Poems and Songs

Library of Alexandria
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 By far the largest number of the Poems and Songs have as their subject patriotism in the broadest sense, a theme at once simple and complex. It is in them that the skald and chieftain so typically blend in one. Of this group the influence has been widest and deepest. In his oration at the unveiling of the statue of Wergeland in Christiania, Björnson spoke of him and of Norway's constitution as growing up together; with reference to this it has been maintained that we have still greater right to say that Björnson and Norway's full freedom and independence grew up together. The truth of the statement is very largely due to Björnson's patriotic poems. Through them the poet-prophet interpreted for his nation the historic past and the evolving present, and forecast the future. Simplifying the meaning of life, he accomplished the mission which he himself made the ideal of The Poet, and became for his own people the liberalizing teacher and molder, leading them to freedom in thought and action, in social and political life. Of this large and seemingly complex group of patriotic lyrics,—whether they be on its history, or on contemporaneous events and deeds of individuals with political significance; or on men, both known and unknown to fame, who had made and were making Norway great; or on historical, political, and other national festivals; or on the country, its land and sea and fjords and forests and fields and cities, in aspects more genial or more stern, —whether they be poems of the individual or social and choral songs, manorial poems or ballads or lyrical romances, or descriptions of Norway's scenery,—the unifying simple theme is Norway to be loved and labored for.

Not a single poem is, however, merely descriptive of external nature.

Björnson's relation to nature is indeed more intimate than that of any other Norwegian writer of his time, but here also he is epic and dramatic rather than subjectively lyrical. He sees and hears through what is external, and his feeling for and with nature is but a profounder looking into the soul of his nation or the inner life of other human beings. For him Norway's scenery is filled with the glory of the nation's past, the promise of its future, or the needs of the present. The poems that contain nature descriptions are primarily patriotic. In the national hymn Yes, We Love, it is the nation, its history and its future, which with the land towers as a whole before his vision; in Romsdal the scenery frames the people, their character and life. More personal poems, as To Molde or A Meeting, are not merely descriptive; in the former childhood's memories and the love of friends fill the scene, while in the latter the freshly and tenderly drawn snow-landscape is but the setting for a vivid picture of a deceased friend.

The contents of this volume befit the verse-form, as if each were made by and for the other. The subjects are simple, large, weighty; the form is compact, strong, suggestive. Björnson is distinctly not subjectively lyrical, but has a place in the first rank "as a choral lyric poet and as an epic lyric poet." (Collin.) Georg Brandes wrote of him many years ago: "In few [fields] has he put forth anything so individual, unforgettable, imperishable, as in the lyric field."

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Publisher
Library of Alexandria
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Published on
Feb 25, 2016
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Pages
319
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ISBN
9781465607164
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Features
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Language
English
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This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Oyvind grew and became a clever boy; he was among the first scholars at school, and at home he was faithful in all his tasks. This was because at home he loved his mother and at school the school-master; he saw but little of his father, who was always either off fishing or was attending to the mill, where half the parish had their grinding done.

What had the most influence on his mind in these days was the school-master's history, which his mother related to him one evening as they sat by the hearth. It sank into his books, it thrust itself beneath every word the school-master spoke, it lurked in the school-room when all was still. It caused him to be obedient and reverent, and to have an easier apprehension as it were of everything that was taught him.

The school-master's name was Baard, and he once had a brother whose name was Anders. They thought a great deal of each other; they both enlisted; they lived together in the town, and took part in the war, both being made corporals, and serving in the same company. On their return home after the war, every one thought they were two splendid fellows. Now their father died; he had a good deal of personal property, which was not easy to divide, but the brothers decided, in order that this should be no cause of disagreement between them, to put the things up at auction, so that each might buy what he wanted, and the proceeds could be divided between them. No sooner said than done. Their father had owned a large gold watch, which had a wide-spread fame, because it was the only gold watch people in that part of the country had seen, and when it was put up many a rich man tried to get it until the two brothers began to take part in the bidding; then the rest ceased. Now, Baard expected Anders to let him have the watch, and Anders expected the same of Baard; each bid in his turn to put the other to the test, and they looked hard at each other while bidding. When the watch had been run up to twenty dollars, it seemed to Baard that his brother was not acting rightly, and he continued to bid until he got it almost up to thirty; as Anders kept on, it struck Baard that his brother could not remember how kind he had always been to him, nor that he was the elder of the two, and the watch went up to over thirty dollars. Anders still kept on. Then Baard suddenly bid forty dollars, and ceased to look at his brother. It grew very still in the auction-room, the voice of the lensmand one was heard calmly naming the price. Anders, standing there, thought if Baard could afford to give forty dollars he could also, and if Baard grudged him the watch, he might as well take it. He bid higher. This Baard felt to be the greatest disgrace that had ever befallen him; he bid fifty dollars, in a very low tone. Many people stood around, and Anders did not see how his brother could so mock at him in the hearing of all; he bid higher. At length Baard laughed.

