Benny Andersen: Selected Poems

Benny Andersen: Selected Poems


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Benny Andersen, currently Denmark's most popular poet, is virtually unknown in the United States. He is a poet of remarkable versatility, whose voices range from reflective to whimsical. His imagery is original and often surprising; his humor is delightful. To introduce Benny Andersen to English readers, Alexander Taylor has worked with the poet, selecting and translating poems from the eight books now available in Danish. The poems are presented here in their Danish versions and in English translations that capture the spontaneity and excitement of the originals.

In both versions the poetry is evocative and refreshingly direct. The imagery is vivid, and the poet's inventive use of diction and syntax creates startling effects. Perhaps most characteristic of Andersen's work is the fusion of complex, often conflicting emotions within a single poem.

Born in Copenhagen in 1929, Benny Andersen published his first book of poetry in 1960, to immediate public and critical acclaim. In addition to poetry, he has written a novel, short stories, children's books, filmscripts, television plays, and essays. He has received several awards.

Originally published in 1976.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691617428
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/08/2015
Series: The Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation , #1341
Pages: 98
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Benny Andersen

Selected Poems

By Benny Andersen, Alexander Taylor


Copyright © 1975 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-06285-3


    Rural Station

    One March day you're sitting
    numb in a cold train.
    With a hyperdermic needle
    you are shot into the heart of Jutland.

    The train suddenly halts,
    tossing you out of yourself
    here where dark and
    light blood meet.

    Muddied fields
    with blots of snow
    keep a despondent eye
    on heaven's white doors

    like small boys
    who haven't eaten
    all their porridge and are afraid
    of their mother.

    A constellation of wild geese
    streaks across the heavens.
    Is it my name that in their harsh,
    mocking and distorted way they fling down?

    Hesitating, as if to investigate
    how much you still dare see,
    a cow loose from her tether comes
    toward you through the mud.
    Silently gives birth to a calf in the snow.

    You turn back, dizzy,
    lose your way in this strange land.
    Forget path and errand.
    Notice only how the thick earth of Jutland
    clutches your shiny shoes.


    Two voices through the wall awaken me,
    one dark and tired,
    one zealously explanatory.
    Sounds, intonations, not words.

    A waterstain on the ceiling over the bed
    resembles a rare orchid —
    but what good is it on the ceiling?
    First and foremost it resembles a waterstain.

    At the top of the window a little bit of blue.
    But what does that say about the weather tomorrow?
    Yesterday's weather I have to remember myself.
    Who knows if it is raining in Rønne?

    Last night I found my philosophy,
    and never have I slept so good.
    But where will I find an excuse
    for my having overslept?

    The Forgotten Son

    Cocksure my brother sallied forth into the world,
    sang himself away between arms and dice.
    Gladly he accepted the world on its terms,
    which for him was the whirling maelstrom.
    It cast him up on various coasts.
    Bit by bit, by different detours,
    he was drawn back to the family farm.
    Here it was he first put himself together —
    what a meeting — he merged with his defeat,
    which Father came out and kissed.
    O Father, had you only waited one day, one hour!
    But nothing but the fatted calf would do
    to feast such a welcome defeat.

    Have I myself chosen the small victories,
    whose meat long ago has been chewed white and dry?
    Have I myself rationed your love,
    these small treacherous love-rations?
    Harmless for others certainly
    like throwing snowballs at a tree,
    like boys spitting against the wind.

    Thy will be done, my Father.
    My bundle is tied, in it a fat white thigh,
    a three days' love-ration.
    Then I'll be lost
    between mountains and springs.
    Thus will I flee from the smoke of my offering
    which was never beaten to earth
    but stood up stiffly like a pillar of shame.

    Years will pass, Father,
    years without love,
    years without fatted calves.

    And then when I have saved
    a pocketful of defeat,
    when my clothes are smeared with grime,
    then I will approach you
    with fierce tired steps:
    Then you will have to love me!

    Morning Prayer

    Vibrant morning,
    separate the sour from the sweet,
    the inside from outside,
    let knives of light scrape away
    my core of sour pride
    so that I can fear
    when fear's hour strikes,
    so that I can hear
    where I shall join in
    when the great music starts.

