The Glasgow Review of Books is proud to publish these translations of single, untitled poems from Hemfärd till glömskan (Homeward to Oblivion) the last, posthumous collection by Kjell Espmark, acclaimed as one of the most important poets of the 20th century.
All translations from the Swedish by Robin Fulton Macpherson – to whom we owe thanks for his generosity in sharing this work with us and our readers.
/ I am the Sami who was laid in his rock-grave, arms and legs cushioned in birch bark. Bear-spear and skis by me. To reach down in the dark of the fathers I have to give up the glitter of the reindeer along the hillside, the sparkle of the river and the light of my woman's glance. But how do I give up the Northern Lights that fumble out heaven for me? And how do I say goodbye to the snuffling bear, my brother and my prey - for in his eye lives all my wonder.
/ As if we could leave history behind! The past hisses and bangs like a rusty radiator in the present. The house, built in 1908, is here in the house where we breathe and lays its old parquet floor for steps that think they improvise. On an uninsured summer evening a swallow flies from the eighteenth century right into the hall. And Anna Ström still stands at her easel in the room with strict north light. Raphael's colours have just entered hers.
/ The lost time is summed up in the children sitting on the step, both in blue and white T-shirts. They play a reflection on Svensson's barn to make the world tangible. In their concentration they don´t hear the blackbird's pinched warning. And therefore don´t notice how the woman behind them has just been erased - the open door is suddenly empty. The scene has almost faded out, a recollection exposed to years of light. / Time for departure. I close and lock the barn door - never got round to mending it. Winter can see to the roses. I sweep a supervisory glance through the rooms, that depth of white with grey-blue niches, and a darkening mirror in the background an insight painted by Hammershøi. . . . High above, plough after plough of migrating geese leaving themselves behind themselves behind themselves.
/ Do you know the country where everyone and no-one are simultaneous, alike as berries? The country where oblivion has assembled its own. There are no houses there, only house-shaped absences. And forests, mountains and sea are painfully in place by strength of their non-existence. And of course there is whiteness everywhere. The sky, lost in oblivion, is white. And the rails running to nowhere are white as the plain they've been erased from. One can imagine humans as a kind of print - their absence subtle and widespread. The wind that's an absence of wind breathes mercifulness. / The train is standing still, frozen fast in history. Small icicles hang from the power-lines. The compartment gets colder and colder as if for a long time no-one had seen anyone else. The landscape outside white in white. Whoever hesitates a moment longer in the parenthesis called life and stares through the grimy windows suddenly remembers the first half of eternity - just when he's thrown into the second. / Imagine a timeless moment, a fragment of August beyond August, and love like a fugue of swallows with no substance but only their flight - a sketch by Bach. His notation foresaw everything, also love beyond each substance. Two flocks of swallows crossing each other swerving abruptly and veering back, sounding like a quick sneeze, no thin screams, no wing-beats. The late autumn evening is empty, not even memory of August or of evening. But the fugue of weightless swallows.
Kjell Espmark (1930-2022) was Professor of Comparative
Literature at Stockholm University (1978-1995) and member
of the Swedish Academy (1981 onwards). His poetry and
fiction have been translated into over twenty languages.
Robin Fulton Macpherson has spent fifty years in Norway.
His poetry has been gathered in two collections from