Friday, June 22, 2018

the four temperaments

Carl Nielsen in 1884, aged 19

[Image source:]

Carl Nielsen 1865 - 1931

Carl Nielsen, a native of the island of Funen, came from rural working-class roots; he was the seventh of twelve children (he wrote a well-loved   memoir Min fynske barndom  - "My Funen Childhood").

His most simply irresistible symphony, No 2, was composed in 1901-02. It was titled De fire temperamenter (The Four Temperaments); the four movements of the symphony are respectively choleric, phelgmatic, melancholic and sanguine.

I had the idea for ‘The Four Temperaments’ many years ago at a country inn in Zealand. On the wall of the room where I was drinking a glass of beer with my wife and some friends hung an extremely comical coloured picture, divided into four sections in which ‘the Temperaments’ were represented and furnished with titles: ‘The Choleric’, ‘The Sanguine’, ‘The Melancholic’ and ‘The Phlegmatic’. The Choleric was on horseback. He had a long sword in his hand, which he was wielding fiercely in thin air; his eyes were bulging out of his head, his hair streamed wildly around his face, which was so distorted by rage and diabolical hate that I could not help bursting out laughing. The other three pictures were in the same style, and my friends and I were heartily amused by the naivety of the pictures, their exaggerated expression and their comic earnestness. But how strangely things can sometimes turn out! I, who had laughed aloud and mockingly at these pictures, returned constantly to them in my thoughts, and one fine day I realized that these shoddy pictures still contained a kind of core or idea and – just think! – even a musical undercurrent! Some time later, then, I began to work out the first movement of a symphony, but I had to be careful that it did not fence in the empty air, and I hoped of course that my listeners would not laugh so that the irony of fate would smite my soul. I tried to raise the idea of the pictures to a different plane ...

(Carl Nielsen, from a programme note for a 1931 performance at the Stockholm Konsertföreningen)

I was hoping to find the pub paintings online, but couldn't. Perhaps they have been long destroyed, or perhaps the exact location of the pub is not even known.

[Image source:  These (and other) grimasses are now in the Royal Library of Copenhagen. They were taken at a studio in Odense in the mid-1880s when Nielsen was about 20.  They were connected with playing all the parts in an entertainment for a girlfriend.  Nielsen's good looks got him into trouble; he already had an illegitimate child before his marriage; he was later a fond husband but not a faithful one.]

Carl Nielsen in 1908, aged 43

[Image source:]

Continuing with Nielsen's 1931 Note:

 .....    and now – since that is what is wanted – I will give a modest explanation of my Symphony No. 2, ‘The Four Temperaments’, op. 16.

The first movement, Allegro collerico, immediately sets in fiercely with the following motif (see No. 1), which is developed with a later small motif (No. 2) in the clarinet, and rises to a fanfare that leads into the second subject (No. 3), which sings very espressivo but is soon interrupted again by extremely turbulent figures and rhythmic thrusts. After a fermata the second subject sings ƒ and expresses itself with greater breadth and power, which gradually wanes, then the modulation section begins, working with the motifs described above, now wildly and violently, like a person almost carried away, now in a gentler mood like one who regrets his irascibility. At the end comes a coda (stretto) with intense passages in the strings, and the movement ends with the same character as it began.

The second movement was conceived as the complete opposite of the first. I do not like programme music, but it may still interest my listeners that when I was working out this piece of music, something like this happened: A young man appeared to me. He seems to have been his mother’s only son. The mother was nice and amiable, she was a widow and she loved him. He too was extraordinarily nice, and everyone liked him. He was 17‑18 years old, his eyes were sky‑blue, confident and large. At school he was loved by all, but the teachers were at the same time dismayed and gently resigned; for he had never learned his lessons; but it was impossible to scold him, for everything that exists of idyll and Paradise in nature was reflected in this young man, so one was completely disarmed. Was he merry or serious, was he lively or slow in his movements? He was none of these! His inmost nature was there where the birds sing, where the fish glide silently through the water, where the sun warms and the wind gently brushes ones locks. He was blond; his expression could be described as happy, but not self‑satisfied, rather with a small touch of quiet melancholy, so you felt an urge to be kind to him. When the air shimmered in the heat he usually lay on the pier at the harbour with his legs out over the edge. I have never seen him dance; he was too inactive for that, but he might well rock his hips in a slow waltz rhythm (No. 4) and it is in this character that I have completed the movement Allegro comodo è flemmatico and tried to maintain a state of mind that is as far from energy, ‘Gefühl’ and similar feelings as is really possible.

