The midwinter sun fell so low
that you could see
under all the gates of the world
The sawmill over the valley drew to a halt
like the tearing of
the brittle wallpaper in a childhood room
I entered the pine forest
like a person I have known
and could just as easily forget
A falling raindrop lit up the dark
and burnt a hole in the pine-needle carpet
sounding like a footfall in the sacristy
just before a baptism
love affairs, over so long ago:
sometimes you meet them in the street
sometimes you meets them in dreams,
when you meet them in the street, it looks like a dream
when you meet them in a dream, it looks like the streets
streets, where half the houses stand empty
because you don't remember whose faces appear
in the dark behind the
at the ready
trains stand still
people stand still
the blood stands still
will we make it?
trapped in metal
death lurks in the switches
can we get it going
with a move of the hand?
does it want in that case
to get back at us
as a complete
of broken connections
I have become old since yesterday
and my room will no longer
let me go. The worn furniture
and things we collected together
in common, torment me suddenly
like razor-blades. Little hooks
poisoned by September's light
simply bind me tighter
if I turn after you
or try to free myself
When a person dies
When a person dies
their surroundings remain:
The mountains in the distance
the houses of the district
and the road, as on a Sunday,
that goes over a wooden bridge
just before it leads out of town.
And the spring sunshine
peeping out in the afternoon
reaches a shelf with books
and magazines, which no doubt
were once new.
It's not strange at all.
But all the same, it has
often surprised me.
When we leave one
When we leave one another, at the same time we leave
all of the places we've been together:
That deserted suburb with the houses blackened by smoke
where we lived for a month, nocturnal cities
whose name we have forgotten, or stinking Asiatic hotels
where we now and then woke in the mid-day heat
with a feeling of having slept a thousand and one years.
And all those small hard to reach mountain chapels
along the way between Athens and Delphi
where the oil-lamps burn through the summer nights
these we leave at the
same time we leave one another.
All translated from the Danish by Tommy Stroller & Anna Birkbøll Jensen February 2018
Henrik Norbrandt was born in 1945 and is one of the best of modern Danish poets, with a very European, and even Mediterranean outlook in his poems, totally different from other Scandinavian writers. He spent most of his life since the late 1960s in the south of Europe, and Turkey - a country he fell in love with early in his career and made his home until very recently. He has written a great travel book on his journeys in Turkey, which as far as I know has not been translated into English, but it should be as it compares well with the great travel writing of people such as Chatwin, and certainly Durell or Theroux. But it is more down to earth, closer to the people, and his descriptions of nature rivals D.H. Lawrence in poetic detail.
His poetry is always highly personal, unlike most of the British tradition, he lets you see the world, especially the Turkish and Greek world, through his own eyes. It is again very un-English and Mediterranean in its unashamed romanticism, but there is always an underlying Danish coolness and irony. I hesitate to speak of forbears, but it can be said that he is close to both the American beat poets, and at the same time Eliot and Auden. Eliot in that he uses poetry to hold the world at a certain ironic distance, Auden because he too is concerned with human morality, particularly in relation to his love affairs, of which he has had many. He is also influenced by the Swedish writer Gunnar Ekelöf, but I think his strongest influence goes back to the Greek and Latin-based language poets, such as Cavafy, Machado, Kantzanzakis and Seferis. From them he gets that very personal feeling in his poetry, even when he is describing landscape and travels. Thus he is a true hybrid of Northern and Southern European poetry, and should be much more widely recognised. He is unfortunate in that he writes in mostly Danish, and also Turkish, two languages almost untranslatable to other European languages. However, luckily for me, his language is not complex, nor is it full of difficult metaphors, Dylanesque (Thomas,not Bob) sound poetry or imagery - it is closest in style to the direct speech of Lawrence's poetry, and never as flowery as the Latins. So it is not too difficult to translate.
Because of illness Norbrandt returned to Denmark quite recently, but has written in various newspapers that it was because of poor health, and he finds Denmark of the post-millenium to be utterly different from his childhood, and even more alien to his spirit. The poems above are all taken from his 1998 "Drømmebroen" collection, which roughly translates as "Dream bridges". This is because they are often stream of consciousness productions with an underlying dreamlike quality. But they are also as real and acute in their perceptions as a Wordsworth. Enjoy! Perhaps more Danish poetry will be coming to yet another blog of Great Poetry, mostly from poets unrecognised in the English-speaking world.