Editor’s Choice

Helge Torvund is one of the most important poets of Norway.  I meet him in Norway, a few years ago. His vision and presentation, both are unique. He creates a magic by using his inner imagination and outer world.   SERIOUSLY WELL is the long poem, he has written recently and have been translated. I think that this is a treat for poetry lovers, that are why I am presenting whole poem.




by Helge Torvund


There exists an enigmatic art.
A magic alchemy,
an art where one
by means of printing ink
formed like signs
resembling tiny insects,
can make the outer world
and the inner imagination
By placing
these signs
after each other
in exactly the right way,
selected from an endless amount
of possible ways of connecting them,
you might,
as by a spell,
create a suggestive formula
that evoke feelings
and pictures,
memories, visions of the future
and not the least;
a heartfelt open experience
of being here,
in this moment,
in the reading now.


When you experience this,and become aware
that there exists a great clan
of that kind of magicians out there,
people who has been working tirelessly
creating small mystic books
which are standing hidden
in a gargantuan number of libraries
around the globe,
then your view of the world changes,
and you look around yourself
in joy and wonder.


A great expectation is awakened.


What can you find
in the next thin collection
of poetry?
On the way you will of course
often be disappointed.
You find a leaflet
with a name that creates
and like a child you look forward
to get that kind of peace,
where you can find
a quiet place
inside a
not quite awakened day,
where you can sit down
and enjoy these verses.


Then it turns out
that in spite of the beautiful cover
and a well-known name,
just this book is
quite ordinary
and without suppleness.
You put it aside
with a little sigh.
But the glow hasn’t gone out.


Soon you are hunting again.
In the second-hand book shop,
in the book shops threatened
by being closed down.
You are reading in old magazines.
Scrolling through
page after page online.
You are buying unopened books
that have turned yellow.
And still sometimes
you will find a couple of lines,
a little poem,
a little light
shining from a sentence,
which make you lean back,
draw your breath
and feel the strong
old joy;
still the letters of the alphabet
can create gold.


When you have experienced this
you are no longer just one single person
coming from your home village,
from that or that city, from
that or that country.
You belong to another people too.
A population that you can find in all countries.
Like some kind of restless wandering clan
they have left
their mark in all languages.
And the languages have been changed
and transformed
by their trade and work.
Rests and glimmering light
from their work
have entered a larger whole
and have been used
and worn by daily use
from many mouths,
in the writing and thought of many hands.
The glow and the fire
that shine towards you now and then
from the language that the people use,
is the hallmark of the poet.


To sit by the window
inside the great silence
of dawn
and carefully cut open
with a large knife
page after page
in a book full of poetry
from the other side of the world.
From another century.
And feel
while you are reading
some lines,
that your heart beats faster.


To be in contact
with another human being’s
mind, visions and feelings
through letters.
That is magic.
As if a letter
was a magic wand.
the enigmatic in this
is what keeps me
going on.
The feeling that such
an almost impossible thing
really can happen.
That you by using the language
in a certain way,
can establish some kind of
direct contact
between that which is existing
in your inner being and that which exists
in another person’s inner being.


The morning light that
gilds the tips
of the thin naked boughs
of the hardwood forest
now in March,
is changed, gets different,
new, clearer
when you lift
your gaze from a good poem.


But how
can the light out there,
the true
sun light
that is kissing the
thinnest tips
of the birch twigs
where the buds
stand waiting,
these buds
that give the whole
of hardwood trees
a tender
violet tinge
now in March,
how could this
change by the act
of someone sitting inside
a poem?
Is it possible,
is this experience,
that what we see
inside us,
an illusion?


I walk the same
road day after day,
but one day
I am so light and cheerful
perhaps I have just
and my senses are washed
and clean and take in the trees,
the houses and the asphalt paving
and give them this
very special
aura of
this being now
this is real,
that this is unbelievable
clearly existing –
and then
on another day
I am gloomy
and the trees, the road
stand out with
another heaviness
maybe irritating
ugly, dirty, glaring.