Only once does it rise to an f (No. 5). What happened? Did a barrel fall in the water from one of the ships in the harbour and disturb the young man as he lay dreaming on the jetty? Who knows? But no matter: a brief moment, and all is calm; the young man falls asleep, nature dozes, and the water is again as smooth as a large mirror (No. 6).

The third movement attempts to express the basic character of a grave, melancholy person, but here as always in the world of music, a title or a programme is only a hint. What the composer wants is less significant than what the music, on its own terms, from its inmost being, demands and requires.
After one and a half bars of introduction the following theme begins (No. 7) and is drawn heavily towards an intense burst of pain ( ƒ ); then the oboe enters with a small, plangent, sighing motif (No. 8) which gradually develops into something immense and ends in a climax of woe and pain. After a short transitional passage comes a milder, resigned episode in E flat major (No. 9). A long, rather static thematic development now follows, and finally the parts enmesh like the strings of a net, and everything fades out; then the first theme suddenly breaks out again in full force, and now all the different motifs sing with interruptions, and the end approaches, falling calm with the following motif (No. 10).

In the finale, Allegro sanguineo, I have tried to evoke the basic character of a person who storms thoughtlessly on in the belief that the whole world belongs to him and that roast pigeons fly into his mouth without work and care (No. 11). There is however a brief minute when he becomes afraid of something, and he gasps for breath for a moment in violent syncopations (No. 12); but this is soon forgotten, and although the music now goes into a minor key, his happy, rather shallow nature is still manifested (No. 13).

Just once, though, it seems that he has encountered something really serious; at least he meditates over something that is alien to his own nature (No. 14), and it seems to affect him, so that while the final march may be happy and bright, it is still more dignified and not as silly and smug as some of his previous bursts of activity (No. 15).”

(Sourced from

Danish extracts of these texts, taken from various sources :

(the Zealand pub paintings)

Anledningen fik jeg […] i en Landsbykro på Sjælland. Der hang på Væggen et højst komisk koloreret Billede, som var inddelt i fire Felter, hvori ”Temperamenterne” var fremstillet og forsynet med Titler: ”Den Koleriske”, ”Den Flegmatiske”, ”Den Melankolske” og ”Den Sangvinske”. [...] En skønne Dag gik det op for mig, at disse tarvelige Billeder dog indeholdt en slags Kerne eller Idé og – ja tænk – oven i købet en musikalsk Undergrund

(1st movement)

… arbejdes snart vildt og heftigt, som et Menneske, der næsten forløber sig, snart i en blidere Stemning, som én, der fortryder sin Opfarenhed.

(2nd movement)

(modernized Danish)

