Yarrow, by Kolbein Falkeid



Far into October's heavy rain
the yarrow stands with its white umbrella unfurled
and hopes that summer yet will come.
Like one of Chekhov's three sisters
it waits in the grass. But winter
gnaws its way in closer, the year ages and expectations
rewind, flow inwards
like ever smaller rings towards a centre of pure

And nevertheless: This hope!
When they opened the grave of the Egtved Girl in Denmark,
they found a yarrow plant in the ox hide round her, stuck in
six hundred and fifty years ago.
So wildly can a flower wait.
So long.



Langt ut i oktobers tette regn
står rylliken med den hvite parasollen oppslått
og håper at sommeren ennå skal skje.
Som en av Tsjekhovs tre søstre
venter den i graset. Men vinteren
eter seg innpå, året eldes og forventningene
kjører baklengs film, flyter innover
som stadig mindre ringer mot et sentrum av ren

Og likevel: Dette håpet!
Da de åpnet graven til Egtvedpiken i Danmark,
fant de en ryllik i kuhuden rundt henne, stukket inn
for tre og et halvt tusen år siden.
Så vilt kan en blomst vente.
Så lenge.


  1. The phrase "Langt ut i" would more literally translate to "Far out in" rather than "Far into" as I have chosen, but I feel that the latter is more natural in English in the context of the line.

  2. Literally, one would typically translate "tette" to "dense" or "close", but one would not commonly use these adjectives in conjunction with "rain" in English; I feel that "heavy rain" is the expression in English which is closest.

  3. In isolation, "den hvite parasollen" would translate to "the white umbrella" and not "its white umbrella", but use of the definite article in Norwegian is freer than in English, and I feel that translating to "its" is correct here.

  4. One could translate "oppslått" otherwise than to "unfurled", and the latter is not a literal rendering, but it is a natural verb to use in this context in English, and I feel that it works well rhythmically.

  5. In the original Norwegian, "summer" is in the definite and not the indefinite, but again this is a case of the greater flexibility in use of the definite in Norwegian, implying that it is this summer, i.e. the summer of the same year, that is being referred to. I feel that the same implications can be drawn from use of the indefinite in English here, and that the indefinite rendering works best poetically.

    The same considerations are relevant to the translation of "vinteren" a couple of lines later: it is in the definite in the original Norwegian, but I have chosen to render it "winter", in the indefinite, and not "the winter" or similar, again feeling that the reference to the coming winter is implicit in English in the indefinite usage.

  6. Though it is a more literary choice of word-order than some of the other possibilities, I feel that the very literal translation of "ennå skal skje" to "yet will come" works well rhythmically, and in terms of the poetic balance of the line, here.

  7. The verb "eter" is one of two Norwegian words for "eat" (the other being "spiser"), but there is a certain slight sense of ominousness, even sinisterness, to the phrase "eter seg innpå" which I feel a translation to "eat" does not quite faithfully capture. Thus I have taken the liberty of instead translating to "gnaw", which I think does allow for such a reading, even though Norwegian has verbs which one would more typically think of as corresponding to "gnaw", such as "gnage".

  8. The adverb "innpå" is tricky to translate intransitively to English: "up to", "up against", "in to", or "in against", for instance, can all only be used be transitively. I have chosen the looser "in closer" for its naturality in English and for the fact that it is, at the same time, about as close semantically, syntactically, and in poetic feel to the original as I think one can hope for here.

    There is also a choice to be made between "in closer" and "closer in", but I feel that the former is slightly closer to the original poetically.

  9. The noun "forventningene" is another case of a freer use of the definite in Norwegian: literally "the expectations", which is not possible in English here, one could translate to "one's expectations" or "its expectactions", but these phrases feel slightly clumsy compared to the simple "expectations", in the indefinite. I feel that the latter implicitly allow for a reading to something akin to "one's expectations" or "its expectations", whilst being syntactically close to the original.

  10. The phrase "kjører baklengs film" cannot really be immediately translated to English: literally, the words, in order, are "play backwards film" or "play reverse film". Though it is quite a loose translation, I feel that simply "rewind" is the rendering in English which best reflects (implicitly) the film imagery. It works rhythmically, I feel, even though it is considerably shorter syllabically than the original.

  11. One could consider translating "stadig" to "steadily" rather than the slightly looser "ever", but "ever" works much better rhythmically here, I feel, and is closer in this respect to the original.

  12. One could translate "Og likevel" simply to "And yet" instead of "And nevertheless", but I feel that the weight of the line is closer to the original with the latter. One could in addition consider dropping "And", but one could equally well drop "Og" in the original line, and it thus seems more faithful poetically to the original to retain it.

  13. One could translate to "rundt" to "round" or "around", but I have chosen the former as it is slightly closer the original rhythmically, and seems to work fine poetically.

  14. In the original, "for tre og et halvt tusen år siden" translates to "three and a half thousand years ago". I do not know whether this is an accidental inaccuracy or a deliberate sacrifice of facticity for what Falkeid felt to be a more poetic line, but in the translated poem, the rhythm of the line seems appropriate and faithful in feel to the original if one uses the (what is believed to be, at the time of my writing this) historically accurate figure of six hundred and fifty years, and I have taken the liberty of making this change.

  15. The adverb "vilt" is very tricky to translate here. Whilst "wildly" is etymologically accurate, "vilt" is often used in Norwegian, in phrases such as "Det er helt vilt!", in a slightly, subtly different way, to mean something arguably a little softer, perhaps akin "extraordinary" ("That's/It's absolutely extraordinary!" as opposed to "That's (absolutely) wild!"). One could thus attempt to translate "Så vilt" to "To such a degree" or similar, but this feels rather clumsy, and one loses the repetition of the "Så ..." sentence construction, whereas translating to "So extremely..." or "So extraordinarily..." feels a little awkward in English .

    I have hence chosen the simplest and most literal translation to "wildly"; whilst a little unusual in this context in English, I feel that it is possible poetically here, and leads to an interesting line (and one that, despite the semantic nuances, is fundamentally close to the original).


The poem is originally from the collection «De andre» from 1984, which can be viewed at the Norwegian National Library's site: «Ryllik» is on page 25 of the original text (page 28-29 of the online text).

Translated on the 23rd of October 2022.

Last updated: 14:24 (GMT+2), 26th October 2022