Idiolect by Jesper Svenbro
In my use of the word “world” there is a strangeness
which I have never been able to shake:
the word carries a hopefulness
which has no strict foundation
in the real world.
The world being what it is!
For although I know it cannot be used
in the sense I want to give it
it is the same picture that faithfully
returns in my memory
whenever I pronounce it to myself—
it is the light space over my childhood,
white April sun over a province
whose horizon trembles in the distance:
The world rests over there.
It is the late 1940s. In those days
I went to Sunday school every week
in our northern Galilee. To me
Palestine was still a country
with heights, fields, and rivers such as ours;
and by a miracle
the hills of Rönneberga just outside of town
became the light green mountain
where on one spring day Jesus
had said to his pupils: “Go out into the whole world!”
Languages were buzzing in the air.
Jews, Arabs, Kappadocians, Egyptians!
We were in the Holy Land,
coltsfoots were blooming
along the ditch-banks of the whole world.
And among all the tongues that I heard
was also the sound of my own.
The Lake School
The Tjulträsk school was based on a simple principle:
the Homeric simile was an “objective correlative”
which made us stay up late at night
and attentively watch the stars of the autumn sky—
we wanted to come closer to that passage in the Illiad
where the Trojans had lighted fires on the plain beneath the city,
confidently waiting for the arrival of dawn.
How distant those old heroes seemed!
But the reality of the simile was shockingly near:
Homer himself seemed to be standing there on the mountainside,
right in the moonlight, with the strong hands of a craftsman:
and in a low voice we began to plan with him
an entire anthology of pastoral similes
in which we would suppress the initial “like”—
these were Homer’s Lyrical Ballads,
liberated at last from the panhellenism
that had oppressed them. For intuition in the Illiad was lyrical:
the saga of the Trojan men was an immense, derailed poem on nature
which might very well have taken place here,
while the yellow leaves of the birches, the red leaves of the rowans
fell and fell like generations of heroes.
And one morning the peak of Mt. Big Aigert shone completely white.
Rather than return to the woodlands in the east
we decided to stay right here near the tree line—
in the region of the white birch-bark
where all the camps were abandoned at this time of year.
The epoch itself had been sacrificed. Yet the hare in his winter fur
would escape the eye of the soaring bird of prey
when the snow started falling in all the similes
and the local tradition once more coincided with the rush
of the Matsoljokk on the other side of the lake,
so silent underneath the clarity of one night’s glaze of ice.
Translated by Lars-Håkan Svensson and John Matthias
Once in a while our table conversation might
concern the perception of the sea in Charles Trénet’s “La Mer”
which was recorded in the mid-forties.
I myself had grown up by an entirely different sea
but seemed to share
a sea which was not mine but yours:
I suggested that our perception
was determined by “a certain way of filming the sea”
which we associate with the forties –
black-and-white, of course, but above all
with slow, almost dawdling reflections of the sun,
single, slowly twinkling silver flashes
in the sea shot looking south,
in the sea at noon.
Black shadows in the foreground –
they make the soundless play of the sun
seem even more dazzling out at sea.
It is as if these dawdling reflections had given me access
to a world which was not mine –
for a moment I really believe
that communication is possible,
that the images have an inner life to convey,
see you on the Mediterranean beach:
the periphery is blurred but in the middle of the picture
the definition is so strong
that I see the glitter in the little girl’s eyes
where she stands in the glittering waves,
where she is overcome by the sea today,
by merely existing near a summer sea,
where without a doubt she hears voices shouting
though she cannot make out what they are saying in the surge
– while the clouds imperceptibly have come to a halt
in the depth of the clearest of bays.