Alone here

Issue 1/1989 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Gösta Ågren has published a couple of dozen volumes of poetry; Jär (the title is a dialect word meaning ‘here’) won the Finlandia Prize in 1989. Ågren’s earlier poems have been epic, tinged with Marxism, in the style of Whitman and Neruda. Gradually his has become more strongly linguistically concentrated, developed towards a more conventionally lyrical style questioning the problem of existence. He himself has expressed the matter in one of the paradoxical statements he particularly enjoys: ‘don’t worry / it will never work out.’ Introduction by Erkka Lehtola


Here she came, through the motion­
less Sunday of old age.
In headscarf and long skirt
she came, a tall bird
of clothes. She wondered in
the sunlight on the shed-hill
what she should do
so she could die. I must
write about this. For it happens
everywhere, and there are no
questions to answer. But questioning
is already insight. Only
those questions that are never asked
need answers. I remember
that her hands were no longer
part of her. Idle
they lay in her lap. She saw
with her eyes only darkness
and light. It was silent. I
thought: the silence is creeping
through her body. Soon
it will reach her heart. Soon
I will be alone

The seeking

He seeks in his life,
but finds only
his life. All that is used
becomes an object, even
a life. Helplessly he leafs through
the unwritten book.

Midway in the night he wakes up. Dark
sentinels surround the bed;
in vain he spreads
his wings. To use life
is to deny it. He lights
the candle’s white salt, but sees
with his eyes closed, listens
with open hands. The years
darken. Someone is approaching
in the gloom; a being
is leaving its source. The time
has come. The time
has always come.

The photograph of my maternal grandfather and grandmother

There they stand, apparently without
secrets, for years and poverty
have made them clear. Yet the camera
lies, like all that never
say anything other than
the truth. He did as others do,
became a father, built his house.
She helped the sick, practised
kindness. But all his movements
were fingers of ash, fumbling
the way the floor-draught
willed. Her kindness resembled all
other: a sternness that never
admonishes, but demands. Early
she knew that it formed
her only defence. So
may it have been, but perhaps
our lives are only a line
in the poem about our lives. Perhaps
we are not the name
that we write, but
the nameless hand
that grasps the pen.

Leo, his life

It was hard to be, not
for the human in him, but for
the animal, that could not manage to carry
the lead of consciousness. The knowledge
that the was alive prevented him
from living. It formed
a sleepless face, which looked
at his feelings until they slunk
away like actors
from a bad performance
and which thought he was thinking
until each thought deepened to
nothing in that cold light. He
was his own enemy, and wrote
books in order to defeat himself,
but in such conflict the only
possible victor is all too great.
He was victorious. In the silence
afterwards were heard a few
last, fumbling words.


Early self-portrait

I am a silent sword. Blows
and kicks hammer against my
steel. I expect nothing
else. I am in vulnerable. The mocking
laughter drifts by, howling
like autumn wind in the dark, but I
am the dark; teeth are exposed
in vain. I hate no one,
I have killed everyone. I am
lost, I am invulnerable.

Late self-portrait

To be born is a judgement. One is
no longer allowed to keep one’s life.
So he thinks, and there is silence.
Far away the century is clamouring.

It is not pessimism he sows
in the desert. To be sure, he sows
sand, but he thinks like this:

It is meaningless to sow
seed-corn in the desert, where
nothing grows. Grains of sand
grow nowhere; they may be sown
in the desert.

Translated by David McDuff



  1. Anna Mallinson

    This poet is new to me. These are beautiful, haunting poems.

  2. Grieco-Rathgeb

    Great poems. 21st century poems, poems that re-forge the sense of poetry in a century in which most poetry seems to have become irrelevant.
    I would loveto meet this poet online, and discuss this topic with him. I myself am a poet who writes in English and Italian, and often publishes in India, and now lately in Greece as well. I would welcome an exchange with Gösta Ågren.

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