I envy, by Kolbein Falkeid

Translation

I envy

I envy all youngsters
who draw lines in the sand
and laugh and shriek — —
all flippant whippersnappers
who call on the Devil without fear
and tattoo their chests!
I envy the man with a suitcase
who doesn't take the taxi
if he can walk —
and the old person
who still hasn't been to the doctor
and taken their blood pressure!
I envy the smallholder west of here
who spreads syrup on their bread
and rows the five kilometres to the village shop
for coffee — —
And I envy the worn old wife
who reads our most promising poet
and with earth in the eyes asks:
— They haven't locked him up?

Original

Jeg misunner

Jeg misunner alle unger
som tegner streker i sanden
og ler og hyler — —
alle flåsete jyplinger
som påkaller Fanden uten frykt
og tatoverer brystet!
Jeg misunner mannen med kuffert
som ikke tar drosje
hvis han kan gå —
og oldingen
som ennå ikke har vært hos legen
og målt blodtrykket!
Jeg misunner småbrukeren vestpå
som smører sirup på brødet
og ror halvmila til krambua
etter kaffe — —
Og jeg misunner den slitte kjerring
som leser vår mest lovende lyriker
og med jord i øynene spør:
— Går han løs?

Notes

  1. The final line is vital to the humour of the poem, and finding an English expression striking the right note is crucial! The original expression "Går han løs?" is tricky to translate even independently of the poetic context: one would typically use "gå løs" to refer for example to a dog without a lead, in contrast to "gå i bånd" (walk with a lead). A literal translation of "Går han løs?" would thus be something like "Does he walk freely?".

    As can be heard in Falkeid's recitation of the poem below, the tone of the original line is one of incredulity. If one stays reasonably close to the literal meaning, a phrase such as "They let/set him loose/free?" might be a good choice, but I feel that the looser translation I have given comes closer to capturing the original in its abruptness; similarly, use of the more offhand "They haven't..." seems to bring the line closer to the original than "Haven't they...".

  2. The word "unger" could also be translated as "young people", but "youngsters" is a little closer to the original rhythmically, and perhaps slightly also in feel, here. The parallel with "oldingen" later, which I have translated as "old person" and for which it is tricky to find an alternative, would be stronger if "young people" were used, but this doesn't seem important enough to outweigh the other considerations.

  3. The word "Fanden" is a particularly Scandinavian term for the devil, pre-dating Christianity; it is more 'earthy' than the alternative "djevelen", and, in its derivative forms, more widely used.

  4. Literally, "tatoverer brystet" is "tattoo the chest" rather than "tattoo their chests": this use of the ordinary definite nominative rather than possessive is common in Norwegian when speaking in a mode of generality, as here (cf. the discussion of "blodtrykket" and "brødet" below for two more examples), but use of the possessive (necessitating a switch from singular to plural as well) is more natural in English.

  5. Literally, "mannen med kuffert" is simply "the man with suitcase", without any article (this mode of speaking in the general in Norwegian is the ordinary one for such constructions), but whilst the latter might just about parse in English, including an indefinite article recovers the naturalness of the original.

  6. In the original, "drosje" (taxi) is in the indefinite, but I feel that the definite form better captures the tone in English.

  7. More literally, "målt blodtrykket" would be "measured their blood pressure" rather than "taken their blood pressure", but the latter is the usual phrase in English, and, I feel, fits better with the colloquial tone. An even more literal rendering would have "the blood pressure" rather than "their blood pressure", but the latter is the typical formulation in English (cf. the discussion of "brystet" above and "brødet" below).

  8. The word "vestpå", which I have translated as "west of here", is literally an unqualified "westwards" or "west of", so that "småbrukeren vestpå" would literally be something like "smallholder westwards"; whilst just about possible in English, this seems too abrupt/unusual compared to the naturalness of the original.

  9. Literally, "sirup på brødet" is "syrup on the bread" rather than "syrup on their bread", but the latter is more natural in English (cf. the discussion of "brystet" and "blodtrykket" above).

  10. In Norwegian, "mila" is the definite form of "mil", a widely-used word to indicate a distance of ten kilometres, sometimes referred to when speaking English as a "Norwegian mile"; thus "halvmila" is literally "half a Norwegian mile", but I have chosen "five kilometres" instead for its simplicity and greater familiarity.

  11. I have translated "krambua" as "the village shop", which I think is the closest equivalent in British English; in American English, the correct term would probably be "general store". More or less as with the English terms, it refers to a (probably quite small) shop in the countryside which sells 'everything'.

  12. The word "kjerring" is a tricky one to translate; in some dialects it typically means simply "wife" or even "woman" (sometimes specifically an old wife/woman), either without any further connotations or even with positive ones, whereas in some dialects it is used more or less exclusively to mean something akin to "(old) hag" or worse. In folk tales and songs the usage is typically somewhat in betweeen these two extremes, and this seems roughly right here too: the qualification of "kjerring" with "slitte" (worn) would be somewhat superfluous if "kjerring" were translated to "(old) hag" or similar, and thus it seems a stretch, especially given the part of Norway that Falkeid is from ("Vestlandet": "Western Norway", specifically Haugesund). The overall sense of "worn old wife" I think captures the essence of what is intended, without going so far as to commit to a characterisation that may not be present in the original.

  13. Although "lyriker" most specifically refers to a writer of lyrical poetry, it is a widely-used term in Norwegian, and I feel that the simple and familiar "poet" is the the most appropriate English equivalent in this case.

  14. Whilst "med jord i øynene" ("with earth in the eyes") sounds like it could be a usage of a fixed expression, I am not aware that it is; as far as I know, it is Falkeid's own image, indicating probably that the "slitte kjerring" lives, like the smallholder, in the countryside, which, to add to the subtleties already discussed, can also be implied by use of the word "kjerring". That said, the image, especially in the context in which it appears, does certainly have some of the same sense as the English expression "down to earth".

Sources

The poem is originally from «Gjennom et glass-skår» from 1962, Falkeid's first published work of poetry, which can be viewed at the Norwegian National Library's site: «Jeg misunner» is on page 48 of the original text (52-53 of the online text). It also appears in the collection «De store strendenes samtale», which can be viewed at the same site: «Jeg misunner» is on page 20 of the original text (22-23 of the online text).

A recitation of the poem by Falkeid was also recorded.

Translated on the 18th of May 2022.

Last updated: 10:29 (GMT+2), 19th May 2022