, my longing followed.
I have a luck cat in my arms,
it spins threads of luck.
Luck cat, luck cat,
make for me three things:
make for me a golden ring,
to tell me that I am lucky;
make for me a mirror
to tell me that I am beautiful;
make for me a fan
to waft away my cumbersome thoughts.
Luck cat, luck cat,
spin for me some news of my future!
The Wood’s Light Daughter
Was it not yesterday
that the wood’s light daughter celebrated her wedding
and everyone was happy?
She was the weightless bird and the fair spring-head,
she was the secret road and the laughing bush,
she was the drunken and fearless summer night.
She was shameless and laughed without measure,
for she was the wood’s light daughter;
she had borrowed the cuckoo’s instrument
nd wandered playing from lake to lake.
When the wood’s light daughter celebrated her wedding
there was no one unhappy on earth:
the wood’s light daughter is free from longing,
she is blond-haired and stills all dreams
she is pale and wakens all desires.
When the wood’s light daughter celebrated her wedding
the spruce trees stood so contentedly on the sandy hill
and the pines so proudly on the steep precipice
and the junipers so happily on the sunny slope
and the little flowers all had white collars.
Then the forests dropped their seeds into human hearts,
the glittering lakes swam in human eyes
and the white butterflies fluttered ceaselessly by.
We women, we are so close to the brown earth.
We ask the cuckoo what he expects of the spring,
we throw our arms around the bare pine tree,
we search in the sunset for signs and counsel.
Once I loved a man, he believed in nothing …
He came one cold day with empty eyes,
he went one heavy day with forgetfulness on his brow.
If my child does not live, it is his.
A few last stars glow exhaustedly.
I see them out of my window. The sky is pale,
one scarcely senses the day that is beginning in the distance.
There rests a silence spread out over the lake,
there lurks a whispering among the trees,
my old garden listens half-distraught
to the night’s breathing that murmurs over the road.
All my castles of air have melted like snow,
all my dreams have run out like water,
of all that I loved I have only left
a blue sky and a few pale stars.
The wind moves softly among the trees.
The emptiness rests. The water is silent.
The old spruce tree stands awake and thinks
about the white cloud he kissed in a dream.
The Sorrowing Garden
Alas, that windows see
and walls remember,
that a garden can stand and sorrow
and a tree can turn round and ask:
Who has not come and what is not well,
why is the emptiness heavy and saying nothing?
The bitter carnations gather at the road,
there the spruce’s darkness becomes unknowable.
Strange fishes glide in the depths,
unfamiliar flowers glow on the shore;
I have seen red and yellow and all the other colours, -
but the gaudy gay sea is the most dangerous to look upon,
it makes one thirsty and wide-awake for waiting adventures:
what happened in the fairy-tale will happen also to me!
The Low Shore
The light birds high up in the air
do not fly for me,
but the heavy stones on the low shore
rest for me.
Long I lay at the feet of the dim hills
and listened to the wind’s command
in the pine’s strong branches.
Here I lie on my belly and look straight before me:
here all is strange and wakes no memories,
my thoughts were not born in this place;
here the air is raw and the stones slippery,
here all is dead and wakes no cheerfulness,
but for the broken flute the spring left on the shore.
The Song on the Rock
The sun went down over the foam of the sea and the shore slept
and up on the rocks someone stood and sang …
When the words fell into the water they were dead …
And the song disappeared behind the pines and the twilight
took it with it.
When all was silent I thought only
that there lay heart’s blood on the twilit cliff,
I sensed darkly that the song was
of something that never returns.
I do not want to hear the mournful tale
the forest tells.
There is still a whispering among the spruces,
there is still a sighing long in the leaves,
still long glide the shadows among the dim trunks.
Come out on the road. There no one will meet us.
The evening dreams pale red along silent ditches.
The road runs slowly and the road rises gently
and looks long round itself for the sun’s gleam.
My soul loves foreign lands so much
as if it had no homeland.
In far-off lands stand the great stones
on which my thoughts rest.
It was a foreigner who wrote the strange words
on the hard board that is called my soul.
