On the Fjord

The night I left you
the fjord lay so still and clear 
as if the water itself
had lost all substance
It was like rowing in empty air 

Through a night so infinitely clear 
that I suddenly knew
I had to live without shadow
Up against the edge of sleep
away from the reach of your dreams 

The sound of years
in starless water. Like rowing
in one’s own heart
through a sorrow as deep and cold 
as death itself 

On the banks of the starlit shores 
along the strait, the houses lay 
and shone
with your face in every window 
And you did not see me

by Stein Mehren; translated from the Norwegian by Alice Fletcher

På fjorden

Den natten jeg forlot deg
lå fjorden så stille og gjennomsiktig 
som om selve vannet
hadde mistet all substans
Det var som å ro i tomme luften 

Over en natt så uendelig klar
at jeg plutselig visste
jeg måtte leve uten skygge
Helt nær søvnens skillelinje
utenfor rekkevidden av dine drømmer 

Lyden av årer
i stjernløst vann. Som å ro
i sitt eget hjerte
over en sorg så dyp og kald 
som døden selv 

Ved de stjerneklare breddene 
langs sundet, lå husene
og lyste
med ditt ansikt i alle vinduer 
Og du så meg ikke 

– Stein Mehren

The Centre has teamed up with IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival and poet Kate Wakeling to run two poetry workshops for families on 9 and 15 April in Oxfordshire County Library. We’ll be encouraging participants to write brand new poems, ready for the IF Oxford Poetry of Science Competition. So if you know anyone aged 6-16 who is keen on poetry and science, please bring them along! You can sign up here.

Then on 30 April, we’re at Waterstones to host four Canadian poets (Chad Campbell, James Arthur, Stephanie Warner, and Jim Johnstone) and celebrate the recent publication of an exciting new anthology of Canadian poetry. Sign up to attend here.

And on 20 May we are collaborating with the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture to bring the acclaimed poet Gillian Allnutt to Oxford – don’t miss her!

Find out more about these and other upcoming events on our Eventbrite page.

This week’s poem was the winner of the 2018 Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation in the Open category, and the 2019 Prize is currently open for entries until Friday 12 July. Translate any poem from any language, ancient or modern into English, and be in the running for a cash prize and publication by the Stephen Spender Trust. The categories for the main prize are 14-and-under, 18-and-under and Open (adult), and will be judged by the Poetry Centre’s own Mary Jean ChanMargaret Jull Costa and Olivia McCannon. The Trust is also running a ‘Polish Spotlight‘ for the second year, with workshops in schools and a special prize for translation from Polish in the categories 10-and-under, 14-and-under and 18-and-under.You can find more details on the Trust’s website.

The winning translator last year was Alice Fletcher. She writes: ‘I have translated ‘På fjorden’ by Stein Mehren because I think it is a perfect example of a typically Norwegian poem; the language is clean, crisp, and deceptively simple, while also being very evocative. As with so much Norwegian literature and poetry, it is deeply connected to nature, as can be seen from the title itself. The language of Mehren’s poem is simple but so poignant, and I think it is a poem that really makes one stop and think. Moreover, it is a poem about love, however tragic, which I think really brings the poem to life for readers.’ You can read more of Alice’s reflections, and find out more about the other prizewinners for 2018,  here.

The Stephen Spender Trust was established in 1997 to honour Stephen Spender’s achievements as poet and translator of poetry, and as champion of the rights of creative artists and writers to free expression. Founding members who have since died include Valerie Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Czesław Miłosz, Harold Pinter and Natasha Spender. Inspired by Stephen Spender’s literary interests and achievements, the Stephen Spender Trust aims to widen appreciation of the literary legacy of Stephen Spender and his contemporaries and to promote literary translation. You can find out more on the Trust’s website.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.