...Jegholder ikke af programmusik, men det kan måske alligevelinteressere mine tilhørere, at jeg under udarbejdelsen af dettemusikstykke oplevede omtrent følgende: En ung mand viste sig formig. Han var vist sin moders eneste søn. Moderen var sød ogelskværdig, hun var enke og hun elskede ham. Han var ogsåualmindelig sød og alle mennesker holdt af ham. Han var 17-18 år,hans øjne var himmelblå, trygge og store. I skolen var han elsketaf alle, men lærerne var samtidig fortvivlede og mildt opgivende;han kunne nemlig aldrig sine lektier, men det var umuligt at skændepå ham, thi alt hvad der findes af idyl og paradis i naturenafspejlede sig i dette unge menneske, så man var fuldkommenafvæbnet. Var han lystig eller alvorlig, var han livlig ellerlangsom i sine bevægelser? Ingen af delene! Hans grundvæsen lå der,hvor fuglene synger, hvor fiskene glider lydløst igennem vandet,hvor solen varmer og vinden stryger mildt omkring ens lokker. Hanvar blond; hans udtryk var nærmest lykkeligt, men ikkeselvtilfreds, snarere med et lille drag af stille melankoli, så manfølte trang til at være god imod ham. Når luften dirrede af varme,lå han i reglen på molen ved havnen med benene ud over bolværket.Jeg har aldrig set ham danse, dertil var han for uvirksom, men hankunde godt finde på at gynge i hofterne i langsom valserytme og idenne karakter har jeg gennemført satsen: Allegro comodo èflemmatico og forsøgt at fastholde en stemningstilstand der liggerså langt borte fra energi, ”Gefühl” og lignende rørelser som velmuligt.

Kun en eneste gang kommer det til et f. Hvadskete der? Faldt der en tønde i vandet fra et af skibene i havnenog forstyrrede den unge mand, som ligger og drømmer på molen? Hvemved det? Men lige meget: Et kort minut så er alt roligt; den ungemand sover ind, naturen blunder og vandet er atter blankt som etstort spejl.

(original Danish)

paa Molen ved Havnen med Benene ud over Bolværket. en Stemningstilstand der ligger saa langt borte fra Energi, ”Gefühl" og lignende Rørelser som vel muligt. Kun en eneste Gang kommer det til et stort f [forte]. Hvad skete der? Faldt der en Tønde i Vandet, og forstyrrede den unge Mand? Hvem ved det? Men lige meget: Et kort Minut, saa er alt roligt...

(3rd movement)

forsøger at udtrykke et tungt og melankolsk Menneskes Grundkarakter


I Finalen har jeg forsøgt at skildre Grundkarakteren af et Menneske, der stormer tankeløst frem i den Tro, at hele Verden tilhører ham, og at stegte Duer flyver ham ind i Munden uden Arbejde og Omtanke. ...

En eneste Gang synes detalligevel, som om der er mødt ham noget virkelig alvorligt; i hvert fald mediterer han over et eller andet, som ligger hans Natur fjernt, og det synes at paavirke ham, saaledes at Slutningsmarchen vel nok er glad og lys, men dog værdigere og ikke saa fjollet og selvtilfreds som i nogle af de forrige Afsnit af hans Udfoldelse

Carl Nielsen in 1931, from a portrait by Sigurd Swane

[Image source:]

Complete performance of Symphony No. 2, by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Herbert Blomstedt  (No video)

Complete concert performance (with video) by the Estonian Festival Orchestra under Paavo Järvi:

Carl Nielsen's childhood home at Sortelung, near Nørre Lyndelse on Funen

[Image source:]

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

But as the riper

FROM fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory ....

(Opening lines of Shakespeare's Sonnet I)

Most blossoms change their appearance quite rapidly as they pass through the few days from budding to withering, and that's particularly noticeable with roses, in fact it's part of their interest.

This may not, indeed, be the image that Shakespeare had in mind in these opening lines to his sequence, but it's the one I always think of: the fresh rose and the blowsy rose next to each other, the one succeeding to the other.

The rest of the poem:

........ But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.

Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.

Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.

Line 6: A nice etude for the would-be reciter, to have to negotiate this tongue-twister so early!

Line 12, "tender churl".  "Tender" meaning youthful, soft, loving; or  fresh, like a newly opened rose?  "Churl", mainly OED sense 6, "One who is sordid, ‘hard’, or stingy in money-matters; a niggard; a miser."    The speaker in this third octet becomes more affectionate as his critique unrolls.  Because when it comes to it, the critique is a way of saying "How lovely you are".  But it isn't just that, either. It's also a critique that means what it says, the poet's quiet sadness is there from the start.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

the lemon-yellow tints

Topeliusesplanaden, Nykarleby, Finland

[Image source: Photograph by Leif Sjöholm.]

