North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen

Three poems from
North in the World
Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen
Translated by Roger Greenwald


Up on the city’s roofs there are large fields.
That’s where silence crept up to
when there was no room for it on the streets.
Now the forest comes in its turn.
It needs to be where silence lives.
Tree upon tree in strange groves.
They don’t do very well, because the floor is too hard.
So they make a sparse forest, one branch toward the east,
and one toward the west. Until it looks like crosses. A forest
of crosses. And the wind asks
—Who’s resting here
in these deep graves?

Guardian Angel

I am the bird that knocks at your window in the morning
and your companion, whom you cannot know,
the blossoms that light up for the blind.
I am the glacier’s crest above the forests, the dazzling one
and the brass voices from cathedral towers.
The thought that suddenly comes over you at midday
and fills you with a singular happiness.
I am one you have loved long ago.
I walk alongside you by day and look intently at you
and put my mouth on your heart
but you don’t know it.
I am your third arm and your second
shadow, the white one,
whom you don’t have the heart for
and who cannot ever forget you.


There is a precise total for all the grains of sand on earth,
as well as for the starry worlds above our heads
(supposedly the same for each), if only we knew it,
but it’s more important to know that the grains of sand
grow constantly in number and the deserts are getting bigger.
  A touch
of violet has mixed itself into the pink of sunset.
Sand is white as milk and soft
as a bowing of violins.
Sand kisses your foot
and trickles over your palms like clean water.
At Bir el Daharrem hills and valleys are made of bronze.
At Thebes and Asmara dead cities lie under the sand.
Sand is crushed mountains and the ashes of everything that has
The sand dunes cross hot countries like stripes of fire.
Sand covers the planets. Moonbeams are reflections in sand.
Sand is the last thing on earth.
Time sleeping.

—These poems are translated from the Norwegian by Roger Greenwald.


Copyright notice: Excerpted from North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, A Bilingual Edition by Rolf Jacobsen, translated and edited by Roger Greenwald, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2002 by Roger Greenwald. All rights reserved. This material has been made available only for on-screen viewing; further reproduction or distribution requires permission from the University of Chicago Press.

Rolf Jacobsen
North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, A Bilingual Edition
Translated, edited and introduced by Roger Greenwald
©2002, 356 pages, 1 halftone
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 0-226-39035-7

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for North in the World.

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