Arnulf Øverland (1889 – 1968) is maybe the greatest poet that Norway has produced. He was a strident defender of human rights, and his most famous poem – written in 1936 – “Du må ikke sove”, was a poignant warning about the rise of Adolf Hitler.

 

My translation is endeavouring to use his words and imagery in a contemporary way – the warnings still resonate today; at times I wonder, have we really learned anything…

You must not sleep!

“I woke up last night
from a dream so strange
a voice calling me from deep
I got up and I asked
what do you want?

You must not sleep,
you must not sleep!
it wasn’t just a dream!

Yesterday they sentenced me
last night they erected the gallows
this morning my time has come

The camp is full
cell after cell
cold concrete floors
we lay here waiting
not knowing who will be next

We scream, we groan
nobody hears us
nobody sees us
nobody knows
the fate that befalls us

You say that you do not know
such evil does not exist
decent people will save me
My brother
you have so much to learn

They told us to give our lives
to save our freedom
And now that we have
it was all in vain
the world has betrayed us!

You must not sleep

You must not go to your work
counting your profits
use your daily travails
to excuse your silence

You must not sit in the
comfort of your home
and say how you feel
for those dying abroad

You must not endure
so very well
the injustice
that does not affect yourself

Crying out with my very last breath
you must not sleep
you must not forgive!

They know what they do
fuelling the flames
of hatred and evil
enjoying the killing
taking pleasure in pain
wishing to see the end
in an ocean of blood

I did not understand
now it’s too late

My sentence just
my punishment deserved

I believed in progress
I believed in peace
in hard work, friendship and love

Now I know
that those not prepared to die together
they die alone
on the executioners block

I cry out in the dark
if only you could hear
save your children
the world is burning

You must not sleep

Shaking with cold
I get dressed
I walk outside
The dawn is near
The gallows await

You must not endure
so very well
the injustice
that does not affect yourself.

You must not sleep.”