Nykarleby's main street. Here, as in many other northern towns where the buildings were principally of wood, a double row of birches down the middle of the main street was designed to prevent house-fires spreading right across the town. A fire on 25th  June 1888 burnt down much of the city of Umeå, now famed as  the "city of birches". I remember noticing these double lines of birches when I stayed in Jokkmokk.


the ones that do not separate
the guffaws the derision  the invective
the tricks
'us lot' the proof of those fit for existence
that they are within their rights

they have made it up and are plucking
withered flowers out of the rubbish bins
and I see before me a funeral procession
as I saw it more than twenty years ago
when I was reading Bellman
I see again the lemon-yellow tints
in the black and the white
and perceive again
the eternal recurrence
with fresh recognition as though it were for the first time
I realize
that it is that yellow colour
that constitutes the streak of the macabre
forms tone and foundation in this whole
even though it is the black and the white
that dominate
while the yellow exists as dwindling
distant flecks

'Moses, you that killed our Jesus'
scream further back in time
the flax-fringed boys to the Jewish boy
in front of the staircase in the inward-turned crescent
a primordial cavern
that the sun found
and the most prickly cactus
they beat him
and his eyes accept more and more the suffering
slightly contemptuous and very reticent expression
I thought was Christ's


Watteau's L'Indifferent in shimmering yellow
Bellman's funeral cortège
Mozart's C and D
Villon's 'The Ballad of the Hanged'
which without the least waste of time
with the cool delight of the spring
serves up truth
self-evident birdsong
even though pecked and eaten by birds
with the rope dangling around his neck
jester in green and yellow
the unique the solitary
which a few seconds centuries earlier
was the spring's oblation
sometimes ready for mutual death
a few seconds centuries later
the child's dismayed smile
when it died of wounds this morning in Korea
its sudden indifference
as its face turned pale
yellow against the black hair
so indifferent was the encounter
with the knowledge of the powerful
in a land where the many cultures have met together
in order to liberate enrich teach cure
penetrate     with violence    cause    illness    and     splitting

but then also cure
civilise help
but with knowledge for death
lemon-yellow skin against black wisps
'they say what does not need to be said
they make visible what does not need to be made visible'
eyes so turned-away that only the whites are prepared to meet

experience of mutilation of the irreconcilable
and yet capacity for reconciliation
if not with .....


Extracts from "Retrospect", published in I tunga hängen mognar bären  (In Heavy Clusters The Berries Ripen, 1959). English translation by David McDuff.

The complete poem "Retrospect", along with various other Tuominen pieces, is available online on David's own website:


Mirjam Irene Tuominen 1913 - 1967

Mirjam Tuominen in Nykarleby, memoir by her daughter Tuva Korsström (in Swedish):

She lived there, especially in the 1940s (the time of her marriage, the birth of her two daughters, and the publication of her well-received short stories); thereafter more sporadically, leaving the town finally in the mid-1950s.  The small town didn't make her happy. She was remembered as causing outrage by smoking cigarettes while walking down the middle of the main street -- I suppose the birch trees were not there then.

Tuva Korsström: "Dark gods: on the prose and poetry of Mirjam Tuominen" (in English):

David McDuff on Mirjam Tuominen:

Mirjam Tuominen's Selected Writings, translated by David McDuff, was published by Bloodaxe in 1994. The jacket uses one of her own pastel drawings, from 1958.


Nykarleby is a town in Finland  more or less directly opposite Umeå in Sweden. The gulf of Bothnia (Sw: Bottenviken) lies between, and is quite narrow at this point. Nearly 90% of Nykarleby's inhabitants still speak Swedish rather than Finnish.

