Monday, 18 April 2016

The Smell of Snow

Pia Tafdrup's new collection Lugten af sne (The Smell of Snow) will be published by Gyldendal in May 2016.

One of the poems from the new book can be read in my translation here.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Sinner: excerpts

These are links to translated chapters from Ólafur Gunnarsson's novel Syndarinn (The Sinner, 2015)

Chapter 1

Chapter 14

Chapter 23

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

The Painter: excerpts

These are links to translated chapters from Ólafur Gunnarsson's Málarinn (The Painter, 2012):

Chapter 1 

Chapter 3

Chapter 23

Caught in the Act

by Pia Tafdrup

The fish catches its food
and itself is caught, has its head
cut off with a cracking sound,
the smell of fish blood rises while
under the knife the fish still twitches.

The light bones and feathers
lie scattered among grass and stones,
where the bird circled in the air,
smelled its way to earthworms in the soil,
before the marten consumed its meal.

On the grassy plains a hungry wolf
goes after the sheep's bellies and guts,
on the carcasses the ribs
are gnawed away, flies and worms
take care of the last remnants.

In the dust among the rubble of war
the wounded lie,
I recognize the smell,
when an angel is grazed.

In the dust among the rubble of war
lie the dead,
victims of a bloody hour, who once
lay in wombs,
must now be placed in the grave
infinitely close to our hearts.

Breathing, collision,
the locations accumulate,
rocks and clods of earth,
the whole world is a crime scene.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Essay Tour

I've translated a section from Gösta Ågren's latest collection, Dikter utan land (Schildts & Söderströms, 2015):

A tour through the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson

The essays themselves are here.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Painter and the Sinner

These books by Iceland's Ólafur Gunnarsson appeared from Forlagið in 2012 and 2015. Together they make up a single novel, called The Painter and the Sinner. Gunnarsson works in the shadow of the Icelandic sagas and the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky, and this new work is perhaps the most powerful he has achieved to date. Its blend of Nordic folk narrative, European Künstlerroman, Dickensian character study and Russian family and crime novel passes through an idiosyncratic and eclectic vision of reality which, though tinged by twentieth century literary modernism, reaches back into history, establishing connections that can sometimes seem unfamiliar and unfashionable, yet are nearly always imbued with the shock of the new.

Málarinn, The Painter, tells the story of an artist, husband and family man who commits art forgery and child murder, while Syndarinn, The Sinner, depicts the complex interweavings of the relationship between two strong and conflicting aesthetic personalities, again in the context of the family novel and the Russian quest for forgiveness. There is much discussion of ethics, theology, art, philosophy and politics, but always within the framework of a forward-moving narrative that never slackens its pace. As a whole, the book strikes one as a not-too-distant relative of twentieth century European works like The Magic Mountain and even, fleetingly, of Kafka's The Castle, yet its distinctively Icelandic tone, characterization and natural description help to grant it the status of a highly original work that forms a consistent fulfilment of the author's development all the way from the early parable Gaga, through the allegorical Trolls' Cathedral and the historical novel The Ax and the Earth.  A 14,000 word synopsis of the entire work can be read here.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Painter

An excerpt from Ólafur Gunnarsson's 2012 novel Málarinn (The Painter) is available in my translation here.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Friday, 4 September 2015

Lines Written from Boredom

by Hjálmar frá Bólu (1796-1875)

The long night has begun to bore me,
body and soul are waning before me,
here there is little of light and heat.
A cold wind blows through my suit of ulcers,
I dread the heaving to life through Christmas;
but – perhaps of that I will have no need.

Change takes place in a fleeting jiffy;
the wrestling is often decided swiftly,
out in the river death fences with life.
What’s wrong with me is my lack of patience,
danger is borne on many temptations,
hunts me down with wretched strife.

Oh, that I were gone from hither!
But no sanctuary have I seen ever
open to one unworthy as I.
God has many a good man to help him
and that way can offer me protection:
my own experience tells no lie.

To my bed I am fixed as by a fetter
-  the less I say about that, the better -
my feet are useless, cast aside.
And as I have no horse to bear me,
not many a good deed comes near me,
isn’t handed to me at my bedside.

