Two Poems by Jóanes Nielsen, Translated from Faroese

The following two poems by Jóanes Nielsen were translated from the Faroese by Matthew Landrum, Tóta Árnadóttir, and Agnar Artúvertin. Nielsen is a Faroese author known for his poetry, novels, plays and short stories. Faroese is primarily spoken in the Faroe Islands, which sit halfway between Norway and Iceland. About 66,000 people speak Faroese. 


Translated by Matthew Landrum and Agnar Artúvertin

The moonlight doesn’t speak
If it did say something
It wouldn’t be moonlight any longer
But something white that makes slow noise
Or am I wrong? Is moonlight the bleak powder
That dreamers fence against insomnia?
On sensitive scales
You can weigh light
This means that with a keen ear
It’s possible to hear the glimmer of your bedside lamp give a sigh
And the air doesn’t wear thin
It tastes of the mouth of the woman next door and the starling
Singing in the tree
The atoms that make up the body
Have at times been part of other bodies
The dead are among us
Smuggled in through the cracks in biology
Night tiptoes through the house
Words are skin for a consciousness that pulses in all matter
Sometimes I feel at home
As if the day were a nice coat wrapped around my body


The Scent of Heath and Fire 

Translated by Matthew Landrum and Tóta Árnadóttir

Rói Patursson
Is the Mohican of our poetry
His words are surrounded
By the scent of heath and fire
But I don’t know
what sort of thing a good poem is
Inside some poets’ heads
Hangs an echo sounder
Meticulously recording the depths of their soul
On infinite ticker tape
Other carry a clock inside their head
They are the tick-tock poets who will often stop
around seven and eight
Others have their heads full of explosives
One combustible dream
Then the thin legs of a poem begin to stir
But I still don’t know
What to ask of a poem
If the flying dragon of literature
Should even be bothered by any demands
And I ask myself
With what tools
Could you distinguish the scent of heath and fire?
They say that slow-growing trees
Have the most beautiful crowns
That’s possible
But I also like trees
Tormented out of the soil
They are more similar to us
Still I don’t know
What sort of thing a good poem is
But the scent of heath and fire
Gives you the feeling of having lived a long time on this earth

Photo Credit: Eileen Sanda via Creative Commons

About the author

Jóanes Nielsen, a former dockworker turned political activist and writer, is one of the pre-eminent figures in contemporary Faroese literature and culture. He has published seventeen books including the novel Brahmadellarnir which was nominated for the 2013 Nordic Counsel's Literary Prize and is forthcoming in English from Open Letter.

About the author

Matthew Landrum's translations have recently appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, RHINO, Modern Poetry in Translation, and Asymptote Journal. He lives in Detroit.

About the author

Agnar Artúvertin is a writer, poet, publisher, and translator. He lives and works in the Faroe Islands.

About the author

Tóta Árnadóttir holds an MA in Faroese language and literature from the Faroese University, where she is currently an assistant professor in oral tradition.

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