Fleeting encounter, by Inger Hagerup


Fleeting encounter

Boundless the glance of the deer when it saw me.
Off its feet took it in fright.
Just for a moment it peered towards me.
Dancingly then it took flight.

Freedom and flight. With each hovering leap
prettiness' graceful advance.
What must the joy of a roe deer be
like when in fear it can dance?


Kort møte

Bunnløst var rådyrets blikk da det så meg.
Foten fikk vinger av skrekk.
Bare et øyeblikk stirret det på meg.
Så fløy det dansende vekk.

Frihet og flukt. I hvert svevende hopp
skjønnhetens edle balanse.
Hvordan må gleden i rådyrets kropp
være når skrekken kan danse?


I have endeavoured to preserve both the verse and the rhyme scheme of the original. Metrically the poem is identical to the original (an unusual verse scheme in English), except that there is a feminine ending (one extra unstressed syllable) to the second and fourth lines of the second stanza in the Norwegian; if one so wishes, one can replicate quite faithfully the effect in English by pronouncing the "-ce" at the end of both lines as if it were an extra syllable, as one does for example in French sometimes: ad-van-ce and dan-ce, with the stress on the penultimate syllable in both cases.

As for the rhyme, that of the first and third lines of the first stanza is very close to that of the original, though "me" is not the same sound as "meg" in Norwegian, which rhymes with "hi". That of the second and fourth lines of the second stanza, up to the metrical alteration just discussed, is essentially the same as in the original. The rhymes of the second and fourth lines of the first stanza, and of the first and third lines of the second stanza, are different from the original in sound, but have the same weight and form, except that in the latter case the rhyme is full in the original, whereas it is not quite in my translation.

  1. The title of the poem literally translates to "Short meeting" or "Brief meeting". In English, however, "meeting" feels a little prosaic here; "encounter" feels more appropriate. Nevertheless, one wishes to avoid the rather hackneyed "brief encounter", whilst "short encounter" does not quite work; fortunately, "fleeting" seems satisfactory in the context of the poem.

  2. Literally, "bunnløst" would be "bottomless", but this metaphor feels somehow slightly inappropriate here English here; any of a number of variants ("fathomless" for instance) might be used, but "boundless" both fits the metre and feels appropriate poetically (contrasting, amongst other nuances, the deer's later bounding away).

  3. A literal rendering of "var rådyrets blikk" would be "was the roe deer's glance", but I have adjusted both the word order and the mode in order to fit the metre.

  4. The use of "Foten" in the original is not directly expressible in English. Literally "The foot", it is an idiomatic and somewhat colloquial use of the Norwegian definite singular. A further complication is that in dialect, "fot" can in fact refer to the legs rather than the feet. Thus one has something of a choice in translating it, but I feel that the simple "its feet" is the most natural rendering in this case.

  5. Literally, "fikk vinger" is "received wings" (more likely "grew wings" in practise), but this is a set phrase roughly equivalent to "took off", and this is the translation I have chosen, up to a change in the word order and the addition of an "it" both for metrical reasons and for clarity of the sense, as well as for the naturality of the line.
  6. One could translate "skrekk" to "fear" or "alarm", but "fright" works best within the rhyme scheme.

  7. It would be most to common to translate "Bare" to "Only", and this rendering is not impossible here, but feels slightly awkward to me; "Just for" seems more natural.

  8. The verb "stirret" would more literally be "stared", but it is difficult to translate it thus in such a way that the metre of the original can be preserved; "peered" does fit the metre, and feels acceptable poetically, in assonance with "feet" in the previous line.

  9. A literal translation of the final line of the first stanza would be something like "Then it flew dancing(ly) away"; I have replaced "flew away" by "took flight" to enable the rhyme with second line of the stanza, and to echo the "took off" of that line, whilst I have re-arranged the words for metrical reasons. Though "dancingly" is a little unusual, it both works well metrically here and seems to me to have the right poetic sense and weight.

  10. The primary meaning of "flight" in my translation of the first line of the second stanza is that of "escape", but "flukt" is etymologically related to the verb "to fly" ("å fly") in Norwegian too, and thus my choice of "flight", despite introducing a repetition not quite present in the original, seems justifiable semantically, whilst the flow of the line seems to me better with "Freedom and flight" than, say, "Freedom, escape" or "Freedom and escape" (the latter also not being possible metrically).

  11. It would perhaps be more common to translate "hopp" to "jump", but "leap" is entirely possible.

  12. One could also translate "skjønnhetens" to "beauty's", but "prettiness'" allows for the metre of the original to be preserved, and I feel is slightly preferable poetically here. One can pronounce "prettiness'" with an extra syllable ("prettinesses"), if it flows of the tongue more easily, without significantly disturbing the metre.

  13. How to translate "edle" is one of the trickier points; depending upon context, it can often be translated as "noble", "elegant", or "precious", for example. I have settled upon "graceful" for a number of reasons: it works well metrically and poetically, I feel, but also, especially in conjunction with the "hovering" of the previous line, has something of the sense of "balance", which is explicitly present in my original, but is not in my translation (see below).

  14. The most consequential departure from the original in my translation is the choice of "advance" at the end of the second line of the second stanza. In the original, "balanse" (balance) is used, but it seems impossible to me to use this satisfactorily within the rhyme scheme. Thus I have taken the liberty of a 'free translation' which I feel fits well metrically and rhymes with "can dance", without, as far as possible, affecting the poetic sense; to allow for use of "advance", I chosen the preposition "With" rather than the "In" of the original in the previous line.

  15. The final sentence of the poem would more literally translate to something like: "How must (the) joy i a roe deer's body be when fright can dance?" There are three uses of the flexible Norwegian definite in these lines: "gleden", "rådyrets", and "skrekken"; I have retained the definite form in translating "gleden" to "the joy", but have rendered both "rådyrets" and "skrekken" in the indefinite ("a roe deer's" and "fright"), as is often best, and have added an "it" which is implicit in "skrekken" in the original.

    My replacements of the interrogative "Hvordan" ("How") by "What" and of "be" by "be like" are to allow for as natural as possible a formulation of the question in (modern) English. I have in addition taken the liberty of omitting "body", as I feel the poetic sense is faithfully preserved without it, whilst there is little room for it if one is to meet the demands of the metre and the rhyme scheme.

    Enjambement can be very clumsy, and I was at pains to try to ensure that it worked well poetically here, as it does in the original; though at a slightly different place to the original — "være" ("be") comes at beginning of the second line in the original, whereas I have split it into "be/like" over the enjambement — I feel that the effect of the pause is comparable poetically.

  16. In the original, the noun "skrekken" in the final line is the same as that ("skrekk") in the second line of the poem. I do not feel that the repetition is essential, though, and prefer "fear" here poetically, for instance for its assonance with "deer".


The poem is originally from «Strofe med vinden» ("Verse with the wind") from 1958, which can be viewed at the Norwegian National Library's site: «Kort møte» is on page 30-31 of the original text (34-35 of the online text). It also appears in the collection «Dikt i utvalg» ("Selected poems"), which can be viewed at the same site: «Kort møte» is on page 98 of the original text (102-103 of the online text).

Translated on the 12th-15th of March 2023.

Last updated: 14:37 (GMT+1), 6th June 2023