The poet Gösta Ågren also has Nykarleby connections, as did the nineteenth-century author Zachris Topelius, after whom its main street is named.

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

maturing silence

In the earlier days of blogging, we did a lot of thinking about this new form of writing.

These days I'm more inclined to just accept a medium that comes naturally to me, I hope in the spirit of Vincent in such posts as this:

It's simply the happy realization that the blog format suits me perfectly; or else that I’ve adjusted to its constraints, reframed them as virtues. I reject the printed book’s pretensions to completion and finality. My entries are essays, successive attempts to convey something, or at any rate to undergo something in the various processes involved in composition. The public imagination may see the blog as a spontaneous expression, like its baby brother, Twitter. They are not wrong. Within written literature, it approaches, but can never quite reach, the danger of live performance.

But my interest in the theory of blogging was reawakened recently by some thoughts of Thomas Basbøll:

Why should it matter whether you are submitting something to a publisher or magazine? Why does posting something directly to the internet undermine its status as "writing"?

Over the next few posts, that's the question I want to address. The short answer is that blogging is a social activity, while writing is, properly speaking, a use of one's solitude. There is nothing solitary about blogging. Composing a blog post is not experienced as Woolf's "loneliness that is the truth of things". On the contrary, blogging is an engagement with social media. It's actually not the Internet that is important here. It's the blogging "platform", which robs a text of its immediacy by means, precisely, of its instantaneity. To put it simply, the platform so completely carries the weight of History that the blogger has no leverage on it, thus, none of the freedom that Barthes finds essential to writing.

I will try to make all this clearer as I go forward. I want to stress, however, that there is no implicit value judgment here, nor any announcement of an epochal shift. I'm not declaring "the end of writing" and the "dawn of blogging". I'm neither celebrating nor lamenting the developments I'm going to think out loud about. I'm trying to say that blogging has emerged as something new, something that is sometimes mistaken for writing, and something that writing sometimes mistakes itself for. I'm just trying to understand what it is. What I have been doing all these years.

Instead of writing.

Writing requires a structural displacement in time and space. When you read a novel, you are reading something in a time and place that is completely distinct from the time and place of the writer. When writing it, you are immersed in an experience that is very different from what the reader will experience.

This is much less often the case with online writing, and I want to say that it is  distinctly not the case when blogging. The blogger, like the reader, is online, often engaging with something that is happening in the moment.


I feel this is getting Heideggerian, but Basbøll gives me a sense that "writing" (i.e. writing in the true sense)  confronts existence in a space of silence and isolation. The writer musters everything in that cloaked engagement, the metaphysical battle is fully fought, and from out of the silence a writing steps forth, fathomless in its depths, mysterious in its origins, a pure gift to the reader and the world.

It's a wonderful image of a very high view of writing. (Incidentally, those posts proved to be Basbøll's valediction to blogging, at least for the past year. Presumably he's writing instead.)

Many writers, I know, do find it essential to draw back from the day-to-day of blogs and Facebook when they write books or poetry. Sometimes I feel it myself. But I would feel exactly the same if I had some Maths homework to do, or a tax return.

Now indeed, as Mrs Norris says (in Mansfield Park), a theatre without a curtain has very little sense in it. To that extent I'm with Basbøll. I think a writing should step forth well-dressed, if it's possible. Sometimes the imposition of delayed publication leads to a better, more considered, writing in the end. Horace, I seem to recall reading,  always gave his poems five years before he published them.

But when I think of Dickens' serialized novels, or Shakespeare's hand-to-mouth creation of plays for his company, in some ways they resemble the online immediacies of blogging more than an idealised script that emerges from cloistered silence.

It's true, when we pick up Hamlet today and find ourselves on the walls of Elsinore at midnight, we are stunned by the emergence of this breathless drama, seemingly out of nothing, the completeness of its separation from any vision of a mundane author scribbling away on a bench. But this is a magical effect that time has enhanced. The further away we are from a writer and the context of that writer's times, the more their work takes on this patina of completeness-in-itself.  Likewise, we pick up the Bible: Now the Lord said to Abraham, Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house...  The writing speaks to us directly, without mediation. Literature rises out of silence. Perhaps it is even the voice of God.

