Finally then—but not until then

Language: Icelandic
Poet: Bragi Ólafsson
Translator: K. T. Billey

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Finally then—but not until then

Two poems by Bragi Ólafsson translated by K. T. Billey

Bragi Ólafsson has published books of poetry, novels, short stories, and plays for the stage and radio. He worked as a musician for years, best known internationally as the bassist for The Sugarcubes. Ólafsson’s poetry and plays have been translated into various languages, and two of his novels, The Pets/Gaeludyrin (2008) and The Ambassador/Sendiherrann (2010) are available in English, German, and Danish. The Pets has also been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic. His plays for the National Theatre and Reykjavík City Theatre have enjoyed great popularity as well as controversy. Four of his novels have been nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize, two received the Booksellers Prize, and Party Games/Samkvaemisleikir (Bjartur, 2004) won the DV Cultural Prize. The Ambassador was shortlisted for the Nordic Literature Prize, and the play The Chickens/Hænuungarnir (2010) was nominated for the Nordic Drama Prize. Among Ólafsson’s own translations are works by Harold Pinter, Paul Auster, and Max Jacob.
K.T. Billey’s poetry collection vulgar mechanics (seeking publication) was a finalist for the 2015 Pamet River Prize from yesyes books. It is being rendered into Spanish by poet Soledad Marambio, who published an acclaimed translation of Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay” in 2015 (Cuadro de Tiza Ediciones). Originally from rural Alberta, Canada, Billey won Vallum’s 2015 Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in journals such as CutBank, The New Orleans Review, Prelude, Phantom, and others. An Assistant Editor for Asymptote, she translates from Icelandic and Spanish.

Þögnin

Loks þá – en ekki
fyrr en þá – í lok sumars,
þegar gröfurnar, sagirnar, borarnir og há-
þrýstidælurnar voru þagnaðar,

var hægt að fara út í garð
og setjast niður, eins og
upphaflega hafði staðið til
þegar við keyptum húsið. En þá var þegar

tekið að glitta í haustið,
sólin ekki eins hátt á lofti
og í byrjun júní,
þegar borarnir fóru af stað, þegar gröfunum

var ekið inn í garðana í nágrenninu,
sagirnar ræstar og háþrýsti
dælurnar stilltar
á hæstu stillingu.

The Silence

Finally then—but not
until then—at the end of summer,
when the excavators, saws, drills and high-pressure
pumps were silenced,

were we able to go out in the yard
and sit down, as we had
originally planned
when we bought the house. But then already

fall was beginning to settle in,
the sun not as high in the air
as in early June,
when the drills were switched on, and excavators

driven into the neighboring yards,
saws started up and high-pressure
pumps set
on the highest setting.

Undirdjúpin

Skip siglir frá landi.
Það fjarlægist eins og maður fjarlægist
mann: það verður minna
en það var

þegar það lá við höfnina,
og alltaf minna og minna
eftir því sem höfnin stækkar
og himinninn þrengir að því.

Svo lítið er það orðið
þegar hafsröndin mætir því
að hafi það haft einhverja von
er sú orusta töpuð – og það sekkur.

The Deep

A ship sails from land.
It moves away like people drift
apart: it becomes smaller
than it was

when it lay in the harbour,
and smaller and smaller still
as the harbour expands
and the sky narrows in.

So little has it become
when it meets the horizon
that if it ever had any hope
that battle is lost—and it sinks.