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,
som jag dricker ur dina händers kupa.
– Sandro Key-Åberg