Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

August 28, 2006

A Björnstjerne Björnson selection

Filed under: Uncategorized — Clattery MacHinery @ 2:02 am

This is the opening paragraph in the Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson entry of Wikipedia:

“Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson (Bearstar Martinus Bearson) (December 8, 1832–April 26, 1910). Norwegian writer and a 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. Bjørnson is generally considered as one of “The Great Four” Norwegian writers; the others being Henrik Ibsen, Jonas Lie, and Alexander Kielland. Amongst Norwegians, Bjørnson is celebrated for his lyrics to the National Anthem: Ja, vi elsker dette landet.

In Norwegian Life (1909), Ethlyn T. Clough wrote:

“A new and grand period in Norwegian literature commenced about 1857, and the two most conspicuous names in this period–and in the whole Norwegian literature–are those of Henrik Ibsen and Björnstjerne Björnson.”

She compares the two in popularity and writes this about Björnson, who would die the following year in 1910:

“Björnstjerne Björnson (born in Osterdalen, in 1832) is the more popular of the two giants of Norwegian literature of to-day. His works are more national in tone. It has been said that to mention his name is to raise the Norwegian flag. His first successes were made in the field of the novel, and the first two, Synnöve Solbakken, 1857, and Arne, 1858, made his name famous. These, and his other peasant stories, will always retain their popularity. He soon, however, entered the dramatic field, and has since published a great number of dramas and novels.”

Below are eight poems selected from Poems and Songs by Björnstjerne Björnson, translated from the Norwegian, in the original meters, by Arthur Hubbell Palmer (1859-1918).



Our Country

A land there is, lying near far-northern snow,
Where only the fissures life’s springtime may know.
But surging, the sea tells of great deeds done,
And loved is the land as a mother by son.

What time we were little and sat on her knee,
She gave us her saga with pictures to see.
We read till our eyes opened wide and moist,
While nodding and smiling she mute rejoiced.

We went to the fjord and in wonder beheld
The ashen-gray bauta, that record of eld;
Still older she stood and her silence kept,
While stone-studded hows all around us slept.

Our hands she then took and away o’er the hill
She led to the church ever lowly and still,
Where humbly our forefathers knelt to pray,
And mildly she taught us: “Do ye as they!”

She scattered her snow on the mountain’s steep side,
Then bade on swift skis her young manhood to glide;
The North Sea she maddened with scourge of gales,
Then bade her young manhood to hoist the sails.

Of beautiful maidens she gathered a throng,
To follow our daring with smiles and with song,
While she sat enthroned with her saga’s scroll
In mantle of moonlight beneath the Pole.

Then “Forward, go forward!” was borne on the wind,
“With forefathers’ aim and with forefathers’ mind,
For freedom, for Norsehood, for Norway, hurrah!”
While echoing mountains voiced their hurrah.

Then life-giving fountains burst forth on our sight,
Then we were baptized with her spirit of might,
Then gleamed o’er the mountains a vision high,
That summons us onward until we die.


The Maiden on the Shore

She wandered so young on the shore around,
Her thoughts were by naught on earth now bound.
Soon came there a painter, his art he plied
                        Above the tide,
                        In shadow wide,–
He painted the shore and herself beside.

More slowly she wandered near him around,
Her thoughts by a single thing were bound.
And this was his picture wherein he drew
                        Herself so true,
                        Herself so true,
Reflected in ocean with heaven’s blue.

All driven and drawn far and wide around
Her thoughts now by everything were bound.
Far over the ocean,–and yet most dear
                        The shore right here,
                        The man so near,
Did ever the sunshine so bright appear!


The Blonde Maiden

Though she depart, a vision flitting,
    If I these thoughts in words exhale:
I love you, you blonde maiden, sitting
    Within your pure white beauty’s veil.
        I love you for your blue eyes dreaming,
            Like moonlight moving over snow,
        And ‘mid the far-off forests beaming
            On something hid I may not know.

I love this forehead’s fair perfection
    Because it stands so starry-clear,
In flood of thought sees its reflection
    And wonders at the image near.
        I love these locks in riot risen
            Against the hair-net’s busy bands;
        To free them from their pretty prison
            Their sylphs entice my eyes and hands.

I love this figure’s supple swinging
    In rhythm of its bridal song,
Of strength and life-joy daily singing
    With youthful yearnings deep and long.
        I love this foot so lightly bearing
            The glory of sure victory
        Through youth’s domain of merry daring
            To meet first-love that hers shall be.

I love these hands, these lips enchanting,
    With them the God of love’s allied,
With them the apple-prize is granting,
    But guards them, too, lest aught betide.
        I love you and must say it ever,
            Although you heed not what you’ve heard,
        But flee and answer: maidens never
            May put their trust in poet’s word.


in Ringerike during the Student Meeting of 1869

Norse Nature

We wander and sing with glee
Of glorious Norway, fair to see.
    Let sweetly the tones go twining
    In colors so softly shining
On mountain, forest, fjord, and shore,
‘Neath heaven’s azure arching o’er.

The warmth of the nation’s heart,
The depth, the strength, its songs impart,
    Here opens its eyes to greet you,
    Rejoicing just now to meet you,
And giving, grateful for the chance,
In love a self-revealing glance.

Here wakened our history first,
Here Halfdan dreamed of greatness erst,
    In vision of hope beholding
    The kingdom’s future unfolding,
And Nore stood and summons gave,
While forth to conquest called the wave.

Here singing we must unroll
Of our dear land the pictured scroll!
    Let calm turn to storm of wildness,
    Bring might into bonds of mildness:
Then Norsemen mustering, each shall see
This is our land’s whole history.

To them first our way we wing,
The hundred harbors in the spring,
    Where follow fond love and yearning,
    When sea-ward the ships are turning.
For Norway’s weal pure prayers exhale
From sixty thousand men that sail.

See sloping the skerried coasts,
With gulls and whales and fishing-posts,
    And vessels in shelter riding,
    While boats o’er the sea are gliding,
And nets in fjord and seines in sound,
And white with spawn the ocean’s ground.

See Lofoten’s tumult grand,
Where tow’ring cliffs in ocean stand,
    Whose summits the fogs are cleaving,
    Beneath them the surges heaving,
And all is darkness, mystery, dread,
But ‘mid the tumult sails are spread.

Here ships of the Arctic sea;
Through snow and gloom their course must be;
    Commands from the masthead falling
    The boats toward the ice are calling;
And shot on shot and seal on seal,
And souls and bodies strong as steel.

On mountains we now shall guest,
When eventide to all brings rest,
    In dairy on highland meadow,
    On hay-field ‘neath slanting shadow,
While to the alphorn’s tender tone
Great Nature’s voice responds alone.

But quickly we must away,
If all the land we would survey,–
    The mines of our metal treasures,
    The hills of our hunters’ pleasures,
The foam-white river’s rush and noise,
The timber-driver’s foot-sure poise.

Returning, we linger here,
These valleys broad to us are dear,
    Whose men in their faithful living
    To Norway are honor giving;
Their fathers, strong in brain and brawn,
Lent luster to our morning-dawn.

We wander and sing with glee
Of glorious Norway fair to see.
    Our present to labor binds us,
    Each how of the past reminds us,
Our future shall be sure and bright,
As God we trust and do the right.


at a summer-fête for him in Christiania, 1871

To Hans Christian Andersen

We welcome you this wondrous summer-day,
When childhood’s dreams on earth are streaming,
To bloom and sing, to brighten and to pale;
                      A fairy-tale,
A fairy-tale, our Northland all is seeming,
And holds you in its arms a festal space
With grateful glee and whisperings face to face.
                      Th’ angelic noise,
                      Sweet strains of children’s joys,
Bears you a moment to that home
Whence all our dreams, whence all our dreams have come.

We welcome you! Our nation all is young,
Still in that age of dreams enthralling,
When greatest things in fairy-tales are nursed,
                      And he is first,
And he is first, who hears his Lord’s high calling.
Of childhood’s longings you the meaning know,
And to the North a goal of greatness show.
                      Your fantasy
                      Has just that path made free,
Where, past the small things that you hate,
We yet shall find, we yet shall find the great.


Workmen’s March

Left foot! Right foot! Lines unbroken!
Keeping time is power’s token.
That makes one of many, many,
That makes bold, if fear daunts any,
That makes small the load and lighter,
That makes near the goal and brighter,
Till it greets us gained with laughter,
And we seek the next one after.

Left foot! Right foot! Lines unbroken!
Keeping time is power’s token.
Marching, marching of few hundreds,
No one heeds it, never one dreads;
Marching, marching of few thousands,
Here and there wakes some to hearing;
Marching, marching hundred thousands,–
All will mark that thunder nearing.

Left foot! Right foot! Lines unbroken!
Keeping time is power’s token.
Let us march all, never weaken
Time from Vardö down to Viken,
Vinger up to Bergen’s region,–
Let us make one marching legion,
Then we’ll rout some wrong from Norway,
Open wide to right the doorway.


Norway, Norway

                      Norway, Norway,
Rising in blue from the sea’s gray and green,
Islands around like fledglings tender,
Fjord-tongues with slender,
Tapering tips in the silence seen.
                      Rivers, valleys,
Mate among mountains, wood-ridge and slope
Wandering follow. Where the wastes lighten,
Lake and plain brighten
Hallow a temple of peace and hope.
                      Norway, Norway,
Houses and huts, not castles grand,
                      Gentle or hard,
                      Thee we guard, thee we guard,
Thee, our future’s fair land.

                      Norway, Norway,
Glistening heights where skis swiftly go,
Harbors with fishermen, salts, and craftsmen,
Rivers and raftsmen,
Herdsmen and horns and the glacier-glow.
                      Moors and meadows,
Runes in the woodlands, and wide-mown swaths,
Cities like flowers, streams that run dashing
Out to the flashing
White of the sea, where the fish-school froths.
                      Norway, Norway,
Houses and huts, not castles grand,
                      Gentle or hard,
                      Thee we guard, thee we guard,
Thee, our future’s fair land.


In the Forest

List to the forest-voice murmuring low:
All that it saw when alone with its laughter,
All that it suffered in times that came after,
Mournful it tells, that the wind may know.




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