Spring To Burning Speech

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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.


Everyday

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.

The Worst To Please Is A Carpenter

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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.

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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!


Poem

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.

Something Miraculous Will Happen

Olav Hauge
Olav Hauge  (1908 – 1994)

It’s The Dream

By Olav Hauge
Translated by Robin Fulton

It’s the dream we carry in secret
that something miraculous will happen,
that it must happen –
that time will open
that the heart will open
that doors will open
that the mountains will open
that springs will gush –
that the dream will open,
that one morning we will glide into
some little harbour we didn’t know was there.


June has arrived, a soggier version of itself this year, but none the less welcome.  The school year is coming to an end, the teachers in my life every bit as glad for the upcoming break as the students.  If I plan it right, there are several weekends of free meals at graduation parties, the promenade of new graduates ever younger appearing it seems than the previous year.  It must be that our brains get stuck in a time warp, looking at ourselves each morning and evening in the mirror brushing our teeth, that we are fooled into thinking we are not aging, only to be shocked by how baby faced the new crop of college and high school seniors appear in their garish cap and gowns. How is that every year they appear younger?

I am so glad I am not graduating from anything as formal as school anymore. My personal commencements these days are simpler, more private; a car loan paid off, a house project completed, a big project at work finalized, a son or daughter moving into their first apartment.  No new diplomas to be hung on the wall, but the satisfaction of accomplishment equally as genuine.  The terrible part of having to settle on a degree is that it seems to limit your options from that point forward.  I never really could decide what I wanted to be when I grew up but managed to stumble upon a career that I have truly enjoyed. But if I had it to do over again, my guess is I would have stumbled into something else, as it never felt like I really had a grand plan on how I was going to make a living.  My goal today is to keep graduating each spring with fresh skills, regardless if they are employable.

What’s are you graduating from this spring?   What shall you commence to do from this new demarcation?  Where’s your own little harbor that you didn’t know even existed until you sailed into its’ smooth waters?


Gratitude For Old Teachers

by Robert Bly

When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked.  But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?
Water that once could take no human weight-
We were students then- holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.