The sun of my life dips into the water,
I can see the day quickly growing shorter,
today I am older than yesterday.
Inch by inch, Death edges closer,
the death-ghost dances around this dozer:
she laughs at all my misery.

translated from Icelandic by David McDuff

 Út úr leiðindum

Leiðast tekur mér langa nóttin,
Líkams og sálar fjarar þróttinn,
Hér er lítið um ljós og yl.
Næðir gegnum minn kauna kjólinn,
Kvíði ég fyrir að lifa um jólin;
En - máske þurfi ekki til.
Skipt hefur um á skemmri tíma
Skjótlega oft er ráðin glíma
á hólmi þá skylmast hel og líf,
Þreyjuleysið svo að mér amar,
ýmsar freistingar hættusamar
ásækja mig með eymdarkíf.

Æ, að ég væri horfinn héðan!
Hef þó griðarstað hvergi séðan,
óverðugum sem opnist mér.
Guð á sér margan góðan manninn
Og getur mér aumum bjargað þanninn;
Eigin reynsla mín um það ber.

Fastur ég má við fletið lafa
- fæst orð hér minnsta ábyrgð hafa -
Gagnslaus eru mér gangtólin.
Fyrst ég á engan faraskjóta,
Fárra velgjörða kann ég njóta;
þær réttast mér ei við rúmstokkinn.

Sígur mín ævisól í æginn
Sé ég að óðum styttir daginn;
Nú er ég eldri en i gær.
Dauðanum nær hvert dregur fetið,
Dansar návofan kringum fletið;
Hún að eymd minni allri hlær.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Gösta Ågren: 5 poems


Att riva ett hus är svårare
än att bygga det. Du kan
avlägsna tak, väggar och golv,
men det går inte att  få bort
de tomma rummen.


To demolish a house is harder
than to build it. You can
remove roof, walls and floors,
but you cannot get rid of
the empty rooms.


Vi existerar, en skuld,
som måste betalas. Vår
hänsynslösa vistelse kräver
ett svar, som är större
än brottet.


We exist, a debt
that must be paid. Our
reckless sojourn demands
an answer that is greater
than the crime.


Fönstren är sönderslagna;
man kan inte längre se
igenom dem. Dörren
saknar lås. Den kan
inte längre öppnas. En ram
har ingen tavla; man ser


The windows are shattered;
one can no longer see
through them. The door
lacks a lock. It can
no longer be opened. A frame
has no picture: one sees


Han sitter orörlig
i mitten av sitt nät,
som ingen kommer igenom
utan att ge eller
inte ge.


He sits motionless
in the middle of his net,
through which no one comes
without giving or
not giving.


Tiden är bara en tanke.  För
att kunna gå behöver den
en kropp, hjärtat.

Också evigheten är
en tanke. För att kunna
stå stilla behöver den
samma hjärta.


Time is only a thought. To
be able to move it needs
a body, the heart.

Eternity, too, is
a thought. To be able
to stand still it needs
the same heart.

from Gösta Ågren, Dikter utan land, Schildts & Söderströms, 2015

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

Thursday, 4 December 2014


Kineserne betragter metallet som et element. Jeg holdt mig til den vestlige tankegang i kvartetten, men metallet blev ved at spøge og dukker op i denne bog, hvor den knytter sig til smagssansen. I digtet vises forbindelsen mellem flere elementer, dels når de forholder sig produktivt til hinanden, dels destruktivt. En cyklus, der kan gå begge veje. Det produktive kan afføde mere positiv produktion, men kan også slå om i sin negation, så det destruktive tager over. Det er to sæt af kræfter, vi må forholde os til, to forskellige kræfter, der griber ind i vores liv.
The Chinese view metal as an element. I stuck to the Western way of thinking in the quartet, but metal continued to haunt it and it shows up in this book, where it is linked to the sense of taste. In the poem the connection of several elements appears, partly when they relate productively to each other and partly when they do so destructively. A cycle that can go either way. The productive can generate more positive production, but can also turn into its negation, so that the destructive takes over. There are two sets of forces we must relate to, two different forces that intervene in our lives.

