Friday, 1 May 2009

Gertmar Arvidsson - poetry in Gutamål

You can't find out much about Gertmar Arvidsson (1922-1989) on the internet. Although from Gotland, he travelled around the world and is even said to have published a poetry collection in Spanish in Mexico. Whether this is the same man who worked as a forestry manager in the Belgian Congo in the 1960s is unclear.

One thing is clear. Gertmar Arvidsson wrote a book of poetry in the dialect of the island of Gotland, off the east coast of Sweden. This fairly strong dialect, termed Gutamål, resembles what is spoken in parts of Norway and Finland, i.e. nearer to Old Norse than modern Swedish.

A few poems in Gutamål, standard Swedish and English:

jär värgnäitis teimä
stjernus köylihait
känns ännå
jårdi andes aim
u grönt leiv

är spindelnätens timme
stjärnans kylighet
känns ännu
jorden andas imma
och grönt liv

Pearl fine
is the hour of the cobweb
the chill of the star
can still be felt
the earth breathes mist
and green life


löysar int mair
de grönä
har kraupä in
ei treiä
tystä minnar
raidar si
ei sköymningi

lyser inte mera
det gröna
har krupit in
i trädet
tysta minnen
reda sig
i skymningen

The evening grass
no longer shines
the green
has crept up
into the tree
quiet memories
arrange themselves
in the dusk


Langt därupp
flaugar mein falsk förhoppning
som en veitar svan

Långt däruppe
flyger min falska förhoppning
som en vit svan

Far up yonder
flies my false hope
like a white swan


Translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens


David McDuff said...

I'd never heard of this dialect until now, Eric - as you say, it's a bit like Norwegian, and a word like "veitar" is similar to Icelandic "hvítur".

In their language and style, the poems remind me a little of Scottish Gaelic poetry.

I think it's always hard to translate formulaic expressions like "det gröna" - he could mean "the leaves", but it could also be, as your translation might suggest, "the grass".

Eric Dickens said...

Until almost exactly a year ago, I hadn't heard of Gutamål either. But I spent a couple of weeks at the Writers' and Translators' Centre in Visby. Visby is tiny, but sports one good second-hand bookshop and a couple of ones for new books. In one of the latter, within the city walls, I bought "Ta min hand, det vore underligt" by Catharina Gripenberg, someone whose poetry I had hardly known before. I think I bought the Arvidsson in the second-hand bookshop.

But I noticed that they said "int" for "inte" as do the Finland-Swedes. And these poems were nice as poems, not simply as records of Gutamål.

As I have been dealing with the Hanseatic city of Tallinn for some while, I also bought a book about the history of Visby and Gotland. Though Visby is peaceful now, they didn't half wreck it during the Reformation. There's is something strangely spooky-theatrical about the fact that you cannot traverse the centre of Visby without seeing some huge, half-ruined church. Not one, but several.

Luckily, there is a cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which as been rebuilt. This church stares in at your window if you're on one side of the Writers' & Translators' Centre.

The few locals I met were friendly without being framfusiga. But in the high season, the town is invaded by drunks from fastlandet. The gotlänningar would no doubt like to cultivate their local identity, but need the money that tourists bring.