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a translation of edith södegran's poem - stars

The first flat I rented here in Sweden was tucked into a quiet corner of Stockholm’s hipster neighbourhood Soder. It was a 1930’s house with tall ceilings and windows that opened west towards the spire of Sofia kyrka (Sofia church).

Beside the windows was a tall bookshelf that stretched from floor to ceiling. My landlord had arranged the books according to the colours of the book jackets and I spent the first, lonely days of February, snowed in and still missing a previous home, lying on the sofa and tracing the colours from violet to blue to green, to yello and and orange and red, reading the author and title of each.

A small book with a lavender jacket had a familiar name that I hadn’t heard since my high school days in Helsinki: Edith Sodegran, a Finnish Swedish-speaking poet from the 1920s and one of the first to write lyrical poetry.

I remembered a poem of hers I had admired as a teenager: Stjärnorna - stars. Since I’ve always had an interest in translation - in particular translation of poetry, which is often an order more challenging than translation of other texts and I need to get back on track with my Swedish, I’ve decided to attempt a translation of my own (with a bit of help from the Finnish language translation by Uuno Kailas).

The original poem can be found here on the project Runeberg website. The numbers in the translation are my additions and refer to the corresponding sections in the notes on the translation.


At nightfall, 
I stand on the stair and listen,
the stars are swarming (1) in the garden
and I am out in the darkness (2)
Listen - a star fell with a tinkle! (3)

Don't step on the grass with bare feet,
my garden is full of shards. (4)

Notes on the translation

  1. The word used in the original Swedish is svarma, which can mean any kind of syncrhonised motion like flocking or swarming. I chose to use swarming in this context, because the image Sodegrans text most often evokes in my mind is that of a garden at nightfall teeming with fireflies, expect they are not fireflies at all but stars!

  2. The original Swedish text for this line read och jag står ute i mörkret, which literally translated would be something like And I stand out in the darkness. I debated for a long time whether or not I should keep the stand, because it seems to be a symmetric complement to the “I stand on the stair” in the second line.

  3. The original Swedish text uses the word klang which describes a delicate sound reminiscent of two delicate glass figurines colliding, so to translate it as the more crude metallic like clang, would, in my opinion, not be faithful to the original, so I’ve chosen to use “tinkle” here in spite of it’s other connotations.

  4. Something closer to the original might have been to say “my garden is full of shrapnel”, but the word “shrapnel” has a more metallic connotation and I thought it might detract from the overarching image of portraying the stars as delicate glass pieces.