Two songs: Glen Cowan and Edith Södergran

I first heard Glen Cowan’s A spring song when I was about 16 years old. He read it aloud at a poetry circle organised by Philippa Berlyn, the editor of Two Tone: A quarterly of Rhodesian poetry. Philippa nurtured emerging poets in much the way that Hugh Hodge, Robert Berold and Gus Ferguson do. I owe to her the sense that, if you are aware of a poem within you, you are more than duty-bound to release it and give it life for others to experience.

When I heard Glen read his A spring song, I wished I had written it. It accompanied me through the rest of my adolescent years, positioned alongside Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Come into the garden, Maud and Pablo Neruda’s Body of a woman as a bench-mark for poetic excellence.

I place it here with Edith Södergran’s Song of the troubadour because of her lute, because of the African moon which gilds her words, and because of the sighing that runs through both poems.

A spring song
Written upon hearing Bruckner’s ninth symphony
Glen Cowan

you have drawn all music
to your lips
and all my songs
you have threaded between your fingers
I am pulled
like string over waters
to your final
longest note
that would at times
fail to wind
for with you
my life must run back
to source
I am a strain
of all matter
but you are as a magnet
and every particle within me
would drive towards you
for I am more certain
of your beauty
than of my being
O I am a furnace
and all heat
for there is no life
without this strange
and distant warmth
and I will cast myself flow
and rise long
like the eagle.


Song of the troubadour
Edith Södergran
Translated from the Swedish by Lennart and Gillian Nilsson

Strange moon!
Within an hour it will rise
gilding everything
with dreams of Africa.
I stand with my lute
in the courtyard darkness.
The king’s daughter in her tower
scatters stars all over me.
There is laughter on the lake –
Oh, pearls, oh, gold and silver! –
the sharp stars sting
like memories for ever.
I measure the bricks with my hand
and laugh with derision.
Oh, day, what more can you bring
in a night of song?


A spring song by Glen Cowan from Two Tone: A quarterly of Rhodesian Poetry Volume VI June 1970 Number 2.

Philippa Berlyn was a Rhodesian journalist, fluent in Shona, who took special interest in the need of impoverished rural women.

Edith Södergran (1892-1923) is one of Scandinavia’s most celebrated poets. She was born and educated in St Petersburg, Russia. Her parents were Finnish citizens and her mother tongue Swedish. As a schoolgirl she wrote poetry in German but later became one of the foremost pioneers of modern Swedish poetry. Her family lost their fortune during the Russian revolution. Edith lived in great poverty, dying young from tuberculosis.

Lennart Nilsson was born in Sweden in 1936. A former high school teacher of Swedish and English, he is now a writer, editor, translator and amateur ornithologist.

Gillian Nilsson, née Walker, was born in Britain in 1939. Formerly employed by the Workers’ Educational Association (ABF) of Sweden, she is now engaged in adult education projects in South Africa.

A spring song and Song of the troubadour are two of the poems included in Africa! My Africa!  an anthology soon to be printed in a limited, numbered edition of 5 000 copies to raise funds for Seed Readers.

Seed Readers is a project that will produce story books based on principles of peace, non-violence, non-racism and care of the earth. They will seed an understanding of our true role as custodians of the earth and oceans. They will inspire children to live ethically and in a sustainable manner.

All those who buy a copy pre-publication of Africa! My Africa! will be listed in the anthology (unless they wish to remain anonymous).

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