Friend, in the desolate hour…

from the Swedish of Erik Johan Stagnelius

Friend, in the desolate hour, when your soul is enshrouded in darkness,
when, in a deep abyss, memory and sense disappear,
Intellect timidly gropes among shadowy forms and illusions
Heart can no longer sigh, eye is unable to weep;
When, from your night-clouded soul the wings of fire have fallen,
And you feel yourself sink, fearful, to nothing again,
Say, who rescues you then? — Who is the comforting angel
That gives your inner self order and beauty again,
Building once more your fragmented world, restoring the fallen
Altar, and when it is raised, lighting the sacred flame? —
None but the powerful being who first from the limitless darkness
Kissed to life seraphs and woke numberless suns to their dance.
None but the holy Word that cried to the worlds, “Ye shall be…”
And in whose power the worlds move on their paths even now.
Therefore, rejoice, oh friend, and sing in the darkness of sorrow:
Night is the mother of day, Chaos the neighbor of God.


from the Swedish of Bertil Malmberg


It struck me always as odd
that anyone could love
the distant, omnipotent God
we enthroned above.
Though it was thought that he
is as mild as glorious,
still, he meant less to me
than a destitute mother does.
None but a human soul
can warm my own
none but a soul that has known
corruption's toll,
none but the being that despairs,
captive in suffering's ring
--none but the heart that bears
all manner of baffling thing,
some of it folly, and some
dark wisdom, upon reflection.
--How could one ever come
to love perfection?


The heart feels nothing for your power, no,
and nothing for the princes who
in legions throng your court to worship you.
High emptinesses from your mantle flow.

You are, were, and shall be the God of might,
and by your will's command and choice you lead
the constellations of the year and write
the secrets of the ages overhead.

So scripture and tradition both attest.
But it may be that you are more
removed from the stern image some adore
than is the north from south, or east from west.

From absolutist rule of time and space,
from lonely majesty no good can come.
If cloudless glory is you royal home
I neither want, nor pray to have, your grace.

But if you are powerless, one eternally
with all that wanders, hunts, and dies and dies,
and should this unity comprise
your godhood and your immortality;

and if you are the voice that strains to speak
in wind and rain and in the anxiousness
of frightened hands as they caress
a loved one's pale, almost transparent cheek;

and if you reconcile, as is my hope,
time, love, decay, and groanings of despair--
then it is after you I grope
and you, my God, whom I seek everywhere.


Godhood that hunts and slays,
shadowy, on the run,
--while the centuries, brief as days,
like tatters and leaves are spun

--to me you seem
an unending woe:
now like a wandering gleam,
now like a howling you go.

You are the wild
the obscure
that brushes by
Yes, you are the longing and cry--
but also the ever mild
the ever secure…

In your poverty's miserable cliff
where the chill winds sniff
where the rain and mist never cease
and the bats huddle close to each other,
there the soul rests in nameless peace
--however the fates protest--
as the little ones rest
with the she-wolf, their mother.

(Å.A. 1962-- 1988)

from the Swedish of Håkan Sandell

I bind your funeral wreath, I bind in it
hollow-cheeked bluebells and after that nothing,
nothing and all thereafter loose and sparse and bright.

I put in children's light bouquets,
grapevine, smoke of hemp, smoke-rings and smoke
like rope that does not last the night.

I call it poor man's wreath and colourless,
fingernail-pink, edged with sorrow, yellowed.
I set in emptiness as well

and dense and heavy palms and dew belong as well.

I fill the wreath with milk and mist
that spill out that spill out onto the grave
and fasten let fall long black bands.