Who am I
that can change
the world in this way?
Or is there
a darkness
out there?
Does there really exist
a diabolic heaviness
that can slowly steal upon
the mind and
the landscape like a dark cloud
and suddenly
chill it all down
make us stiffen
and close ourselves?
And does there then
in the same way exist
a light
a flame
a living glow
that makes us
warm and open?
Is it true that we
are not alone?
That we live
in a connected whole
where we can
open our hearts
and be filled by
peace, confidence,
by light?


Is it
that you
by doing that,
by saying no
or yes
can be filled
by another
that you can
and become
even more awake
than awake?
Is it so
that there might come
a more vivid
and connected
life into our life?


Can you
instead of
grieving the awful
deeds you have done,
or shuddering
dread the horror
that may come,
enjoy the fact
that you are
seriously well?

When I was a teenager
I always went for a walk
in the bird park.
In a fixed route.
Passed the house of a girl
I once was in love with,
up the hills,
through the clusters of houses,
and in
the enormous gate of wrought iron
to the park.
The gate that
always slammed closed
with a
a long time after
you had passed
through it.


The doctor had said
that I
had to
go for a walk.
I was dizzy
and anaemic.
Was sitting inside reading
and listening to music.
And I didn’t thrive
at school.
Me neither.
Got pain in my stomach
was giddy and unwell.
The doctor said to the poet,
go for a walk,
and take a spoonful of laxative
every day.
And I did walk.
It became a habit.
I always walked to the bird park,
watched the peacocks,


One evening
something happened.
I was walking
somewhat in my own world.
Pondering on this
that we cannot know
how long we will live.
Someone had just died.
Someone my own age.
And it made an impression.
My namesake even.
It all came strikingly close.
It could have been me.
And then,
in the middle of the road,
in the evening light
I suddenly became
completely aware of
the fact
that Death always walks by my side.
I stretched out my hand.
I said: OK; so there you are then.
I might as well shake hands with you,
and accept that you are here.
In this way I included Death in my life.
Death is always walking by my side.
And I have known it all along since then.
I know.
That he’s there.
Perhaps he knows that I am here?


Anyway, I have learned
to live with him.
Still I can sit
in my meditation chair
by the window.
With the view
over the plains
where the morning light
is shivering
and in the distance
the stone bridge
where I so often
have been standing,
and one morning
I feel that I get filled by
the thought of my extinction,
that I will disappear.


The heavy melancholia
I can get
by the thought
of how it all
will continue
without me,
the birds, the morning sun,
and above all:
My children.
My wife.
It is really
But I bear it.
I sit in it.
I allow the sting of it
to fill me.
I sit there
and am
in this experience.
I bear the unbearable,
and then –
little by little
it passes.


Then I am back
by the view,
the morning sun, the birds.
And I feel better.
I am more peaceful.
Even this I can take.
To be completely alive
together with death.
And it feels
completely different
like a comfort in this
that it will go on
without me,
that I don’t have to
bear all this.


I love this light
that was here
the first time
I opened my eyes.
The light
embracing the body
in the pram.
The light
on the
dark velvet
butterfly wings,
the light
that makes the walls
of the bluebell shine
like thin paper
towards a light bulb.
The light
that opens
the room of the river
like glass
and shows us
the stones on the bottom;
softened by rolling
in water
glittering from the work
of the time’s polishing machine.


The light over
her lips
this evening
by the bridge,
when I saw
her face
from something
inside her.
Did it come up
from the river
and settle
in our bodies?
Did it come
with the soft
misty morning light
and mix with
our glances and
our breath?
Where do you end
and where does
the landscape begin?
Who is this woman
who has been created
by the light
from the bird song?
How is it possible
to open the day
and see the lambs
in light soft play
in the middle of
their grass life?
I see the stone light,
wind light,
light in the boughs
and in the song of air –
and I know
my place.


