Memphis Station was published in a collection of poetry in 1906, Digte . Johannes V. Jensen was a globe trotter and visited America several times. His vigorous and fresh poetry holds joie de vivre and tenderness. This effort to translate one of the poems in Digte is a joint venture by Ruth Olsson (American), Niels Jensen (Danish), Stig Olsson (Swedish).

100 years ago Memphis Station was published in a collection of poetry, Digte . Johannes V. Jensen was a globe trotter and visited America several times. His vigorous and fresh poetry holds joie de vivre and tenderness. This effort to translate one of the poems in Digte is a joint venture by Ruth Olsson (American), Niels Jensen (Danish), Stig Olsson (Swedish). We here present the original Danish text together with our translation to Nordstjernan’s readers.
The anthology Digte also contains Danish translations by Johannes V. Jensen from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Three poems, one of them is the congenial A song of Joys : “O to make the most jubilant song!/ Aa at synge den vildeste Frydesang!” reads Whitman’s first line and Jensen’s translation.
In an extensive and scholarly article in the Danish news paper Information on November 12, 1956, 50 years after Digte’s publication, the collection is referred to as “one of the great literary events of the century.” Memphis Station is one of the masterpieces in Nordic literature, the paper writes. It’s about the journey through life and the stop at a station. The poem holds life itself in its entirety, everything is there and nobody can put the poem aside, “done” with it. Digte 1906 is a principal work in Danish literature, a breakthrough, a far- reaching book, full of contradictions, writes Information.
Stig Olsson

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Original text in Danish:

PAA MEMPHIS STATION

Halvt vaagen og halvt blundende,
slaaet av en klam Virkelighed, men endnu borte
i en indre Gus af danaidiske Drømme
staar jeg og haaker Taender
paa Memphis Station, Tennessee.
Det regner.

Natten er saa øde og udslukt,
og Regnen hudfletter Jorden
med en vidløs, dunkel Energi.
Alting er klaegt og uigennemtraengeligt.

Hvorfor holder Toget her time efter time?
Hvofor er min Skaebne gaaet i Staa her?
Skal jeg flygte for Regnen og Aanfortaerelsen
i Danmark, Indien og Japan
for at regne inde og raadne i Memphis,
Tennessee, U.S.A.?

Og nu dagas det. Lyset siver glaedeløst
ind over dette vaade Faengsel.
Dagen blotter ubarmhjaertigt
de kolde Skinner og al den sorte Søle,
Ventesalen med Chokoladeautomat,
Appelsinskaller, Cigar-og Taendstikstumper,
Dagen griner igennem med spyende Tagrender
og et evigt Gitter af Regn,
Regn, siger jeg fra Himmel og til Jord.

Hvor Verden er døv og uflyttelig,
hvor Skaberen er talentløs!
Og hvorfor bliver jeg ved at betale mit Kontingent
til denne plebejiske Kneippkur af en Tilvaerelse!

Stille! Se hvor Maskinen,
den vaeldige Tingest, staar rolig og syder
og hyller sig i Røg,den er taalmodig.
Taend Piben paa fastende Liv,
forband Gud og svaelg din Smaerte!

Gaa saa dog hen og bliv i Memphis!
Dit Liv er jo alligevel ikke andet
end et surt Regnvejr, og din Skaebne
var altid at haenge forsinket
i en eller anden miserabel Ventesal –
Bliv i Memphis, Tennessee!

For inde i et af dusse plakathujende Huse
venter Lykken dig, Lykken,
hvis blot du kan aede din Utaalmodighed –
ogsa her sover en rund ung Jomfru
med øret begravet i sit Haar,
hun vil komme dig i Møde
en fin Dag paa Gaden
som en Bølge av Vellukt
med en Mine som om hun kendte dig.

Er det ikke Foraar?
Falder Regnen ikke frodigt?
Lyder den ikke som en forelsket Mumlen,
en lang daempet Karlighedspassiar
Mund mod Mund
mellem Regnen og Jorden?
Dagen gryede saa sorgfuldt,
men se nu lyser Regnfaldet!
Under du ikke Dagen dens Kampret?
Det er dog nu lyst. Og der slaar Muldlugt
Ind mellem Perronens rustne Jaernstivere
Blandet med Regnstøvets ramme Aande –
En Foraarsanelse –
er det ikke trøstigt?

Og se nu, se hvor Mississippi
i sin Seng af oversvømmede Skove
vaagner mod Dagen!
Se hvor Kaempefloden nyder sin Bugtning!
Hvor den flommer kongeligt i Bue og svinger Flaader
af Traer og laset Drivtømmer i sine Hvirvler!
Se hvor den fører en uhyre Hjuldamper
i sin Syndflodsfavn
som en Danser, der er Herre paa Gulvet!
Se de sunkne Naes – Oh hvilken urmaegtig Ro
over Landskabet af drunknende Skove!
Ser du ikke, hvor Strømmens Morgenvande
Klaeder sig milebredt med Dagens tarvelige Lys
og vandrer sundt under de svangre Skyer!

Fat dig ogsaa du, Uforsonlige!
Vil du aldrig glemme, at man lovede dig Evigheden?
Forholder du Jorden din arme Taknemlighed?
Hvad vil du da med dit Elskerhjaerte?