But was it always so? When I think of the breakneck way in which the early commercial theatre operated, the never-satiated demand for new plays, the actors and the shareholders and the febrile audiences and the collaborators, adaptors, revisers and plagiarists, I think Shakespeare must have felt "on-line" rather a lot. He would have experienced plenty of short-term feedback, he would have seen plenty of stats and he endured some pretty brutal trolling at times. Dickens, likewise, published his novels serially, anxiously scanning sales figures and quite prepared (ill-advisedly at times) to alter his stories in deference to public outcry. 

And yet Shakespeare and Dickens are writers in the real sense... aren't they?

So I'm suggesting that the important effect of distance between the artist's creation and the audience's reception is something that all writing tends to accrue over time.

But rather than focus on the differences between blogging and writing, I'd prefer to think about artefacts in general. I'd suggest that every artefact (let's say a vase, for the sake of argument) contains an element of concealment. We, the audience, see the finished vase, but we didn't see the vase being made. It has a quality of muteness, it keeps a secret.  And even when the arts are made in real time, or when they are made communally so there is no distinction between artist and audience ( -- I am thinking of our family long-dance at Christmas --) , still the concealment and the mystery remain, so that we never fully understand what happened or how it could happen. Every art contains something, every art has hinterlands.

And to come back to writing (whether in the true sense or not), there remains always some element of concealment. We are never entirely concealed from each other; even the most rebarbative text expresses us and betrays us. But we aren't completely transparent either; not even when texting an ETA, not even when "pouring our hearts out"....


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Grasses on Cley Hill

From a trip up there this morning. The photos are, to put it kindly, impressionistic.

Cley Hill is an isolated chalk capstone on a greensand ridge. Hence the conifers and rhododendrons of the Longleat estate, in the distance.

Upright Brome (Bromus erectus) .  Always described as a "coarse" grass, but it's one of the most delicate of coarse grasses.

Beneath it, Quaking-grass (Briza media)  and Crested Dog's-tail (Cynosurus cristatus)

Small Timothy, or Smaller Cat's-tail. Phleum pratense ssp. bertolonii , sometimes called Phleum bertolonii.

Yellow Oat-grass (Trisetum flavescens), I reckon.

Crested Hair-grass (Koeleria macrantha)  .... but I didn't recognize it at the time, previously I had always seen the spike in its more open state.

There were some other common grass species around that I didn't bother to photograph, as not being specially associated with chalk grassland.  For instance, quite a lot of Cocksfoot, usually small and often with only a single toe;  Yorkshire Fog, in damper spots; Perennial Rye-grass here and there....


Friday, June 15, 2018

some poems from Karin Boye's Hidden Lands (1924)

Forntidsrit ("Ancient Ritual"), watercolour by Karin Boye

The stars

Now it's all over. Now I wake.
It's calm and easy to disappear,
when nothing remains to hang on for,
and nothing remains to suffer here.

Red-gold last night, a dry leaf now;
tomorrow, nothing in this place.
But stars burn silent as before,
at night, in the surrounds of space.

Now I want to give myself
so not a single scrap remains.
Will you, stars, accept a soul
with no possessions in her train?

With you is freedom, perfect in
the peace of far eternities.
Heaven is not blank to one
who gives her dream and her unease.


Nu är det slut.  Nu vaknar jag.
Och det är lugnt och lätt att gå,
när inget finns att vänta mer
och inget finns att bära på.

Rött guld i går, torrt löv i dag.
I morgon finns där ingenting.
Men stjärnor brinner tyst som förr
i natt i rymden runtomkring.

Nu vill jag skänka bort mig själv,
så har jag ingen smula kvar.
Säg, stjärnor, vill ni ta emot
en själ, som inga skatter har?

