February 3, 2023

Henrik Nordbrandt (Denmark) 1945-2023

Henrik Nordbrandt (Denmark)



Born in the Copenhagen suburb of Frederiksberg in 1945, Henrik Nordbrandt studies Chinese, Turkish, and Arabic at the University of Copenhagen.

     Since the publication of Digte in 1966 he devoted himself exclusively to writing. Over the next few years, Nordbrant published several further books of poetry, including Miniaturer (1967), Syvsoverne (1969), Opbrud og ankomster (1974), Glas (1976), Breve fra en ottoman (1978), Rosen fra Lesbos (1979), Armenia (1982), Violinbyggernes by (1985), Vandspejlet (1989), and numerous others.

     In 2000 he won the important Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for his collection Drømmebroer ("Dream Bridges"), and since then has gone on to win nearly all possible Danish literary awards.


     As Annelies van Hees wrote: “Despite his thematic choices, the language of his poems is elegant and almost cheerful, and his poems are often witty, displaying an appealingly paradoxical use of images. In fact, in considering language and the ways in which that language constructs the world, his poetry largely relates back to the self. His poems do not rhyme and are made up of either long, wandering sentences or very short precise statements, as in the poem about the meditating camel which is only aware of the steppe and the edge of the wood. Beneath the humorous forms and wordplay, one senses an undertone of seriousness and melancholy, which is also clearly evident when he reads aloud from his own work.”

   Nordbrandt has written in many forms of poetry, his 2005 collection, Pialtefisk, for example, exploring sonnet and haiku forms.

      He has also written crime fiction, children’s books, and a Turkish cook book.

     Throughout most of his life he lived in Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Spain, traveling extensively.

     He died in Copenhagen after a long illness on January 31, 2023.




Digte (1966); Miniaturer (1967); Syvsoverne (1969); Omgivelser (1972); Opbrud o ankomster (Copenhagen: Gyldendal,1974); Ode til blæksprutten og andre kærlighedsdigte (Copehhagen: Gyldendal, 1975); Glas (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1976); Istid (1977); Guds hus (1977); Breve fra en ottoman (1978); Rosen fra Lesbos (1979); Spogelselege (1979); Forsvar for vinden under doren (1980); Armenia (1982); 84 digte (Copenhagen: Gyldendal 1984) Armenia (1984); Violinbyggernes by (1985); Håndens skælven i november (1986); Vandspejlet (1989); Glemmesteder (1991); Stovets tyngde (1992); Ormene ved himlensport (1995); Egne digte (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2000); Pjaltefisk (2005); Besøgstid (2007)




The Hangman’s Lament: Poems, trans. by Thom Satterlee (Los Angeles, Green Integer, 2003)



Near Levkas


Light flickers in its column that holds up nothing.

As the slightest touch it changes everything to salt.

I asked for a shadow and you gave me a nail

       long, rusty, and bent.

I asked or a bed, and you gave me a road

that cut deeper into my feet the higher it rose.

I asked for water, and you gave me bitter wine.

I drank from a tarnished mug under dark icons

I asked to die, you gave me gold to stay.

I asked for a story, and you gave me my own.

Out of the water Greece lifts its sharp stones

So we see and give thanks and regret having seen.

Each day her costs us a century in the land of the dead.


-Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee




The Paris Express


A rusty rail car on a side track

in the quiet dusk of October:

All the colors merge and light it from inside

like the face of a person in prayer.


The sound of an onrushing train

has split the rest of the parish.

Half-stunned, I try to lean

into the warm air stream of the passing train.


The bright windows stare without seeing

and I realize that I am invisible

which is only logical: the cars are full

of my dead friends who must go farther.


-Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee




The Book


I searched in a stack of books for the book

that would tell me why I searched.


and in a row of houses, for the house

where someone could tell me I had lived


and among all the yes, for the pair

that held my gaze when I looked into them.


The book was a text for executioners.

The neighbors swore I’d never lived there.


And the eyes confirmed it. My own eyes

Were to blurry for me to be sure.


-Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee






The things that were here before your death

and the things that have come afterwards:


To the former belong, first and foremost

your clothes, jewelry, and photographs

and the name of the woman you were named after

and who also died young….

But also some receipts, the arrangement

of one corner of the living room

a shirt you once ironed for me

and which I carefully save

under my pile of shirts

certain pieces of music, and the mangy

dog that still stands around

smiling stupidly, as though you were here.


To the latter belong my new fountain pen

a well-known perfume

on the skin of the woman I hardly even know

and the lamp bulb I put into the bedroom lamp

by whose light I read about you

in every story I try to read.


The former remind me that you were

the latter that you no longer are.


It’s the near indistinguishableness

I find the hardest to bear.


-Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee

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