December 5, 2008

Sandro Key-Aberg

Sandro Key-Åberg (b. Germany/Sweden)

Born in Germany in 1922, Sandro Key-Åberg spent the first five years of his life in Italy, living with a family name Gualtieri. Returned to Sweden, Key-Åberg was moved as a foster child from one home to another. He attended the University of Uppsala, where he studied philosophy. Despite the insights the subject allowed him, he claims he had not true talent for the “higher art of cracking philosophical nuts.”

In the early 1950s, he began writing poetry dealing with rural life in Sweden, as the society shifted from poverty to an effective welfare society. Influenced by Finnish-Swedish modernists, Key-Åberg wrote a poetry that pushed against the evils he saw rather than simply celebrating pastoral life, the stronger tradition of Swedish poetry. Among his important works of the 1950s and early 1960s were Vattenträd (1952), Bittergök (Bitter Cuckoo, 1954) and Bildade människor (Educated People, 1965), the latter of which brought him a larger audience. Basically pictographic poems, each in the shape of a human being, the Bildade människor are nearly impossible to translate into English.

In part because of the success of that volume of poetry, his following works seemed uneven in expression, but in his 1972 book, På sin höjd (At Its Peak), he recovered his poetic voice, primarily satirizing aspects of the Swedish welfare state.

Key-Åberg has also written plays, popular songs, and fiction. A book of plays O and an Empty Room was published by Random House in the USA and Calder & Boyars in England.
The author died in 1991.


Vattenträd (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1952); Bittergök (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1954); Dikter 1947-1960 (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1962); Livet, en stor sak (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1963); Dikter (Stockholm: Författarcentrum, 1968); Lovsånger (Göteborg: Författarförlaget, 1970); På sin höjd (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1972); I det darrande ljuset (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1971); Till de sörjande (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1985).


Selection of poems in Modern Swedish Poetry in Translation, Edited by Gunnar Harding and Anselm Hollo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979).

Round as a seal cub
and his machinist’s fist on his chest
Come let’s go to the cranberry woods

It’s fun to rock like a boat against the shore
when love flows yellow like rye pollen

Straddling butter-blond thighs
bumblebee-happy in the snapdragon of passion
life’s surface is unruffled and yellow whole cream

Embittered as a winter crow
breath of booze against her cheek
Come quick here behind the outhouse

Desperately rocking like a
filthy cart loaded with potatoes

He cracks his dreams between his teeth
longs for the boniest of lovers
his life an umbrella folding

—Translated from the Swedish by Lennart Bruce


The long leagues to the church
he hates the fir tree in his eye
puts his heart in the pantry
to turn sour
bawls out his blundering kids
his throat dry from longing
lathered with Sunday dreams

The old man is fishing through the ice
worn shiny and itchy by silence

Splash and horror
Devil in the sea
the geezer clinks among ice floes
hollers and snorts
sinks boots first

Arms dropping in the silence
weak in the stomach
until she’s fought the old man out of her
She sucks her chest full
packs her bag
unties the goat
throws the key in the ice hole
shuffles down the path
kids dangling

Her eyes shiny buttons
hands in her lap before the priest
The kids walk to the workhouse
at sunrise
right into their feverish dreams
the cloth at the store
flapping before their eyes

Translated from the Swedish by Lennart Bruce


There’s a smell of varnish in the closet
and tears are crawling along the ceiling

I see her small fat hands
roll bread crumbs of pride

Inside the swollen body
the feverish dream is already raging

and on the palm of the hand the mouth blows forth
a pond for thirsty fantasies

The northern Swedish winter in howling pea coat
held together with safety pins of stars

shoves endless marshes across the table
with its gnarled hands

The short knife peels the tenderness from his fingers
where a blind summer crawls

Humiliation preserved in vinegar
creeps over the dead honeybees of his lips

For a moment I ride a knee
toward the glimpse of a heart

A loneliness with knuckles chewed skinless
drags my life over its body

—Translated from the Swedish by Lennart Bruce


Look, what huge
and distantly radiant
galaxies, what magnificent and
awesomely pulsing space we speak forth
where the suns work their way
through the surging cosmos of language
with the great engines
of gravitation humming inside!
What immense language-ways
we speak forth,
their expanding light
ejecting itself
into the nebulous and violently
deepening in space!

We talk ourselves
farther and farther away
deeper and deeper into
the vast and
chill-flaming language voice.
The concepts unfold,
incalculable stars,
with a mysterious
and phosphorous glow
they shine as petals
from the leviathan space-tree
incessantly growing
higher and higher
through luminous veils!

There on the lively
and humming green earth
stands Eskil with a sore on his lip
and his threadbare auxiliary verbs
on the patch of mud
in front of the stable
and sees the gigantic nebulae
of abstractions drifting beyond grasp
in the unfathomable jet-black
void of language!

Look how speech
like glittering shrapnel
arranges itself
in the magnetically charged
force field of logic
into huge patterns
inviolably held together
in the glimmering ice crystals
of the interstellar cold!

Jettisoned into the
thinned and violently
expanding gaseous masses
of language space
the atoms of experience
and the elementary particles of feeling
soar through the light-years’
sparkle of zero degrees,
freed of reality’s
heavy and burdensome mass
and without ever colliding!

The tangibility, Mrs. Johansson,
an earthly concreteness
with her five-inch Caesarean scar
and her umbrella from the thirties,
rushes torn and diffused,
a glittering swarm
through the great and
faintly glowing gas cloud
of the language galaxy!

Look, the world of humans leaves
its stuffiness and commotion
and rises intot he growing skies’
awesome system
of data and abstractions.
Look, the enormous
and unceasingly radiant arch
of the human identity numbers,
aflame, frozen and grandiose!

—Translated from the Swedish by Lennart Bruce



“Round as a seal cub,” “The long leagues to the church,” “There’s a smell of varnish in the closet,” and
“Look, what huge”
Reprinted from Modern Swedish Poetry in Translation, Edited by Gunnar Harding and Anselm Hollo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979). Copyright ©1979 by the University of Minnesota. Reprinted by permission of the University of Minnesota Press.

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