One can think
with light.
One can think
with water.

This soft mist
that embraces the river
and the trees.
All is water.
All is soft movements
in the low light.
A deity of water
that is in everything.
A whizz of the river
and of another day.
An almost inaudible
whistling in the trees.
Round forms
rising and falling
light as white sighs.
The hillside,
the foliage,
the dancing movement
of mist
and we
dancing along.
Everything is here.
All is played with
by the light.
And now and then
I am gliding
out of
Trembling in the dew.
Dancing in the fog.


You are sleeping in a rainbow
a comb of bone.
The day will arrive and lift
our faces to the surface
as the first stones
that are visible
when the water
is getting lower
and the little trembling
before we wake up
and unwrap the first
thought of this day
from its thin paper
of light.


I woke up in the middle of the night
and noticed at once
that something,
one thing or another,
was different,
strange, remarkable,
worth noticing.

But I couldn’t make out
what it was.
I slipped out
on the floor
grabbed my bundle
of clothes
and went into the living room.

My wife and the youngest girl
were asleep as
I closed the sleeping room door
behind me.
Outside I saw a full moon and snow.
A landscape
with snow shadow blue colours
and luminescent snow.
I felt something calling for me,
there was something there
that wanted me
to come out.
So I went.


Moonlight over the snow!
Half past three in the night
and I stepped
over the creaking snow
down towards the quay.
Does the fact that you get up
at an unusual hour
change the world outside?
Or was I already in a
peculiar state of mind
that caused me to wake up
in this unchristian time ?
The moonlight is distorting
the landscape
and showing us another side of it.
You recognize it,
but still it is different,
strange, peculiar, odd,
but beautiful too.
Changed. Deformed.


Was that garage usually
placed that close to the road?
Has this lawn always
been this large and strangely illuminated?
Is there something attractive
about the creepy?
The blue, cold.
The air feels thinner
in the luminous frost
and when you draw your breath
it is like you
draw a cold spirit
into your body.
And then you let
it out again
like a ghost of frosty smoke.


Down on the quay
someone had left a stand.

In the middle of the concrete area
I noticed a stand like the one you can put empty
sacks on when you are going to fill them
with one thing or another.
I didn’t pay much attention to it
until I noticed
a movement there.
Something was moving.
And suddenly I saw what it was:

A large narrow head of a bird was rising
from the stand and looking at me.
The whole stand turned out to be a heron
standing there
on the ice cold concrete,
I went a bit closer,
stopped for a while.
I saw an ancient gaze
staring at me over
the long narrow beak.
There was a great wisdom
in that eye.
I moved even closer.
It did not fly away?
Suddenly it laid down
on the concrete.
And the eyes
became begging, helpless.

I walked away from it to let
the large grey bird be in peace.
I walked around the harbor
and up to some of my view places.

Inhaling the bluish nightlight.
Freezing a little almost at once
when I didn’t move.
Then I walked homewards
and had to have a look
at the heron again.


But now it was dead.


It lay there flat and stiff on the icy concrete.
I watched it,
and I imagined
how those mighty wings
had let it fleet
through the air
over the rocks
around the harbor
with its long legs
stretched out behind it.
How it had been standing
immovable in the water waiting.
Immovable in the rain,
just like a Japanese
artist has caught a heron
in a woodcut.
And then!
Suddenly it snaps a fish.
A life in patience, in air and water.
And now, the end,
silence, cold.


I was freezing.
And suddenly
while walking
back home,
I was thinking
of The Restless One.
He who all the time
was walking around in the park,
picking up
dead birds
and paper,
He who was living by himself
in the little house
close to the large park
with the old tall oaks.
The park that was placed
in front of the hospital,
and on the other side
close to the cemetery
by the old stone church.


He used to pick up
withered leaves there,
now and then
a dead bird
or a dead animal
from the large lawn
in the park.
Not many of those
Mostly leaves
and sticks
And stones.
Many sticks and twigs.
Sometimes we could see
him bowing down
picking up something,
but we didn’t see
that there was anything there.
It looked like
he was picking up
invisible things.