    Winter Prayer

    Winter, make me quiet
    so I can hear the pain
    in the closed trees,
    in the mute birds,
    in the water that scratches
    under the ice
    with the thin fingernails of children.
    Winter, make me quiet
    so I can hear your pain.

    Winter, make me alert
    so I can recognize you.
    This induction current
    that crooks my hand
    when I want to open it,
    is that you?
    Are you tied up some place
    transmitting distress signals right through my nerves?
    Winter, make me alert
    so I can find you.

    Table Prayer

    Give me today
    my bread to butter.
    Soft and hard shall meet
    in my hands
    and the butter's sunshine overwhelm
    the bread's darkness.
    Let me touch what we live on,
    brown bread, yellow butter,

    Skeptical Prayer

    I pray for those weak in spirit
    (the crossword puzzle was hard today)

    for those weak in flesh, for those hooked on the bottle
    (I have an empty bottle for every stern intention)

    Peace on earth, repose for all those persecuted!
    (I am behind in my taxes)

    I pray for those hit by polio, those pollinated by the atom
    for those toothless and those with polyps
    (one never knows)

    I pray for balance in life
    like the shopkeeper with his thumb on the scales:
    just let it look right!


    Spare me your admonitions!
    How should I unfold myself unseen
    (ah! at last entirely alone)
    when the tiny splinter
    that's always left after you've gone
    makes my whole body swell
    to one big finger that throbs:
    Let me be ...


    The wind slides in from the sea.
    The ice holds.
    The wind chews at the flames of a lighter.
    Can't get it down.

    Then kicks the leaves from four snowdrops,
    crawls into my white shirt on the line,
    moves up to the place where the head should be
    and dies.


    Sirens — skull fracture — old woman
    who has nothing but money on her mind.
    The kids scramble up
    and catch the rolling coins under their heels,
    grownups become like children again,
    but the heirs shout by the deathbed:
    Is it true, Aunt Gunhild,
    there's not even a quarter left?
    And Auntie smiles wanly: Just think, children,
    my headache has completely disappeared.


    I wander chilly and bloodforsaken
    and snap at the sunset.
    Widescreen! Hollywood! Technicolor!
    And glare down at the flagstones
    stamped with greasy leaves.

    Then a chestnut cracks at my feet.
    A bright brown eye opens.
    Beholds heaven and earth
    for the first time.


    She stops and pauses for breath at the landing.
    All those stairs, all those years —
    Stands with the cold key in her hand
    and listens for thieves.

    Nonsense — there are only photographs in there,
    good-natured, prominent eyes.
    No one looks like that anymore.

    At last she glides through the slot
    like a thin letter to herself.

    Sleepless Hours in the Summer House

    What about the children — soon too grown-up
    to stay home alone ...
    and in the composing room — how
    will the Balkan-affair turn out
    with the all too clumsy captions
    and every other line ending blind ...

    At last the dream's rotary press hums
    and, impotent, he sees his own obituary
    go to press
    unreadable because of misprints.

    The Musical Eel

    Ashes flick off the sun.
    Awesomely the eyes of the snail circle:
    what distances!

    The duck lands on the lake
    noisy as a needle
    dropped on a scratched record.

    The eel leaves the lake forever.
    Looks back several times furiously.

    The Critical Frog

    The duck arranges his reflection
    neatly around himself for the evening.
    At last the right sensitivity
    to the reed-warbler's glowing tones.
    People stand still and listen on the path,
    enabling the mosquitos to hit home
    while the water rat discreetly
    removes the noisy ducklings.

    Only a small young frog conceals his ecstasy
    behind a belch.


