seven translations

for Dag T. Straumsvåg

Hugh Thomas

Hugh Thomas (he) is a poet and translator who teaches mathematics at the Université du Québec à Montréal. His first solo book of poetry, Maze, was published in spring 2019 by Invisible Publishing.

“These poems are fake translations of poetry by Olav Hauge (1908-1994), one of the most highly regarded of Norwegian poets. There were elements of real translation, together with misunderstandings both accidental and deliberate, homophonic translation, and other interferences. Part of the fun, for me, was that the approach changed somewhat from poem to poem. Readers interested in more conventional translations of Hauge’s work could consult Selected Poems (White Pine, 1990), translated by Robin Fulton, or The Dream We Carry (Copper Canyon, 2008), with translations by Robert Bly and Robert Hedin and the originals en face. All the poems translated here can be found in the latter book.”

          My poems are made of wood

    My poems are made of wood,
    he said.
    Poems don’t count!
    Emily threw hers
    off a cliff, I
    can’t believe I told you.
    Then she unfolded a teabag
    and started another one.
    That was her right. A good poem
    smells like you.
    Otherwise it goes moldy and falls apart.



    Sumeria was cold and rainy.
    I wear a grin under my flaky scarf.
    Humans pluck various sorts of flowers
    and staple them between covers.
    A grin applies even better than ink.
    I built this city when I was 61.


          For the win

    I was a bot
    without a win.
    You were the win.
    Were you the lady I should?
    Who spurns a lady
    whose slick hair wins!


         Internal morning

    When I woke up my roots were frozen!
    I was still wearing the tatters of my dream,
    but the sun gave off a slow warmth,
    melting the ice cube I had enjoyed all night.


          New plans

    All over my desk
    plans for a new ark.
    Such fine plans!
    This time, they’ll certainly come.
    Ice forms on the fjord
    and fools will come to sit and watch.


         A poem for Dag

    I will write a poem a day for Dag.
    That doesn’t seem very likely.
    Even a gun complains after a while,
    gets icy,
    the action slows as the brown eyes bend.
    Somewhat elevated, a poem for Dag.
    One quarter swivel,
    one quarter hands,
    one quarter legs that mark time,
    — it’s extensible! They’re listening
    out in the good forest.
    See the priest fly up from the cherry tree
    on his steel wings.


         Birthday present

    Was it the wrong way to send you
    a print of rivers and magazines?
    I played it on my sona-tone, higher and higher.
    All the elves in Chungnan could see,
    and dreamt they burst in a white sky.
    In the end, it was a day late.
    My poem gladly butters you and the famished generations,
    but it disappears as you read it.