Friday, 28 March 2014

English translations of Vägmärken and other Spiritual Writings of Dag Hammarskjöld

Here follow the quotes and passages selected by Carol O’Connor for use in the Spiritual Reading Group at the Carmelite Library on Tuesday the 18th of March. She chose preferred versions of the English translation of ‘Vägmärken’ from two sources. Those sources are, first, Roger Lipsey’s translations in his biography ‘Hammarskjöld: A Life’ (University of Michigan Press, 2013) [L] and then the original version called ‘Markings’ by Dag Hammarskjöld, translated by Leif Sjöberg & W.H. Auden (Faber & Faber, 1964) [S&A]. The history of debate surrounding the English versions of his spiritual writing can be found in Lipsey’s book.

I am being driven forward
Into an unknown land.
The pass grows steeper,
The air colder and sharper.
A wind form my unknown goal
Stirs the strings
Of expectation.

Still the question:
Shall I ever get there?
There where life resounds,
A clear simple note
Into the silence.


A line, a shade, a colour - their fiery expressiveness.
            The language of flowers, mountains, shores, human bodies: the interplay of light and shade in a look, the aching beauty of a neck-line, the grail of white crocus on the alpine meadow in the morning sunshine - words in a transcendental language of the senses.


The longest journey
Is the journey inwards.
He who has chosen his destiny,
Who has started upon the quest
Toward his own ground
(Is there such a ground?)
He is still with you.
But outside the fellowship,
Isolated in your feelings
Like one condemned to death
Or one whom imminent farewell
Prematurely dedicates
To the loneliness which is the final lot of all.

Between you and him is distance,
Uncertainty -

He will see you
At greater and greater distance,
Hear your voices fading,
Fainter and fainter.


Lean fare, austere forms,
Brief delight, few words,
Low down in cool space
One star -
The morning star.
In the pale light of sparseness
Lives the Real Thing.
And we are real.


The sacrament of the artic summer night: an odour of ice and bursting buds - the rust brown gleam of bare tree-trunks, the glitter of fresh resinous leaves - the lap of water in the open channels, the warbling of the willow-wren - the deathly gleam of ice blocks in the slanting rays of the sun - the rhododendrons breaking in a purple wave up the mooring-beach - here and there in the sere scrub, white dots of Pinguicula, like drops of cool sunlit water.
Victory –


To preserve the silence within - amid all the noise.  To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens - no matter how many tramp across the parade-ground in whirling dust under an arid sky.

What makes loneliness an anguish
Is not that I have no one to share my burden,
But this:
I only have my own burden to bear.

Now. When I have overcome my fears - of others, of myself, of the underlying darkness:
            at the frontier of the unheard-of.
            Here ends the known.  But, from a source beyond it, something fills my being with its possibilities.
            Here desire is purified into openness: each action a preparation, each choice a yes to the unknown.
            Prevented by the duties of ife on the surface from looking down into the depths, yet all the while being slowly trained by them to descend as a shaping agent into the chaos, whence the fragrance of white wintergreen bears the promise of a new belonging.
            At the frontier - .




Not I, but God in me.


If only I may grow: firmer, simpler - quieter, warmer.



Though who art over us,
Thou who art one of us,
Thou who art -
Also within us,
May all see Thee - in me also,
May I prepare the way for Thee,
May I thank Thee for all that shall fall to my lot,
May I also not forget the needs of others,
Keep me in Thy love
As Thou wouldest that all should be kept in mine.
May everything in this my being be directed to the Thy glory
And may I never despair.
For I am under Thy hand,
and in Thee in all power and goodness.
Give me a pure heart - that I may see Thee,
A humble heart - that I may hear Thee,
A heart of love - that I may serve Thee,
A heart of faith - that I may abide in Thee.


Then I saw that the wall had never been there, that the ‘unheard-of’ is here and this, not something and somewhere else,
            that the ‘offering’ is here and now, always and everywhere, - ‘surrendered’ to be what, in me, God gives of Himself to Himself.

During a working day, which is real only in God, the only poetry which can be real to you is the kind which makes you become real under God; only then is the poetry real for you, the art true.  You no longer have time for - pastimes.


So, once again, you chose for yourself - and opened the door to chaos. The chaos you become whenever God’s hand does not rest upon your head.