    I've always tried to be good
    it's very demanding
    I'm a real hound for
        doing something for someone
    hold coats
    get someone a job
        or something
    open up my arms
    let someone have his cry on my shirt
    but when I get my chance
    I freeze completely
    some kind of shyness maybe
    I urge myself — do it
    fling your arms wide
    but it's difficult to sacrifice yourself
        when somebody's watching
    so hard to be good
        for more than a few minutes
    like holding your breath
    however with daily practice
    I have worked up to a whole hour
    if nobody disturbs me
    I sit all alone
    with my watch in front of me
    spreading my arms
        again and again
    no trouble at all
    I am actually best
    when I'm all alone.


    I come and unload
    kick open the door before you open
    trudge on in over you
        with my burdens and sacks
    get you propped up in a chair
    brace you with pillows and assurances
    hold on tight now
    the first sack is dumped over your head
    used anxieties, ashdistrusts
        gnawed affronts
      peelings and adversitydregs
    you've got to help me, this can't go on
    lift your head and say: hold out!
    now the second sack, burned-out plans
    remnants of journeys, split future
        and mouldy expectations
    you still have your arms free
    smiling offer your hand: take courage
    stand your ground!
    thanks for these words, it feels a little better now
    ready for the third and last sack
    with a little of everything, reversed visors
    cans there have been wars in
    grubby maps of sore points
    the dead that walk again for a firm
    let us remember Amanda in the peat bogs
    our stiffly-whipped puberty
    everything for you and only for you
    I turn my pockets inside out
        the last I have
    a little soulscratch a little greetingwool
        a single caramel
    do you understand me now
        down under there
    I knock the top off, dig breathingholes
    down to your face, press my ear to the pile
    hear you groan overwhelmed:
    Stand firm and fight!
    relieved I steal away
    only a true friend talks like that.


    Immense impossible morning
    where you never get out of bed
    or even reach the edge of it
    so far flung it is
    large as a county
    you worm your way
    under the clammy lowhanging featherbed
    lonesome lost spermatoza
    in no condition to get there
    have to stop
    breathe air and courage
    now no sweaty panic on the sheet
    there are still untried creases to follow
    no traffic to be careful of
    you are expected out there at the featherbed-frontier
    with questions, appointments, chutes, ties
    you're expected to awaken
    it's your duty to dig yourself out
    once a day
    and show up
    eat a little
    grow a little
    stand in line waiting your turn
    sign something or dance
    make up your mind
    make your way
    make do
    but I'm all fagged out
    because of all this featherbed
    that pushes itself in front of me like a glacier
    what is being transmitted through these feathers
    send out a felt morse code
    to toetapping authorities
    tea rattling relatives
    watchdog teachers and creditors
    I am alive but enfeebled beforehand
    start a search
    with radar, frogmen, St. Bernards.


    There is something special about happiness
    you can become wholly glad
    when you meet it
    but uneasy too
    stand still a while
    steal so gingerly forward
    as if in a minefield
    and every time you set your foot down
    without being blown to pieces
    you either forget to enjoy your happiness
    or get sore over not knowing
    how long it will last
    so that when adversity finally turns up
    it's a relief
    as if you had reached safety
    it's really a shame
    because there is something special about happiness
    which you otherwise don't meet
    perhaps there's the fault
    We know too little about it
    We have to become better acquainted with it
    I think it's a question of training.

    It's High Time

    It's high time
    the water boils
    the earth burns
    the world is waiting
    when Alexander was Caesar's age
    he was already The Great
    when Caesar was my age
    he had had it
    they did not waste time
    time did not waste them
    they used time like a shirt
    slept with it on
    ate with it on
    were buried in it
    and here I sit
    hold newspaper
    hold Christmas
    hold back
    let exploits walk by my nose
    in hopeless arrears with experience
    the world does not wait
    when Mozart was five years
    when Columbus weighed anchor
    when Jesus was twelve
    when Homer
    when Rembrandt
    when Pasteur
    when Darwin
    when Degas
    when da Vinci
    when da Gama
    it is high time
    it is past time
    my hat
    my coat
    my cycleclips
    it is now or never


    I was born with a howl
    squalling I received my baptism
    yelled when I was thrashed
    shrieked when bees stung me
    but gradually became more Danish
    learned to smile at the world
    at the photographer
      at doctors
        policemen and perverts
    became a citizen in the land of the smile
    smiles keep the flies away and the mind clean
    and light and air are good for the teeth
    if you arrive too late
    if you go bankrupt
    if you're run over
    just smile
    tourists stream in
    to see smiling trafficvictims
    the chuckling homeless
    the cackling bereaved.

