Here on Uppsala's plains, remote and cold,
in the winter nights we have often strolled.
Silent we walked. The plain lay nearby.
The stars had flamed since eternity.

The stars flamed, frightening, mute,
Side by side we went, strangers, on foot,
divided in striving, divided in eye,
Dear to us both were the plain and the sky.

Once folk the ancient hearths did raise
here in the far-off worlds' shimmering gaze.
Fire against fire in time no one knows
gathered their flocks while the earth froze.

Here fields were ploughed by the first to plough,
ploughed while in forests the wolves did howl.
Here on the sacred hearths glowing red
from the corn was baked a coarse, hard bread.

Here stood the court, where crowds made sacrifice,
full of dread in the threat of a long winter's ice,
full of wailing under vaults with light a-shake,
when round earth universal night did quake.

See how the lights on the plains twinkle cold,
fighting the dark that the winter nights hold!
The night is unending, blown bark, the earth's.
Give me your hand! We're the brood of the hearths.


By ice-walls and ice-silence
is peace protected in my daybreak land,
where the air trembles, pale with hunger
for sun-life and sun-brand.
The thorn-thickets in fearful waiting
in hollow trunks hard round close in
all the flames that pray and beg
to soon burst forth in blossoming.

You know the word, you alone.
Speak, speak and wake my land!
Free the trees from their daybreak anguish,
light the air with your lifted hand!
Blossoms shall rain for your foot to trample,
sunbeams dance when smiles you pour.
Speak, speak! I desire to blossom
you to happiness, and nothing more.

Silent is space, pale with hunger.
Stiff and cold is my closed hand.
By ice-walls and ice-silence
is peace protected in my daybreak land.
And well I know that the magic word,
it is never said, I will never be free.
Mute your narrow lips close
when proud you stride like a deer past me.


The whole of my soul I have fixed to one thought,
hard, hard, so I felt it with my hand,
the whole of my soul I have hurled through the air
to you, far away,
If you see it lie like an asteroid fallen,
still after flight glowing in the sand,
if you walk past it in your vaulting rhythm.
then you are likely not thinking of me.

The whole of my soul I have fixed to a single thought,
the whole of my soul lies heavy before your feet.
I myself am so empty it hurts and aches.
You, you my friend!
Do you not notice, or will you not notice
the thing that's been torn from its trembling roots?
Have you no use for my poor soul?
Am I just in the way again?


If I take your wasted hand,
they will wither,
all the dreams of sunlit lands.
Let them fall!
Blossoms in white and pink,
fruit to harvest,
all is worth nothing
against your burden.

Waves with salt foam,
golden rocks
pale against your grey,
leafless evenings.
If I cannot ever
heal fate's blows -
give me your bitter day
to share!

Give me your meagre autumn!
I can freeze.
If there is a glint of consolation
it will glow.
Only a splash of light
is given to you
here in your empty house,
I give my life.


Each word from you is like a seed.
Its root bores deep away.
I waken from a secret pain
and find no remedy.

Consumes me then like bitter thirst
Each movement that you made.
Each intonation and each glance
grows near and bright and great.

My day is grey with me and mine,
which makes my figure dull.
But mirror-bright is the night's world,
where you are all, all.


I think death is like you,
tall and pale and straight like you,
temples cast in a vault that is the same,
sea-eyed, distant-eyed as you
and with the same lips, closed by pain.

You are death. I am yours,
my hand yours and my mind yours.
You have deadened all life's burgeoning,
lulled into a sorrowful sleep
dream and deed that scarce have tried their wing.

But I love you, my death,
you my long, bitter death,
in whose closed hand my life withers away.
You my sweet, sweet death -
I bless your torture's every day!


All, all I owned
was thine more than mine.
All the most beautiful I wanted
was thine, thine, thine.

Aloud with thee I spoke
what no one in the world knows.
On endless roads
thou wast my loneliness.

if I lay awake at night
with nothing in my thought,
if I breathed, I felt thee, thee.
Thou wast round about.

Lifeless is life,
where thou dost not remain.
The world is an immense shell,
that has no kernel in.


Light lily bells on Kungsangen's plain
I plucked one spring, when I thought it was fall.
My heart was like them - only much less light -
a mute, red bell that begged to call.