He wandered around
and restless.
Walking from here to there.
talking into thin air,
looking at the ground,
As if he
never was at ease.
He bought things too.
All kinds
of little things
and remedies in the shop.
The old shop
where there was
a little bell
when you opened the door.

The one shop being
close to the hospital
on the opposite side
of the church.
I don’t think the man
behind the counter
was very pleased
when he arrived.
Perhaps he was afraid?
Well, not that he was afraid
of The Restless One,
that he should do him any harm,
he was a thin
grey haired man,
The Restless One,
in a grey overcoat that was
a little too big for him.
A timeless garment.
Such an overcoat
you can imagine
hanging on
a stand
in a dusty
derelict shop
in a village
where almost everyone
has moved away.
A coat
that almost
from a little distance
could make
him look like
a sleeping


The shopkeeper
was much bigger
and more athletic
than The Restless One.
Tall and
almost fat.
Bald, but always
wearing a little cap
that looked like a kipa.
I noticed that,
because it was rather unusual,
nobody around here
wear that kind
of cap.
I think the shopkeeper
was afraid
that people should believe
that he did palm things off on
The Restless One.
That he was somehow
making the most of the old
restless man by making him
buy all those things.
He seemed embarrassed
when he came.


He bought
all kinds of useless things, too.
But I guess the shopkeeper
just couldn’t make himself
say no to him, either.
The Restless One seemed a bit
embarrassed himself.
A little uncomfortable.
Like a young
man going to
buy condoms
from a mature woman.
Nobody knows what he
wanted those
things for.
He bought sticks.
Wooden plant sticks.
Knitting needles.
And spools of thread.
With sewing thread,
and thicker threads.
Sometimes a rope.
He put it all
into his old
brown handbag.


He brought them home.
The little house
in the end of the park
had to be filled up
with such things.
But we never saw what he did
with the other things,
those that he picked up
in the park.
We saw him
gathering them,
putting them
in small heaps
in the gravel
on the footpath.


Then he tried through
executing some rituals,
some strange kind of alchemy,
to lead these dead things
that he had
gathered there
in the evening light
between the tall trees
in the park,
to bring them over
to another form
of life.
He moved his hands
over them
while he
all the time
inaudible formulas.
His mouth moving


He could keep on
with these rigmaroles
for hours,
my uncle was
with him.
He was a doctor
at the hospital.
Yes, he is
dead now.
But back then he was young.
A successful doctor.
A well-known psychiatrist.
He never told
us anything,
but after
The Restless One
was dead,
he once told
to my father
who passed it on to me.


My uncle had said
that he didn’t know
how to help The Restless One.
That he was quite
sitting like that.
He was sitting there on the bench
by the green
while The Restless One
was walking nervously
and manic
picking up new things.
My uncle tried to
carry on a conversation.
For an hour
every week
he was sitting there.
It was the scheduled hour
The Restless One
was supposed to have
in my uncle’s office.

But The Restless One
was so anxious and fidgety
that he couldn’t stay
in my uncle’s office.
After being in the park
for some times,
The Restless One
started to show his
despair more
and more openly.
My uncle was always
very calm.
Even though
it was uncomfortable
for him too, this.

But The Restless One
become more and more
because he didn’t succeed
to transform the dead things
into living creatures,
because he wasn’t able
to give them life.
But then, one autumn day
he quite unexpectedly sat down
on the park bench
beside my uncle.
They were completely silent.
both of them.
The Restless One was sitting there
looking out over the lawn.
It was full of withered
maple leaves
oak leaves
and sticks that the storms
had blown down.