    I can't get rid of my smile
    sometimes I want to cry
    or just stand openmouthed
    or protest against other smiles
    that conceal bloodthirstiness and putrefaction
    but my own smile is in the way
    sticks out like a cowcatcher
    tearing hats and glasses off people
    with a smile I bear my smile
        my halfmoon yoke
    where one hangs his worries out to dry
    I have to duck my head to the side
    to get through a door
    I am a citizen in the land of the smile
    it's not a bit funny.


    Sometimes memories of that time
        whelm up in me
    otherwise I am clearly better off now
    that time
      I went to the dentist a lot
    my fountain pen frequently blotted
    once I thought
      my bicycle had been stolen
    and I was very troubled about the future
    which I now can see
      has gone very well
    and yet my heart turns to jelly
      at the memories of that time
    when I was never overwhelmed by memory.

    Charity Concert

    Black unemployed crow
    hops around, his hands in his pockets,
    at the bottom of the gravel pit.

    Old dump car
    thrums up, playing two rusty strings
    by ear.

    The crow flaps off, laughing scornfully.
    But the dump car curtsies like a seasoned actor
    at the brink of the pit.


    The pond in the evening
    dissolved time
    twigs and insects
    hands and numbers
    finally move freely among each other.
    Bogsnails rise slowly to the surface.
    The mysteries of the deep
    have to come up and breathe.


Excerpted from Benny Andersen by Benny Andersen, Alexander Taylor. Copyright © 1975 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • Frontmatter, pg. i
  • Preface, pg. vii
  • Acknowledgments, pg. xiii
  • Biographical Note, pg. xv
  • A Note On The Translations, pg. xvii
  • Contents, pg. xix
  • Rural Station, pg. 3
  • Analysis, pg. 5
  • The Forgotten Son, pg. 6
  • Morning Prayer, pg. 8
  • Winter Prayer, pg. 9
  • Table Prayer, pg. 10
  • Skeptical Prayer, pg. 11
  • Tenderness, pg. 12
  • Obituary, pg. 13
  • Headliner, pg. 14
  • Widescreen, pg. 15
  • Photographs, pg. 16
  • Sleepless Hours In The Summer House, pg. 17
  • The Musical Eel, pg. 18
  • The Critical Frog, pg. 19
  • Goodness, pg. 20
  • Friendship, pg. 22
  • Slug-A-Bed, pg. 24
  • Happiness, pg. 26
  • It's High Time, pg. 27
  • Smile, pg. 29
  • Memories, pg. 31
  • Charity Concert, pg. 32
  • Relaxation, pg. 33
  • Jelly Fish, pg. 34
  • High and Dry, pg. 35
  • In the Bar, pg. 36
  • Autonomous, pg. 37
  • Optimist, pg. 38
  • This Is, pg. 39
  • Certain Days, pg. 41
  • Μ., pg. 43
  • The Pampered Mermaid, pg. 44
  • The Hanged Informer, pg. 45
  • The Persistent Worshipper, pg. 46
  • Experiences, pg. 47
  • Just to Be Sure, pg. 49
  • Dear Enemies, pg. 50
  • Dear Friends, pg. 51
  • Alcoholism, pg. 52
  • Generation Gap, pg. 53
  • Earthworm, pg. 54
  • This Uncertainty, pg. 55
  • Between Us, pg. 56
  • Your Dress Without You, pg. 57
  • The Last Er, pg. 60
  • All This, pg. 61
  • Love Declaration (woman to man), pg. 62
  • Love Declaration (man to woman), pg. 63
  • Now It's Said (Man, about 30), pg. 64
  • Time, pg. 66
  • Life is Narrow and High, pg. 68
  • Sabina, pg. 69
  • Melancholy, pg. 71
  • A Hole in the Earth, pg. 72

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