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Friday, September 22, 2017

The Play of the Wood Grouse

It's the autumnal equinox, marking the final end of summer, the coming of fall, and ultimately - the beginning of winter. On that occasion, I wish to share a poem, freely translated, by Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen.  This is the poem, and illustration, that concludes Kittelsen’s great work on the Black Plague (1900); a lone wood grouse takes centre stage. The dread and horror of the plague has left, and is replaced by the wistful voice of the fairy tale narrator. In making the bird a natural extension of the treetops, Kittelsen sustains its natural habitat in the Norwegian woods – together, they make one reflexive being. We see the stars twinkle faintly in the night sky, while the horizon gently begins to brighten - regardless of human demise, the light of day swiftly returns:
Where there is presently a forest, there was once a large village. People lived their lives there, and fields and meadows were lush and green with happy sounds of human voices and timbre from the bells of grazing cattle. Then, one day an ugly old hag came along, carrying with her a rake and a broom. Far, far from a distant land she came, and wherever she set foot, every soul perished within days. 
Not before long, only spirits of darkness were to remain in these cold, lonely lands. The 'Draugr' howled and screamed at sea, 'Nøkken' wailed in every tarn, and through the forests and from deep underground, the fairy folk came with laughter and dance, and then disappeared. 
But in the evening, when darkness fell, the mighty gates of the high mountain opened, and out trudged the large and shaggy trolls. High up in the spruce top the wood grouse sits attentive, listening in on the fairy tale. The evening turns to pitch-black night and the slumbering bird vanishes into darkness - only a great black canvas prevails, with the moon's yellow, wondering face, peering down onto the scenery. Yet, at the first break of dawn, the great bird fluffs its feathers and bellows out its wild song, above this solitary landscape with all its mysterious tales. 
Then, the wood grouse makes merry.
Theodor Kittelsen
Illustration to The Black Plague (1894-1896).
Wash technique, pencil, pen and black crayon on papir. 
The National Museum of Art, Oslo

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