Morning, by Kolbein Falkeid

Translation

Morning

Even before the alarm clock
has torn the morning's dream in shreds,
I'll tiptoe cautiously
up to the little one's bed
and watch — first watch in his look
the height of expectation flail
like waves which compete towards land
from the sea —

Then I'll pull back the curtain
whip — from the window. Light in!
And experience the morning together
with a wide-eyed open-mouthed,
soft and hungry
child soul —

Original

Morgen

Enda før vekkeuret
har revnet morgenens drøm i fleng,
vil jeg liste meg varsomt
inn til den lilles seng
og se — først se i hans blikk
forventningens klimaks kave
lik bølger som kappes mot land
fra havet —

Så vil jeg trekke gardinet
vips — fra vinduet. Lyset inn!
Og oppleve morgenen sammen
med et storøyd måpende,
mykt og sultent
barnesinn —

Notes

  1. The word "barnesinn" with which the poem ends is widely used in Norwegian. It does not really have an equivalent in English; it express the naïvety (in a positive sense), curiosity, sunniness, simplicity (again, in a positive sense) and more of a child's disposition. With tricky compound nouns such as this, I typically find it best to give a literal translation, as long as one can be found which is satisfactory rhythmically and with regard to poetic sense; though the result may then be a somewhat unfamiliar construction in English, this is often not a significant stumbling block in a poem. I have taken this approach here.

    The first part of the compound is straightforward enough: "barn" means "child". The second part, "sinn", is, however, more difficult. The most usual translation would probably be to "mind", leading to a last line of "child mind" or "mind of a child" here, but I feel that this is a little too passive/neutral, not capturing those nuances of the original which are more energetic. A translation to "heart" is not impossible either, but goes too far the other way. I feel that "soul" comes closest to the original in reflecting the idea of "inner essence".

    The fact that "barnesinn" is in the indefinite is slightly unusual. It suggests, I feel — though not really permitted grammatically — a second reading of the final sentence in which "barnesinn" refers to the narrator's own state of mind. To try to allow such a reading in translation, I have stayed syntactically very close to the original throughout the final sentence of the poem.

  2. The other particularly tricky point of translation is the word "vips". This is a very common onomatopoeic interjection in Norwegian, coming from a verb equivalent to "whip" in English, and having the sense of suddenly making something come about/revealing something: something like "in the blink of an eye", but with the additional connotation of actively making whatever is being referred to come about.

    There is no obvious analogue in written English, but since "whip" is onomatopoeic and has the same root meaning, as well as being close syntactically and phonetically to the original, I have chosen to use it interjectively here, despite this being unusual in English.

  3. The construction "å reve i fleng" is a stock phrase in Norwegian; there are a number of similar phrases both in English and Norwegian ("to tear into pieces" for example, which would more closely correspond to "å rive i stykker"), but I feel that "to tear in shreds" is the closest equivalent. The word "strips" is a possible alternative to "shreds", but I feel that the phrase is more familiar/natural with use of "shreds".

  4. I have chosen to translate "morgenens drøm" very literally to "the morning's dream"; such genitive constructions in Norwegian are often best translated more loosely, for instance using a gerund, to English, but here I think the literal meaning is the one that was specifically intended.

  5. Whilst there are various possible alternatives to "tiptoe" for "liste meg", such as "sneak", I feel that "tiptoe" best reflects the feeling of the original.

  6. One could also translate "varsomt" as "carefully", but "cautiously" is more a exact translation syntactically ("forsiktig" would be the default Norwegian translation of "carefully"), and I feel works slightly better poetically here.

  7. The use of "inn til" in the Norwegian indicates that the narrator will enter the room of the child and tiptoe over to their bed. Literally, and in the vast majority of cases in practice too, one would translate "inn til" to "in to", but English lacks the distinction present in Norwegian between "inn" (used in a context of movement/action) and "in" (used in a passive/static context), and I feel that using "up" rather than "in" better retains the sense of movement of "inn"; "over" would be an alternative from this point of view, but would be rhythmically awkward here.

    A secondary advantage of "up" over "in" is that it avoids the possibility of reading "in to" in the sense of "climbing into", which is possible in English, but not in the original Norwegian (one would rather use something like the preposition "oppi" for this).

  8. The phrase "den lilles" is an example of a common construction in Norwegian which allows an adjective to be 'promoted to' a noun: rather than the usual syntax of article-adjective-noun, in this construction the noun is omitted/left implicit (and thus left somewhat open to interpretation). Fortunately, in this case, the phrase "the little one's" captures the sense of the original well.

  9. The word "blikk" encompasses for example "facial expression", but can also often be translated as "glance"; I feel that "look", being somewhat between these two in sense, is the best choice semantically here, whilst also working well syntactically.

  10. The phrase "forventningens klimaks" is literally "the expectation's climax", but I feel this to be awkward in English; the looser translation that I have given, to "the height of expectation", seems to fit more naturally (cf. the discussion of "morgenens drøm" above).

  11. The verb "kappes", which I have translated as "compete", is a derived passive voice form of the verb "å kappe" ("to compete"). In this case, the passive voice manifests itself as reflexivity: to spell this out, one might translate to "compete against one another" or "race one another" rather than simply "compete", but this would require an awkward rhythmical departure from the original. The verb "compete" seems to me to retain, in the line in question, enough of this aspect of reflexivity to render the spelling out unnecessary.

    It would be possible to translate "kappes" instead to "race" or possibly "contest", but "contest" feels a little too literary/awkward syntactically, whilst I feel that the aspect of reflexivity is more present in "compete" than "race". In addition, "compete" is closer than "race" to the original rhythmically.

  12. Whilst perhaps slghtly atypical in this context in English, the preposition "mot" is most exactly equivalent to "towards" in English, and I feel that any other choice for the translation (to "in to", or simply "to", for example) would take an unnecessary liberty, since I feel "towards" works fine poetically.

  13. The exclamation "Lyset in!", which I've translated as "Light in!", is in fact in the definite in the original Norwegian, so that "The light in!" would be a literal translation, but I feel that the indefinite in English better reflects the feel of the original.

  14. The verb "oppleve" could possibly be translated in other ways, for instance to "take in", but "experience" is the closest equivalent literally, as well as being quite close rhythmically, and thus I feel it to be the choice that is most faithful to the original.

  15. The adjective "måpende" could be translated in a number of different ways, both to expressions (such as "dumbstruck") and to adjectives such as "astonished", but I feel that "open-mouthed" fits the feel of the original best, as well as being syntactically somewhat akin ("åpen" means "open").

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: «Morgen» is on page 11 of the original text (14-15 of the online text), in fact the first poem in the collection (thus from one point of view Falkeid's first published poem!) apart from a preface.

Translated on the 1st of June 2022.

Last updated: 00:14 (GMT+2), 9th June 2022