Where goes all the song that is choked and locked in?
Where goes all the longing that attains not a thing?
Perhaps it lies mixed in the water and soil.
Perhaps is is there in the wind's whistling.

Though nothing has happened, I can manage no more.
Mortally weary am I. What have I done?
Perhaps I have striven in lands none have seen?
Hard I toiled at the gate of the rising sun!

I dragged stones in sleepless night.
Then I built a marble palace in shimmering elegance.
My anguish raised the pinnacles. Of the fountain's laugh
one hears no more that every drop was once tears.

Like fire burn the roses towards the pillars' stone,
and sunwhite towers drink blue peace that the heavens give.
But over the gate it says SOLACE. And the air is pure.
And I have prayed to the angels that there you shall live.

I put my bells by your locked, closed door.
To release their tongues was beyond my hand.
You say that your life is as bitter as before.
But I have built a palace for you in a far, far land...


That which is said once is always said
and till the end of time will stay,
and no night of anguish has power
to wipe that word away.

But strange it is, that a single word
can choke the beauty we recall
and turn our aery dream to earth,
till remorse alone is all.

Thus grow cool two long and heavy years,
when the fairest things budding came,
before only one word, that eternally stands
and turns my life to shame.


On my knees I want to give thanks
because you smiled.
Through stifling air and restlessness
moved a gentle wind, mild.
So bitterly salt are the tears
a repentant one must give.
I know you despise me.
I know you forgive.

In long days and nights
I have cruelly learned here
that we are here to lose
what we hold most dear.
Your hem I want to kiss
because you smiled.
A smile without scorn,
That is much, high-piled.


I feel your footsteps in the hall.
I feel in each nerve your hurried steps.
which otherwise no one will notice.
Around me sweeps a wind of fire.
I feel your footsteps, your beloved footsteps,
and my soul hurts.

You move far away in the hall,
but the air billows with your footsteps
and sings as the sea sings.
I listen, caught in your consuming force.
In the rhythm of your rhythm, in time to yours,
beats my pulse in hunger.


There is a happiness of death,
a happiness of destruction,
which to my thirsting mouth
only one can give,
a happiness inexorable
to senselessly embrace
and sink deep and dark
into annihilation's well.

I broke free of your shadow.
Around me it grows.
I hear your name
As I follow my ways.
I chose the light of day,
and I want your dark.
I will give sight and life
for your soul and your embrace.


I am victory-crowned with suffering's wreath,
with the burning flowers of new, fresh pain,
though my shame was effaced by a hand so cool,
and mercy-mild your judgement came.
I am tottering drunk with aching and woe
I have tasted the bitter drink I desire
I want more. I want to see the cup's base.
I want to die on my threshold here.

Now the night has life, now the sky has power,
now the earth and things are in reality caught.
I am blissful in the splendour of the great dark
and with living pain I am hot.
I am proud to share the sorrow that is yours,
I am rich with all the old pain you gave breath.
But that swoon of rejoicing that binds me in,
that is the breathing of death.


The snow it falls, the wind it whines,
frozen is Fyri's river.
The earth is lame and the heavens blind,
and life lies deserted forever.
It was a dream, a dream yesterday,
Today I have already woken.
When will your pain be again so intense
that I must share its hurting?

A day is so long. A day is so long.
Even longer is the night.
My mind is enclosed in a frozen vice,
and my thought shrinks ever more tight.


I want to freeze in the street here below
To see two windows in a gable glow.
To me the one who lives there is very dear.
I grow sick at heart when there's light in there.

I will go to the corner, I will slowly turn,
so I'll catch a glimpse of you maybe, then.
That you are so near... Why am I here?
I grow sick at heart when there's light in there.


Falling stars that the night scatters,
lightnings that glitter in flight,
proud suns that the darkness drowns -
who will call that destruction?
Tongue of fire till the last
you shall die, you shall fade,
unbending in losing all,
heavy with fate as an ancient song.

Mountain summits in immense outline,
sea's expanses at break of day,
great forests in miles-wide stretching -
such is all I know of you.
Sea-deafened in the roar of surf,
sun-dazzled in the light of snow,
lulled in triumphant dreams of murmuring pines -
thus do I bless your splendour.


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.