Knud Sørensen -- Translations by Michael Goldman

Planting time. Months before.


Windrows of threshed hay lie

where the combine drove.

He starts running

with a burning clump on a pitchfork,

he ignites the field, running

back and forth he tosses the fire

from row to row and the flames

thunder across the field, the sun

blurs hanging quivering

in the sky and ash and dust

drift over the ground, his face

turns black and streaked with sweat splashing

down over his cheeks, he runs

the flames jump, he shouts at the fire,

he jeers and rages, and the air

fills with smoke, it gets dark, dark.  He runs

across the field, lungs burning, following the flames,

dripping with sweat and covered with ash and dust,

he breathes in gasps, arms and legs painful appendages

he keeps going, keeps going, heavily, but keeps going,

the flames die and he stops, walks

slowly towards home trailing

the stench of burnt land behind him.


He sits one day on a tractor

plowing the scorched field.

Then goes and waits

through the winter

for planting time.


Winter Day With Snow


Already before daybreak

he notices that the ground

is white.  A weaker darkness

behind the bedroom curtains

and he turns on the light

and gets up

and pulls back the curtain

and the farmyard

is more visible than usual

and the light

is reflected more strongly

than before, and he

gets dressed

and walks across the soft farmyard

to the morning milking

to the feeding

and the mucking out.

When he re-emerges

to the farmyard

the sun is up

and it’s shining

and the sky is blue and the land

is still white, the frost

has hollowed out the air

so you think you can breathe in all space

without getting filled, and everything

is still white

the farmyard, the roofs, the garden

and the fields that almost disappear

and suddenly he knows

what he has to do

on a day like this.

After coffee

he drives out the tractor

gets the liquid manure tank

primes the pump

so its sound becomes full

and inescapable

and all day long he drives

across the fields

coloring them brown again.

It’s good to have livestock

it’s good to have a thousand gallons or so of liquid manure

on a day like this

good to fill

this frozen void

with a heavy and fertile smell.

He smiles

now they are cursing him

in all the cars up there on the road.





(Ole Andersen disappears)


Ole Andersen

sits in his kitchen.

It is a quiet noontime, the sounds

are the clock’s movement, the hum of the refrigerator,

and the drip of the hot water faucet, Ole Andersen

is listening for another sound

from the sunshine

from the newly fallen snow

that clearly shows

that he has been in the barn twice

this morning.  Now he listens, now

he just sits and listens.


The sound arrives.  The sound is driving on four wheels

into the farmyard, turns,

stops in front of the door

and out steps the lawyer

and out steps the sheriff

with the foreclosure book in his hand

and Ole Andersen rises

and goes through his kitchen

through his utility room, out his door

and is no longer Ole Andersen

but defaulter.


Defaulter greets them quietly.  Defaulter

hears the ball-point pen drown out the sheriff’s voice

when it is entered in the record book

that the sheriff delivered papers on

the 19th of January 1981 at 1:45pm

and executed

petition from the Danish Farmers Credit Union

regarding bankruptcy auction of the property

reg. nr. 42b Tøving City, Galtrup

-- foreclosure.

We have to take a look around, says the sheriff.

The door to the machine shed is open.


1 tractor, make Volvo , year 1974, red

sheriff makes a note of it

1 tractor make Ferguson, year 1956

sheriff makes a note of it

1 baler, make Ferguson, nearly new

sheriff makes a note of it

1 double plow, make Skjold

sheriff makes a note of it and lets his gaze fall on

various hand tools, a single rubber boot

a wreck of a work wagon, a can of oil

and the lawyer shakes his head and the sheriff

shakes his head.  Then

they walk over to the livestock building.


1 sow with 8 piglets, says the lawyer

and the sheriff makes a note of it

1 sow with 10 piglets, says the lawyer

and the sheriff makes a note of it

1 sow with 8 piglets, says the lawyer

9, says defaulter, they count

one sow with 9 piglets, says the lawyer

and the sheriff makes a note of it

1 sow with ear tag no. 213

1 sow

2 market hogs

6 feeder pigs, says the lawyer

and the sheriff makes a note of it:

Nothing encumbered with lien.

Thus it is carried out.

Foreclosure completed.


They go out into the yard.  That was that,

says the sheriff.  Won’t you have

a cup of coffee? asks defaulter

trying to regain his lost

identity, my wife isn’t around

but won’t you have a cup of coffee?

and the sheriff smiles and shakes his head

and says that they’re busy, you know they have

other cases waiting, and he nods goodbye

and the lawyer nods goodbye

and they get in their car

and start it up and drive away.

Defaulter stands and watches them go.

Then he goes inside.

Defaulter sits down

at the kitchen table that Ole Andersen

left behind.




The Numbers


In 1942 there were 456,000 full time workers in Danish farming.

In 1975 the number had fallen to 161,000.  In the same time-

frame the number of work horses decreased from 583,000 to

13,000, and the number of tractors increased by 183,000.

Therefore:  183,000 tractors made--together with other machin-

ery, changes in production, etc.--295,000 people and 570,000

horses superfluous.

The relationship between people and horses is natural.  One per-

son for every 2 horses.  A team.

If we imagine now these superfluous 295,000 people with

their superfluous horses on their way out of Danish farming,

for example, across the Danish-German border by Kruså, then

you have to imagine an almost infinite line of people and horses,

down through Holstein, past Hamburg, on the interstate

past Frankfurt, past Basel, over St. Gotthard, they reach

Milan, continue, continue, and at the moment that the first

person turns into St. Peter’s Square in Rome, the last person

leaves the border crossing at Kruså.

An exodus like this represents the exodus from Danish farming.



        return to poetry

Danish author, Knud Sørensen, born in 1928, was a certified land surveyor for 28 years, during which he became intimate with the Danish agricultural landscape.  A book reviewer for 14 years, he has also written 48 books and won over 20 literary awards, including a lifelong grant from the Danish Arts Council.  In November 2014 he received the Great Prize of the Danish Academy, the Danish equivalent to our Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

By translating a Danish copy of Catcher in the Rye word for word, Michael Goldman taught himself Danish over 25 years ago to help him win the heart of a lovely Danish girl—and they have been married ever since.  He has received six translation grants for his work with 5 distinguished Danish writers, among them Denmark’s most popular, all-time best-selling poet Benny Andersen.  He has published audiobooks of his translations of poetry by Sørensen, Andersen and of Marianne Koluda Hansen.  Michael’s translations have appeared in 18 literary journals and his original poetry appears in Poet Lore and The Fourth River.   He lives in Florence, Massachusetts.