- Pia Tafdrup, in a note on her new collection Smagen af stål (The Taste of Steel), Gyldendal 2014

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Friday, 17 October 2014

Two Collections

Here are links to the Amazon pages for the forthcoming Bloodaxe collections One Evening in October I Rowed out on the Lake by Tua Forsström and Salamander Sun and Other Poems by Pia Tafdrup, both in my translation. Both books are scheduled for publication on January 25, 2015.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Tove Jansson: Work and Love

I now have an advance copy of my translation of Tuula Karjalainen's biography of Tove Jansson, which will be published by Penguin's Particular Books imprint on November 27. Am pleased with the production of the book, and the clarity of the illustrations and artwork.

Tove Jansson Letters

My translations of selected letters of Tove Jansson and an introductory essay by Pia Ingström are now online at the Books from Finland website.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Pia Tafdrup: Snow Flowers


The snow has settled on the branches, filled
the empty bird nests in trees and bushes along
roads that all lead to the church.
The March sun dazzles, the snow on the ground dazzles,
shadows fall where we walk,
flocks of crows circle high up above us.

The cold in the church, the cold round our feet, silence
swirls giddily in the vaulted space,
where no sounds from outside
Having to lose is what we can’t make ourselves ready for.

The dead woman
we have come to bury is not here. No tracks
lead anywhere.
An invisible frontier is crossed, a part
of our life is gone,
a chapter of Europe’s history over.

We must bury the body she left behind,
she herself carried on,
though we see her in the open coffin, give thanks for
what we received.

We see the dead woman,
see her dressed in travel clothes, see the dead woman
with  mouth closed and lips pressed together,
though in life she was always laughing and talking,
muscles robbed of movement, skin like stone.

There was a time when it was to us
she laughed and talked.
The loss we must all bear, it
does not make it any less hard.

We see and don’t understand. We are present here
and don’t understand.

We lay flowers, stand
in the smell of incense with lighted candles.
Except that her head is not tilted,
the dead woman resembles

the image of the Virgin Mary in the icon
that is placed in the open coffin.

The funeral is
for the living, the dead woman's soul
has already gone.
Several days ago it vanished for us.

Dear soul,
We bury your body, but you are free.

The language we speak is not the same as before,
the snow falls into me,
snow flowers drift cold in the blood.
We look and look at the dead woman.
The sight of her face is imprinted
forever, the wax candles are burning down.

Now it is us. Now loneliness shines.
Star-visited night,
many-multiplied arrival,
frost-lit fields, ice-bound soil,
loss burns itself into the mind,
a strange and unfamiliar freedom.


Sneen har lagt sig på grenene, fyldt
de tomme fuglereder i træer og buske langs
veje, der alle fører til kirken.
Martssolen blænder, sneen på jorden blænder,
skygger falder, hvor vi går,

flokke af krager cirkler højt oppe over os.
Kulden i kirken, kulden om fødderne, stilhed
hvirvler svimmelt i det hvælvede rum,
hvor ingen lyde udefra
trænger ind.
At skulle miste kan vi ikke gøre os klar til.

Den døde,
vi er kommet for at begrave, er her ikke. Ingen spor
fører nogen steder hen.
En ikke synlig grænse er passeret, en del
af vores liv er væk,
et kapitel af Europas historie slut.

Vi skal begrave legemet, hun efterlod,
selv fortsatte hun,
skønt vi ser hende i den åbne kiste, takker for
hvad vi fik.

Vi ser den døde,
ser hende iført rejseklæder, ser den døde
med lukket mund og læberne presset sammen,
skønt hun i live altid lo og talte,
muskler berøvet bevægelse, hud som sten.

Der var en tid, hvor det var til os,
hun lo og talte.
Tabet skal vi alle bære, det
gør det ikke mindre svært.

Vi ser og fatter ikke. Vi er til stede her
og fatter ikke.

Vi lægger blomster, står
i duften af røgelse med tændte lys.
Bortset fra at hovedet ikke hælder,
ligner den døde

billedet af Jomfru Maria på ikonet,
der sættes i den åbne kiste.

Begravelsen er til
for de levende, den dødes sjæl
er allerede rejst.
For flere dage siden forsvandt den for os.