Fat dig og bliv i Memphis,
meld dig som Borger paa Torvet,
gaa ind og livassurer dig imellem de andre,
betal din Praemie af Lumpenhed,
at de kan vide sig sikre for dig,
og du ikke skal blive haeldt ud af Foreningen.
Gør Kur til hin Jomfru med Roser og Guldring
Og start et Savskaereri som andre Mennesker.
Hank rolig op i Gummistøvlerne...
Se dig ud, smøg din vise Pibe
i sphinxforladte Memphis...

Ah, der komer det elendige Godstog,
Som vi har ventet paa i seks Timer.
Det kommer langsamt ind – med knuste Sider,
det pifter svagt , Vognene lammer paa tre Hjul,
og de spraengte Ruf drypper af Jord og Slam.
Men paa Tenderen mellem Kullene
Ligger fire stille Skikkelser
Daekket af blodvaade Frakker.

Da pruster vor store Ekspresmaskine,
gaar lidt frem og stanser dybt sukkende
og staar faerdig til Spring. Sporet er frit.

Og vi rejser videre
gennem de oversvømmede Skove
under Regnens gabende Sluser.


English Translation

MEMPHIS STATION

Half asleep, my eyes half closed,
hit by a damp Reality, but still away
in an inner fog of pallid Dreams
My Teeth are chattering
At Memphis Station, Tennessee.
It’s raining.

It’s a desolate and empty Night,
and the Rain is battering Earth
with witless, somber Energy.
Everything is shut and impenetrable.

Why does the Train sit here Hours on end?
Why has my Destiny come to a Standstill here?
Shall I run away from Rain and Soul destruction
in Denmark, India and Japan
only to be caught up in rain and rot in Memphis,
Tennessee, U.S.A.?

And now daybreak. The Light is unhappily filtered
in over this wet Prison.
Mercilessly the Day uncovers
the cold Rails and the black Mess all of it,
the Waiting Room with its Chocolate Vending Machine,
Orange peelings, Cigar stumps and Matches
The Day is grinning through with belching Gutters
and steady Rain Fall,
Rain, I tell you, from Heaven to Earth.

How dull and immovable the World seems,
how untalented the Creator!
And why am I still paying my Dues
to this plebeian Beer hall of an Existence!

Hold still! Look how the Machine,
the enormous Thing, calmly sits there simmering
hiding in Smoke, it is patient.
Light your Pipe on an empty Stomach,
curse God and swallow your Pain!

Stay in Memphis, then!
After all, your Life is nothing
but sour Rainy Weather, and your Destiny
was always to be late
in one miserable Waiting Room or other –
Stay in Memphis, Tennessee!

Because in one of these posterhowling Houses
Happiness is waiting for you, Happiness,
if only you can swallow your Impatience –
also here sleeps a round young Virgin,
Her Ear buried in her Hair,
she will come to Meet you
one fine Day in the Street
like a wave of lovely fragrance
With an Air as if she knew you.

Isn’t it Spring?
Isn’t it Raining lavishly?
Doesn’t it sound like a loving Mumble,
a long soft Love Chat
Mouth to Mouth
Between the Rain and the Earth?
Daybreak came so sorrowful,
but look now at the shining Rainfall!
Don’t you think the Day deserves its Right to Fight?
However, daylight is here now. And a smell of Earth and Rain comes
in through the rusty trellis-work of the Platform
mixed with the rancid Breath of the Rain dust –
A Foreboding of Spring –
isn’t it comforting?

And look now, look how the Mississippi
in her Bed of flooded Forests
is waking up to meet the Day!
Look how the Giant River is enjoying her Meandering Way!

How she is flooding with royal elegance in Curves and swinging Jams
of logs and damaged Driftwoods in her Whirlpools!
Look how the river moves a giant Wheel Steamer
in her Deluge Bosom
like a Dancer, ruling the roost!
See the sunken land – Oh such archaic Peace
over the Landscape of drowning Forests!
Can’t you see how the Morning Water of the Stream
is dressed for miles in the simple Light of the Day
and how healthy it seems, wandering beneath heavy Skies!

Take hold of yourself, you too, Irreconcilable you!
Will you never forget, that Eternity was promised you?
Are you denying the Earth your miserable Thankfulness?
What do you really want then with your Lover’s Heart?

Take hold of yourself and stay in Memphis,
announce your citizenship at the square,
step in among the others and insure your life,
pay your Dues of Depravity,
so they can be reassured,
and you won’t be kept out of the Association.
Call on the Maid with Roses and Golden Ring
and start a Saw mill as other People.
Get hold of your Rubber Boots…
Look around, smoke your wise Pipe
in sphinx abandoned Memphis…

Ah, there is the miserable Cargo Train,
we have been waiting for, for six Hours.
It arrives slowly – with dented Sides,
vaguely whistling, The Cars lame on three Wheels,
and the crushed Roof dripping with Soil and Mud.
But on the Tender amongst the Coals
there are four figures lying still
covered in blood -soaked Coats.

Then our huge Express Machine snorts,
moves forward a little, stops with a deep sigh
and is then ready to Leap. The Track lies open and clear.

And we move on
through the flooded Forests
under the gaping Sluices of the Rain.