It’s the Dream

Writing poetry is difficult, translating poems are almost impossible – never are words so refined and difficult to render and interpret as in a simple poem. Here are two translation of a favorite poem of mine; Olav H. Hauge‘s Dream

It’s the Dream
Translated by Robin Fulton

It’s the dream we carry in secret
that something miraculous will happen,
that it must happen –
that time will open
that the heart will open
that doors will open
that the mountains will open
that springs will gush –
that the dream will open,
that one morning we will glide into
some little harbour we didn’t know was there.

It’s the Dream
Translated by Robert Bly

It’s that dream that we carry with us
that something wonderful will happen,
that it has to happen,
that time will open,
that the heart will open,
that doors will open,
that the mountains will open,
that wells will leap up,
that the dream will open,
that one morning we’ll slip in
to a harbor that we’ve never known.

In original Norwegian it reads like this:
Det er den draumen
Det er den draumen me ber på
at noko vedunderleg skal skje,
at det må skje —
at tidi skal opna seg
at hjarta skal opna seg
at dører skal opna seg
at berget skal opna seg
at kjeldor skal springa —
at draumen skal opna seg,
at me ei morgonstund skal glida
inn på ein våg me ikkje har visst um.
 Olav H. Hauge

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Why, it’s a spell! Do you know the Carmina Gaedelica?
    I don’t speak or read Norwegian, but it sure sounds as if musically the translations are failures. English is a compound language, made out of bits of Old Norse, Anglo Saxon, French, and Latin … and the translators forgot that different parts of the mix serve different functions. A translation in Old Norse & Anglo Saxon English, rather than the complete mix, would still have been complete English, but might, I think, have carried more of the physicality and music of the Norwegian. Thanks for posting this. A beautiful poem. I’d love it if you could post a link to an audio version, so I could hear that music fully instead of guessing at it.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Really interesting comment & link!

      For me the poem – Det er den draumen – sounds and feels like a chant; seducing and enchanting in a way I do not re-find the translations, and I believe this is exactly what you are pointing at here.

      I must also add that the poem is written in Nynorsk, a dialect closer to Old-Norse ( than the main language of Norway (called Bokmål (book-languag), which is closer to Danish).

      1. Simon says:

        Totally agree with the comment about the poem reading and souding like a chant.

        For anyone reading this, I just want to correct two things:

        – Nynorsk is a language and form of written Norwegian closer to Old-Norse, not a dialect.
        – Bokmål is not the “main language of Norway”. It is simply the majority language. Users of nynorsk experience a lot of the same oppression as users of minority languages do in general, so naturally the number of users are decreasing. Still, it’s around 700.000 people which means nynorsk is one of the most used languages in use. (Sidenote: nynorsk’s language organization, Noregs Mållag, is one of the biggest language organizations in the world with more than 12.000 members.

  2. Kjersti H. Johnsen says:

    It’s is a beautiful poem. I wonder, however, who both translators have translated “våg” with “harbor”/”harbour”. In nynorsk, “våg” also means “wave”, which would make more sense since Hauge writes PÅ ein våg = ON a wave. So I would say it means: “on a wave we did not know of”.

    Thanks for a very interesting blog.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Oh, of course, våg is both harbor & wave. I wonder, might they have discussed the translation with Hauge? Anyways, you loose the play of meanings in the translation. Thank you for pointing it out!

  3. namelessneed says:

    back for a reread/ thanx for pointing me in this direction

  4. Øivind says:

    It is correct that the word “våg” may mean both wave and harbour, but in my reading of the poem it means bay. I think that is what goves the most meaning in combination with the rest of that line. Then it becomes “a bay that we didn’t know existed”. A bay may then be seen as an allegory describing a peaceful site

  5. Sam says:

    I recently read this poem in a multilingual wedding and had to decide on translation. This website was very helpful. Below is my reasoning and result. There is also a third translation here:

    Måtte in Norwegian may have four meanings 1) Be forced to do 2) Be possible/probable 3) As a strong encouragement 4) an expression of hope/wish.åtte
    Both translations use the first meaning. I think the others are just as relevant and I think the third line could just as well read: “that it should happen – ”

    For the next lines I think the translators ruins the rhythm by introducing “the” in front of heart and mountain. When you hear the author read the poem it is clear that rhythm is very central. “Hjarta” could be both “a heart” and “the heart” but none of them give good rhythm, though slightly off meaning I think “hearts” goes better. Translating “Berget” I think there is no problem using “mountains” as “Berget” in a way is a general term. Doing this also better preserve the graphical form of the poem as a bay.

    When it comes to “kjeldor skal springa” I think “springa could have two meanings 1) appear 2) explode etc. I prefer the first as the second introduces a big instability in the picture I don’t find natural. I thus prefer “that well will appear”

    I much prefer “glide into” to “slip in” in the second to last line.

    As for the last line I think bay is closer in meaning than harbour, but it does not radiate the calmness that the original does. I think “some little harbour” is excellent. I think none of the two translations find a good rhythm for the ending of the line. It is difficult to find something, but maybe “that we never had known” sounds better?

    So my result was:

    This is the dream that we carry with us
    that something wonderful will happen
    that it should happen –
    that time will open
    that hearts will open
    that doors will open
    that mountains will open
    that wells will appear-
    that we one morning will glide into
    some little harbor we never had known

    1. Sam says:

      En linje hadde falt ut

      This is the dream that we carry with us
      that something wonderful will happen
      that it should happen –
      that time will open
      that hearts will open
      that doors will open
      that mountains will open
      that wells will appear-
      that the dream will open,
      that we one morning will glide into
      some little harbor we never had known

  6. dweezer19 says:

    I’m afraid the subtleties of translations are lost on me as the meaning remains clear. We hope, we dream, we count on peace, resolution and a safe place to find a final home in.

  7. Sam says:

    You are absolutely right, still we struggle to find the right words that express exactly what we feel?

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