Kære sjæl,
Vi begraver din krop, men du er fri.

Sproget, vi taler, er ikke det samme som før,
sneen falder i mig,
sneblomster fyger koldt i blodet.
Vi ser og ser på den døde.
Synet af hendes ansigt prentes ind
for altid, vokskærterne brænder ned.

Nu er det os. Nu lyser ensomheden.
Stjernebesøgt nat,
mangedoblet ankomst,
frostbelyste marker, isbundet jord,
tab brænder sig ind i sindet,
en sær og fremmed frihed.

(from Smagen af stål [The Taste of Steel], Gyldendal 2014)

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Marie Under: Poems



Now once again on us these white nights fall,
no sleep is had by heavens, land or sea,
or the expectant blood of this humanity:
desire like embers burning in the soul.

These white nights are like silver fetters, chains:
and all the scents in flowers’ silk embrace
have woken trembling in their secret place
as from afar the waters bring refrains.

Then golden hair flies streaming in the breeze
and large eyes sparkle with a secret glow –
Who wove these dreams around me in the air?

And red and redder swell my lips with ease –
No one can kiss away and make them go,
the countless kisses that have ripened there.



Nüüd jälle tulevad need valged ööd,
kus und ei saa ei taevas, maa, ei meri,
ei inimlaste ootus-ärev veri,
kus ihad hinges hõõguvad kui söed.

Need valged ööd kui hõbevalged keed:
kõik lõhnad õite siidilises süles
on sala värisedes ärgand üles,
ja mingit kauget laulu toovad veed. 

Siis kuldseis juustes lehitsemas tuuled
ja suuris silmis salaline sära –
Kes kõik need unelmad mu ümber palmind!

Ja puna-punasemaks paisumas mu huuled –
ei suuda keegi suudelda neilt ärä,
mis lugemata suudlusi sääl sääl valmind.


Over a lonely path
half bent in two I walk,
always keeping my eyes
on time’s hurrying clock.

Beside the lonely path
the last flower freezes in air.
Death reaps time and fortune,
somewhere, somewhere...

Somewhere a house is waiting
Remember it where you stand!
Endure now, endurer,
waiting somewhere is a land.

Somewhere a house is waiting,
waiting somewhere is a land –
Endure now, endurer:
the heart will not ease its demand.


Üle üksiku raja
kõnnin poolkummargil,
silmad alati aja
ruttaval osutil.

Ääres üksiku raja
külmetab viimne lill.
Surm niidab õnne ja aja
kusagil, kusagil...

Kusagil ootab üks maja –
Mäleta mäleta!
Kannata, kannataja,
kusagil ootab üks maa...

Kusagil ootab üks maja,
kusagil ootab üks maa –
Kannata, kannataja:
südänt neist lahti ei saa.

poems translated from Estonian by David McDuff

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sunday, 15 June 2014

True North

True North: Literary Translation in the Nordic Countries  (ed. B.J. Epstein)
is the first book to focus solely on literary translation from, to, and between the Nordic tongues. The book is divided into three main sections. These are novels, children’s literature, and other genres – encompassing drama, crime fiction, sagas, cookbooks, and music – although, naturally, there are connections and overlapping themes between the sections. Halldór Laxness, Virginia Woolf, Selma Lagerlöf, Astrid Lindgren, Mark Twain, Henrik Ibsen, Henning Mankell, Janis Joplin, and Jamie Oliver are just some of the authors analysed. Topics examined include particular translatorial challenges; translating for specific audiences or influencing audiences through translation; re-translation; the functions of translated texts; the ways in which translation can change a genre; the creation of identity through translation; and more. 
(from the publisher's book description)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Blue Ejder - Karin Boye

Some of my translations of poems by Karin Boye have been set to music by the Swedish/English duo Blue Ejder, in a CD album featuring Sunniva Brynnel (voice, piano, kalimba), Aubin Vanns (guitars) and Neil Yates (flugelhorn, voice).

