Seven Dresses for Visibility by Pia Tafdrup

August 1, 2011
translated by David McDuff

Pia Tafdrup is one of the major contemporary Danish poets working today, and her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She is the author of more than twenty books, several of which have been translated into English, and the recipient of numerous awards—including the prestigious Nordic Council Literature Prize (1999) for Dronningeporten (Queen’s gate). She wrote the following poem after the July 22 tragedy in Norway. It was published in Politiken(Denmark’s most important newspaper), was read on Danish radio, and will be published in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. This is the first publication in English.





I am sewing a dress that can be worn
proudly by one who is born with 
an expectant spark in the heart’s vessels,
it will perfectly fit large and small,
is spun strong by the bow of the rain
it can be enjoyed a whole life long,
if the cloth is looked after well.

I am sewing a dress that can be worn
silently by new victims of the fear,                
it can fit large and small,
does not hide vulnerability
as droves of birds are hunted
out of the tree’s dense crown,
the fabric flutters in the wind.

I am sewing a dress that can be worn
lightly by new victims of the hate,
it is coloured red by blood
and has thunder-black borders,    
it can fit large and small,
those who least of all will think
that one should change before the night.               

I am sewing a dress that can be worn
by the victims of a cold cynicism                                         
it can fit large and small,
its crazy fabric is made     
of fire no downpour will quench,
it will be a reminder that the earth
may open up at any time at all.
I am sewing a dress that can cover
dried blood on the victims of death,       
it can hide large and small,
it is shaped by the deep furrows
of tears across the cheek,
the cloth matches the walls of the dark,
the peace in each grave on the planet.

I am sewing a dress that can be worn
in a misty haze of sorrow’s                                
victims, designed for relatives        
and friends of the deceased,
it can fit large and small,
anger’s first light is visible
between lead-grey threads of pain.

I am sewing the dress that can be worn
securely by one who knows hope,              
woven in are the laughter of friends,
quiet tears of joy, the desire
to wake up in spite
of life the disaster took
 – it reflects the rays of the sun.

Translation from the Danish
By David McDuff

Editorial note: To read K. E. Semmel’s interview with Pia Tafdrup (“A Daughter’s Story”), from the March 2010 issue of WLTclick here.

Danish poet Pia Tafdrup has published twenty collections of poetry, including Queen’s Gate (2001), Tarkovsky’s Horses and Other Poems (2010), Salamander Sun and Other Poems (2015), and The Taste of Steel • The Smell of Snow (2021). She is the recipient of the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize (1999) and the Nordic Prize from the Swedish Academy (2006). Berøringen af hud (The touch of skin), the last book in her series about the senses, just appeared in Denmark. Photo by Isak Hoffmeyer

David McDuff (b. 1945) is a Scottish translator, editor, and literary critic. His translations include works of nineteenth-century Russian fiction in Penguin Classics and Nordic poetry from Bloodaxe. In 2021 he was honored with the Swedish Academy’s Interpretation Prize (Tolkningspris).