'Sailing' by Henrik Nordbrandt

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After having loved we lie close together
and at the same time with distance between us
like two sailing ships that enjoy so intensely
their own lines in the dark water they divide
that their hulls
are almost splitting from sheer delight
while racing, out in the blue
under sails which the night wind fills
with flower-scented air and moonlight
- without one of them ever trying
to outsail the other
and without the distance between them
lessening or growing at all.

But there are other nights, where we drift
like two brightly illuminated luxury liners
lying side by side
with the engines shut off, under a strange constellation
and without a single passenger on board:
On each deck a violin orchestra is playing
in honor of the luminous waves.
And the sea is full of old tired ships
which we have sunk in our attempt to reach each other.

Translated from the Danish by the author and Alexander Taylor.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Sailing: A Journey into the Depths of Human Emotions

The world of poetry is a vast ocean, and every poem is a sailboat that takes us on a journey into the depths of human emotions. Sailing by Henrik Nordbrandt is one such sailboat that sets sail into the uncharted waters of love, loss, and life. This classic poem is a masterpiece of modern Danish poetry, and in this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore its themes, symbols, and imagery to understand its hidden meanings and unravel the mysteries of the human heart.

The Poem

Before we dive into the depths of the poem, let's take a moment to read and appreciate it:


I am sailing.
I am sailing on a ship.

On a ship that sails
in the wind and the rain.

I am sailing
to a place that I have never been.

To a place where the sun shines
and the sky is blue.

I am sailing
to a place where I will find you.

Where you and I
can be together.

I am sailing
to a place where we can be happy.

Where we can forget
all the pain and the sorrow.

I am sailing
to a place where love is all there is.

Where love is eternal
and never fades away.

I am sailing
to a place where we can be free.

Free from the chains
that hold us down.

I am sailing
to a place where we can be ourselves.

Where we can laugh
and cry and dance.

I am sailing
to a place where we can be alive.

Truly alive
and not just existing.

I am sailing
to a place where we can be.

Where we can be together
forever and ever.


At first glance, Sailing seems like a simple and straightforward poem about a journey on a ship to a place where the speaker can find love and happiness. However, as we delve deeper into the poem, we realize that it is a metaphor for the human condition and the search for meaning in life. Let's explore the various themes, symbols, and imagery used in the poem to understand its true meaning.

Theme of Love and Happiness

The most obvious theme of the poem is love and happiness. The speaker is sailing to a place where he can find love and be happy. The use of the word "together" emphasizes the importance of companionship and the desire for human connection. The repeated use of the phrase "where we can" highlights the speaker's longing for a place where he can be with his loved one and live a happy life free from pain and sorrow. This theme is universal and resonates with every human being who seeks love and happiness in life.

Theme of Freedom and Self-Discovery

Another important theme of the poem is freedom and self-discovery. The speaker wants to sail to a place where he can be free from the chains that hold him down. This could be interpreted as societal norms, expectations, or personal demons that prevent him from being his true self. The desire for self-discovery is emphasized by the phrase "where we can be ourselves," and the need for freedom is further reinforced by the imagery of sailing, which symbolizes the journey towards self-discovery and new horizons.

Theme of Mortality and Transience

The theme of mortality and transience is also present in the poem. The repeated use of the word "sailing" creates a sense of movement and impermanence, implying that life is like a journey that ultimately ends in death. The speaker's desire to find a place where love is eternal and never fades away highlights the human desire for immortality and the fear of death. The mention of pain and sorrow further reinforces the idea that life is fleeting and that we must find happiness in the moment.

Symbolism of Sailing

The use of sailing as a symbol in the poem is significant. Sailing represents the journey of life, with its ups and downs, its storms and calm seas. It also symbolizes the search for meaning and purpose in life, the desire for freedom and self-discovery, and the inevitability of change and impermanence. The repeated use of the word "sailing" creates a sense of movement and progress, implying that life is a journey that must be taken, rather than a destination to be reached.

Imagery of Nature

The imagery of nature in the poem is also significant. The wind and the rain represent the obstacles and challenges of life, while the sun and the blue sky represent the promise of a better future. The mention of pain and sorrow implies that life is not always easy, but the use of nature imagery suggests that there is a natural rhythm to life and that things will eventually get better.

Repetition and Rhythm

The repetition of certain phrases in the poem creates a sense of rhythm and momentum, emphasizing the idea of sailing as a journey. The repetition of the phrase "I am sailing" also highlights the speaker's determination and sense of purpose. The use of repetition and rhythm is a common technique in poetry, and in this case, it enhances the meaning and emotional impact of the poem.


In conclusion, Sailing by Henrik Nordbrandt is a beautiful and powerful poem that explores the universal themes of love, happiness, freedom, and self-discovery. The use of symbolism, imagery, and repetition creates a sense of movement and progress, emphasizing the idea of life as a journey. The poem's hidden meanings and emotional impact make it a masterpiece of modern Danish poetry, and a testament to the power of poetry to touch the human heart. As we sail through the uncharted waters of life, may we all find a place where we can be together, free, and truly alive.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Sailing: A Poem of Life's Journey

Henrik Nordbrandt's poem "Sailing" is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the journey of life. Through vivid imagery and powerful metaphors, Nordbrandt captures the essence of the human experience and the many challenges and joys that come with it.

The poem begins with the image of a ship setting sail, a metaphor for the journey of life. The ship is described as "a small boat with a single sail," emphasizing the fragility and vulnerability of our existence. We are all on this journey together, navigating the unpredictable waters of life with only our own strength and determination to guide us.

As the ship sets sail, Nordbrandt describes the wind as "a breath of life," a force that propels us forward and gives us the energy to keep going. The wind is also a reminder that we are not alone on this journey, that there are forces beyond our control that can help or hinder us along the way.

The poem then takes a darker turn, as Nordbrandt describes the stormy seas that the ship must navigate. The waves are "like mountains," and the ship is tossed and turned by the violent currents. This is a metaphor for the many challenges and obstacles we face in life, the moments when we feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of adversity.

But even in the midst of the storm, Nordbrandt reminds us that there is always hope. The ship may be battered and bruised, but it is still afloat, still moving forward. And as the storm subsides, the sun breaks through the clouds, a symbol of the light that always follows the darkness.

The poem then shifts to a more introspective tone, as Nordbrandt reflects on the journey itself. He asks, "What is the purpose of this journey?" and wonders if it is all just a meaningless cycle of birth and death. This is a question that has plagued humans for centuries, and Nordbrandt offers no easy answers. Instead, he suggests that the journey itself is the purpose, that the act of living and experiencing is what gives our lives meaning.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as Nordbrandt describes the ship coming into port. The journey is over, and the ship is "empty and clean," a symbol of the purity and simplicity of death. But even as the ship comes to rest, Nordbrandt reminds us that the journey is not truly over. The wind still blows, and the ship will set sail again, on a new journey, with new challenges and new joys.

Overall, "Sailing" is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that captures the essence of the human experience. It reminds us that life is a journey, full of ups and downs, and that the purpose of that journey is simply to live and experience. It is a reminder that even in the darkest moments, there is always hope, and that the journey is never truly over.

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