Over the city's sighing towers
sank all the earth's distress:
fire, plague and hunger,
war and sudden, cruel death.
The people thronged in the churches,
bowed their knees in fear,
heard the priests pray to God
for strength his penance to bear.
The mothers by the well
despaired, and help they missed.
'For the children's sake, for the children
mercy must exist.
Though in sin they were born,
to us they are very dear,
they are much dearer to us
than heaven's glory in there.'
A white-haired stranger,
one step before the rest,
beckoned them to follow,
began to wander thence.
Swarming out through the gates
more and more followed on.
In the city's midst stood a house.
A staircase there led down.
Hard-trodden floor of earth,
stool and wooden bowl.
Clad in a cloak of hair
a man knelt in that hole.
Humble veneration
burned in every gaze:
'The city is wealthy yet!
Here a holy man lives and prays.
There in intercession
his face is upward-turned;
the marks in his careworn features
by our sins have there been burned.'
Bitterly the old one laughed.
'What is it you behold?
A great, holy love,
and beyond that, nothing more?
A face's open bowl
of patience, blessed, sane,
that rises up in hunger
towards the flood of pain -
an ardent spirit's chalice
of bleeding rubies that shine,
waiting here devoutly
for the Lord's wrath's wine -
a desire to suffer
the beloved's worst punishment --
and does no one see the lightning
down from heaven sent?
The city gave an echo
and in the same sound shook,
when he, the man strong in prayer,
his lord subdued.
Pull up all the poppies
that ask for springtimes of pain!
Cut down all the black trees
that yearn to bear tears' rain!'
Then from the crowd there stepped
a man full of fiery dread,
felled the old one to the ground -
she fell and there lay dead.
They crossed themselves, they crept away,
the daughters and sons of men.
And up to heaven's angry vault
the holy man's prayers rose again.

Translated into English by David McDuff in "Karin Boye: Complete poems".

Swedish original

Copyright © 2005:
Translation from Swedish into English: David McDuff

Published with the permission of:
David McDuff, translation.
May and Hans Mehlin, Layout.

For more information, please visit the website of David McDuff and his own pages with the translations.