The ’sir rode over the rainbow bridge
with frost-white weapons,
glimpsed far in the Iron Forest's darkness
the dripping monster's maw.
The swords rang and gleamed
when giants' names were heard.
The voices' echoes, the hooves' thunder
carried far into space.

The elves walked in sprouting grass
softly on supple feet.
Trees leapt into blossom when the elves stepped
lightly over twisted roots.
Earth's kingdom rejoiced,
sprouting spring came in.
the May night shone white
with elves' white skin.

’sir and elves went to sessions
and divided the power of the earth.
The ’sir sat like hewn statues,
heavy with primeval splendour.
The elves slid like shadows
- they saunter as they will -
shadows of all that does not exist
but one day perhaps will.

’sir and elves conferred
and divided the earth up thus:
to ’sir all that a hand can take
and all that a word can reach,
to ’sir all that is spoken
and all the time that flew -
to elves that which thereafter remains :
all that is namelessly new.

’sir and elves conferred
and divided the family of men:
to ’sir those who hold fast
to their fathers' inherited right,
chieftain and warrior
and every sacrificial priest
and all who pray in temples -
from east and to west.

’sir and elves conferred
and divided the race of men:
to elves those who obey blindly
a day that has not yet dawned,
all who sacrifice in the forest
and do not support the fathers' laws
and all who grow like wild trees -
all, from north to south.

Thus did they confer, and thus it was.
Thus they steer the earth's ring.
The ’sir dispose over watchwords in battle
and visible signs and things.
But the elves they control the things
that have never had a name,
and all that they have and all that they give
is the force of fertility's flame.



In the world's tree nine days
sacrificed he hung
- so pale I never saw any,
god or man -
erect, with relentless mouth,
his ruler's hands clenched,
above the sacrifice he made
his eyelids closed.
But my mind
jumped like a snake - I cried: 'Who has done it?'
The dark voice answered, tremblingly low:
'I myself have done it.'

Little do I know of wisdom's well,
never yearned to be there.
Its lustre is black. I know a spring,
gleaming silver-white:
deep, deep near life's roots
a wave washes my mind.
No one demanded my eye as a pledge.
I drink freely in there.
Like a stream
flows my day - as though I had never heard
the strange answer I hear each night in my dreams:
'I myself have done it.'

Then the earth's blossoming spring seems to me
like dead things and dust
against him, sacrificed to himself
in the ash's whistling air.
Then my thought seeks in vain a well
that seems worthy of the feat.
a drink that must be cruelly won
with costly sacrifice.
No power
resembles theirs, who were silent, were silent and did it.
Through the darkness shines with splendour of flames:
'I myself have done it.'

The old witch spoke the truth.
'The strong,' she said one time,
'are born for gaze of lofty powers
and song of trembling man.
The more a strong one can suffer harm,
the more difficult things can he learn,
and dark Norns rejoice to see
how heavy a load a man can bear.'
Never yet
bore I a burden - and am not aware that I ought to.
But that dream, none is as proud as it:
'I myself have done it.'



(By means of forbidden magic Odin had won the elf-daughter Rindur,
who according to the counsels of the Norns would give birth to
Baldur's avenger.)

'Dark runes I carved, which no hand should carve,
I who am called chieftain in heaven's hall.
Heaven and earth are sick. Heaven and earth will break.
Myself guilt-bowed I will fall on Vigrid's slope.
Once, irrevocably, happens all that happens,
lonely, eternal, carved in stone it stands.'
'King, one thing I know that always returns:
the earth's holy breathing, autumn and spring.'

The earth's forests murmured quietly in time's dawn,
murmur still, when the gods' power is all.
Under the spinning, under the swell of the fates
moves an engendering sea of deep crystal.
Sleep, shuttle of the Norns! Nothing is transformed.
Worlds waken in new suns' gold.'
'Once, irrevocably, have I already acted -
yearn to pay on Vigrid's slope my debt.'

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.