Thom Satterlee & Henrik Nordbrandt


Thom Satterlee

An Introduction to the Poetry of Henrik Nordbrandt

THE FOLLOWING THREE poems by Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt come from two of his most recent collections: Drømmebroer (Dream Bridges) and Fralandsvind (Offshore Wind). Although a knowledge of the poet’s biography and previous work isn’t necessary to an appreciation of the poems, I would like to point out how these pieces fit within his larger body of work, which includes some twenty-six collections of poetry published between 1966 and 2001.

For example, the poem “Between Christmas and New Year” is unusual for Nordbrandt in its mention of a subject that rarely comes up in his work. As much as one is tempted to associate a Danish poet with winterscapes, Nordbrandt himself is perhaps the least likely of any Danish poet to experience, let alone write about, snow. For most of his adult life, Nordbrandt has chosen Mediterranean settings for both his residence and subject matter. (He currently lives in Turkey.) In fact, I can think of only two other poems in which he mentions snow, and I’d be surprised if there are more than a half dozen total. Perhaps it is because as a boy Nordbrandt routinely suffered terrible ear and nose infections during Danish winters, so severe that he sometimes spent from October to April in bed recovering.

“Lies” presents another link to Nordbrandt’s past. A strong poem even without knowing the poet’s biography, the fact that the poem is most likely addressed to the poet’s girlfriend who died some dozen years ago from an unexpected illness steers the reader towards an even more intense reading. Nordbrandt has earlier devoted two entire collections to poems about his love and loss of Ingrid, one of which (Ormene ved himlens port or The Worms at Heaven’s Gate) especially describes his journey through a grief which, like the poem “Lies,” nonetheless refuses to sentimentalize memory or experience.

But the last poem, “Dream of Execution,” represents classic Nordbrandt. Its surrealistic images, combined with the poet’s wry attitude toward the described event, can be found throughout Nordbrandt’s work. His poems often have, as here, a kind of formal zaniness. The subject may be a dream, and the content of that dream may include material from the unconscious, but the voice remains surprisingly steady, as if the dreamer had been propped up behind a lectern and told to report what he saw, which he does with perfect clarity.

Nordbrandt’s work is much loved both in his native country and throughout Europe, where it has been translated into most major languages. Indeed, his past record as a prolific poet gives hope that Nordbrandt will continue to enlarge his record as a prolific poet gives hope that Nordbrandt will continue to enlarge his already impressive oeuvre. I for one look forward to his next book, and it’s an honor to be one of his translators.

Upland, Indiana, January 24, 2005


Henrik Nordbrandt

Between Christmas and New Year

Between Christmas and New Year
there’s almost nothing.
It can almost fit
inside a standard black handbag,
the kind midwives carry
as my mother used to say.
But I don’t know if that type of logic
is used these days.
It doesn’t matter if you forget the bag.
There really isn’t anyone who wants it.
Next year at the same time, there it is again
on a bench on the train platform.
No one sits down next to it.
That’s how it goes between Christmas and New Year.
Of course, the picture’s something different
if it has just snowed
and a little snow covers the bag
and you can imagine
a steam engine coming in
from out of the twilight.
The bag looks like that, too.
It’s yours. Take it!

(Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee)


Henrik Nordbrandt

Dream of Execution

I took my place behind a line of people
who exactly like me
had realized only too late
that they stood in a line to be executed.
Up until then the mood had been fine.
Stories and jokes were exchanged
smokes handed out, the bottles took another round
and the weather was glorious
not to warm or too cold.
I pointed over to the executioner:
It was I who had invented
that device he used
and I could still get the patent number
if he would only ease off.
But it didn’t help in the least.
My head came off
and I stood for a little while and watched
how the ones who’d been behind me in the line
got their heads removed.
Each one uttered the same words
as I had afterwards:
“How can people be so stupid!
How can people be so stupid!”

In this way I had a dream
with a window wide open to nightingales
and a candle burning on the nightstand
in a perfectly clear picture
of what it means to be human.

(Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee)


Henrik Nordbrandt


It is a lie, what I wrote in the letter I burned
that I think of you all the time.
But I think of you most of the time.

It is also a lie that I can’t sleep.
I sleep wonderfully and even dream of other women.

But when I wake up, I immediately think of you.

The beautiful women I see on the streets
I undress with my eyes while I try not to think of you.

And I inhale their perfume until it makes me dizzy.

But every comparison turns out to your advantage and my loneliness.

(Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee)