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.