Between two cliffs lay a deep ravine, with a full stream rolling heavily through it over boulders and rough ground. It was high and steep, and one side was bare, save at the foot, where clustered a thick, fresh wood, so close to the stream that the mist from the water lay upon the foliage in spring and autumn. The trees stood looking upwards and forwards, unable to move either way.

"What if we were to clothe the Cliff?" said the Juniper one day to the foreign Oak that stood next him. The Oak looked down to find out who was speaking, and then looked up again without answering a word. The Stream worked so hard that it grew white; the Northwind rushed through the ravine, and shrieked in the fissures; and the bare Cliff hung heavily over and felt cold. "What if we were to clothe the Cliff?" said the Juniper to the Fir on the other side. "Well, if anybody is to do it, I suppose we must," replied the Fir, stroking his beard; "what dost thou think?" he added, looking over to the Birch. "In God's name, let us clothe it," answered the Birch, glancing timidly towards the Cliff, which hung over her so heavily that she felt as if she could scarcely breathe. And thus, although they were but three, they agreed to clothe the Cliff. The Juniper went first.

When they had gone a little way they met the Heather. The Juniper seemed as though he meant to pass her by. "Nay, let us take the Heather with us," said the Fir. So on went the Heather. Soon the Juniper began to slip. "Lay hold on me," said the Heather. The Juniper did so, and where there was only a little crevice the Heather put in one finger, and where she had got in one finger the Juniper put in his whole hand. They crawled and climbed, the Fir heavily behind with the Birch. "It is a work of charity," said the Birch.

But the Cliff began to ponder what little things these could be that came clambering up it. And when it had thought over this a few hundred years, it sent down a little Brook to see about it. It was just spring flood, and the Brook rushed on till she met the Heather. "Dear, dear Heather, canst thou not let me pass? I am so little," said the Brook. The Heather, being very busy, only raised herself a little, and worked on. The Brook slipped under her, and ran onwards. "Dear, dear Juniper, canst thou not let me pass? I am so little," said the Brook. The Juniper glanced sharply at her; but as the Heather had let her pass, he thought he might do so as well. The Brook slipped under him, and ran on till she came where the Fir stood panting on a crag. "Dear, dear Fir, canst thou not let me pass? I am so little," the Brook said, fondly kissing the Fir on his foot. The Fir felt bashful and let her pass. But the Birch made way before the Brook asked. "He, he, he," laughed the Brook, as she grew larger. "Ha, ha, ha," laughed the Brook again, pushing Heather and Juniper, Fir and Birch, forwards and backwards, up and down on the great crags. The Cliff sat for many hundred years after, pondering whether it did not smile a little that day.

Between two cliffs lay a deep ravine, with a full stream rolling heavily through it over boulders and rough ground. It was high and steep, and one side was bare, save at the foot, where clustered a thick, fresh wood, so close to the stream that the mist from the water lay upon the foliage in spring and autumn. The trees stood looking upwards and forwards, unable to move either way.

"What if we were to clothe the Cliff?" said the Juniper one day to the foreign Oak that stood next him. The Oak looked down to find out who was speaking, and then looked up again without answering a word. The Stream worked so hard that it grew white; the Northwind rushed through the ravine, and shrieked in the fissures; and the bare Cliff hung heavily over and felt cold. "What if we were to clothe the Cliff?" said the Juniper to the Fir on the other side. "Well, if anybody is to do it, I suppose we must," replied the Fir, stroking his beard; "what dost thou think?" he added, looking over to the Birch. "In God's name, let us clothe it," answered the Birch, glancing timidly towards the Cliff, which hung over her so heavily that she felt as if she could scarcely breathe. And thus, although they were but three, they agreed to clothe the Cliff. The Juniper went first.

When they had gone a little way they met the Heather. The Juniper seemed as though he meant to pass her by. "Nay, let us take the Heather with us," said the Fir. So on went the Heather. Soon the Juniper began to slip. "Lay hold on me," said the Heather. The Juniper did so, and where there was only a little crevice the Heather put in one finger, and where she had got in one finger the Juniper put in his whole hand. They crawled and climbed, the Fir heavily behind with the Birch. "It is a work of charity," said the Birch.

