Spring To Burning Speech

Johan Sebastian Welhaven

 Norway’s Dawn

By Johan Sebastian Cammermeyer Welhaven (1807–1873)
Translation by William Morton Payne

OH, like a youth our race with courage bold
Shall yet wax strong behind its mountain rim;
While many an evil giant, fierce and grim,
Shall fall, and lie in death’s embraces cold.

And valorous deeds, like those men did of old,
Shall here once more be praised in song and hymn;
The life renewed of saga-ages dim,
In glowing words shall once again be told.

The word shall turn to act of high emprise;
The thought now hushed shall spring to burning speech
In hall of counsel and the sacred fane.

The noisy shout shall cease, the precept wise
Shall take its place, and, far as sight may reach,
The gleam shall grow into the light again.

Johan Sebastia Welhaven made his name by attacking the crude patriotic poetry popular at the time and espoused the theory that poetry should be beautiful as well as meaningful.  His feud with Henrik Wergeland, a popular nationalist poet, makes more sense when put in the contest that he was romantically involved with Wergeland’s younger sister. This was a good old fashioned machismo showdown of who’s got the bigger swagger and to my mind Welhaven certainly won.  There’s nothing sweeter than besting your rival than by seducing his sister.

His celebration of the romantic tradition inspired other artists of his day, including Edward Grieg and Ibsen. Welhaven opposed the theories of the extreme nationalists and desired that Norwegian culture align itself with the rest of Europe.  Welhaven gave voice to his aesthetic creed in the 1834 sonnet cycle Norges Dæmring (“The Dawn of Norway”), one of which is highlighted above. The sonnets spoke of his love Norway in tightly constructed sonnets. Welhaven extended his influence into Norwegian culture as an academic by teaching for 26 years at the Royal Frederik’s University in Christiania, delivering lectures on literary subjects.


by Olav H. Hauge

You’ve left the big storms
behind you now.
You didn’t ask then
why you were born,
where you came from, where you were going to,
you were just there in the storm,
in the fire.
But it’s possible to live
in the everyday as well,
in the grey quiet day,
set potatoes, rake leaves,
carry brushwood.
There’s so much to think about here in the world,
one life is not enough for it all.
After work you can fry bacon
and read Chinese poems.
Old Laertes cut briars,
dug round his fig trees,
and let the heroes fight on at Troy.

Hope Without An Object Cannot Live

Reppkleiv, Norway

Work Without Hope

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.


The Worst To Please Is A Carpenter

Roan, Norway

Mountain Life

by Henrik Ibsen

IN summer dusk the valley lies
With far-flung shadow veil;
A cloud-sea laps the precipice
Before the evening gale:

The welter of the cloud-waves grey
Cuts off from keenest sight
The glacier, looking out by day
O’er all the district, far away,
And crowned with golden light.

But o’er the smouldering cloud-wrack’s flow,
Where gold and amber kiss,
Stands up the archipelago,
home of shining peace.

The mountain eagle seems to sail
A ship far seen at even;
And over all a serried pale
Of peaks, like giants ranked in mail,
Fronts westward threatening heaven.

But look, a steading nestles, close
Beneath the ice-fields bound,
Where purple cliffs and glittering snows
The quiet home surround.

Here place and people seem to be
A world apart, alone;
— Cut off from men by spate and scree
It has a heaven more broad, more free,
A sunshine all its own.

Look: mute the saeter-maiden stays,
Half shadow, half aflame;
The deep, still vision of her gaze
Was never word to name.

She names it not herself, nor knows
What goal my be its will;
While cow-bells chime and alp-horn blows
It bears her where the sunset glows,
Or, maybe, further still.

Too brief, thy life on highland wolds
Where close the glaciers jut;
Too soon the snowstorm’s cloak enfolds
Stone byre and pine-log hut.

Then wilt thou ply with hearth ablaze
The winter’s well-worn tasks
— But spin thy wool with cheerful face:
One sunset in the mountain pays
For all their winter asks.

I have spent the past week in Roan, Norway, a rural area north of Trondheim, that is a combination of rocky highlands dotted with small dairy farms in the river bottoms.   The beauty of Norway is hard to put into words, hiking in nearly pristine wilderness, the wild blue berries and mountain berries in full splendor this week among the moss and ferns in pine forests. The waters clear and blue, making there way into the fjords, I had the good fortune to be invited to spend some time at a friends, friend cabin that provided precious silence, multiple days with only the sounds of nature except for one or two airplanes over the course of several days. That experience of not being able to hear any man-made noise is a centering, sacred experience, bringing me back to something more basic that calls me to simplify my life.  Having spent several marvelous days in new and old Norwegian mountain cabins, my love of small houses has been rekindled and the urge to build one someplace in Minnesota is strong.


I used this opportunity while in Norway to investigate the legacy of Norway’s literature. Rich as it is with playwrights, (Ibsen) and novelists and poetry (Olav Hauge and Welhaven), outside of Welhaven’s sonnet cycle called Norges Daemring I found English translations of Norwegian poetry a bit slim pickings on the internet.  It may well be that I have not figured out the right search terms or it could be Norwegian poets are unconcerned with English translations and prefer to let people read their work in Norwegian.

