Gunnar Ekelöf – Non Serviam

In 1945, Sweden found itself having escaped the horrors of WWII. Relief was mixed with some smugness as the government started building the Swedish welfare state. Ekelöf, who had been both rich and poor revolted against the implied conformity. For him, who had been very early in identifying the threat of Nazism, the individual was at the heart. Non serviam means “I will not serve” and the “seit” is a stone holy to the Sami people in Lapland. I decided to keep the word negro in a poem written in 1945, recognising that Ekelöf identified with the oppressed and the outcasts.

Non serviam

Jag är en främling i detta land
men detta land är ingen främling i mig!
Jag är inte hemma i detta land
men detta land beter sig som hemma i mig!

Jag har av ett blod som aldrig kan spädas
i mina ådror ett dricksglas fullt!
Och alltid skall juden, lappen, konstnären i mig
söka sin blodsfrändskap: forska i skriften
göra en omväg kring seiten i ödemarken
i ordlös vördnad för någonting bortglömt
jojka mot vinden: Vilde! Neger! –
stångas och klaga mot stenen: Jude! Neger! –
utanför lagen och under lagen:
fången i deras, de vitas, och ändå
-lovad vare min lag! – i min!

Så har jag blivit en främling i detta landet
men detta landet har gjort sig bekvämt i mig!
Jag kan inte leva i detta landet
men detta landet lever som gift i mig!

En gång, i de korta, milda
de fattiga stundernas vilda Sverige
där var mitt land! Det var överallt!
Här, i de långa, välfödda stundernas
trånga, ombonade Sverige
där allting är stängt för drag… är det mig kallt.

Non Serviam

I am a stranger in this land
but this land is no stranger within me!
I am not at home in this land
but this land has made itself at home within me!

I have of a blood that is never diluted
there flows in my veins a beaker full!
And always the Jew, the Sami, the artist within me
will look for its blood mates: Research in the records
make a detour around the sacred stone in the wilderness
in wordless awe of something forgotten
chant against wind: Savage! Negro! –
to buck and wail against the stone: Jew! Negro! –
outside the law and under the law:
caught in theirs, the whites’, and still
-praise be to my law! – in mine!

So I have become a stranger in this land
but this land has made itself comfortable in me!
I cannot live in this land
but this land lives like venom in me!

Once, in the short, mild
poverty struck moments’ wild Sweden
there was my land. It was everywhere!
Here, in the long, well-fed moments’
constricted, cosy Sweden
where everything shuts out the draught.. It is cold to me.

Γιόργος Σεφέρης/George Seferis – Φυγή/Flight


Δεν ήταν άλλη ή αγάπη μας
έφευγε ξαναγύριζε καί μάς έφερνε
ένα χαμηλωμένο βλέφαρο πολύ μακρινό
ένα χαμόγελο μαρμαρωμένο, χαμένο
μέσα στο πρωινό χορτάρι

ένα παράξενο κοχύλι πού δοκίμαζε
νά τό εξηγήσει επίμονα ή ψυχή μας.

Ή αγάπη μας δεν ήταν άλλη ψηλαφούσε
σιγά μέσα στα πράγματα πού μάς τριγύριζαν
να έξηγησει γιατί δε θέλουμε νά πεθάνουμε
με τόσο πάθος.

Κι αν κρατηθήκαμε άπό λαγόνια κι αν αγκαλιάσαμε
μ’ όλη τή δύναμή μας άλλους αυχένες
κι αν σμίξαμε τήν ανάσα μας με τήν ανάσα
εκείνου του ανθρώπου
κι αν κλείσαμε τα μάτια μας, δεν ήταν άλλη
μονάχα αύτός ό βαθύτερος καημός νά κρατηθούμε
μέσα στή φυγή.


Our love was nothing more
leaving, coming back and brought us
a lowered distant eyelid
a marble smile, lost
in the morning grass
a strange shell that our soul
tried insistently to explain.

Our love was nothing more than touching
slowly among the things that surrounded us
to explain why we don’t want to die
with so much passion.

What if we were held on to each other by the loins, clasping
with all our might each other’s necks
and if we mixed our breath with the breath
of the other person
and if we closed our eyes, it was nothing more
only this deepest heartache that we hold on to
in the middle of our flight.

Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης/Constantive Kavafis- Ο Καθρέπτης στην είσοδο/The Mirror at the Entrance

A minor Kavafis poem, but charming.

Ο Καθρέπτης στην είσοδο

Το πλούσιο σπίτι είχε στην είσοδο
έναν καθρέπτη μέγιστο, πολύ παλαιό·
τουλάχιστον προ ογδόντα ετών αγορασμένο.

