I once was asked, “What defines the North? What is Northernness?”

“Light, Dark, and Love,” came my spontaneous reply. “That’s what the North is to me.”

Up here, summer and winter are periods when we live in concentrated light or darkness. Spring and fall are times of transition, and we are always aware of our exact position on the annual scale of light to dark. “It’ll be lighter again soon,” we say encouragingly to one another when December is darkest. “We’ll be moving in the other direction soon.” When summer comes, we glory in the bright evenings, the bright nights, but we know it won’t be long before darkness descends again.

Although I grew up in the south of Sweden, for my entire adult life I have been interested in the north. For twenty years we had a cabin up in Ångermanland. That gave me new perspectives. Every summer I go hiking in the northern mountains, and in 1999 I had the opportunity to join a research expedition to the Canadian Arctic. For a month, I lived on an icebreaker vessel. I had to get used to seeing the world map as circumpolar, with the North Pole at its centre.

Light, Dark, and Love. What else is the North?

Well, in the far north multilingualism is very marked. Many lands and cultures come together here. Sweden, Norway, and Finland all meet at a point called Treriksröset. The Sapmi region, traditionally inhabited by the Sami people, stretches across the entire Arctic area of the Scandinavian countries, from Norway in the west to the Kola Peninsula of Russia in the east. Here, people speak not only Sami but also Kven and Meänkieli.

Thus a piece for the ARcTic ensemble took shape that uses poems by Swedish poets, sung in Swedish, but translated into and recited in Sami. A piece about light, dark, and love.

– Karin Rehnqvist, February 2022


Neither the moon nor the sun nor the stars

gave me light

The darkness gave me light

And the light of love in me

through whose body its rays beam.

– Gunnar Ekelöf, translation Linda Schenck


The moon floats silently in the night,

the clear sky is shimmering with stars,

shimmering over hill and water,

shimmering over you and me.

– Karin Rehnqvist, transl. Robin Blanton


Where darkness was you are

and you bear light upon your shoulders,

where grief was you are

and joy shines yellow 

as the dandelion at your heels,

where death was you are

and this is life,

yes, tremendous life

that I drink from the cup of your hands.

– Sandro Key-Åberg, transl. Robin Blanton


Varken månen, solen eller stjärnorna 

gav mig ljus

Det var mörkret som gav

Och kärlekens ljus i mig

genom vars kropp dess strålar går

– Gunnar Ekelöf, ur Sagan om Fatumeh


Månen svävar tyst i natten,

himlen skimrar stjärnklar,

skimrar över berg och vatten,

skimrar över dig och mig.

Karin Rehnqvist


Där mörkret var är du

och du bär ljuset över dina skuldror,

där sorgen var är du

och glädjen lyser gul

som maskrosen vid dina hälar,

där döden var är du

och det är livet, 

ja, det oerhörda livet

som jag dricker ur dina händers kupa.

– Sandro Key-Åberg

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