Hos er är frihet utan vank
i fjärran evigheters frid.
Den såg väl aldrig himlen tom,
som gav åt er sin dröm och strid.

New Paths

here they start   new paths
let us walk in calm
come let us search for
some new and lovely bloom

cast off what was ours!
things won and complete
lifelessly oppress us
not worth dream and song and feat

life is what is waiting
what no-one can know
come let us forget
seek where new and fair things grow.

Nya vägar

Här går nya vägar.
Låt oss vandra fromma.
Kom, låt oss söka
någon ny och vacker blomma.

Kasta det vi äger!
Allting nått och färdigt
livlöst oss tynger,
dröm och sång och dåd ej värdigt.

Liv är det som väntar,
det man ej kan veta...
Kom, låt oss glömma!
Låt oss nytt och fagert leta!

The Star’s Prize

I asked a star last night
– a light far off, where no-one lives –
“Whose path do you light, strange star?
You shine so bright, so big.”

She gazed with a starry eye
until my heart grew dumb.
“I light an eternal night.
I light a lifeless vacuum.

My light is a flower that withers
under late autumn skies.
That light is my only prize.
That light is sufficient prize.”

Stjärnornas tröst

Jag har frågat en stjärna i natt
-- ett ljus långt bort där ingen bor --:
"Vem lyser du, främmande stjärna?
Du går så klar och stor."

Hon såg med en stjärneblick,
som gjorde min ömkan stum:
"Jag lyser en evig natt.
Jag lyser ett livlöst rum.

Mitt ljus är en blomma som vissnar
i rymdernas sena höst.
Det ljuset är all min tröst.
Det ljuset är nog till tröst."

The old dad

The old dad, I have seen him in the dusk of a summer night,
in the clover-scented night, working on his own.
By the spring that belongs to the farm
he stood, a bent figure,
sharpening the haymakers' scythes;
he was barely a shadow - so grey,
and quite as old as the farm,
yet he seemed to live on with as sturdy a life as it.
His fragile song, this I shall not forget:

Oh you, the lord and master of the farm,
to the old dad you are only a boy.
I was the first one who broke your soil.
When the ploughshare labours in the furrow –
then, do you think of me?
In ancient times 
with the stones I threw aside I began
to raise the stone-pile that marks the edge of the farm.

For a thousand years
I have built it now and built beside all who built;
I have held the ploughshaft with all who ploughed.
I have a part in your work,
have a right to claim.
You know it well:
that the holy seed may grow
always, always,
here in the fields
where I first sowed it.



Gamlefar har jag sett i sommarnattens ljus,
i nattens klöverdofter blitt allena.
Vid gårdens brunn
stod han böjd,
slipade slåtterfolkets liar.
Som en vissnande skugga så grå,
så gammal han som gården,
syntes han ändå leva så levande liv som den.
Hans spröda sång, den glömmer jag icke.

"Du myndige far i gården,
för gamlefar är du pilt ändå.
Jag är den förste som vände din jord.
När plogen strävar i fåran,
minns du mig då?
I hedenhös
började jag av undanvräkta stenar
resa det rös, som gärdar ägornas gräns.

I tusen år
har jag byggt det och byggt med er alla som byggde,
hållit i plogens skaft med er alla som plöjde.
Jag har del i ert verk,
har en rätt att kräva.
Du känner den väl:
den, att den heliga säden växer
alltjämt, alltjämt
här på de marker, där jag
för första gång den sådde."


I want to live the right way,
and die the right way, too.
Let me hold on to what is real
in grief, as much as joy.
And I would like to be still,
to reverence what is here
for what it is, for what it really is
and nothing more.

Suppose of all my lifetime
only one day remained,
then I would want the loveliest
thing that earth contained.
The loveliest thing on earth
is merely, Honesty.
For that alone brings life to life
and to reality.