Days and nights I lie and think
about things that never happened:
my thirsty soul was once given a drink.
Do Not Let Your Pride Fall
Do not let your pride fall,
do not glide naked
into his arms tenderly,
rather go away in tears
the world has never seen
and never judged.
It would be easy and simple for the pure of heart
to follow happiness’s tracks,
but our souls could only shiver.
For one who has seen the dirt in joy’s brief spring
there remains nothing
but to freeze hotly to death
When you saw the face of happiness you were disappointed:
that sleeping woman with loose features,
she was the most worshipped and the most often named,
the least known of all goddesses,
she who reigns over the becalmed seas,
the flowering gardens, the endless days of sunlight,
and you resolved never to serve her.
Nearer again with depth in her eyes again trod pain,
the best known and least understood of all goddesses,
she who reigns over the stormy seas and the sinking ships, over the life prisoners,
and over the heavy curses that rest with the child in the mother’s womb.
A Captured Bird
A bird sat captured in a golden cage
in a white castle by a deep blue sea.
Languishing roses promised pleasure and happiness.
And the bird sang of a little town high up in the mountains, where the sun is king and silence queen and where sparing little flowers in glowing colours
witness to life that defies and persists.
Wilful and cold my heart has become
since I began to long for your caresses.
My sisters have not yet noticed
that I no longer look at them …
I will never speak to anyone any more…
I do not know how often
I kiss the little kitten that sleeps at my breast.
I should even like to be a little bored,
but my heart is happy and laughs at everything.
My sisters, I am doing what I never wanted to do,
my sisters, hold me back -
I do not want to go away from you.
When I close my eyes, he is standing before me,
I have many thoughts for him and none for all the others.
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
My life has become as threatening as a stormy sky,
my life has become as false as mirroring water,
my life walks on a rope high up in the air:
I do not dare look at it.
All the desires I had yesterday
droop like the lowest leaves on the palm’s stem,
all the prayers I said yesterday are superfluous and unanswered.
I have taken back all my words,
and all that I owned I have given away to the poor,
who wished me luck.
When I think properly
I have nothing left of myself but my black hair,
my two long tresses that glide like snakes.
My lips have become glowing coals,
I do not remember any more when they began to burn …
Terrible was the great fire that razed my girlhood to ashes.
O the inevitable must happen like a sword-cut –
I am going without farewell and unnoticed,
I am going utterly and will never return.
And the queen asked her secret counsellor:
Who is the wicked woman my husband loves?
– He loves all women who fire his blood. –
But which of these must I fight most?
- It is your own black temper you must fight most. -
But how shall I fight my own black temper?
- Let the messenger kiss you when the sun goes down. -
Sister fair, do not go up into the mountains: they deceived me,
they had nothing to give my longing.
As a keepsake I broke off a branch from the pine
that shadowed the road luxuriant as a plume,
and sought my way back to the sea in my old tracks.
The sea has broken thousands of toys and thrown them up on the sand -
in vain I seek an ornament to give my beauty brilliance.
Come, sit down with me, I shall tell you about my sorrows,
we shall talk with one another of secrets.
You will show me your beauty and your way of looking
and I shall offer you my silence and my custom of listening.
My soul cannot tell stories and know any truth,
my soul can only weep and laugh and wring its hands;
my soul cannot reminisce and defend,
my soul cannot weigh over and confirm.
When I was a child I saw the sea: it was blue,
in my youth I met a flower: it was red,
now a foreigner sits by my side: he is without colour,
but I am not more fearful of him than the maiden was of the dragon.
When the knight came the maiden was red and white,
but I have dark rings under my eyes.
My soul was a light blue dress of the sky’s colour;
I left it on a rock beside the sea
and naked I came to you and resembled a woman.
And as a woman I sat at your table
and drank a bowl of wine and breathed in the scent of some roses.
You thought I was lovely and that I resembled someone you had seen in a dream,
I forgot everything, I forgot my childhood and my homeland,
I knew only that your caresses held me captive.
And smiling you took a mirror and bade me look at myself.
I saw that my shoulders were made of dust and fell apart,
I saw that my beauty was sick and had no will other than – to vanish.
