Fragment of a Cantata 
Scene: Before God's Throne 
                    CHORUS I 
How long, how long, how long?
Destroy us! Destroy us!
                    CHORUS II 
A little time, a little time, a little time!
Have mercy!
Have mercy!
                    THE ACCUSER (recitative) 
It is time to speak. It is truly time to speak. 
                    CHORUS II 
Have mercy! 
                    CHORUS I 
Destroy us! 
                    THE ACCUSER (recitative) 
Out of the darkness I rise before your throne,
I, the Accuser.
From generation to generation we saved our madness's hope.
As a newly conceived child lies hidden and is scarcely there,
so you lay hidden in our inner being, O great madness.
From generation to generation we were ready to deny what we 
                                    heard and saw.
Who wants to be evil? Who wants to be what man in reality is?
From generation to generation we were nothing but our secret
our unborn.
O Lord, how near you are to that which does not exist! 
But look after us! We cannot endure any longer.
Destroy the evil that does not care to deny itself.
Destroy our madness's dream that is not able to make itself
Destroy us. 
                    CHORUS I 
How long, how long, how long?
Destroy us!
Destroy us!
                    CHORUS I 
We are your flock, 
Lord,whom you failed -
Have trust! was your command -
and worse we fared.
From evil's mists
no light rose aloft,
out of the thunder
no murmur soft.
We quaked in the desert
abandoned, alone
with harsh commandments
written in stone.
They became our water, they became our bread.
But around our piety
night lay dead.
We travelled the roads,
struck by God's ire,
messengers we. 
laved in fire.
Judgement, expiation,
the voice bade thus.
And the judgement came true,
but never the trust.
We sang in the fields
in rejoicing turned
towards new stars
that like signals burned.
O dream, o hope,
how richly you flowed,
O promise's promise,
so fraudulent, broad.
One prayer, one only
remains to us:
strike even harder,
you that cause pain to us!
Fold space together
and extinguish time,
annihilate all
and make peace come!
How long, how long, how long!
Destroy us!
Destroy us!
                    SOLO (from Chorus I) 
We know that the bitter fates
did not come to us first.
Who will say in suffering's flood:
ours is greatest!
Against times of plague and hunger's years
and the mothers' cry
in abandoned towns -
what do we weigh!
Oh, we were used to making
bolder demands,
but sensed that good was what life gave
with merciful hands.
The dead know, they rest in peace,
how much the heart can thole. - - -
But we despair of man
and of man's goal.
We believed that by its own power
the truth won through.
But a stronger lure is lies'
inciting brew.
The drunken souls maim themselves
for the idol State,
and trust drowns in mistrust
and love in hate.
So we are the shreds that were wasted,
the hammer that broke.
Come, sweep your smithy empty and clean
with broom and rake!
Light the forge again to create
that which is not us!
A gleam was your spirit in man,
a gleam - and gone past.
                    CHORUS I 
Destroy us!
Destroy us!
                    CHORUS II 
A little time, a little time, a little time!
Have mercy!
Have mercy!
It must not end so
cruelly unreconciled.
Not so long as on earth still
life is spared, used mild.
Grant one more brief term
for the world's wheel to turn!
So dark the night persists,
perhaps a new one may burn!
If this is said presumptuously,
then forget all words
but let us be silent and endure our way,
like grass close to earth's swards.
Too deep the shame we saw,
too meaningless the agony.
On expectancy we lived -
waiting let us die!
Have mercy!
Have mercy!
SOLITARY VOICE (from Chorus II) 
Lord of the macrocosm,
lord of the microcosm,
you who burst all measures,
great and small,
you alone know
how measures and figures defraud,
you know that life is
what life always was.
He that walks over battlefields
and hears distress's cry,
the more he sees and hears,
grows his agony.
But there is no sum to be had
of the world's woe:
he only slowly draws near to
the contents of one soul.
The world's life is no sum,
but the way that souls came,
no goal in sight,
but conquered in clear-eyed shame.
You smile at our numbers and figures.
Let earth's purgatory go on burning!
Let us preserve all all
for the joy of overcoming!   
CHORUS I (dying away)           CHORUS II (dying away) 
Destroy us!                     Have mercy!
Destroy us!                     Have mercy!

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.