"Observation Deck" by Jóhann Hjálmarsson, translated by Christopher Burawa

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September 21, 2022 

Observation Deck

Jóhann Hjálmarsson
translated from the Icelandic by Christopher Burawa

This poem which is a part of my life
must live on as my life: Aragon’s sun
reaching down to me. Snow flurries melting
as they fall on the slopes of Moncayo.
An April day when everything seems alive.

The peal of bells soaks into the centuries-old shadows,
and colorful butterflies tumble in the breeze,
hover above me
and settle on my book,
which lies forgotten in my hands.

 


 

Verönd 

 

Þetta ljóð sem er hluti af ævi minni 
mun líða eins og hún. Sól Aragón 
hremmir mig. Snjóa leysir 
í hlíðum Moncayo. 
Apríldagur þegar allt verður lifandi. 
Bjöllur koma fljúgandi úr aldagömlu myrkri 
og marglitt fiðrildi birtist í þyrlulíki, 
hangir í loftinu fyrir ofan mig 
og hættir við að setjast á bókina 
sem er opin en óskrifuð 
í hendi minni.

Copyright © 2022 by Jóhann Hjálmarsson and Christopher Burawa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“This poem is an example of Hjalmarsson’s late style of an ‘open poem,’ incorporating common and mundane details from his life. He compared this style to the tradition of Zen poetry in China and Japan. This poem beautifully illustrates how the poet steps aside after the first two lines and invites the landscape to tell its story on a sunny day in Aragon in 1997. There is a cinematic quality to this poem—beginning with the wide shot, then turning back toward the town, through the narrow, ancient alleyways, and finally to him, on the observation deck.”
Christopher Burawa

Jóhann Hjálmarsson, born on July 2, 1939, in Reykjavík, was an Icelandic poet, translator, and literary critic. He is the author of seventeen books of poetry, six collections of translations, five anthologies of Icelandic poetry, and six chapbooks. He died on November 27, 2020.

Christopher Burawa is the author of The Small Mystery of Lapses (Cleveland State University Press, 2006), among other titles. The recipient of awards, grants, and fellowships from the American-Scandinavian Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other organizations, he works as a high school language arts teacher and lives in Red Wing, Minnesota.

The Small Mystery of Lapses
(Cleveland State University Press, 2006)

“It Was Raining in Delft” by Peter Gizzi
read more
“Laughter in the Slums” by Dudley Randall
read more

Thanks to Cynthia Hogue, author of In June the Labyrinth (Red Hen Press, 2017), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Hogue’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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