Wavelength, by Kolbein Falkeid

Translation

Wavelength

The older I become
the more special it is to meet people who speak my language.
It's like meeting countrymen in wild foreign parts
when you haven't been home for many years.

It's not about words,
it's about wavelengths, the eyes' corona,
heat radiation. Suddenly
to be spun into a cocoon of safety.

And later
twist oneself out of it. A moth
looks in wonderment upon the dry remains of shell
left behind in the silk.

Then it flutters bravely away over the earth.

Original

Bølgelengde

Jo eldre jeg blir
jo finere er det å møte folk som snakker språket mitt.
Der er som å møte landsmenn i det vilt fremmede
når du ikke har vært hjemme på mange år.

Det går ikke på ord,
det går på bølgelengder, øyners korona,
varmestråling. Plutselig
å bli spunnet inn i en kokong av trygghet.

Og siden
vikle seg ut av den. En sommerfugl
ser forundret på de tørre restene av skall
etterlatt i silken.

Så flagrer den modig utover jorda.

Interpretation

There are I think two ways to read the the final two paragraphs of the poem. One, which appears to be more common, is that the narrator has taken the step of 'moving on' from a past meeting of kindred spirits to pastures new. The other, which is how I myself prefer to read it, and which I feel aligns more closely with the beginning of the poem, is that the narrator is enriched by the meeting: taken aback to still connect so deeply with someone, and given a new lease of life by it.

Notes

  1. The word "finere" would literally translate to "finer", but this does not quite capture the same sense as the Norwegian; I have chosen "special" because it encompasses both a sense of "unusual/exceptional" and of "pleasurable"/of being a positive experience, as does the original Norwegian.

  2. The repetition of "meet" in the second and third lines is present in the original Norwegian.

  3. Literally, "Det er som å møte" would be something like "It is as (if/though) to meet", but use of the infinitive, namely "som å møte" ("as to meet"), in this way is a very typical case in which the gerund ("like meeting") would be used in English, and use of the gerund reflects more closely the naturalness of the original construction. I have here chosen "It's" rather than "It is" as a translation of "Det er" for the same reason of preserving the sense of flow of the language of the original Norwegian.

  4. The construction "det vilt fremmede", literally "the wild foreign", is not so easy to render into English; though in definite form in the original Norwegian, I feel that using the indefinite in English in this case, as I have in my translation to "wild foreign parts", leads to a naturalness that is truer to the original.

  5. Literally, "sommerfugl" would translate to "butterfly" rather than "moth". Nevertheless, the description of shell remains in silk, as well as the earlier reference to "cocoon", much better fits a moth; one might certainly argue that in this poetic context it does not matter to confuse/merge the two, but in today's age of readily available information on almost any matter under the sun, it seems preferable to avoid this distraction when making a translation, especially as "moth" rather than "butterfly" does not seem to detract from the poetry (in particular, just as one may associate butterflies with grace, beauty, and colour, moth species also have these qualities!).

  6. There are a few possibilities for translation of "forundret", for instance "amazed", but I feel that "in wonderment" is closest to the original in sense here, as well in phonetic feel.

  7. It would be possible to omit the "it" in the final line, but the weight and feeling of line would then be subtly different, and I feel that retaining it is truest poetically to the original, where it is also present.

  8. The adverb "utover" would literally be "out over", but "away over" captures, I feel, the poetic sense better.

Sources

The poem is originally from «Kaffekjelens vinger» ("The coffee pot's wings") from 1988, which can be viewed at the Norwegian National Library's site: «Bølgelengde» is on page 32 of the original text (34 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: «Bølgelengde» is on page 121 of the original text (122-123 of the online text).

Translated on the 21st and 23rd of May 2022.

Last updated: 11:32 (GMT+2), 23rd May 2022