Sunday, 29 August 2010


Pia Tafdrup's recently-published collection Trækfuglens kompas (Gyldendal) is part of a Danish government-sponsored project which aims to provide a series of artworks along the route of the so-called "Hærvejen" - the old Military Road that links Southern Jutland with Northern Germany. The project is primarily intended to boost tourism in the district, and the participants also include well-known Danish painters, composers, sculptors and others working in the field of the arts.

Although the theme of Trækfuglens kompas is that of travel, and most of the poems relate to this in one way or another, the book's real focus is on discovery - both of oneself and of the world, with a view to confirmation and affirmation. While the subjects of the poems range far and wide - from the experience of international airports to a "global spring-cleaning day" in Sierra Leone and Gaza, and from the poet's experience of losing personal possessions while traveling to that of her parents in flight from the Nazis in wartime Denmark - the emphasis is always on the return, the homecoming. The following poem is perhaps characteristic of the whole collection (my tr.):


My body has landed,
it has set a period to the journey.
And the nervous system
which had adapted 
to other latitudes,
is accustoming itself to the usual again.
My body has landed,
the luggage is there,
               but the soul
is apparently doing fine in New Delhi
among birds and reflected light,
   it has not returned.
It sees dogs playing in the dust, sees
women in colorful saris and sandals
go swaying
with pyramids of fruit
in baskets on their heads.
It listens to young women chirping
like birds in a bush, it listens
and understands immediately
  without knowing the words.
My body has arrived
at its own home,
has jockeyed the suitcase up the stairs
and unlocked the front door.
It had no problem
finding its way back
to the cold moonlit nights
                    but the soul
still sits under a tree watching
a little girl fan away the flies,
while she plays with her chair in the grass
in a park
where it’s warm and quiet
   and the sun is low.
I return
with wide-awake eyes to see
my own world again, 
  soon the soul will be here, too.

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