O, hold me close in your arms so tightly that I need nothing.
The Mirroring Well
Destiny said: white you live or red you die!
But my heart resolved: red I live.
Now I live in the land where everything is yours,
death never enters this kingdom.
All day I sit resting my arm on the marble rim of the well,
when they ask me if happiness has been here
I shake my head and smile:
happiness is far away, where a young woman sits sewing a child’s blanket,
happiness is far away, where a man builds himself a cabin in the forest.
Here red roses grow around bottomless wells,
here fine days mirror their smiling features
and great flowers lose their most beautiful petals …
The Song of the Three Graves
She sang in the dusk on the dew-wet courtyard:
Next summer three rose bushes grow above three graves.
In the first grave lies a man –
he sleeps heavily …
In the second lies a woman with sorrowful features –
she holds a rose in her hand.
The third grave is aspirit grave and is unblessed,
there every evening sits a dark angel singing: not to act is unforgivable.
The Foreign Tree
The foreign tree stands with gaudy fruits,
the foreign tree stands with purple catkins
on a sunny slope and whispers softly:
Come, come you golden daughter, you wanderer of autumn, you listener of the forest,
I shall tell you where happiness comes from and where happiness goes.
Lay your fingers on my bark and I shall
cover your limbs with autumn’s glory.
Come, come you caresser, you faery one, you blessed, you red one,
I will show you the road that no one can find alone …
Come, come, you pale, you desirous of blood,
you shall go far away from here,
to where no one knows you,
there you shall meet oriental eyes,
they ask never, they rest in melancholy …
You shall live far from your home and be happy.
You must give up your old way, your way is dirty:
there men go with greedy glances
and the word “happiness” you hear from every lip
and further along the way lies the body of a woman
and the vultures are tearing it to pieces.
You have found your new way,
your way is pure:
there motherless children go playing with poppies,
there women in black go talking of sorrow
and further along the way stands a pale saint
with his foot on a dead dragon’s neck.
The first sister loved sweet strawberries,
the second sister loved red roses,
the third sister loved the wreaths of the dead.
The first sister got married:
they say that she is happy.
The second sister loved with all her soul,
they say that she was unhappy. .
The third sister became a saint,
they say that she will win the crown of eternal life.
Happiness is not what we dream of,
happiness is not the night we remember,
happiness is not in our yearning’s song.
Happiness is something we never wanted,
happiness is something we find it hard to understand,
happiness is the cross that was raised for everyone.
What is beauty? Ask every soul -
beauty is every overflow, every glow, every overfilling and every great poverty;
beauty is to be faithful to the summer and to go naked until the autumn;
beauty is the plumage of the parrot or the sunset that bodes storms;
beauty is a sharp feature and an accent of one’s own: it is I,
beauty is a great loss and a silent funeral procession,
beauty is the fan’s light beat that wakes the breeze of destiny:
beauty is to be as voluptuous as the rose
or to forgive everything because the sun is shining;
beauty is the cross the monk chose or the necklace the lady has from her lover,
beauty is not the thin sauce in which poets serve themselves,
beauty is to wage war and seek happiness,
beauty is to serve higher powers.
The King’s Sorrow
The king had the word “sorrow” forbidden at court,
“ill-luck”, “love” and “luck” that all hurt,
but “she” and “hers” still remained.
His queen caressed him like a child,
in the twilight hours he lay at her breast
his eyes wide with pain.
He listened in fear to every footstep that approached the door,
and reluctance spread over his face.
If maidens laughed in the courtyard like silver springs,
the king grew pale and changed the subject.
No young woman with blond locks
dared show herself any longer with uncovered head,
and the little dancing-girls in short skirts
were all banned from the court.
When the spring came the king did not go out in the garden,
he lay on his bed facing north …
The spring looked pale blue in through the window panes.
Life looks most like death, her sister.
Death is not different,
you can caress her and hold her hand and smooth her hair,
she will hand you a flower and smile.
You can bore your face into her breast
and hear her say: it is time to go.
She will tell you that she is another.
