I Have Barely Had Time to Build Your Name, translated by Arthur Allen

I have barely had time to build your name
with the white pebbles of the beach
before the endless waves of sea have washed it away –
could I just as easily
rip your name from my heart.

But the heart is not a wave
that comes and goes.
The heart is a mill
that grinds and grinds.


I began translating the poetry of Maria Wine, doyenne of Swedish modernism, out of my own poetic curiosity. Nowhere could I find her translated into English, but for a few pages of preface in her husband’s final book: Journeys in Dream and Imagination, by Artur Lundqvist, in whose shadow she has fallen completely. So, with permission from the Artur Lundqvist Maria Wine Foundation in Perstorp, I began to translate the first poems from her first collection and I found that they were magical, mysterious and palpable eighty years after their publication in 1943. This was my first attempt at translation and it was a steep learning curve ascended gently. I went about each poem line by line with several different dictionaries. Thank goodness Swedish modernism had not yet begun splitting the sense of sentences over the white space of the page, if it had been like Mallarme, with verbs hanging on their own and fragments of clauses it would have been impossible! But the sense more or less completed on each line and I could work methodically, building my understanding of the verse. I tried to translate with high fidelity to the meaning of Maria Wine’s words, more literal a translation, without versioning the sense into something 21st century. I tried to treat her text with as little promiscuousness as possible. And the Swedish she uses seems perfectly adapted to this kind of translating, it is a language of fundamental elements: dawn, night, light, darkness, forest, sea, land, rain, snow, stones. These nouns can be placed easily like stepping stones, but there were trickier ones. Wine often writes: ‘vacker kvinna’, beautiful woman, but what should be translated of that, what part of its meaning, and when we go after its meaning we find that splits apart: what is the meaning of a beautiful woman in 1943, what is the meaning of a beautiful woman in the year 2021, and what is the meaning to Maria Wine? I have found no solution, I am enjoying the problem greatly!

Knappt har jag hunnit att bygga ditt namn

Knappt har jag hunnit att bygga ditt namn
med strandens vita småstenar
innan havets tidlösa vågor har sköljt bort det —
kunde jag blott lika lätt
riva ditt namn ur mitt hjärta.

Men hjärtat är ingen våg
som kommer och går.
Hjärtat är en kvarn
som mal och mal.

Original poem by Maria Wine. Reproduced by kind permission of the Artur Lundkvist and Maria Wine Foundation in Perstorp, Sweden.