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.


  1. Sounds magical! I don't think your coworkers would mind in the slightest. They, too, work in a library! :) Great post.

  2. I would love to listen to Ingerid Sletten in the break room! Go for it!

    Are Norwegian wool-eating moths really that voracious? !


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