Ένα εμορφότατο παιδί, υπάλληλος σε ράπτη
(τες Κυριακές, ερασιτέχνης αθλητής),
στέκονταν μ’ ένα δέμα. Το παρέδοσε
σε κάποιον του σπιτιού, κι αυτός το πήγε μέσα
να φέρει την απόδειξι. Ο υπάλληλος του ράπτη
έμεινε μόνος, και περίμενε.
Πλησίασε στον καθρέπτη και κυττάζονταν
κ’έσιαζε την κραβάτα του. Μετά πέντε λεπτά
του φέραν την απόδειξι. Την πήρε κ’ έφυγε.

Μα ο παλαιός καθρέπτης που είχε δει και δει,
κατά την ύπαρξίν του την πολυετή,
χιλιάδες πράγματα και πρόσωπα·
μα ο παλαιός καθρέπτης τώρα χαίρονταν,
κ’ επαίρονταν που είχε δεχθεί επάνω του
την άρτιαν εμορφιά για μερικά λεπτά.

The Mirror at the Entrance

The opulent house had at its entrance
an enormous mirror, very old;
bought at least eighty years ago.

A beautiful youngster, a tailor’s assistant
(on Sundays an amateur sportsman),
standing with a parcel. He delivered it
to a servant of the house, who then went inside
to bring the receipt. The tailor’s assistant
was left alone, and waited.
He went to the mirror and while looking
adjusted his tie. After five minutes
they brought him his receipt. He took it and left.

But the old mirror that had seen so much,
during its many years of existence,
thousands of things and faces;
but the old mirror was filled with joy,
enormously proud that it had admitted in front of it
for some minutes absolute beauty.

Eugenio Montale – Ho sostato talvolta nelle grotte/I sometimes rested in the caves

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ligurian-cave.jpg

A poem by Montale which highlights his capacity to evoke nature. A masterpeice.

Ho sostato talvolta nelle grotte

Ho sostato talvolta nelle grotte
che t’assecondano, vaste
o anguste, ombrose e amare.
Guardati dal fondo gli sbocchi
segnavano architetture
possenti campite di cielo.
Sorgevano dal tuo petto
rombante aerei templi,
guglie scoccanti luci:
una città di vetro dentro l’azzurro netto
via via si discopriva da ogni caduco velo
e il suo rombo non era che un sussurro.
Nasceva dal fiotto la patria sognata.
Dal subbuglio emergeva l’evidenza.
L’esiliato rientrava nel paese incorrotto.
Così, padre, dal tuo disfrenamento
si afferma, chi ti guardi, una legge severa.
Ed è vano sfuggirla: mi condanna
s’io lo tento anche un ciottolo
róso sul mio cammino,
impietrato soffrire senza nome,
o l’informe rottame
che gittò fuor del corso la fiumara
del vivere in un fitto di ramure e di strame.
Nel destino che si prepara
c’è forse per me sosta,
niun’altra mai minaccia.
Questo ripete il flutto in sua furia incomposta,
e questo ridice il filo della bonaccia.

I sometimes rested in the caves

I sometimes rested in the caves
that support you, vast
or narrow, shady and briny.
Seen from the depth, the mouths
present structures
mighty against the field of sky.
from your bosom arose
roaring sky-reaching temples ,
spires throwing flashes:
a city of glass within the clear blue
gradually uncovered of every falling veil
and its roar was but a whisper.
From this surged the dreamt-of land.
From the turmoil emerged the proof.
The exile returned unsmeared to the land.
So, father, from you unbound
becomes clear, for those who look at you, a strict law.
And fleeing it is in vain: it condemns me
if I try it, even a pebble
eroded on my path,
petrified suffering without a name,
or the shapeless refuse
that threw the stream out of course
of life into a tangle of branches and algae.
In the fate that is prepared for me
maybe there is a rest for me,
no other threat forever.
So the wave repeats its unruly fury,
and so repeats the breath of calm.

Ντῖνος Χριστιανόπουλος/Dinos Christianopoulos – In Memoriam

Dinos Christianopoulos died this week, one of the greatest poets in modern Greek.

Ιn Μemoriam

Αίμα στη χλαίνη, αίμα στο χορτάρι,
αίμα στο επικίνδυνο φεγγάρι.

Το επικίνδυνο φεγγάρι θα χαθεί,
το χορτάρι — κι αυτό θα μαραθεί.

Μα στην καθημερινή σου χλαίνη,
άνθος αμάραντο, το αίμα μου θα μένει.

In Memoriam

Blood on the coat, blood on the grass,
blood on the dangerous moon.

The dangerous moon will be lost,
the grass – that too will wither.

But on your daily coat,
amaranth flower, my blood will remain.

