Monday, January 17, 2011

Dusk marked, cranium pale

Veien inn eller utThis whole winter has been a succession of fierce cold spells and heavy snows. But today the sun showed its face through a January veil, illuminating my skin through the café window without cutting my eyes. It was so glorious to sit in the light for a while.

One of my favourite poems is one by the Norwegian author Stein Mehren. It's called 'Fattigdom', or 'Poverty'. But really it is about light, of a different kind than the one I basked in today. At the very least it lights my mind on fire. So much so that it the feeling it evokes is weaved into the fabric of the second part of my story, the part concerning Balthasar Lycke. In Norwegian it goes like this:

I min barndom kunne du fremdeles se
hvilke gater barn kom fra
Fattigdommen skinte som en måne
under huden på dem. En bakgårdssol

Fra et steinloft inne i lyset
Barn, skumringsmerkede, kraniebleke
som var de fødd opp
på koks, skummet melk og måneskinn

I hesitate to translate it myself. It's probably been done before and by someone far more competent. But a quick search revealed nothing, and I'm afraid the internet is the very worst sort of crowd for my inherent impatience. If I can't find something immediately, I simply ramble on. And so, with apologies for my character flaws, here's my rendering:

In my childhood you could still see
which streets the children lived on
Poverty shone like a moon
beneath their skin. A backyard sun

From a stony loft within the light
Children, dusk marked, cranium pale
As though they were raised
on coal, skimmed milk and moonlight.

Erin Bow, author of Plain Kate, named the poem The Writer by Richard Wilbur as one of the things that 'kept her going'. And I get why. It really is inspirational. Do you have a favourite?


tone almhjell said...

Actually, that last line literally translates 'coke, skimmed milk and moonshine'. But that gives entirely different connotations than the ones Mehren aimed at, I'll wager.

Hello Hoobubby / Alexandra said...

What a beautiful poem. It makes me wonder how many poems I miss out on because they've never been translated into English. Thanks so much for sharing! Mary Oliver's Summer Day, David Whyte's What to Remember Upon Waking both mean a lot to me. You might like the Roger Housden books- he takes ten poems in each volume and writes these wonderful short little essays about how they can apply to our lives. Really wonderful stuff,

Oh, and i wish it would snow here...we've had a few puny snowdustings, but nothing substantial. * sigh*