I am a bathroom reader. Magazines especially, but books also. Of course Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers are classic. So when I find myself in a foreign bathroom I am always appreciative when there are reading materials strewn about. Magazines are the easiest of course, but I believe that those bathrooms that have actual books in them show some real thought. It’s as if they knew I would be there.
And so it was that I found myself reading a bathroom poetry book. In Swedish.
Now, as I have mentioned before, I consider myself pretty fluent in the Swedish language. My speaking skills are so that I can fool most Swedes into thinking I’m Swedish for a little while at least. My reading and writing continue to improve and are by no means equal to my English reading and writing skills, which still chaps my ass to be honest, but I’ll settle for improvement.
Anyway, reading poetry in my native language is not something I do on a regular basis. I have a few favorites that have stuck with me from all of the schooling (“What work is” by Philip Levine, “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas, and “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley), but I don’t seek out poetry of my own accord. Which might be a shame.
But even when reading poetry in English, I sometimes struggle to delve into the deeper symbolism that every literature teacher would have me believe is there. Mostly because sometimes I just want to believe that the author wrote what he meant. And the tree is just a tree. The whole say what you mean and mean what you say thing brought up Lewis Carroll. What it really boils down to is that I have become so intent on extracting a deeper meaning from poetry that I tend to just avoid it.
But in the bathroom it couldn’t be avoided. So I grabbed the book and flipped through the pages a bit. Browsing if you will. Because reading poetry is one thing. Reading poetry in another language is a very different thing. I wanted something that I could ease myself in with.
And there she was. Eeva Kilpi. Finnish. Born in 1928. And one of the best poems I have ever seen. Short and sweet. And simple. Whether this was written in Swedish or translated to Swedish I don’t know. But either way it was glorious: “Ring mig innan världen exploderar/vi säger hejdå.”
And that’s it. “Call me before the world explodes/we’ll say goodbye.”
That’s good stuff.
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