Pretending to agree with people
Resolute in Privation, 2021.

Language: Danish
Poet: Tove Ditlevsen
Translator: Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg
Region: Denmark

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Pretending to agree with people

A poem by Tove Ditlevsen, translated from Danish by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg

Tove Ditlevsen (1917–1976) was one of the most important and prolific Danish writers of the 20th century and wrote many books of poetry, novels, short stories and memoirs. A collection of her memoirs, entitled The Copenhagen Trilogy, and her novel, The Faces, have recently been published in English by Penguin Modern Classics.

Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg is a writer and literary translator. She has published translations from the Danish of Jonas Eika, Ida Marie Hede, Tove Ditlevsen and Olga Ravn, and holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. In 2018, she received an American-Scandinavian Foundation Award for her translation of Caspar Eric’s Nike.

Selvportræt 1

Jeg kan ikke:
lave mad
gå med hat
hygge om folk
bære smykker
ordne blomster
huske aftaler
takke for gaver
give rigtige drikkepenge
holde på en mand
vise interesse 
ved forældremøder.

Jeg kan ikke
holde op med:
at ryge
at drikke
at spise chokolade
at stjæle paraplyer
at sove over mig
at glemme at huske
fødselsdage
og rense negle.
At snakke med folk
efter munden
at røbe hemmeligheder
at elske
underlige steder
og psykopater.

Jeg kan: 
være alene
vaske op
læse bøger
forme sætninger
lytte
og være lykkelig
uden skyldefølelse.

                       

Self-Portrait 1

I can’t:
cook
wear hats
be a good hostess
pick out jewelry
arrange flowers
remember appointments
write thank you notes
leave the right tip
keep a man around
feign interest
at parent-teacher meetings.

I can’t
stop:
smoking
drinking
eating chocolate
stealing umbrellas
sleeping in
forgetting to remember
birthdays
and to clean my nails.
Pretending to agree
with people
telling secrets
loving
strange places
and psychopaths.

I can:
be alone
do the dishes
read books
make sentences
listen
and be happy
without feeling guilty.