Death does not lie green-white with her face to the ground
or on her back on a white bier:
death walks about with pink cheeks and talks to everyone.
Death has weak features and saintly cheeks,
upon your heart she lays her soft hand.
Whoever feels that soft hand on his heart,
the sun does not warm him,
he is as cold as ice and loves no one.
From `Tales of Lilliput’
At last the lazybones got up -
he sank his hand into the chalice of every flower,
he felt under every leaf,
he sought the black worm to kill him.
But when he was asleep in the shadow of a stem of grass
the black worm ate up his head.
Three women were present at his burial:
his sister wept; with her was a dancing-girl in heliotrope veils,
she had come in order to be seen.
Alone walked a woman he had never loved.
On the Shore
When it rains and the sea is grey I grow sick
I laugh with the sun, I drive with the wind, I chaff with the sea:
high seas are the only thing I love.
I live in a cave with many bats,
but I am fine and white with deceitful eyes.
My feet are the loveliest I have seen,
I wash them perpetually in water and foam.
My hands are beautiful and dazzling,
I shine like the whole cheerful and smiling coastline.
Wanderers that go past I look in the eye
so that they grow forlorn and restless for the rest of their lives.
Alas, but when I prop my head up in my hands
what is it that always hurts so much?
I knocked myself so hard against a rock that time I nearly died,
because I stretched out my arm in vain
towards a foreigner I saw once …
I, my own prisoner, say so:
life is not the springtime clad in light green velvet,
or a caress that one seldom receives,
life is not a resolve to go
or two white arms that hold one back.
Life is the narrow ring that holds us captive,
the invisible circle we never cross,
life is nearby happiness that passes us by,
and the thousand steps we cannot bring ourselves to take.
Life is to despise oneself
and to lie motionless on the bottom of a well
and to know that the sun is shining up there
and golden birds are flying through the air
and the days swift as arrows are shooting by.
Life is to wave a short farewell and go home and sleep . .
Life is to be a foreigner to oneself
and a new mask for every other person who comes.
Life is to be careless with one’s own happiness
and to push away the unique moment,
life is to think oneself weak and not to dare.
O how wonderful is hell!
In hell no one speaks of death.
Hell is built in the bowels of the earth
and adorned with glowing flowers …
In hell no one speaks an empty word …
In hell no one has drunk and no one has slept
and no one rests and no one sits still.
In hell no one speaks, but everyone screams,
there tears are not tears and all sorrows are without strength.
In hell no one is ill and no one is tired.
Hell is immutable and eternal.
The Waiting Soul
I am alone amidst the trees at the lake’s edge,
I live in friendship with the shore’s old firs
and in secret understanding with all the young rowans.
Alone I lie and wait,
I have seen no one walk by.
Great flowers look down on me from tall stems, bitter creepers climb in my embrace,
I have a single name for everything, and that is love.
Happiness has no songs, happiness has no thoughts, happiness has nothing.
Smash your happiness in pieces, for happiness is evil.
Happiness comes softly with the mornings murmuring in sleeping thickets,
happiness glides away in light cloud-pictures over deep-blue deeps,
happiness is the field asleep in the glow of midday
or the sea’s infinite expanse in the bask of vertical rays,
happiness is powerless, she sleeps and breathes and knows of nothing …
Do you know pain? She is strong and great with secretly clenched fists.
Do you know pain? She smiles hopefully with eyes swollen from weeping.
Pain gives us all that we need -
she gives us the keys to the kingdom of death,
she pushes us in through the gate while we still hesitate.
Pain baptises the child and awakes with the mother
and forges all the golden wedding rings.
Pain rules over all, she smooths the thinker’s brow,
she fastens the necklace around the neck of the desired woman,
she stands in the doorway when the man leaves his true love-…
What more does pain give her darlings?
I know no more.
She gives pearls and flowers, she gives songs and dreams,
she gives us a thousand kisses that are all empty,
she gives us the only kiss that is real.
She gives us our strange souls and curious likings,
she gives us all life’s highest gains:
love, solitude, and the face of death.
Edith Södergran, 1916
- translation © 2010 David McDuff