But the Cliff began to ponder what little things these could be that came clambering up it. And when it had thought over this a few hundred years, it sent down a little Brook to see about it. It was just spring flood, and the Brook rushed on till she met the Heather. "Dear, dear Heather, canst thou not let me pass? I am so little," said the Brook. The Heather, being very busy, only raised herself a little, and worked on. The Brook slipped under her, and ran onwards. "Dear, dear Juniper, canst thou not let me pass? I am so little," said the Brook. The Juniper glanced sharply at her; but as the Heather had let her pass, he thought he might do so as well. The Brook slipped under him, and ran on till she came where the Fir stood panting on a crag. "Dear, dear Fir, canst thou not let me pass? I am so little," the Brook said, fondly kissing the Fir on his foot. The Fir felt bashful and let her pass. But the Birch made way before the Brook asked. "He, he, he," laughed the Brook, as she grew larger. "Ha, ha, ha," laughed the Brook again, pushing Heather and Juniper, Fir and Birch, forwards and backwards, up and down on the great crags. The Cliff sat for many hundred years after, pondering whether it did not smile a little that day.

Ovind grew, and became a promising lad. At school he was always among the first, and at home he was industrious, for at home he loved his mother and at school the schoolmaster. He did not see much of his father, who was either away fishing or else attending to the mill.

That which at this time had the most influence over his mind, was the history of the schoolmaster, which his mother told him one night as they sat over the log fire. It entered his books, it peeped out of every word the schoolmaster said, and crept stealthily round the school-room when all was still. It made him obedient and respectful, and, as it were, enlarged the powers of his mind. The story ran thus:--The schoolmaster's name was Baard, and he had one only brother called Anders. They were much attached to each other, they enlisted together, served in the same company, were together in the war, and were both made corporals; and, when after the war they returned home, they were looked upon by everybody as two brave fellows.

Soon after this their father died, leaving a good deal of property not easy to divide. To overcome the difficulty, they resolved to have an auction sale, when they could share the profits, and each could buy those things he liked best. Now the father had left a large gold watch, known through all the country side, for it was the only gold watch the people there had ever seen. When this watch was put up at the sale there were many bids, until both the brothers began, and then others ceased. Now Baard expected that Anders would let him have the watch, and Anders thought the same of Baard. When the watch had come up to twenty dollars, Baard thought it wasn't nice of his younger brother, and he bid again until it was near thirty, but Anders would not give in. Then Baard said forty dollars at one bid, and looked no longer at his brother. There was a deep silence in the room, broken only by the auctioneer quietly naming the last bid. Anders thought that if Baard could afford to pay forty dollars, he could do it equally as well, and if Baard would not let him have the watch, he should pay dearly for it, so he bid higher. Then Baard laughed--"A hundred dollars and my brotherhood into the bargain," he said, and went out. A moment after, as he saddled his horse, one came out and said to him, "The watch is yours; Anders gave in." As he heard this, a deep pang shot through him,--he thought of his brother and not of the watch. The horse was saddled, but he seemed uncertain whether to ride or not. Just then many of the people came out, and Anders among them, who, seeing Baard with his horse ready saddled and little dreaming of his real thoughts.

BJORNSTJERNE BJORNSON—poet, dramatist, novelist, and politician, and the most notable figure in contemporary Norwegian history— was born, in December 1832, at Kvikne in the north of Norway. His father was pastor at Kvikne, a remote village in the Osterdal district, some sixty miles south of Trondhjem; a lonely spot, whose atmosphere and surroundings Bjornson afterwards described in one of his short sketches (“Blakken”). The pastor’s house lay so high up on the “fjeld” that corn would not grow on its meadows, where the relentless northern winter seemed to begin so early and end so late. The Osterdal folk were a wild, turbulent lot in those days—so much so, that his predecessor (who had never ventured into the church without his pistol in his pocket) had eventually run away and flatly refused to return, with the result that the district was pastorless for some years until the elder Bjornson came to it.

It was in surroundings such as this, and with scarcely any playfellows, that Bjornstjerne Bjornson spent the first six years of his life; and the sturdy independence of his nature may have owed something to the unaccommodating life of his earliest days, just as the poetical impulse that was so strong in his developed character probably had its beginnings in the impressions of beauty he received in the years that immediately followed. For, when he was six, a welcome change came. His father was transferred to the tranquil pastorate of Naes, at the mouth of the Romsdal, one of the fairest spots in Norway. Here Bjornson spent the rest of his childhood, in surroundings of beauty and peacefulness, going to school first at Molde and afterwards at Christiania, to pass on later to the Christiania University where he graduated in 1852. As a boy, his earliest biographer tells us, he was fully determined to be a poet—and, naturally, the foremost poet of his time!—but, as years passed, he gained a soberer estimate of his possibilities. At the University he was one of a group of kindred spirits with eager literary leanings, and it did not take him long to gain a certain footing in the world of journalism. His work for the first year or two was mainly in the domain of dramatic criticism, but the creative instinct was growing in him. A youthful effort of his—a drama entitled Valborg—was actually accepted for production at the Christiania theatre, and the author, according to custom, was put on the “free list” at once. The experience he gained, however, by assiduous attendance at the theatre so convinced him of the defects in his own bantling, that he withdrew it before performance—a heroic act of self-criticism rare amongst young authors.

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