High above the years

23 September 2011 | Fiction, poetry

In Gösta Ågren’s poetry austere aphorisms alternate with concrete observations of life in a small village that was and again is his home, and with portraits of people he has met on his journey in the world. Introduction by David McDuff

Poems from the collection I det stora hela (’On the whole’, Söderströms, 2011)

Father’s hands

Father’s hands were like stiff
gloves; a furious
kettle had bewitched them
in his childhood. We ride
from the church’s tall letter
along the river’s long sentence
to the parenthesis of the bridal house,
and the thunder of three hundred hooves
fills the space beneath the clouds.
I saw father driving through
his life with those numbly
gripped reins, and later,
right now, I think of the
life-long body in which a man
comes, is wounded, and goes.

Inner happening

Ignorant and young as
a hero he walks,
and the summer night is
higher and softer than the day.
He has left, but no
and doubt still remain
in each other. Rather
than consciousness they are
his slow
going. To take
decisions is not possible,
they grow as roots
grow beneath the coming

In nocturnal light

The fields are thin; through
the worn green blanket
earth is glimpsed. But already
a leaf flutters to the ground
like a loosened flame. A car
passes. The headlights are
grey, the engine whispers.
The nocturnal light
makes everything become
meaningful. As he goes
along the road, this fallen
gravel column without origin
and goal, he is
for a moment in
a June minute of 1951
carried by something other
and eternal. At that moment,
under the clouds and
the halls, he meets
the freedom
in the word

Soul and gravel

So thought the youngster: The soul
must be a sleep. First
when you touch it,
it awakes, and thus becomes
a waking sleep, a sort of
dormant marsh that
receives and buries. It happens
when you are fifteen.

He thought: Life is bigger than
its meaning, a mysterious gravel
of grey days where no one is able
to stay without the help of the
mechanical routine that dries out
the soul’s marsh.


Foxtails crept out from
the dry wood. A floor
of smoke settled under the roof.
Slowly, degree by degree,
the sauna became alive.

I felt I was walking
into a body. The warmth
in a century-old smoke sauna
is not new: it is only sleeping,
and is woken by the fire!

Four or five enormous years
I had lived when I saw
poor people turned
to jewelry against the logs’

The meeting with the chorus

The chorus’s song is wordless
and clear. They come
along the street, but are
not going anywhere;
their lives have always been
deeper than the future.
A tall woman is choregos.
She directs them, calm
and inaccessible
as kindness.

The song of the chorus

One cannot be born
without breaking.
Lower your words, poetry’s
crest has no wall
below it. We need
other walls, higher
and stronger
than feelings.

The exhortation of the choregos

The road through iron and mockery
is easier than these people’s
arduous way beneath
the pity of those they meet, but
do not check your pain.
You need

The repose

There is a repose
long before death;
a blue chamber, high
above the years. There what
happened has no force;
you see it as a pilot
sees toy houses and the rivers’
silver threads. One is
at last ruler
over one’s life, and all
attempts stand still

Translated by David McDuff


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