Poems and Songs
by Bjornstjerne Bjornson
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Note 67. TO MISSIONARY SKREFSRUD IN SANTALISTAN. Written in 1879. Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, born in Gudbrandstal in 1840, at first a metal worker, led for a time a wild life, and was committed under a sentence of four years to a penitentiary, where he remained from February, 1859, to October, 1861. Here he underwent a complete inner transformation and resolved to become a Christian missionary. Rejected by the Norwegian missionary institutions, he went in 1862 to Berlin, and entered a School for Missions there. He supported himself by work as an engraver, and by unflagging private study acquired learning and the knowledge of languages. He went to a German Mission in India, which he left in January, 1866. In 1867 he began his independent work in Santalistan. Here his persistence and success attracted the attention and support of the English, and thus he gradually became known and esteemed in his native land, where a Santalistan Society was formed to aid his undertakings. In 1882 he was duly ordained as clergyman by a bishop of the State Church. In 1873 he published a grammar and in 1904 a dictionary of the language of Santalistan. I do not share your faith. The memorable speech which Bjrnson delivered to the students in Christiania on October 31, 1877, the anniversary of Luther's posting his theses in Wittenberg, revealed that after a hard inner struggle he had freed himself from the religious faith of his early life. The theme of his speech "Be in the truth!" showed that for him henceforth the supreme thing was freedom of thought and fidelity to the truth as expanding development might manifest it to the individual. Liberal in thought from the beginning, Bjrnson departed more and more, not least through the influence of Grundtvig, from the strict dogmatic orthodoxy of the State Church. The study of Darwin, Spencer, Mill, and Comte led him still farther on to a position which may be called that of the agnostic theist, that of Spencer, who does not deny God, but says ignoramus. We may recall the late utterance of Bjrnson, quoted above: "Grundtvig and Goethe are my two poles." It was the dogma of Hell, the teaching of eternal damnation and punishment, that began Bjrnson's breach with the Church. He saw how this doctrine enslaved and dwarfed the souls of the peasants, and blighted all liberal development, both personal and political.

Note 68. POST FESTUM. Bjrnson was a decided opponent of the whole system of decorations and orders, royal and other. Here he attacks the Swedish polar explorer, A. E. von Nordenskjld (November 18, 1832-August 20, 1901), who earlier had taken the same stand. After Nordenskjld had successfully made the Northern Passage, there was a great formal reception for him on his return to Stockholm, April 24, 1880, at which King Oskar II decorated him. He also received similar honors from most of the rulers of Europe.

Note 69. ROMSDAL. Written in 1880 on a lecture tour along the western coast. The scenery and the people described Bjrnson knew intimately from his boyhood's years at Nes and in Molde, and from later visits to his parents at the former place. Collin says: "The whole poem fits like a frame about the poet and his life-work . ... Both with its [Norway's scenery's] violence and brusqueness and with its surprising gentleness Bjrnson has kinship." The last line of the poem includes the poet himself.

Note 70. HOLGER DRACHMANN. Probably written in 1879. This Danish productive author (and painter), best known as lyric poet and novelist, was born in 1846 and died in 1908. Here he received from Bjrnson a reply to verses of homage addressed by him to the latter in 1878. Drachmann's early years were turbulent and revolutionary, full of feuds with everybody. He belonged to the literary and esthetic Left, opposing all existing institutions. Bjrnson's characterization exhibits Drachmann at the height of his poetic production. His most popular prose book had recently stirred the Danish national heart and roused the spirit of Scandinavism. The collections of his poems: Songs by the Sea, Tendrils and Roses, Youth in Poem and Song, he never surpassed. Perhaps the best were the group of Venetian Songs, written in Venice in the spring of 1876, to which time belongs also his finest story, Two Shots. During the next decade Drachmann underwent an extreme conservative reaction, but about 1890 returned again to his youthful passion for rebellion, romantic radicalism, and the religion of esthetic freedom.

Note 71. A MEETING. Hans Thorvald Brecke was born December 1, 1847, and died June 9, 1875. As student from 1864 to 1870 he wrote several witty student comedies, and is described as a remarkably charming personality. In 1871 he became judge's clerk in Molde, and here had one bright and happy year. Against the disease which showed itself in the fall of 1872 he contended in vain. This poem was probably written in the latter part of 1875.

Note 72. THE POET. This poem, the following Psalms, and Question and Answer conclude the second edition of Poems and Songs, which was published April 29, 1880. They were probably written late in 1879 or very early in 1880. In a crisis of renewed litetary and political attacks upon him, the poet Bjrnson, under the inspiration of his motto "Be in the truth!" (see Note 67), proclaims the mission to which he is called: To be in religion and life, political and social, the liberator of his people from falsehood and ignorance, and the comforting helper of all who suffer.

Note 73. SONG FOR NORWAY'S RIFLEMEN. In 1881 the constitutional conflict between the Left and the Right over the nature of the King's veto had become acute. The question was whether the veto-power was suspensive or absolute as to amendments of the Constitution. The Left maintained that it was only suspensive, and the conflict was ended in favor of this view by the Supreme Court in 1884; an amendment enacted by three independently elected Stortings is valid without the King's sanction. This poem shows that the people were preparing to defend their right by force in the spirit of Bjrnson's often quoted words in his electoral campaign speech about the same time at Sticklestad: "If any one says that the monarchy [the King] declares it [he] cannot give up the absolute veto, you must answer openly: 'Then the Norwegian people must give up the monarchy [the King].'"