Hauge’s work in English has a bit of similarity to William Carlos Williams with a similar dry sense of humor that runs through it.  Everyone in rural Norway it seems is a carpenter as it were, with self made cabins, barns and even houses more the norm than the exception.   As much as I enjoyed the beauty of Norway, I am eager to get home.  The inability to communicate effectively has made me homesick for Minnesota and the beauty of the English language.   Brah!


by Olav H. Hauge
Translated by Robert Hedin

If you can make a poem
a farmer finds useful,
you should be happy.
A blacksmith you can never figure out.
The worst to please is a carpenter.

Love Så Flink Like The Wisest Book

Highlands of Norway in Roan


by Halldis Moren Vesaas

Kjære, alt som du viser meg no
– så utenkt som mangt av det er –
kan det vel hende eg ikkje forstod
om du ikkje var meg så kjær.

Eg stansa vel uviss, utan svar,
som framfor eit ukjend land,
om ikkje min kjærleik til deg var
for meg som ei lykt i mi hand.

Den lyser meg fram, så eg kan gå inn
og gjere meg kjend i kvar krok.
Det er ikkje sant at kjærleik gjer blind.
Kjærleik gjer klok.

IMG_6390 (1)
Hiking Companions



by Halldis Moren Vesaas
Translation by T. A. Fry

Dearest, for all you show me now
– so unimagined in generous beauty –
It may well be beyond my knowing
if you were not so dear to me

I might have halted, uncertain, without answer
as if facing an unknown land,
was not my love of you to me,
A torch blazing in my hand.

It lights me forward, so I can venture
and become familiar with each nook.
It isn’t true that love is blind
Love så flink  like the wisest book.

Love One Another

Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931)

The Farewell (from The Prophet)

by Kahlil Gibran

We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way,
begin no day where we have ended
another day; and no sunrise finds us where
sunset left us.
Even while the earth sleeps we travel.
We are the seeds of the tenacious plant,
and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of
heart that we are given to the wind and are

Love One Another

by Kahlil Gibran

Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup, but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread, but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together.
For the pillars of the temple stand apart.
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

I Touch You With A Measured Hand

Paal Helge
Paal-Helge Haugen  b. 1945

Clearing Up

by Paal-Helge Haugen

after so many years
this evening opens up:
a shaft downward and
leading back, the light flooding in
where we didn’t believe
it could go

trees move slowly, the evening
rippled by a wind of time
that carries off the weathered remnants
of hatred, confusion
slag, fragments of words with jagged
edges, blindfolds, the sound of
doors that keep slamming

what remains is the outlines –
of precise caresses and wide-open
mornings, lit up from below
and with backs to the darkness, a strong
resolve to understand
what must be understood
the wind moves off, it’s clearing up

I touch you
with a measured hand



by Paal-Helge Haugen

etter så mange år
opnar denne kvelden seg:
ei sjakt nedover
og tilbake, lyset fløymer
inn der vi ikkje trudde
det fanst

tre rører seg sakte, kvelden
krusa av ein vind av tid
som fører bort restane av forvitra
hat, forvirring
slagg, brokkar av ord med opprivne
kantar, bind for augo, lyden av
dører som slår og slår

tilbake blir konturane
av presise kjærteikn og vidopne
morgonar, gjennomlyste nedanfrå
og med ryggen mot mørkret, ein hard samla
vilje til å forstå
det som må bli forstått
vinden dreg forbi, det klarnar opp

eg rører deg
med ei begrensa hand

From Paal-Helge Haugen (1945), Det overvintra lyset, Det Norske Samlaget, Oslo 1985. The english translation comes from Paal-Helge Haugen, Wintering with the Light, Sun & Moon Press, Los Angeles 1997.

Translated by Roger Greenwald

Sistered Wishes Beat These Walls

Muriel Rukeyser (1913 – 1980)

If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented on that day….For there would be an intolerable hunger.

Muriel Rukeyser


by Muriel Rukeyser

My thoughts through yours refracted into speech
transmute this room musically tonight,
the notes of contact flowing, rhythmic, bright
with an informal art beyond my single reach.

Outside, dark birds fly in a greening time :
wings of our sistered wishes beat these walls :
and words afflict our minds in near footfalls
approaching with latening hour’s chime.

And if an essential thing has flown between us,
rare intellectual bird of communication,
let us seize it quickly : let our preference
choose it instead of softer things to screen us
each from the other’s self : muteness or hesitation,
nor petrify live miracle by our indifference.

Intolerable hungers pervade us and we somehow are surprised that this is so?   Look around at nature, intolerable hungers are everywhere, we intellectualize them as instinct but tell that to the salmon spawning upstream, returning from the deep ocean to the very river of their creation.  It is an intolerable hunger that propels them up water falls.

Intolerable hunger comes in all shapes and sizes, as many different kinds as there are people and species on the planet.   There are the common everyday hungers of sustenance, sex, vocation, communion and connection.   Then there are the uniquely personal intolerant foibles that define ourselves as a unique human being, a subset of one, on a planet of 7 billion.

What intolerable hunger propels you?   How will you feed and nurture your hunger today?  What will bring you satisfaction and temporarily silence the ache for more?

Twenty One Love Poems


by Adrienne Rich

The rules break like a thermometer,
quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
we’re out in a country that has no language
no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
by years… we’re driving through the desert
wondering if the water will hold out
the hallucinations turn to simple villages
the music on the radio comes clear—
neither Rosenkavalier nor Götterdämmerung
but a woman’s voice singing old songs
with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute
plucked and fingered by women outside the law.