TCS: Then We Are Dreaming the Same Dream

Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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Nobody really knows what a human being is.
Nobody knows who he or she is either.
It is in that enigma that freedom exists.

– Lars Gustafsson

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If Lars Gustafsson (1936-2016) were still alive, he would be celebrating his 85th birthday today. He was a Swedish poet, novelist, short story writer, and scholar, and he is not to be confused with Lars Gustafsson, the Swedish politician, who is still alive, or with Lars Gustafsson, the Swedish wrestler who competed in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, who is also still living.

 The writer Lars Gustafsson was born in Västerås, one of the oldest cities in Sweden. It is a predominantly industrial city, but has a history dating back well before the Viking age, including Anundshög, Sweden’s largest burial mound, which lies just outside the city.

He attended Uppsala University, and earned a PhD in theoretical philosophy with a dissertation on speech and literature. Beginning in the 1960s, he published novels and poetry regularly, in addition to being editor-in-chief of the renowned literary journal Bonniers Litterära Magasin (1962-1972).

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The problem of identity is the most notable theme in his work, and he is known for his clarity of observation. Ironically, Gustafsson’s frequent social criticism often offended Sweden’s cultural elite, so he is more admired and respected internationally than he is in Sweden.


Hamlet Prince of Denmark

by Lars Gustafsson

Prince Hamlet of Denmark
but now without his fatal wound
and dressed in a good suit from Savile Row
but the tie most certainly
from the rowing club at the University of Wittenberg
came out of the night’s shadows and said
You see, Professor. It is not quite so easy
to come back home
and see that everything is changed
and no one, not even Mama
understands a single word.
About what one says.

But in the event that
a little ugly dwarf
with cheeks painted red
appears just around the corner
then we are dreaming the same dream.


“Hamlet Prince of Denmark” from A Time in Xanadu, © 2008 by Lars Gustafsson, translation © 2008 by John Irons – Copper Canyon Press

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He traveled extensively, and lived for two years in Berlin. Throughout his career, he was a frequent attendee at international academic and cultural conferences and events.  American author John Updike described Gustafsson as “the enviably ideal conferee, a red-bearded fish never out of water, loving books, ideas, and discourse equally, and everywhere adept.”


Trivial Pieces of Knowledge

by Lars Gustafsson

Olive oil is an outstanding rust remover.

Individual events have no probability.
They are points.

Therefore
Even I lack probability

The dead don’t know
that they ever existed.

Time can’t have started with the universe.
Time can’t have a beginning.

Because a beginning is always an event.

It’s difficult for horses to sleep
if they are left out alone in the night.

Horses guard each other’s sleep.

Persons who have a disturbed relationship with their mothers
become poets.

Persons who have a disturbed relationship with their fathers
become boring.


“Trivial Pieces of Knowledge” © 2005 by Lars Gustafsson, translation © 2005 by Susan W. Howard – first published at the online sight Poetry International

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Gustafsson was honored with many awards for his writing, including  the Gerard-Bonnier-Preis in 2006, the Goethe Medal in 2009, the Thomas Mann Prize in 2015, and the International Nonino Prize in Italy in 2016. His best known novels are The Death of a Beekeeper, and Bernard Foy’s Third Castling. His poetry collections include Warm Rooms and Cold; Stillness of the World Before Bach; Elegies and Other Poems; and A Time in Xanadu.


Elegy for a Dead Labrador

by Lars Gustafsson

Here there may be, in the midst of summer,
a few days when suddenly it’s fall.
Thrushes sing on a sharper note.
The rocks stand determined out in the water.
They know something. They’ve always known it.
We know it too, and we don’t like it.
On the way home, in the boat, on just such evenings
you would stand stock-still in the bow, collected,
scouting the scents coming across the water.
You read the evening, the faint streak of smoke
from a garden, a pancake frying
half a mile away, a badger
standing somewhere in the same twilight
sniffing the same way. Our friendship
was of course a compromise; we lived
together in two different worlds: mine,
mostly letters, a text passing through life,
yours, mostly smells. You had knowledge
I would have given much to have possessed:
the ability to let a feeling—eagerness, hate, or love—
run like a wave throughout your body
from nose to tip of tail, the inability
ever to accept the moon as fact.
At the full moon you always complained loudly against it.
You were a better Gnostic than I am. And consequently
you lived continually in paradise.
You had a habit of catching butterflies on the leap,
and munching them, which some people thought disgusting.
I always liked it. Why
couldn’t I learn from you? And doors.
In front of closed doors you lay down and slept
sure that sooner or later the one would come
who’d open up the door. You were right.
I was wrong. Now I ask myself, now this
long mute friendship is forever finished,
if possibly there was anything I could do
which impressed you. Your firm conviction
that I called up the thunderstorms
doesn’t count. That was a mistake. I think
my certain faith that the ball existed,
even when hidden behind the couch,
somehow gave you an inkling of my world.
In my world most things were hidden
behind something else. I called you “dog,”
I really wonder whether you perceived me
as a larger, noisier “dog”
or as something different, forever unknown,
which is what it is, existing in that attribute
it exists in, a whistle
through the nocturnal park one has got used to
returning to without actually knowing
what it is one is returning to. About you,
and who you were, I knew no more.
One might say, from this more objective
standpoint, we were two organisms. Two
of those places where the universe makes a knot
in itself, short-lived, complex structures
of proteins that have to complicate themselves
more and more in order to survive, until everything
breaks and turns simple once again, the knot
dissolved, the riddle gone. You were a question
asked of another question, nothing more,
and neither had the answer to the other.


“Elegy for a Dead Labrador” from The Stillness of the World Before Bach © 1977 by Lars Gustafsson, translation © 1983 by Yvonne L. Sandstroem – New Directions Publishing

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After being invited to visit by the Germanic Studies Department of the University of Texas at Austin in 1972, he moved to Austin in 1983 as an adjunct professor, then a professor, and finally as Distinguished Professor in the Honor Program, teaching philosophy and creative writing. He returned to Sweden in 2003, and held a research professorship at Uppsala until his retirement in 2006.


The Wind Turns the Pages

 by Lars Gustafsson

Late summer, the time of year
that suits my age.
And the slow,
one might almost say,
the patient, waves
only go in with hesitation
and hide
in the small dark cavities
under the stones of the shores.
It is best

to bail out our boats
only when it is really necessary.
A simple wisdom, this.

And not unlike this one:
To read the future,
the unfinished text,
only when it is really necessary.


“The Wind Turns the Pages” © 2005 by Lars Gustafsson, translation © 2005 by Susan W. Howard – first published at the online sight Poetry International

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Lars Gustafsson died at age 79 in Stockholm.

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Young Man with a Skull by Frans Hal Lars Gustafsson 

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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