Note 74. WORKMEN'S MARCH. Published in the third edition of 1890, and written not long before for the Workmen's Union in Christiania. It is a plea for the universal franchise and party organization. Vard = northernmost, Viken and Vinger = southernmost Norway.

Note 75. THE LAND THAT SHALL BE. See the poem Hamar-made Matches, and notes thereto.

Note 76. NORWAY, NORWAY! First published in the edition of 1890. The poet has himself stated that he wrote it at Aulestad, on being asked to furnish a song for the flag-procession of boys and girls on the 17th of May (see Note 4). Runes in the woodlands, as it were written records of the labors of past generations.

Note 77. WHEN COMES THE MORNING? From the novel, ln God's Way, published in 1889.

Note 78. MAY SEVENTEENTH. In memory of the unveiling of Henrik Wergeland's statue in Christiania on the 17th of May, 1881, when Bjrnson also delivered a great oration. Henrik Arnold Wergeland was born June 17, 1808, in Christiansand, and died August 12, 1845, in Christiania. Though he studied theology, he devoted his life to poetry and politics. His earliest writings, farces and poems, showed powerful, but uncontrolled, genius. His great popularity began in 1829 with his active entrance into public life. He labored for the enlightemnent of his people through his writings and his personal influence in journeyings all over the land, and especially through speeches at political meetings. His chief poetic work, the rationalistic-republican didactic poem, Creation, Man, and Messiah, appeared in 1830. It was severely criticised in a special, polemical writing by Welhaven (see Note 36), who continued his attack on all Wergeland's views and teachings in his Norway's Dawn. Thus arose the Wergeland-Welhaven conflict, which was carried on hotly for many years by their adherents, and contributed much to the intellectual development of the nation. Wergeland was very productive as editor, publicist, and poet. In 1840 he was appointed Keeper of the Archives, and held this government office until his death. In his own time Wergeland was in spirit the head of the radical- national "Peasant party," which was indeed patriotic and democratic, but too narrowly Norwegian, in opposition to all that was Danish, European, foreign. During the years preceding 1881 he had come to be in the constitutional conflict a national hero, the idol of the peasants, as their political power increased. Come now the peasants. In this volume of translations "peasant" is the rendering of the Norwegian word "bonde." The meaning is "farmer," i.e., in general the independrnt owner of land, which he cultivates and on which he lives. In Norway the conditions have for many centuries been more favorable for the "peasant" than in any other European country; this is due to the topography and to the absence of a powerful nobility. At the present time scarcely one- twentieth of the tilled area in Norway is cultivated by tenants. The Norwegian "peasants" have always had great self-consciousness in the best sense, and importance in the political, economic, and social life of the country, especially since the adoption of the democratic Constitution of 1814. Very often the "peasants" have an aristocratic pride in a lineage traced back to ancient "kings," and in their own distinctively "Norse" culture. sterdal's ... chieftain, a peasant of large stature, named Hjelmstad, a radical member of the Storting. The old banner. A flag much used in earlier times as specifically Norwegian, dating back to King Erik (1280-1299), before the union with Demnark, showed on a red ground a lion wearing a golden crown and bearing an axe. As late as 1698 it flew over the fortress Akershus in Christiania. The future, i.e., the independence realized in 1905 through the dissolution of the union with Sweden.

Note 79. FREDERIK HEGEL. This poem is the last in the third edition (1890), for which it seems to have been written. Hegel (1817-1887) was from 1850 the head of the Gyldendal publishing house in Copenhagen. Bjrnson made his acquaintance in 1860, and, beginning with King Sverre in 1861, Hegel became Bjrnson's publisher. In 1865 Bjrnson's influence secured to him Ibsen's works, and later those of Lie and many other Norwegian authors. The cultural dependence of Norway upon Denmark for centuries had prevented the prosperous growth of the publishing business in the former country, whose leading publisher went into bankruptcy soon after 1860. That Bjrnson thus went to Copenhagen with his books may seem to have been a blow to the cause of Norwegian independence, and to have delayed the rise of a thriving, stable business, but on the other hand Bjrnson's action and influence contributed greatly to establish for perhaps half a century a certain dominance of the Norwegian spirit in all Scandinavia. For Bjrnson personally, as his correspondence with Hegel shows, it was certainly a great good fortune to gain Hegel as his publisher and later as his friend. This Hegel was to all his authors in the most faithful, self-sacrificing way, and no less their valued financial adviser.

Note 80. OUR LANGUAGE. Written in defense of the Norwegian-Danish speech of the cultured classes and of the cities in Norway, the result of development and tradition through several centuries, the so-called Riksmaal (language of the kingdom) or Bymaal (city-language). This, and with it the higher spiritual interests of the nation, seemed to Bjrnson to be endangered by the agitation in behalf of the Landsmaal (rural language). The Landsmaal arose from a movement after 1814, to make Norway independent of Denmark in language also. The rural dialects were regarded as more purely Norwegian; on them and the Old Norse as a basis was constructed somewhat artificially this standard rural language. It has been gradually perfected, and is now, in fact, spoken and written a good deal. Bjrnson advocated rather the natural process of making the language of the country more national by gradually introducing dialect words and reforming the orthography. He thought that the Riksmaal thus modified alone could preserve, increase, and transmit the treasures of culture. Hald=Fredrikshald, see Note 5. Holberg, see Note 19. Kierkegaard. Sren Aaby Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was the most subtle and profound thinker produced by Denmark, with a prose style noble, poetic, and eloquent. His writings deal with religion, ethics, and esthetics, and present his individual, ideal conception of Christianity. Wergeland, see Note 78.


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