It all, by Kolbein Falkeid


It all

They ask how it's going.
It's a gentle means by which to approach: Words
which remove the bandage without the wound beginning to bleed.
A shy
finger over the cheek.

I could have replied with long explanations,
told of holes in that veil we call Life,
of the view through them: Sudden
glimpses of snow-decked riddle-massifs, clearer
than a single mathematical formula
after a thousand calculations.

Could also have told
of days on the quay edge.
Of the balancing act there.
Of the yellow sunshine's deep which winds
and never speaks in riddles, but solves them.

Could have told it all, but reply:
Just fine.
Each in their way
everybody knows it all.



De spør hvordan det går.
Det er en skånsom måte å nærme seg på: Ord
som fjerner bandasjen uten at såret begynner å blø.
En sky
finger over kinnet.

Jeg kunne ha svart med lange forklaringer,
fortalt om hullene i det sløret vi kaller Liv,
om utsikten gjennom dem: Plutselige
blikk mot snødekte gåtemassiv, klarere
enn en eneste matematisk formel
etter tusen utregninger.

Kunne også ha fortalt
om dagene på kaikanten.
Om balansegangen der.
Om det gule solskinnsdypet som snor seg
og aldri snakker i gåter, men løser dem.

Kunne ha fortalt alt, men svarer:
Bare bra.
Hver på sitt vis
vet alle alt.


  1. "Alt" would, in the way it is used in the poem, most usually be translated as "everything", but I feel that "it all" combines better poetically with "told" in the phrase "told it all" ("fortalt alt"), and that its greater concision and syntactic closeness to the original is preferable too both in the title and in the phrase "all know it all" ("vet alle alt").

  2. The phrase "hvordan det går", which I've translated to "how it's going", is related to a standard greeting in Norwegian ("Hvordan går det?") in the same way as in English ("How's it going?").

  3. The phrase "måte å nærme seg på" could simply be translated as "way/means to approach/come near", without the "by which", but I feel that the slightly wordier rendering I have chosen is closer to the original rhythmically. The original specifically has "approach/come near" rather than "approach/come near it", which would have a slightly different meaning and feel.

  4. One could translate "svart" either as "replied" or "answered" (and similarly "svarer" as "reply" or "answer"), but the slightly more noncommittal "replied" (resp. "reply") seems to better fit the poetic sense here.

  5. The phrase "Plutselige blikk mot" could more literally be translated as "Sudden glances towards", but "Sudden glimpses of" seems to better capture the feel of the original.

  6. I have chosen to translate "snødekte gåtemassiv" very literally to "snow-decked riddle-massifs": the compound noun "gåtemassiv" is Falkeid's own construction, and I feel it best to allow it to stand as-is in English rather than attempt a circumlocution such as "mountains of riddles".

  7. The imagery of the second verse is complex and double-edged, and I feel it even more important than usual that the translation keep very close to the original here, to allow the reader to ponder that imagery as Falkeid originally set it forth.

  8. Similarly, I have chosen to translate "det gule solskinnsdypet" very literally to "the yellow sunshine's deep"; again, this is Falkeid's own, evocative, compound noun construction, and I feel the original poem is best served by rendering it as-is.

  9. The phrase "snor seg" is a bit tricky to translate, but I feel that "winds" is much closer to the original in feel than, say, "twists". Even though use of "winds" in this way without further qualification is unusual in English, this is somewhat true of "snor seg" in Norwegian too,

  10. The repetition of "riddle(s)" in the third verse from the second verse is present in the original ("gåte"), and is important structurally to preserve, I feel.

  11. The phrase "Bare bra" (literally "Only well"), which I've translated as "Just fine", is a standard response to "Hvordan går det?" ("How's it going?") in Norwegian; it can be used formulaically, in much the same way as in English. The phrase "Fine thanks" would probably capture this even better in modern English, but I have chosen "Just fine" because it is closer to the original syntactically and in its literal meaning, whilst still I think having enough of the sense of being a standard/formulaic response for this to be able to be picked up by the reader.

  12. When I first read this poem (it was the first of Falkeid's which I read closely, and it is one of my favourites), it took me about six readings of the poem or more before I could understand the concise eloquence of the final two lines! Thus, if the last two lines of the translation are not too easy to parse, this is a deliberate reflection of the original, which I have stayed very close to syntactically!

    The phrase "vet alle alt" could possibly be translated to "all know it all", preserving somewhat the repetition present in the original, but — though I have gone backwards and forwards on this — it feels a little awkward and unnatural to me, too much so to be used. The more verbose "everybody knows it all" that I have chosen seems to me to flow best, and in particular better than the rather convoluted possibility "everybody knows everything".


The poem is originally from «En annen sol» ("Another sun", or "A different sun") from 1989, which can be viewed at the Norwegian National Library's site: «Alt» is on page 17 of the original text (16-17 of the online text). It also appears in the collection «De store strendenes samtale» ("The great shores' conversation"), which can be viewed at the same site: «Alt» is on page 128 of the original text (130-131 of the online text).

In the early 2000s, a recitation of the poem was recorded by Falkeid, intertwined with music.

Translated on the 23rd of May 2022.

Last updated: 01:09 (GMT+2), 16th August 2022