JAG SÅG DU FÖRSTOD I SAW YOU UNDERSTOOD
Det var få människor som såg There weren’t many people who saw
att mina ögon var sorgsna that my eyes were sad,
ty jag skrattade mycket. for I laughed a lot.
Du märkte det You noticed it
och du frågade ofta varför. and often you asked why.
Då skrattade jag – återigen, Then I laughed – once more,
och kan hända jag sa and perhaps I said
att allas ögon kan väl inte vara that everybody’s eyes really can’t be
så glada som dina. as happy as yours.
Men jag lyckades aldrig narra dej But I never succeeded in tricking you
och jag såg du förstod and I saw you understood
eller anade or suspected
att vi inte skulle vara tillsammans that we would not be together —
– tillnärmelsevis even remotely
så där länge som visorna as long as the songs
och vi själva ordat om. and we ourselves talked about.
A matutinal walk recently in the bright cold of an Iowa December set my mind roaming – as it is wont to do on such peripatetic occasions – back across the decades, this time to some balmy nights of high summer, never fully dark, never fully light, in Sweden 1953 – as my mind is wont to do in these crepuscular years. It was when I fell seriously for someone for the first time. My then puella divina (‘heavenly girlfriend’) was some months younger than I but far more sophisticated in the many complicated ways of the world than I, and she taught me much. Prominent in her inexhaustible instruction set was a great desire to share with me her passion for poetry.
She loved a poet named Nils Ferlin (1898-1961) and she loved talking to me about his poetry and reading his poetry to me as we lay on our backs on a blanket and stared up through the tall forest crowns at pale distant stars or a waxing moon. No girl had ever done that with me before and I was exhilirated beyond bewitchment, utterly caught up in that liminal sweetness of adolescence mindlessly in love and on the threshold to adulthood.
And the poem I translate as epigraph was one of her favorites, as indeed it became mine. That summer with its shortening days moving inexorably into darkening September (when I had to return to America and senior year of high school) she was the only one who truly saw the desperation in my eyes at the knowledge that ‘we’ would soon be over. As that lumbering old DC-6 slowly bore me away from her west across the Atlantic I kept thinking about Ferlin’s poem, how prescient it was, how perfectly it had foreseen att vi inte skulle vara tillsammans (“that we would not be together”).
No, it is not a ‘great’ poem.
But it is a not un-appealing lyric with a personal point pleasingly made for me.
Given its special contexualization, then, it – perhaps like the popular tunes one associates with former girlfriends and lovers – was and still is a kind of hanger on which I can access the memories of discarded clothes that, some sixty years on, even if they no longer fit, still linger with her scent in the wardrobe of my emotions.
And finally, sometimes, I believe, it cannot do all that much harm in the case of a questing soul if the head’s sentiments in the here-and-now allow for a gentle accommodation of the heart’s sentimentality about a distantly shimmering past.
What do you think – should we be allowed that?