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Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Iron Night

Vilhelm Krag, photograped in 1929
Known throughout the country for his cheerful tunes about life "down-south", Vilhelm Krag (1871-1933) remains to this day as Norways' most beloved poets. The lyrics for "Jernnatten" (eng. "Iron Night") is nevertheless an important reminder also of the melancholic sides of the human mind, which reflect to a great extent the great writer himself.

The term jernnatt, “iron night", most likely stems from the Norse word hjarn, which means frozen ground. In the old farming community, this term emerged as an expression for the dreaded nights in August, when sudden, occasional frost could destroy the crops. The occurrence of these nights varied slightly around the country. The danger of frost, especially in the hinterland, arises pretty quickly when the nights are constantly growing longer in August and beyond. The night of August 29th was therefore the one that people dreaded the most.

In Krags' poem, we interact with the acceptance in the evasive encounter with summer's end. The nights grow dark and increasingly colder, the boats are moved to shore, and people retreat indoors. And even still, there is an underlying sense of relief in this recognition. After weeks and months of buoyant light and life, nature is preparing to calm down, and grow silent. Endued with melody by Norwegian song writer Ivar Bøksle, and beautifuly performed by Helene Bøksle, the song Jernnatten reflects this ambiguity. It expresses the beauty of the ever changing world, and reminds us that great sorrow may also be accomponied by bliss, and eventually, a piece of mind.
Late autumn evening; here is grinding dark,
overwhelming silence
after many days of storm.
I've been sitting here at the tip of the pier for a while
talking to myself
about something that has happened
But no one knows anything about.
Then the sound of paddle strokes rings close by.
They suddenly stop, accompanied with a:
"Oh gosh! Are there people here? "

I answer, and then he speaks again:
"Go inside instead!
It is going to be icy cold, and the frost will set in, three nights to an end.
The plants will freeze to their very roots, every last one, in what soil is left.
They say the frost is made of iron. "

And so he rows away. I go up to my house,

but I'm not going in; it is deserted and strange.
And I wander off, to the garden and the fields.
And I go as I please, and it does not matter.
For in my garden, nothing grows anymore.

I dreamed about my garden once,
A meadow of buttercups,
behind a forest of jasmine.
But I did not dig deep enough, and not pay attention, so nothing would grow.
There was mostly weed.
And tonight comes the frost of iron.

Then, close by me, passes a flock of migratory birds,

with joyous cries
towards a summer anew.
But there is no longing in my mind.
In the soil of my heart, there is frost and peace.
And winter is drawing close.

Released on the album "Sanger fra vår ø" (2016), Laterna AS

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