Sakta vi gå genom stan

There's a Swedish jazz sång, originally performed by Monica Zetterlund, that I find beautiful.

Sakta vi gå genom stan. (Beppe Wolgers, Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert, 1961)

The song is about a couple walking home, through the streets of Stockholm, in a bright summer night.

The other day I was humming it again and realized that one reason I like this song are the masterful lyrics. It was only then, as I was googling for the song, that I learned that this is actually a translation of a song originally performed by Nat King Cole: Walking My Baby Back Home.

Except that the original is not the same song and nowhere near as beautiful. In fact, it's frankly outdated. In the Cole version, a man is escorting a woman back home, but has to stay on the porch. They can't kiss, but the man can buy the woman a hot dog at least.

The Swedish version, even if it was written in the 60s, is more equal. In fact it's most often performed by a female vocalist, but either way, it's an equal couple and they are allowed to kiss. Most of the song is an ode to Stockholm in the summer, rather than focusing on conservative dating etiquette.

I felt that the beautiful Swedish lyrics deserve to be more widely known, so I have translated them back to English, and am publishing them below.

Some comments about the translation:

The Zetterlund version uses assonance. This means not just making the end of a sentence rhyme, rather a whole sequence of words might have the same vowel repeatedly, or the same pattern of vowels. Interestingly, such rhymes are common also in modern rap music too. I tried to bring this technique to the translation as well, and I feel it works rather well.

I eventually decided to write Stockholm out of the English lyrics. You can still substitute "the city" for "Stockholm" if you want. But personally I don't have any attachment to Stockholm, so when not sung in the Swedish language, it felt odd to keep it. The song clearly takes place in a large Nordic city though, as it takes place in a bright summer night where the sun is rising early. In fact, there is a "long bridge" in Helsinki, that one of the verses refers to, but you are free to imagine any other bridge there if you want.


When we walk slowly back home

 

Oh have you seen how the city is green
When we walk slowly back home
A kiss, then a step, taking our time
Slowly we walk in the night
 
Somewhere there, distant laughter you hear
When we walk slowly back home
The scent of the sea, salty yet mild
Joins us on our slow stroll
 
Your arm is warm, on my shoulder it's light
Just like this bright summer night
And on my thigh, a warm summer wind
You're both caressing my skin
 
The night is so short, it will almost distort 
Our being in time itself
The blackbirds are singing, but can you blame them, 
when sunrise is at 2 am
 
Rowing slowly back home, a man in a boat
He stops not to scare those two swans
We're quiet too, can't really talk
Our mouths occupied when we walk
 
As we cross the long bridge, the sea is asleep
A tram heading back to garage
Building blocks, silent straight streets
Behind us trees secretly bloom
 
A million live here. Can they hear this song?
Their city is singing tonight?
When they wake up, they'll rush to their chores.
In the city that's our home.
 
Wherever we go, you are our home
When we walk slowly alone
We play a melody, with steps, slowly
Walking through the city
 
Stopping once more, hear the birds on the shore.
Take in the scent of a rose
It's a jubilant choir, meeting our smiles
Greeting the warm sunrise
 
Oh have you seen how the city is green
When we walk slowly back home
Stop for a kiss, then take a few steps
When we walk slowly back home
When we walk slowly back home
When we walk slowly back home

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