Cultural Connections: Celebrating Poetry
Extracts from an anthology produced to coincide with the UK's Presidency of the European Union, 1998
Published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The complete selection of poems are accessible at the following address:

Contemporary poetry, in the UK and throughout Europe, is going through an exciting period with new audiences being attracted by a remarkable generation of poets.

As part of the UK's Presidency of the European Union we wanted to mark and celebrate these poets and their work, and to bring that work to an even wider public.

The booklet is being distributed to all UK libraries, to EU Embassies and British Council posts and is being added to our Departmental website. This initiative has used a variety of media to take European poems to a wider audience including London Underground posters, Eurotunnel posters, postcards, radio tapes and a resource pack for teachers.

Choose a country below...

BELGIUM (Back to the top)


When after years this poem
goes up with a bang
because the inner stress
has grown too great
then the words will
keep pulsing further apart
and each of them lead
its own separate existence,
so that their meaning also
becomes subject to change in its turn.
(For words are like people,
their meaning
depends on each other.)
Perhaps some smaller words will
turn in orbit then round another word
that has a greater attraction
because it consists of more letters.
In that case the word sun
won't he the centre of this Milky Way of speech
but only a satellite
of for example the word starshimmer.

by Willem M. Roggeman (b. 1935) translated by Yann Lovelock from A Vanishing Emptiness, Forest Books, 1989

DENMARK (Back to the top)


Set my mark
on the bird
and let it fly

set my mark
on the fish
and let it swim in the river

I have seen you both
loved you
for what you are
loved you the moment
you vanished


I can sing a long time now
of fire of water

of what lives
of what marks
a person.

by Pia Tafdrup (b. 1952) translated by Anne Born from Spring Tide, Forest Books, 1989

FINLAND (Back to the top)


Through the slow shadows
the cows approach, warm
evening mothers, that rather
stay than go. Their eves
are great flowers, their bodies
are full of grass. Almost plants
they are, groping their way home
on gently walking roots.

It was summer.  Summer.

By Gösta Agren (b. 1936) translated by David McDuff from A Valley in the Midst of Violence: Selected Poems 1955 - 1985 (Bloodaxe Books, 1992)

CIRCLE (Back to the top)

All is as before. The clock
draws near Every story
must at last be told;
every answer diminishes
the question. You have moved
in your sparse constellation
of years; you have waited.
Nothing is as before, for
nothing has happened. You never
dared to receive, and your gifts
were only a protecting wall.
It is getting light; in the east
red organ music rises. My friend,
you have misunderstood everything.
Life is not the goods, it is
the price. Empty-handed you turn round,
but it does not matter. All is as before; soon
you will be home again.

By Gösta Agren (b. 1936) translated by David McDuff from A Valley in the Midst of Violence: Selected Poems 1955 - 1985 (Bloodaxe Books, 1992)

FRANCE (Back to the top)


This region is only a mental image, a counter to entombment.

In my region, we prefer the tender proofs of spring and birds in
tattered costume to distant goals.

Truth waits for dawn by the light of a candle. The window-pane
is dirty. The watcher dues not care.

In my region, we never question a deeply moved man.

There are no baneful shadows cast over the capsized boat.

Casual greetings are unknown in my region.

We borrow only what we can give back with interest.

There are leaves, many leaves, on the trees in my region. The
branches are free to hear no fruit.

We do not trust the victor's word.

In my region, we say thank you.

by Rene Char (1907 -1986) translated by Mictael Worton, from The Dawn Breakers: Les Matinaux, (Bloodaxe Books, 1972)

GERMANY (Back to the top)


In the living rooms
in the underground
in auditoriums
looking at each other
without opening the eyes.

In bedrooms
in the car
in the park
embracing each other
without touching.

In dining rooms
in coffee bars
at gatherings
without communicating.

Many voices
little hearing.
So many meeting-places
without meeting.

by Hans Werner Cohn (b 1916) translated by Frederick C Cohn, Modern Poetry in Translation, Issue No.9., Summer 1996

GREECE (Back to the top)


Today I'm driving my armchair
recklessly at high speed.
I've already broken
the smog harrier three times.
Many doubles of me have been
maimed and killed. I'm left alone.
Alone I drive this danger.
I flash past and they stare at me
in wonder. I've never understood
why I speed motionless, distracted,
gazing at the calm elsewhere.
Someone's altered the road signs
and they forever signal one-way.
I've often seen the town
In reverse or landed in deep water
At other times the potholes are covered
with cotton wool, the visibility perfect.
As you can see,
everything is driving me mathematically
to the next bend where waiting are:
cliff, sea and take-off.

by Yannis Kondos (b 1943) translated by David Connolly from Modern Poetry in Translation, Issue 9, Summer 1996

ITALY (Back to the top)


The bending packer
emptying my room
does the same work as I do.
I, too, make
words relocate,
words I do not own,
putting my hand to what
I do not know, not understanding
what it is I am moving.
I am moving myself,
translating the past into the present
that travels, sealed,
enclosed in pages
or in boxes with the inscription
'Fragile', not knowing what's in them.
This is the future, the shuttle, the metaphor,
time labouring there and over here,
transfer and trope,
the removals firm.

by Valerio Magrelli (b. 1957) translated by Douglas Reid Skinner and Marco Frazzini from Modern Poetry in Translation, Issue 6 Winter 1994/95

LUXEMBOURG (Back to the top)


You haven't got so very far to go,
a level stretch, up the hill, to the top -
and then a dark and sunken road.
It rains and snows,
the sun comes out,
you wait for people -
all of a sudden the hour strikes.

You haven't got so very much to do,
your bit, your strip, your shift -
and then your own patch.
And even if it doesn't quite come off,
you carve a stone,
you plane a plank,
you dream a dream,
you plant a tree -
even if there's thunder in the air,
even if the lightning strikes.

You haven't got so very much to expect,
a morning, midday, evening -
and then an ice-cold night.
A bale of worries,
a burden of sorrow,
a handful of joy,
and then one early morning -
four planks in a pit.

By Tit Schroeder (1911-1986) translated by Jul Christophory in collaboration with the author

SPAIN (Back to the top)


The wail of the guitar
The goblets of dawn
are broken.
The wail of the guitar
It is useless to hush it.
to hush it.
It weeps, monotonous
as water weeps, as wind
weeps above the snowfall.
to hush it.
It weeps for things
far away.
Sand of the warm South
pleading for white camelias.
It weeps, like an arrow
without a target, an evening without dawn,
the first dead bird
on the branch.
Oh, guitar!
Heart mangled
by five swords.

by Federico Carcia Lorca (1898 - 1936), translated by Merryn Williams from Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 1992