Oh, how marvelous is hell!
No one in hell prattles on about death.
Hell is lodged somewhere deep in the earth
and all its flowers sizzle....
In hell no one is clever.
In hell no one sleeps and everyone thirsts
and nobody sits still or catches their breath.
In hell no one talks, everyone wails.
Tears there aren’t tears, and sorrow has no teeth.
In hell no one is tired and no one ails.
In hell nothing changes but goes on forever.
— a version after Edith Södergran’s “Helvetet”
I You We They
I you we they
When I say I I am we
When I you she he it
And when they it is we
We who have come to this worn out ugly
Each guilty without blame
This country a child
In our arms lame.
— a version after Félix Morisseau-Leroy’s “Mwen Menm Ou Menm”
Edith Södergran helped usher modernism into Swedish literature via her romantic, and counter-romantic, feminist, free verse poems, the poems themselves sometimes celebrating modernity. Nietszche is a “Strange father” (“At Nietzsche’s Grave”), and Södergran exhorts us in “The Trains of the Future” to “Tear down all the triumphal arches…Make room for our fantastic train!” Södergran, born in St. Petersburg in 1892, grew up in Finland/ Russia. Fluent in five languages, she published five collections while living, and one posthumous volume. Södergran died of tuberculosis in 1923 at the age of 31 in Raivola, Finland (now Russia) after spending several years, off and on, in sanatoriums trying to restore her health.
Like Dante’s adoption of Florentine Italian over refined Latin, Félix Morisseau-Leroy in much of his work chose his Hatian Creole over the French of Haiti’s colonizer. And like the exiled Dante, the self-exiled Morisseau-Leroy (a step ahead of Papa Doc’s goons) died far from his home, in his case at the age of 86 in 1998 in Miami’s Little Haiti where he had settled 18 years before. In the intervening years “Moriso” lived in Senegal and in Ghana where he directed the National theatre. Morisseau-Leroy’s lifetime of poetry, plays, and novels champion the people and history of Haiti and also criticize the United States for its efforts to bankrupt his native land.
Steve Kronen‘s recent and forthcoming work is in Image, Plume, upstreet, Guesthouse, Terrain, and the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review. His collections are Homage to Mistress Oppenheimer (Eyewear), Splendor (BOA), and Empirical Evidence (U of Georgia). The poems here are from a new manuscript, A House Among Other Houses – 53 Versions from Sappho to Claribel Alegría. His website is www.stevekronen.com.