The only kind of dignity which is genuine is that which is not diminished by the indifference of others.

Prayer, crystallised in words, assigns a permanent wavelength on which the dialogue has to be continued, even when our mind is occupied with other matters.

It is not sufficient to place yourself daily under God. What really matters is to be only under God: the slightest division of allegiance opens the door to day-dreaming, petty conversation, petty boasting, petty malice - all the petty satellites of the death instinct.
‘But how then am I to love God?’ ‘You must love Him as if He were a Non-God, a Non-Spirit, a Non-Person, a Non-Substance: love Him simply as the One, the pure and absolute Unity in which is no trace of Duality.  And into this One, we must let ourselves fall continually from being into non-being. God helps us do this.’

In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.


Before Thee, Father,
            In righteousness and humility,
With Thee, Brother
            In faith and courage,
In Thee, Spirit,
            In stillness.

My device - if any:
            Numen semper adest.
            In that case: if uneasy - why?

You ask yourself if these notes are not, after all, false to the very Way they are intended to mark out.
            These notes? – They were sign posts you began to set up after you had reached a point where you needed them, a fixed point that was on no account to be lost sight of. and so they have remained. but your life hs changed, and now you reckon with possible readers, even, perhaps, hope for them. still, perhaps it may be of interest to somebody to learn about a path of which you wirte has an honesty with now trace of vanity or self-regard.



We act in faith - and miracles occur.  In consequence, we are tempted to make the miracles the ground of our faith.  The cost of such weakness is that we lose the confidence of faith.  Faith is, faith creates, faith carries.  It is not derived from, nor created, nor carried by anything except its own reality.


In the faith, which is ‘God’s union with the soul’,
you are one in God
and God wholly in you,
just as, for you, He is wholly in all you meet.
With this faith, in prayer you descend into yourself to
meet the Other,
in the obedience and light of this union;
see that all stand, like yourself, alone before God,
   that each act is a continuing  act of creation - conscious, because you are a human being with human responsibilities, but governed, nevertheless, by the power beyond human consciousness which has created man.
   You are free from things, but encounter them in an experience which has the liberating purity and penetrating clarity of revelation.
            In that faith which is ‘God’s union with the soul’, therefore everything, has meaning.
            So live, then, that you may use what has been put into your hand….



Whitsunday (Pentecost) May 21st 1961

I don’t know who - or what - put the question.  I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer yes to someone - or something - and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life in self-surrender had a goal.
            From that moment I have known what it means ‘not to look back,’ and ‘to take no thought for the morrow.’ 
            Lead by the Ariadne’s thread of my answer through the labyrinth of life, I came to a time and place where I realised that the way leads to a triumph, that the way leads to a triumph, that the price for committing one’s life would be reproach, and that the only elevation possible to man lies in the depths of humiliation.  After that, the word ‘courage’ lost its meaning, since nothing could be taken from me.
            As I continued along the way, I learned, step by step, word by word, that behind every saying of the hero of the Gospels stands one man and one man’s experience. Also behind the prayer that the cup might pass from him and his promise to drink it.  Also behind each of the words from the Cross.



July 19th 1961

Have mercy
Upon us.
Have mercy
Upon our efforts,
That we
Before Thee,
In love and in faith,
Righteousness and humility,
May follow Thee,
With self-denial, steadfastness and courage,
And meet Thee
In the silence.

Give us
A pure heart
That we may see Thee,
A humble heart
That we may hear Thee,
A heart of love
That we may serve Thee,
A heart of faith
That we may live Thee,

Whom I do not know
But Whose I am.

Whom I od not comprehend
But Who has dedicated me
To my destiny
Thou –


August 24th, 61

I awoke
To an ordinary morning with grey light
Reflected from the street,
but still remembered
The dark-blue night
Above the tree-line,
The open moor in moonlight,
The crest in shadow.
Remembered other dreams
Of the same mountain country:
twice I stood on its summits,
I stayed by its remotest lake,
And followed the river
Towards its source.
The seasons have changed
And the light
And the weather
And the hour.
But it is the same land.
And I begin to know the map
And to get my bearings.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks. Am reading Lipsey's bio which I "accidentally" bought "one click" for my Kindle on Amazon. Are there accidents? Read Markings 30 or more years ago. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.