Constantine Kavafis/Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης – In Church/Στην εκκλησία

In Church is a curious poem. It is a panegyric to the cultural aspects of the Greek Orthodox Church, while not containing an iota of faith. Kavafis was every ounce a product of this culture, but also forever an outsider.

Στην εκκλησία

Την εκκλησίαν αγαπώ — τα εξαπτέρυγά της,
τ’ ασήμια των σκευών, τα κηροπήγιά της,
τα φώτα, τες εικόνες της, τον άμβωνά της.

Εκεί σαν μπω, μες σ’ εκκλησία των Γραικών·
με των θυμιαμάτων της τες ευωδίες,
μες τες λειτουργικές φωνές και συμφωνίες,
τες μεγαλοπρεπείς των ιερέων παρουσίες
και κάθε των κινήσεως τον σοβαρό ρυθμό —
λαμπρότατοι μες στων αμφίων τον στολισμό —
ο νους μου πηαίνει σε τιμές μεγάλες της φυλής μας,
στον ένδοξό μας Βυζαντινισμό.

In Church

I love the church – its decorated fans,
the silver of the vessels, its candlesticks,
its candelabra, its images, its pulpit.

When I enter there, in a church of the Greeks;
with its perfume of incense,
with the liturgical voices and chants,
the majestic presence of the holy priests
their every movement at a solemn pace –
brilliant in their adorned vestments –
my mind goes to the great glories of our race,
to our splendid Byzantinism.

Constantine Kavafis/Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης – Μανουήλ Kομνηνός/Manuel Komnenos

Manuel was one of the more energetic Byzantine emperors. I don’t know if there is any source for Kavafis’ poem, but it will do on its own.

Μανουήλ Kομνηνός

Ο βασιλεύς κυρ Μανουήλ ο Κομνηνός
μια μέρα μελαγχολική του Σεπτεμβρίου
αισθάνθηκε τον θάνατο κοντά. Οι αστρολόγοι
(οι πληρωμένοι) της αυλής εφλυαρούσαν
που άλλα πολλά χρόνια θα ζήσει ακόμη.
Ενώ όμως έλεγαν αυτοί, εκείνος
παληές συνήθειες ευλαβείς θυμάται,
κι απ’ τα κελλιά των μοναχών προστάζει
ενδύματα εκκλησιαστικά να φέρουν,
και τα φορεί, κ’ ευφραίνεται που δείχνει
όψι σεμνήν ιερέως ή καλογήρου.

Ευτυχισμένοι όλοι που πιστεύουν,
και σαν τον βασιλέα κυρ Μανουήλ τελειώνουν
ντυμένοι μες στην πίστι των σεμνότατα.

Manuel Komnenos

Emperor Manuel Komnenos
one gloomy day in September
felt death approaching. The astrologers
(the paid ones) of the court were blabbering
that he would live many more years.
But while they were spouting that, he
reverently remembers old customs,
and commands that from the cells of the monks
he is bought ecclesiastical clothing,
and wears them, and rejoices at what he shows,
the appearance of a modest priest or monk.

Happy all those who believe,
and like Emperor Manuel end
clad in the faith of the humblest.

Constantine Kavafis/Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης – Nero’s term/ Η διορία του Νέρωνος

A suitably ironic, if light, poem by Kavafis about the last days of Emperor Nero. The oracle’s famously ambiguous prophecies again lead the recipient to draw the wrong conclusions..

Η διορία του Νέρωνος

Δεν ανησύχησεν ο Νέρων όταν άκουσε
του Δελφικού Μαντείου τον χρησμό.
«Τα εβδομήντα τρία χρόνια να φοβάται.»
Είχε καιρόν ακόμη να χαρεί.
Τριάντα χρονώ είναι. Πολύ αρκετή
είν’ η διορία που ο θεός τον δίδει
για να φροντίσει για τους μέλλοντας κινδύνους.

Τώρα στην Pώμη θα επιστρέψει κουρασμένος λίγο,
αλλά εξαίσια κουρασμένος από το ταξείδι αυτό,
που ήταν όλο μέρες απολαύσεως —
στα θέατρα, στους κήπους, στα γυμνάσια …
Των πόλεων της Aχαΐας εσπέρες …
A των γυμνών σωμάτων η ηδονή προ πάντων …

Aυτά ο Νέρων. Και στην Ισπανία ο Γάλβας
κρυφά το στράτευμά του συναθροίζει και το ασκεί,
ο γέροντας ο εβδομήντα τριώ χρονώ.

Nero’s term

It did not worry Nero when he heard
the Delphic Oracle’s prophecy.
“Beware the age of seventy-three.”
He had time enough to enjoy.
He is thirty now. More than enough
is the term the god has given him
to deal with future risks.

