Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Today I saw" by Olav H. Hauge

Slightly related to the previous post of leaves and daily life is this poem by Olav H. Hauge; wry, simple and almost short enough to take in at one glance.

Today I saw

Today I saw
two moons,
one new
and one old.
I have a lot of faith in the new moon.
But it's probably just the old.


In the original Norwegian:

I dag såg eg

I dag såg eg
tvo månar,
ein ny
og ein gamal.
Eg har stor tru på nymånen.
Men det er vel den gamle.


The reason I linked this poem with leaves is that one of the collections of translated poems is called Leaf-huts and Snow Houses (translated by Robin Fulton).

Anyway, this poem is, as mentioned, short and simple. But still quite fun and appealing. And to me it feels like the joining of the short, straighforward and tough style of the Nordic sagas, combined with the Japanese or Eastern style of putting as few words to a phenomenon as possible.

Of course, this poem is also called modernist. By the young Norwegian poets at the time (60's and 70's, I guess) this was viewed as one of Hauge's "concretist" poems, part of the most modern poetry in those days. Which again takes us back to the topic of time: Ancient Eastern, Viking age saga or modernist/concretist poem. All can be ascribed to the same few lines.

I suspect the well-read Hauge himself found this, secretly, to be quite amusing.

1 comment:

Lyle Daggett said...

I'm fascinated by what you say here about the joining of the "short, straightforward and tough style" of the Nordic sagas and the Japanese style of using as few words as possible. It wouldn't have occurred to me, but I can hear it in the poem, now that you say it.

And not just this particular poem, but much of Hauge's work. I don't know Norwegian, really, though it's similar enough to English in some respects that I can somewhat puzzle through it, where there's an English translation to compare with.

Also, similar enough that something of the sound texture of the Norwegian seems to me to carry over, a little, into the English translation.

Some years back -- it would have been 1991 -- I read Brennu-Njals Saga in translation. I've never seen the original, and can't comment on the quality of the translation as such (1969 Penguin Books edition, translated by Magnusson and Palsson), though I found it absolutely riveting.

That year we had an early heavy snowstorm (I live in Minneapolis, where the winters are formidable) -- 29 inches of snow on October 30 and 31. The second day of the snow most of Minneapolis and St. Paul shut down for the day, however I worked at the time at an "essential service" kind of job, and took the bus to work in St. Paul and then back. I was in the middle of reading Njal's Saga at the time, and I became so immersed in the book during the bus ride home that the blizzard outside just became a kind of "background music" for the epic story.

Each in their way, I think, Japanese poetry and the sagas offer good examples of how it's possible to suggest at least as much with silence as one might say with words.