Uncle was secretly watching
The Restless One.
He said nothing,
the mumbling had stopped.
And uncle saw
in the soft and golden light
that the face of The Restless one
was filled with tenderness
filled with naked sorrow.
With tears in his eyes
he said reconciled:
“I can for instance not
transform a leaf
to a sheep.”
“No”, said uncle,
“that is true.
And that’s the way it is
with humans too.
They live
and they die.”
The Restless one nodded.



When I was twelve years old,
I came out on the stairs
in front of our house
and saw the yellow outhouse
and the blooming elder.
The smell from the rabbit cages
and from the dwarf chickens
was underneath all other smells in the air,
and on the clotheslines
white linen were flapping.
My hand can still remember
how it was
to touch the cold cross-bar
on my bike,
and I can feel
the light steps
along the yard
in my body
before I got on to the seat of my bike.


It was a wind life.
A life with the scent
of resin
from friendly pine trees
where one had been swinging
the childhood away
softly through
afternoons that was just
being good to you.
When I was twelve year old
the world was twelve years old
and the heaps of sand
was high and yellow
and the sun gave
the whole landscape
an energy
that made it grow
towards heaven.


To step out
on the stairs,
or to come
in to the doctor’s office,
to stand and take in the day
not knowing what
to do with it,
or sit there
in front of the doctor
who is saying
a few words
that changes
your whole life,
such moments
make me think
about a person who
is about to
create by improvisation
a piece of music,
I mean,
just imagine:


He is coming on stage.
And there it is only him
and the grand piano.
The grand piano over there.
and polished, shining.
And himself,
with his lived life,
his sorrow
and his joy.
under a grand piano
as a child.
The concerts
with great musicians
around half of the world
as a grown up.
And now.
Sold out house.
Filled with people
full of expectations.


Whatever you have done
it is now
only now
that counts.
To walk over to
the grand piano
with your fingers.
You know that this
isn’t the one you prefer.
In fact
you were thinking of
the concert.
You have not
eaten much, because
you didn’t like what
they served at the
Italian restaurant.
And you have not slept well.

You have been driving
from Zurich
to Cologne.
You are tired,
it is
close to midnight.
most of all
would like to drop this.
But then you feel
the expectation.
The people.
Listening, waiting.
And so you sit down
in front of the keyboard.
This is the moment.
When your fingertips
meet the keys
nobody knows what
is going to happen.

Nobody knows
what this will lead to.
the hands know?
You said that,
in an interview.
Or did you say;
The hands know?
Who knows?
Anyway, this is
the moment of truth.
You have no sheet music.
You have no
musicians to help you out.
You’ve got yourself
and all you have done before,
and you have your audience.
And the audience
is yourself,
with thousand ears.


The listening expectation.
And each and every one
is not you,
but themselves,
their own unique listening.
Their unique expectation,
Halting now just where
they have come
in their wandering.
All these different lives
listening now:
How vulnerable
this moment is!
You put your fingers down
and the world is black and white.
And from the black and white
you start to create
all kinds of colors.
All the sounds
all the tone colors
from green to blue
and from grey to


You improvise
a life.
You follow
your fingers.
You make the piano
imitate a phrase played
by the bells in the lobby
to tell the audience
that it is time to go in to
the theatre.
Someone laughs discreetly.
They notice what you’re doing.
The grand piano
is an echo of the moment
that just passed.
The grand piano becomes
an enormous container
filled to the brim
with lived life.
and those
down there.

and the grand piano.
Just you
and the piano now.
Every movement
you make,
every tune
following the tune that just
the room.
You establish
the atmosphere
that embraces
everyone in the audience.
You are
a magician
who let your fingers run
over black and white
and while you
build a house
of rhythm,
put together of
a wall of bass
and tempo
and opening
of clear glass,
you conjure all this up
through this troll tuned
and you moan.
You groan
under the tremendous


You walk up
these stairs
from darkness
to light,
uncertain of
where you are
or of where you are going,
and it is all
Or is it
Locked up in
In mere chance?

