Hjalmar Gullberg, Karin Boye and “Dead Amazon”

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Karin Boye, poet and novelist, is best known in the outside world for her dystopian novel Kallocain, a thinly veiled attack on totalitarian society inspired by a visit to Nazi Germany. Boye was lesbian and lived for most of the 30’s with her partner. She committed suicide in 1941.
In his poem in her memory, Dead Amazon, Hjalmar Gullberg juxtaposes her death, the simultaneous invasion of Greece by Germany and the battle of Thermopylae in a single poetic image. It is one of my favourite poems and I hope you enjoy the translation. (I think we must forgive Gullberg that he thought the pronunciation was Thermopyle .)

Död amazon

Svärd som fäktar mot övermakten
Du ska brytas och sönderslås
Starka trupper ha enligt T.T.
nått Thermopyle, Greklands lås
Fyrtioåriga Karin Boye
efterlyses från Alingsås

Mycket mörk och med stora ögon;
klädd i resdräkt, när hon försvann.
Kanske söker hon bortom sekler,
dit en spårhund ej vägen fann,
frihetspasset där Spartas hjältar
valde döden till sista man.

Ej har Nike med segerkransen
krönt vid flöjtspel och harposlag
perserkonungen, jordens gissel
Glömd förvittrar hans sarkofag
Hyllningkören skall evigt handla
om Leonidas’ nederlag.

För Thermopyle i vårt hjärta
måste några ge livet än
Denna dag stiger ned till Hades
följd av stolta hellenska män
mycket mörk och med stora ögon
deras syster och döda vän.

Dead Amazon

Swords that battle crushing powers
Will be broken, thrust aside
News reports say German forces
Breached Thermopylae and passed
Forty-year old Karin Boye
Is missing from her home, feared lost.

Very dark,with big brown eyes
Dressed in travel clothes, it’s said
Maybe finding beyond eons
Where no one other found the trail
The pass where Sparta’s heroes fought
And chose their death but did not yield.

But Nike with her victor’s laurels
Did not with flute and kettledrum
The Persian monarch crown with glory
His grave now crumbling in the dust
And poets write forever more
Of Leonidas, though he fell

Thermopylae will live within us
And claim from us still many lives
The path to Hades will be tread
By men of Greece, but also by
Very dark, with big brown eyes
Their sister and forever friend

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