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Thaw

Foreword Reviews have published a review of Ólafur Gunnarsson's latest collection of short stories. The stories are in English, translated by the author:
For all its thought-provoking content, the translation is uneven: “The nurse was tending to the child tenderly,” could have been rendered using a verb and an adjective that do not share the same root, for example. Likewise, it would be unlikely that a seven-year-old character would refer to his class art display as an “exhibition.” However, at other times, the translation fits with the story and showcases the author’s way with words, as in this description of an airplane accident: “And like a black goose that had been shot, the enormous plane crash-landed on the gravel airfield.” Or this ironic phrase that expresses a role reversal of a father and his terminally ill daughter: “[She] sat there in her wheelchair like a solemn old woman expressing her approval of her well-behaved grandson.”
Overall, in this elegant collection, Gunnarsson’s stories succeed.

Walker on Water

Unnamed Press, U.S.A., have published a new collection of prose pieces by the Estonian poet Kristiina Ehin, Walker on Water. An excerpt from Ilmar Lehtpere's translation:
Lately I’ve discovered that my husband’s head opens at the back. I hadn’t noticed that before. There’s a hatch there. When Jaan comes home after a tiring day at work, he opens the hatch and takes his brains out. They steam on the table, but Jaan stretches his legs out on the sofa and looks at me with his happy, drowsy eyes.

Friday, 28 February 2014

The Beggar and the Hare

My translation of Tuomas Kyrö's novel Kerjäläinen ja jänis (The Beggar and the Hare) will be published by Short Books on March 6, and is available for pre-order as a hardback or a Kindle download.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

One Evening in October

I'm working on a complete translation of Tua Forsström's collection En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (One Evening in October I Rowed Out on the Lake, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012), to be published by Bloodaxe in a bilingual Swedish-English facing-text edition in early 2015.

Versions of some of the translations have already appeared in Books from Finland and Swedish Book Review.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Two Poems

bGösta Ågren

The Future Is...

The future is unfurnished
as if it were a room
in place of an idea,

but your plans are ready
and you start work,
as to begin with fate is

so light that we don’t notice
the burden. The inevitable
needs no emphasis.

 July. Night.

The road doesn’t release
its grip on the car.
Driving is only
rhythm. The journey
moves slowly through
the summer night, which is
white with now. Sadness
heals sorrow.

from Centralsång (2013)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

The Bridge of Sleep

by Saima Harmaja

Long is the days’ journey
to evening’s dim domain.
Lonely the blissful moment
exhausted by the pain:
I slumber in blue evening,
a bridge spans in between,
taking me from time’s chasms
to the land of the unseen.

When darkness wraps the senses
and, warm, the mind succumbs,
beside me they are present,
they breathe, the  heavenly ones.
Gone is the cruelest longing.
From my pain I am freed
he smiles with shining eyes
the one whom I met in my need.

He that went on ahead,
precious, grown cold his brow,
like a pale star of spring
he stays here with me now.
Broken the frame of his body.
Spirit and earth are one.
Into my tear-hot eyes
the brightness trickles down.

Waking in midst of sleep
I see, veiled by dust from above:
it is one, the land that lies there,
the kingdom of longing and love.
Across the bitter limit
on gleaming threads set free,
love goes from the circle of time
to a land that I cannot yet see.

May 3, 1936


Pitkä on päivien retki
illan himmeyteen.
Yksi on autuas hetki
kivusta uupuneen:
nukkua siintoon illan,
uneen, mi kaartua suo
pois ajan kuiluista sillan
näkymätönten luo.

Kun jo on hämärä hellä
kietonut aistimet,
luonani hengähdellä
alkavat taivaiset.
Poissa on kaipaus julmin.
Tuskani irroittain
hymyy hohtavin kulmin
hän, jota nääntyen hain.

Hän, joka edeltä lähti,
kallis ja kylmennyt,
kuin kevätkalpea tähti
luonani viipyy nyt.
Murtunut on kehä ruumiin.
Yhtä on henki ja maa.
Silmiini kyynelkuumiin
kirkkaus uppoaa.

Valvoen keskellä unta
nään, tomuhuntuinen:
yksi on valtakunta
kaipuun ja rakkauden.
Ylitse katkeran rajan
hohtavin langoin käy
rakkaus piiristä ajan
maahan, mi vielä ei näy.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff