Or this maybe, by Kolbein Falkeid

Translation

Or this maybe:

that your thoughts
frozen to the bone in a bog
far north towards the Kara Sea,
shall thaw
two hundred metres down.

That the miracle occurs: that the earth's axis
overturns for example and north becomes south, so the sun
comes along with its heat crowbar
and whips you up, up
in the teeming rainforest, up
in the number line, so high
that the zero which was so large
that it closed itself around your whole life,
becomes a fertilised, little
goldcrest egg.

Original

Eller dette kanskje:

at tankene dine
som står bunnfrosne i ei myr
langt nord mot Karahavet,
skal tine
to hundre meter ned.

At underet skjer: at jordaksen
velter f.eks. og nord blir sør, så sola
kommer til med hetespettet sitt
og vipper deg opp, opp
i regnskogsmylderet, opp
i tallrekka, så høyt
at nullet som var så stort
at det lukket seg om hele livet ditt,
blir et befruktet, lite
fuglekonge-egg.

Notes

  1. It is not completely clear in the collection «Noen skritt unna» from which this poem comes whether the poem is actually to be considered in isolation, or whether it follows on from the preceeding one (beginning «Lengter du etter noe»). I think it likely that both are true: the poem can, even with its non-sequitur of an opening line, be read, considered, and enjoyed on its own, but it is also certainly true that many of the poems in «Noen skritt unna», especially in this section of it, are related to one another, and one can definitely also read it as part of a sequence of poems, most immediately as an elaboration upon «Lengter du etter noe», but also following on from the poems before the latter.

  2. There is a little rhyme in the original, e.g. "tine" with "dine" in the first verse and "sitt" with "ditt" in the second verse. Even if not incidental, I do not feel that these rhymes are of major significance structurally, and thus it seems preferable to disregard it in the translation, fousing on poetic sense and feeling rather than trying to force a rhyme.

  3. It is tricky to translate the usage of "står" in the second (third counting the title line!) line. The sense is not quite right I feel, if one translates to "stand", this verb being used more narrowly in English: in this case, "står" is more of a kind of passive form of "are", but use of an English analogue of this such as "be" ("which be frozen...") would be joltingly archaic, whilst "which are frozen" is too active, lacking the remoteness/detachment of the original.

    In addition, there are several possibilities for how to translate "bunnfrossen". Phrases such as "frozen stiff" or "frozen solid" are possibilities, but "frozen to the bone" is, I feel, closest to the original in sense, if two syllables longer.

    In view of these difficulties, I have chosen to omit "som står" ("which stand/be") completely from the translation, and use only "frozen to the bone" as the translation of the entire "som står bunnfrossen". I feel that the weight of the resulting line in English is then close to the original, retaining as much as possible of its poetry.

  4. I have chosen the simplest (and likely most accurate technically I think amongst different English wetland terms!) "bog" as the translation of "myr"; "mire" would be another possibility, but use of it in the indefinite is not so familiar in English, and thus I prefer "bog" for its everydayness. For the reader not familiar with Norway, it is relevant I think to note that bogs are extremely common, indeed familiar to everyone.

  5. As far as I know, the reference to "Karahavet" would not have any default associations for a typical reader of Norwegian any more than "Kara Sea" would for a typical reader of English.

  6. There is always a question of whether to translate "skal" to "shall" or to "will", but in this case I feel that the greater abstractness of "shall" fits the poetic tone, and thus prefer to use it given its phonetic closeness to the original.

  7. The word "ned", which I have translated as "down", could also be translated as "below" or "deep", but "down" feels closest to the original in tone.

  8. That "underet" ("the miracle") is in definite form is clearly a deliberate choice, which I have preserved. It could be translated in other ways: "the wonder", for example, is closest phonically to the original, but it feels inflated. Translating to "the miracle" seems to give the line the greatest naturality.

    In the same phrase, one could also translate "skjer" as "happens" or "takes place", but "occurs" feels slightly preferable tonally.

  9. In the original, "for example" is abbreviated to "f.eks", which would be equivalent to "e.g." in English. The use of the abbreviation in the original is possibly, I would think, to contribute to a tone of informality, but "e.g." would parse awkwardly in English here, and thus I have simply used the full phrase; I don't feel that this affects the poetic sense or the rhythm of the line much.

  10. The phrase "kommer til" without further qualification is not the most common in Norwegian, and is a little subtle to translate: it has a sense of "has a go", but I feel that "come along" is closer to the original syntactically, whilst retaining the active spirit of the line.

  11. The compound noun "hetespettet", formed from "hete" ("heat") and "spett" ("crowbar", at least in British English) is Falkeid's own coinage; since "heat crowbar" seems to parse and roll acceptably off the tongue, I feel it best to let it stand as-is.

  12. The word "regnskogsmylderet" is literally "rainforest's teem", but this would be excessively literary; using a gerund form (which Norwegian does not have) to translate instead to "teeming rainforest" brings one much closer to the original in feel.

  13. One could consider translating to "up into the teeming rainforest" rather than "up in the teeming rainforest", but I feel that the latter is closest to the original syntactically, and also allows for the repetition of the preposition in "up in the number line", where "into" is not possible.

  14. The original Norwegian for the bird type goldcrest is "fuglekonge", which literally means "king of the birds", a compound of "fugle" ("bird") and "konge" ("king"). Whilst this literal meaning is I think relevant as a secondary sense of the line, it would be too heavy-handed I think to instead translate to, say, "kinglet"; the goldcrest is also sometimes referred to as "king of the birds" in English too.

Sources

The poem is originally from «Noen skritt unna» from 1980, which can be viewed at the Norwegian National Library's site: «Eller dette kanskje» is on page 36 of the original text (38-39 of the online text).

Translated on the 23rd and 24th of May 2022.

Last updated: 01:403 (GMT+2), 9th June 2022