He will now return to Rome a little tired,
but delightfully tired from this journey,
where every day was full of diversions –
at the theatres, in the gardens, at the gymnasium…
The nights of Achaean cities…
The pleasure above all of the naked bodies…

That is Nero. And in Spain, Galba
secretly assembles his army and trains it,
an old man of seventy-three.

Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης/Konstantinos Kavafis – Εις Ιταλικήν παράλιαν/On an Italian Shore

In 146 BC, the newly ascendant Roman republic declared war on the Achaean League under the leadership of Corinth. After defeating the league, the Romans massacred all the men ans sold the women and children into slavery. Kavafis’ poem describes the feeling among the largely Greek population of southern Italy upon hearing the news and seeing the riches of the plundered city being offloaded.

Εις Ιταλικήν παράλιαν

Ο Κήμος Μενεδώρου, Ιταλιώτης νέος,
τον βίον του περνά μέσα στες διασκεδάσεις·
ως συνειθίζουν τούτο οι απ’ την Μεγάλη Ελλάδα
μες στα πολλά τα πλούτη αναθρεμένοι νέοι.

Μα σήμερα είναι λίαν, παρά το φυσικό του,
σύννους και κατηφής. Κοντά στην παραλίαν,
με άκραν μελαγχολίαν βλέπει που εκφορτώνουν
τα πλοία με την λείαν εκ της Πελοποννήσου.

Λάφυρα ελληνικά· η λεία της Κορίνθου.

A σήμερα βεβαίως δεν είναι θεμιτόν,
δεν είναι δυνατόν ο Ιταλιώτης νέος
νάχει για διασκεδάσεις καμιάν επιθυμίαν.

On an Italian Shore

Kimon, son of Menedoros, a young man from the Italian cities
is spending his life having fun;
as is customary in Magna Graecia
among the many rich young men

But despite his nature, today he is very,
thoughtful and downbeat. By the beach,
with utter melancholy he sees them unloading
the ships with booty from the Peloponnese.

Greek plunder; the booty from Corinth.

And today it is certainly not legitimate,
not possible for an Italian youth
to be able to head for fun, for some craving.

Erik Lindegren – Ikaros/Icarus

Erik Lindegren was a contemporary of Gunnar Ekelöf. They both translated Auden, but Lindegren reacted to Ekelöf’s translation of Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts. Not to the translation as such, but to what he saw as Auden’s lack of engagement. What follows is my translation of Lindegren’s counter blast. I have to say I love the defence of the glorious attempt. Lindegren here offers a giant FU to armchair assessments.


Bort domnar nu hans minnen från labyrinten.
det enda minnet: hur ropen och förvirringen steg
tills de äntligen svingade sig upp från jorden.

Och hur alla klyftor som alltid klagat
efter sina broar i hans bröst
långsamt slöt sig, som ögonlock,
hur fåglar strök förbi, som skyttlar eller pilskott,
och till slut den sista lärkan, snuddande hans hand,
störtande som sång.

Sedan vidtog vindarnas labyrint, med dess blinda tjurar,
ljusrop och branter,
med dess hisnande andedräkt, som han länge
och mödosamt lärde sig parera,
tills den återigen steg, hans blick och hans flykt.

Nu stiger han ensam, i en himmel utan moln,
i en fågelfri rymd bland reaktionsplanens larm…
stiger mot en allt klarare sol,
som blir allt svalare, allt kallare,
Uppåt mot sitt eget frusande blod och själarnas flyende vattenfall,
en innestängd i en vinande hiss,
en luftbubblas färd i havet mot den magnetiskt hägrande ytan:
fosterhinnans sprängning, genomskinligt nära,
virveln av tecken, springflodsburna, rasande azur,
störtande murar, och redlöst ropet från andra sidan::
Verklighet störtad
utan verklighet född!


Away fades his memories from the labyrinth.
the only memory: how the cries and the confusion rose
Until finally they flung themselves up from the earth.

And how all the chasms that always pleaded
for their bridges in his chest
slowly closed, like eyelids
how birds swept past, like shuttles or arrows,
and finally the last lark, touching his hand,
plunging as song.

Then the labyrinth of winds, with its blind bulls,
flashing lights and precipices,
with its giddy breath, that he over time
and carefully learnt to parry
until again it rose, his vision and his sight.

Now he rises alone, in a sky without clouds,
free as a bird in a space among the jets’ screams….
Rises towards an ever brighter sun,
that gets cooler, colder,
Up towards his own freezing blood and the fleeing waterfall of the souls,
one constrained in a whistling lift,
an air bubble’s path through the sea towards the looming surface:
the foetal membrane bursting, transparently close.
the swirl of signs, borne by the spring flood, raging azure,
tumbling walls, and the uncontrollable cry from the other side::
Reality brought down
from no reality born!