The Roads Have Come to an End Now
Selected and Last Poems of Rolf Jacobsen
Translated by Robert Bly, Roger Greenwald and Robert Hedin
Copper Canyon Press 2001 $16.00 paperback

 

Rolf Jacobsen (1907-1994) was one of the first poets to spin the slow, conservative movements of Norwegian language into an pliant, generous verse that can accommodate spider webs and streetlamps alike. Because he was ahead of the pace of his country’s culture, it was not until the generation that came of age in the 1960s that the power of Jacobsen’s poetry began to receive its just recognition. Now, what makes this poetry as relevant to the 21st Century as it was to the last is its ability to juxtapose a cedar, whose "top is high and ragged," (My Tree; p.19) with a telescope on whose lens one night a fly landed

                                                                and dazzled the astronomer to tears
                                                                when he saw the dark hole in the heavens
                                                                like a fist of nothing
                                                                driven through nothing.
("The Fly in the Telescope.")

Without losing his love for trains--"There are platforms platforms all over the earth"-- , Jacobsen, came to abhor what technology is costing the earth, and opened his mind to the elements, and to the words they call forth. Although the reader needs to look elsewhere—perhaps to Roger Greenwald’s essay in The Silence Afterwards (Princeton University Press, 1985)---for an adequate introduction to Jacobsen’s work, this bilingual edition, translated by three poets in their own right, will go far to confirm this poet’s honored place in world literature.

"The old clocks often have encouraging faces," (The Old Clocks; p.83) Jacobson observed. Fittingly, The Roads Have Come to an End Now includes the poet’s last insights, translated here into English for the first time. "If you go out far enough," he wrote,
                                                                you’ll see the sun as just a spark
                                                                in a dying fire
                                                                if you go out far enough.
("Breathing Exercise.")

 

Rain Taxi, 2002