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Translation of the first 7 pages/stanzas of “alfabet”, by Inger Christensen

this is a book length poem. as the letters progress, the poems become more & more complex and extensive. the book comprises poems from a-n. i will give a translation of the first seven. you can find a proper, professional translation of this as well, if you go looking - the book is available on amazon. inger christensen is without a doubt the major danish poet of the twentieth century.


in english:

1
the apricot-trees exist, the apricot-trees exist

2
the bracken exists; and blackberries, blackberries
and bromide exist; and helium, helium

3
the cicadas exist; chicory, chromium
and lemon-trees exist; the cicadas exist;
the cicadas, cedar, cypress, cerebellum

4
the doves exist; the dreamers, the dolls
the killers exist; the doves, the doves;
mist, dioxin and the days; the days
exist; the days death; and the poems
exist; the poems, the days, death

5
the autumn exists; the aftertaste and the afterthought
exist; and the lonesome exists; the angels,
the widows and the elk exist; the particulars
exist, the recollection, recollection’s light;
and the after-light exists, the oak-tree and the elm-tree
exist, and the juniper-bush, the uniformity, the solitude
exist, and the eider and the spider exist,
and the vinegar exists, and posterity, posterity

6
the heron exists, with its grey-blue arching
back it exists, with its feathertop black
and its tail-feathers light it exists; in colonies
it exists; in the so-called Old World;
also the fish exist; and the fishing-eagle, the mountain-grouse
the falcon; the sweetgrass and the colours of the sheep;
the fission-products exist and the fig-tree exists;
the faults exist, the serious, the systematic,
the accidental; the remote-control exists and the birds;
and fruit-trees exist and the fruits in the orchard where
the apricot-trees exist, the apricot-trees exist,
in countries where the heat will create precisely that
colour of the flesh apricot-fruits have

7
the borders exist, the streets, oblivion

and grass and cucumbers and goats and broom,
the excitement exists, the borders exist;

the branches exist, the wind that lifts them
exists, and the branches’ only tracing

of precisely the tree that is called the oak-tree exists,
of precisely the tree that is called the ash-tree, the birch-tree,
the cedar-tree exists, and the tracing repeated

exists, in the garden-paths’ gravel; exist
does also weeping, and fireweed and mugwort exist,
the hostages, the grey-goose, the grey-goose’s chicks;

and the guns exist, an enigmatic back-yard,
overgrown, barren and adorned only with red-currants,
the guns exist; in the middle of the lighted
chemical ghetto the guns exist,
with their old-fashioned, peaceful precision exist
the guns, and the professional mourners exist, sated
like greedy owls, the crime-scene exists;
the crime-scene, drowsy, normal and abstract,
bathed in a whitewashed, godforsaken light,
this poisonous, white, withering poem


original text in danish:

1
abrikostræerne findes, abrikostræerne findes

2
bregnerne findes; og brombær, brombær
og brom findes; og brinten, brinten

3
cikaderne findes; cikorie, chrom
og citrontræer findes; cikaderne findes;
cikaderne, ceder, cypres, cerebellum

4
duerne findes; drømmerne, dukkerne
dræberne findes; duerne, duerne;
dis, dioxin og dagene; dagene
findes; dagene døden; og digtene
findes; digtene, dagene, døden

5
efteråret findes; eftersmagen og eftertanken
findes; og enrummet findes; englene,
enkerne og elsdyret findes; enkelthederne
findes, erindringen, erindringens lys;
og efterlyset findes, egetræet og elmetræet
findes, og enebærbusken, ensheden, ensomheden
findes, og edderfuglen og edderkoppen findes,
og eddiken findes, og eftertiden, eftertiden

6
fiskehejren findes, med sin gråblå hvælvede
ryg findes den, med sin fjertop sort
og sine halefjer lyse findes den; i kolonier
findes den; i den såkaldte Gamle Verden;
findes også fiskene; og fiskeørnen, fjeldrypen
falken; festgræsset og fårenes farver;
fissionsprodukterne findes og figentræet findes;
fejlene findes, de grove, de systematiske,
de tilfældige; fjernstyringen findes og fuglene;
og frugttræerne findes og frugterne i frugthaven hvor
abrikostræerne findes, abrikostræerne findes,
i lande hvor varmen vil frembringe netop den
farve i kødet abrikosfrugter har

7
grænserne findes, gaderne, glemslen

og græs og agurker og geder og gyvel,
begejstringen findes, grænserne findes;

grenene findes, vinden der løfter dem
findes, og grenenes eneste tegning

af netop det træ der kaldes egetræet findes,
af netop det træ der kaldes asketræet, birketræet,
cedertræet findes, og tegningen gentaget

findes, i havegangens grus; findes
også gråden, og gederams og gråbynke findes,
gidslerne, grågåsen, grågåsens unger;

og geværerne findes, en gådefuld baghave,
tilgroet, gold og kun smykket med ribs,
geværerne findes; midt i den oplyste
kemiske ghetto findes geværerne,
med deres gammeldags, fredelige præcision findes
geværerne, og grædekonerne findes, mætte
som grådige ugler, gerningsstedet findes;
gerningsstedet, døsigt, normalt og abstrakt,
badet i et hvidkalket, gudsforladt lys,
dette giftige, hvide, forvitrende digt


notes: i haven’t attempted to conform to the alphabetical constraint on words, but rather opted for a direct translation of the text - naturally the effect in the danish original differs in this. i have also chosen to stick to the definite article form of the words, despite this leaving the english text littered with “the”s. i chose to do this because it seems to me essential to the concrete, particular language used in the original, & the urgent/immediate/intimate feeling of the poem, as opposed to a more generalised or abstract one.
if this amateur translation speaks to you, please consider getting your hands on the official english translation, which was made with the cooperation of the poet, while she was still alive.

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In the stories, the gods have the power to delay the moon’s course if they wish, to spin a single night the length of many. Such was this night, a bounty of hours that never ran dry. We drank deeply, thirsty for all that we had missed in the weeks we were separated.
—  The Song Of Achilles