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Of Course It Hurts

A new translation of the poem by Swedish novelist and poet Karin Boye (1900–1941)

Of course it hurts when the buds burst Why otherwise would they hesitate? Why would all our fiery longing be bound by that frozen, bitter pallor? The bud was a casing all winter. What is this new thing that consumes and ruptures? Of course it hurts when the buds burst, hurts for that which grows and that which ceases.
Truly, it’s hard when the drops fall. Trembling with fear, they hang heavily clinging to the twig, swelling, slipping – the weight pulls them down. How they hold on. It is hard to be uncertain, afraid and torn, hard to feel the deep pulling and calling, yet to remain in place, trembling – hard to want to stay and to want to fall.
Then, when it can’t get worse and nothing helps, the tree’s buds burst as if in jubilation. Then, when the fear no longer holds, the drops of the twig plunge in splendor forgetting they were afraid of the new, forgetting they were anxious about the journey – feeling for that second their greatest confidence, resting in the trust that creates the world.

Karin Boye, Swedish poet 1900–1941

Translated from the Swedish by Nadine Bjursten

We only have to walk in a forest to feel our heart rate slow, our muscles relax, and our frenetic thoughts replaced by an awakening of the present. The stresses drop off us, and we feel connected to not just the surrounding trees but the entire natural world.

In this poem by Karin Boye, one of Sweden’s leading modernist poets, we become the budding tree. We recognize that frozen, dark state that holds onto us even as a new chapter of our lives awaits. It is scary to contemplate an uncertain future. Maybe we would rather stay where we are — it is what we know — yet we also know we can’t. The untenable situation pushes us forward. Finally, the buds burst open, we marvel at what just happened, and we exhale.

It is an apt poem about Karin Boye’s life, her struggle to understand herself even as she fought against the oppression she saw all around her. Her widely acclaimed dystopian novel Kallocain, published in 1940, censures totalitarianism and nuclear weapons.

From the many poems she wrote about trees and nature, it seems clear that the forest provided her with much needed comfort, and it was there she would turn for her final moments. Spring was just arriving when she took a bottle of sleeping pills and walked into the forest, never to return.

She was only forty.

She left the world far too early, yet her words are still with us, filling us with wonder and awe.

May we think of her when we see a tree struggling to acquire its blooms, and may we think of her again when we see the tree in all its blooming glory.

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