Open or closed
are only words now.
And you exists
in a wordless
Vulnerable and swinging,
fragile and
and near.
for heaven’s sake,
you breath out
the groaning rhythm,
you breath in
the music.
The room is moving.
The whole room
is changing
and leaning a bit over
in minor.
is growing.
You are growing.
The audience are listening.
They are happy.
You are taking them
And they follow you.



one afternoon
in December
my GP sits down
after having examined me.
He looks at me
and says
in a serious voice:
“You have got a lump.”
I remain calm in my seat,
but inside
everything stops.
As from a distance
I hear him say
“I am going to make a call
to the hospital
and book all the necessary
examinations for you.
Do you want to stay in here,
or do you want to go out
to the corridor and wait
for a while?
It’s your decision!”

I go out to the corridor,
sit down.
But I am not able to sit.
I am not able to sit quietly!
Must move.
Back and forth in the corridor.
I am alone there.
But I think
I just have to
calm down.
I sit down.
An anxious restlessness
seizes my body.
A physical
storm through me.
My God!


What is happening?
Must move.
No, now I’ll have to
collect myself.
What is happening here?
First and foremost
the unbearable thought:
Soon I’ll have to go home
and tell her this.
And tell the children.
Well, I don’t really know anything yet.
It’s all unclear, uncertain.
How long?
To tell this
to the children
and to her?


The doctor comes to the door
and says
that I might come in again.

*The anxiety stays with me
while the GP explains
what will happen,
and gives me the different times
for appointments
I now have got at the hospital.
The anxiety stays with me
when I say goodbye to him,
walk through the
empty waiting room
and down the road
towards the railway station.
The anxiety is so strong
that I am not even able
to collect my thoughts
in order to formulate
the burning question:
How will they take this?
What am I going to say?
The anxiety stays with me.
It is tearing me apart
as I am standing
on the platform
and have some minutes
before my train arrives.

But then!
In the December afternoon sun,
something happens.
I turn towards it.
I make contact with it.
And suddenly I am able to say,
now it’s like this.
Like this it is.
And here I stand.
And the anxiety goes away.
And I am
It is now.
It is singing in metal.
We can feel it vibrating.
We recognize it.
It is our
It is us.
It is clinging.
Ringing.Rhythmically beating
and alive.
We are gone.
We are born.
We are passing in and out of this.
Everything is rhythm.
All is changing
in sound
and pace.
I board
the train.
You are sounding.
I am sounding.
You come.
It is the ringing of the light.
is the deep sounds of bass in us.
And a melody of light.
A dance.
We’ll see.


It proceeds tentatively.
I am without any clues.
Without guiding principles.
Leaning forward.
Put words on it.
Get something in place.
Word for word.
Letter for letter.
My thought was:
This will be as it will be.
This is like it is.
An enormous confidence rose in me
and filled me.
Not a confidence in me becoming well,
or that something special
was going to happen at all.
I had no clues except this one:
A feeling that told me
that when it is darkening around the heart,
and the time is shrinking,
you have to embrace the fear
and give yourself over
to an insane confidence.A confidence that told me
that the very best thing to do for me
was to be where I am,
be alive
in that which is.
The anxiety really did disappear.
I could board the train.
They would have to be like they are.
And I was like I was.
Everything is like it is.
And so it was.
So it was to be.

*From the train
I saw
a heron
with heavy
movements of its wings
outwards over
the huge illuminated
of the ocean.

Helge Torvund  (born 20 August 1951) is a Norwegian psychologist, poet, essayist, literary critic and children’s writer. He was born in Hå municipality and is brother of sculptor Gunnar Torvund.

He made his literary debut in 1977 with Hendene i byen. In 1989 he was awarded the Nynorsk Literature Prize for the poetry collection Den monotone triumf. He received the Herman Wildenvey Poetry Award in 2016. From 2015 he has been writing monthly in the newspaper Klassekampen. One of these articles has been translated and published by York Art Gallery as “Carnal Light”.

He was awarded the Dobloug Prize in 2018.

Post a Comment