Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bjørnson's Melodiousness ness ness

One thing I've come to like about reading volumes of poetry is that it's mostly quick reading. If I've only got 15 minutes to spare, I can easily knock out 50 pages of reading and not feel uneasy about stopping in the middle of a chapter or paragraph. But some would probably say that that's not how you're "supposed" to read poetry, and I do agree to some extent. Depending on the content, length and vocabulary of the poem, some may take a little more time to read, understand and appreciate. Former Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Robert Pinsky, was of the opinion that "Reading a poem silently instead of saying a poem is like the difference between staring at sheet music and actually humming or playing the music on an instrument." I don't know how much my my coworkers, though, would appreciate me reciting Norwegian poetry in the break room at work...

In the few moments that I've had time to read in the past week, I've been enjoying the poetry form Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's Digte og Sange (Poems and Songs). Most of the verses are between 20 to 30 lines and aren't abstract enough to require too much time and contemplation. With rhythm, alliteration, and rhyme sequences, Bjornson's words flow in a melody unique to each verse. In the introduction to the volume, printed in 1915, the translator, Arthur Hubbell Palmer, praises the melodiousness, or "singability," of Bjørnson's poems, explaining that "they have inspired composers of music to pour out their strains." Even I find myself, after reading several, thinking and almost speaking in rhythm and rhyme!

One poem that I've read so far that sticks out to me is Ingerid Sletten. I appreciate poems that tell stories, and a number of Bjørnson's have plot lines like this one. The speaker tells of woman's attachment to a wool hood that her mother had given to her, and that she keeps for twenty, thirty, forty years "With her mother ever in mind." She loves it so much that she plans to wear it to her wedding. However, in the last stanza we find disappointment: "She steps to the chest where the hood has lain / And seeks it with swelling heart; / She guides her hand to its place apart, / But never a thread did remain." The poem is short--24 lines arranged in 6 stanzas--but I could easily imagine it arranged as a cute folk song with its rhythm and rhyme scheme. As I continue reading, too, I find what Palmer said about the melodiousness true for many of Bjørnson's poems and, if I had more musical talent, I think it would be fun to arrange something for one of them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Digte og Sange I Can Read!

My first thought when reading about the next Nobel Prize winner, Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson, was "Oh great, here we go again!" Another poet, another foreign language I don't speak, and another barrier. According to, Mr. Bjørnson was awarded "as a tribute to his noble, magnificent and versatile poetry, which has always been distinguished by both the freshness of its inspiration and the rare purity of its spirit." He's known as one of "The Four Great" Norwegian writers, and he wrote the lyrics to the Norwegian National Anthem, "Ja, vi elsker dette landet" (Wikipedia).

Having written verses since the age of eleven, Bjørnson decided to pursue his talent and studied at the University of Olso, moving on to a career in journalism and drama criticism. If it were available to the public, I'd be interested in reading some of the writing he did as a young teen and comparing it to his later works. It's neat to see how a writer develops over time. Anyway, Bjørnson seems to have led a very accomplished and interesting life. He worked as a theater director, wrote a number of plays and novels alongside his poetry, and he was even exiled from Norway for a short time for his political opinions.

In searching for a work by Mr. Bjørnson, I was delighted to find that my initial concern was unnecessary. How relieved I was to discover that there are full English translations of some of his volumes of poetry! Some of his novels have been translated as well, but as the Nobel site specifically mentioned his verse, I thought I'd stick to that. Unfortunately, though, my library doesn't carry anything by him...but that's not a problem either, thanks to Interlibrary loan! I'm currently awaiting the arrival of Digte og Sange (Poems and Songs), and I look forward to reading his work!