Poetry in Translation: After Erik Axel Karlfeldt’s “Intet är som väntanstider (Nothing is like expecting)”

erik-axel-karlfeldt
Erik Axel Karlfeldt

In a time when the only crime is the refusal of access, I found
all search terms fail, only foreign language yielded, only
the kernel of power, unopening to me.
What beauty I knew to lie within, I could not see: just
umlauts and A-rings, word atoms which Google could not split…

When the pen is mightier than the missile, what is
the untranslated poem, the fixed moment of beauty which refuses us?
I set to work with all that the Web afforded; if posterity had found
this to be genius, why did it lie locked away from me?
There was no such thing as the text I could not read,

only the text which had not yet been found:
a process of twisting, turning words, rearranging how it seemed
to best fit my cloud of knowledge. Yet nothing fits.
Truth must break what moulds we have created, and if
I have found a meaning, it was not, could never have been

what was meant before I tampered. Better perhaps had I
left it where I found it, with its circles and dots denying me entry.
No tampering when we do not touch, yet no being touched either.
The true poem sits where we cannot harm it, and we must fumble –
have no other choice – if the true poem is to enter life,

be lived.

(To read Karlfeldt’s seemingly untranslated poem, look here. As far as I can tell, it is a masterpiece. I just wish I spoke Swedish.)

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