top of page

Poetry Translations

with Susan McLean

Susan McLean 2019-06-08 cropped.jpg

The Church


The church is little and glaringly white,

the pious congregate here.

Those who come with empty hands

must leave with empty hands.


Pleasure and frivolity are not on offer here

but gladly they sacrifice life itself,

precious life, while waiting for the mercy

which perhaps will come in the end.


For mercy is entirely dependent

on whether a body bides faithfully.

And the grain knows not the time of its harvest,

knows not when it is ripe.

The Village

Here is the village: house beside house,

narrow lanes and alleys.

Faithful gray sparrows in the graveled streets

divvy meager scraps with magpies.


The gulls and terns squabble,

everything tediously the same, day after day.

the merchants, the fishermen, the pastor.

Old Testament law prevails.

Summer and Winter

And this is summer:

fresh mackerel, fresh mackerel.

Morning, noon and night.


And this is winter:

salted mackerel, salted mackerel.

Morning, noon and night.


But this is unchanging,

summer and winter, summer and winter,

coffee and a bit of bread, coffee and a bit of bread.


But God bless the mackerel,

what would we otherwise eat?

And God bless the coffee,

our sole consolation.

Daily Life

The gristmills of gossip grind:

your mills, my mills,

all our mills a-grinding.


It counts for so little.

A young and lonely heart

ground down between the millstones.

A trifle.


This one and that one is poured

into the quiet funnel of scorn

and the stone begins to turn,

the millstone of scorn turns,

grinding life down

grinding life down.


Now and then the mill gears stop.

Dead . . .

Dead. . .

Skreetch between the stones.

Oh, grinding is hard work!


But soon they turn again:

your mills, my mills

All our mills a-grinding.

Janice D. Soderling has published many translations of Ebba Lindqvist and other Swedish poets. She has lived in Sweden for decades, working as a professional translator for the business and academic spheres; her own poems are widely published. Soderling’s most recent collection is Rooms and Closets.


Kyrkan är liten och skinande vitt.

hit går de fromma.

Den som själv kommer tomhänt hit

får gå med händerna tomma.


Till nöjen och flärd finnes ingen råd,

men livet ge de så gärna ut,

det dyrbara livet, i väntan på nåd,

och kanske kommer den till slut.


Ty nåden beror ju innerst på,

om människan väntar trogen.

Och säden känner ej stunden att slå,

vet själv ej när han är mogen.


Här ligger samhället: hus invid hus,

smala gränder och gator.

Trogen gråsparv i gatans grus

delar sin föda med skator.


Måsar and tärnor kivas som bäst,

allting är lika, dag efter dag,

handelsmän, fiskare och präst.

Lagen är Mose lag.

Sommar och vinter

Och detta är sommarn:

färsk makrill, färsk makrill!

Till morgon, till middag, till kväll.


Och detta är vintern:

salt makrill, salt makrill!

Till morgan, till middag, till kväll.


Men detta är lika,

sommar och vinter, sommar och vinter:

kaffe och smörgås, kaffe och smörgås

till morgon, till middag, till kväll.


Men Gud välsigne makrilln,

Vad ska en annars leva på?

Och Gud välsigne kaffet,

den största fröjd vi få!


Skvallerkvarnarna mal:

dina kvarnar, mina kvarnar,

alla våra kvarnar mala.


Det betyder ju så litet.

Något ungt och ensamt hjärta

males trasigt mellan stenar,

det är allt.


En och annan drives in

i föraktets tigarnät,

där hans kvarnar börja mala,

hans föraktarkvarnar mala

livet sönder . . .

livet sönder . . .


Någon gång stanna kvarnarna.

Död . . .

Död . . .

gnisslar mellan stenarna.

Å, så tungt att mala!


Men snart så börja de igen:

dina kvarnar, min kvarnar,

alla våra kvarnar mala.

These poems are from Ebba Lindqvist’s debut collection Fiskläge (Fishing Village) 1939, and deal with hard living conditions and sparse diet of villagers in the rocky archipelago off Sweden's west coast. Strict Lutheranism and watchful eyes still ruled daily life in the early 1900s. Ebba Lindqvist was one of Sweden’s most prominent poets of the forties and fifties, but sadly she is now largely forgotten by the general public. Her work was published by Bonniers, indisputably the most prominent imprint of that era.

Old Dream

The old dream came again to me,

of a night in May with my lover.

We sat there under the linden tree

and swore to be faithful forever.


We swore and then we swore once more,

we giggled, embraced, and kissed:

to be sure I’d never forget that swear,

you bit me hard on the fist!


O little love with lucid eyes!

So beautiful and vicious!

The oaths were unexceptional.

The biting was pernicious.

Terese Coe’s poems and translations appear in Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry Review, Threepenny Review, and the Times Literary Supplement, among others. Her collection Shot Silk was short-listed for the 2017 Poets Prize. Her latest book is Why You Can’t Go Home Again.

Alte Traum

Mir träumte wieder der alte Traum:

Es war eine Nacht im Maie,

Wir saßen unter dem Lindenbaum,

Und schwuren uns ewige Treue.


Das war ein Schwören und Schwören aufs neu,

Ein Kichern, ein Kosen, ein Küssen;

Daß ich gedenk des Schwures sei,

Hast du in die Hand mich gebissen.


O Liebchen mit den Auglein klar!

O Liebchen schön und bissig!

Das Schwören in der Ordnung war.

Das Beißen war überflüssig.

Heinrich Heine (c.1797-1856) has been called the last of the Romantics. His poetry is known for lyricism, wordplay, irony, and excoriating wit. Born in Düsseldorf, he became a political exile in Paris for his last 25 years.

Archive of Poetry Translations

    February 2021     Septermber2020     July 2020     May 2020     March 2020     January 2020     November 2019     September 2019     July 2019     May 2019     March 2019     January 2019     November 2018     September 2018     July 2018     June 2018     May 2018     April 2018     March 2018     February 2018     January 2018     December 2017     November 2017     October 2017     September 2017     August 2017     July 2017     June 2017     May 2017     April 2017     March 2017     February 2017     January 2017     December 2016     November 2016     October 2016    

bottom of page