The whole wide world is 
an Alchemilla-cup,
and resting in its greenness
one clear water-drop.
That one, still, drop
is the apple of life’s eye.
Oh make me fit to look in it!
Oh make me purified!


Ack låt mig leva riktigt
och riktigt dö en gång,
så att jag rör vid verklighet
i ont som i gott.
Och låt  mig vara stilla
och vörda vad jag ser,
så detta får bli detta
och inget mer.

Om av det långa livet
en enda dag var kvar,
då sökte jag det vackraste
som jordlivet har.
Det vackraste på jorden
är bara redlighet,
men det gör ensamt liv till liv
och verklighet.

Så är den vida världen
ett daggkåpeblad
och ini skålen vilar
en vattendroppe klar.
Den enda stilla droppen
är livets ögonsten.
Ack gör mig värd att se i den!
Ack gör mig ren!

Burning Candles

Now night is crying aloud in its need,
oppressed by an unknown sickness.
Now I’ll light a brace of candles here
for the sake of eternal darkness.

So if the Lord’s angels pass this way,
the gleam will summon them,
they’ll hear how the flames are singing my prayer,
and they’ll carry its burden home.

They're warriors sent out in fiery mail
from God Almighty’s house.
Their speech has no words for bitter or sweet,
but for burning candles it does.

That’s why they stand on the stormcloud’s back,
within the clap of its wings.
That’s why they smile at the power of darkness
and think its cold is nothing.

O Lord my God, O terrible God,
I hear the surge of your mantle.
I pray for flowers and pray for peace,
but give to me burning candles!

Brinnande ljus

Nu ropar natten högt i nöd,
av okänd ångest full.
Nu tänder jag här två raka ljus
för eviga mörkers skull.

Om Herrens änglar drar här fram,
så kallar skenet dem,
så hör de, hur lågorna sjunger min bön,
och bär den med sig hem.

De är kämpar, som går i brynjor av eld
med bud från den Väldiges hus
Deras tal har ej ord för hårt och ljuvt,
men väl för brinnande ljus.

Det är därför de står på stormens rygg
mellan piskande vingars dån,
det är därför de ler åt mörkrets makt
och möter kölden med hån.

O Herre min Gud, förfärlige Gud,
jag hör din mantels brus.
Jag ber om blommor och ber om fred --
men ge mig brinnande ljus!


English translations are by me...

"Stjärnornas tröst" turned into a song by Andreas Lång:

The poems of Hidden Lands, like the watercolour at the head of this post, are said to show the influence on Boye of Viktor Rydberg (1828 - 1895), Romantic novelist and self-taught scholar of mythology (he was the son of a soldier-turned-prison-guard and a midwife).

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Food parcels

[50] ...   Then Army decided to encourage repatriation by giving a fourteen-day food ration to each repatriant, which reduced our painfully acquired hoard of the winter food reserve. We were assured that we would get the food back from Army since the winter reserve was holy and untouchable except in time of disaster. All we had to do was put in a requisition. That was the same as saying, All you have to do is shoot an arrow into the air.

For more than two months with no result we had been requisitioning stoves and stovepiping to complete the winterization of the twenty-eight hundred rooms in our sixty blockhouses. The sole requisition on which we received a reply was one for two thousand rubber glove-fingers needed by our doctors for the VD examination which Army ordered made on all women in the camp. We received exactly six glove-fingers from the Medical Supply dump and against the remainder of our two-thousand request was the familiar red stamp, "Not available". Somehow, with those six glove-fingers, our doctors managed to examine our five thousand women over the age of sixteen.

The night our Venezuelan doctor came to the mess and told Pierre that he could report that the VD examinations were completed in our camp, Londa flew at him like a harpy. He listened to her tirade with a gentle smile as he meticulously cut away the fat from his meat because he was developing ulcers.

"I don't know why you even attempted it," Londa raged. "I'd like to have seen the Army medic handed a job like that. Six glove-fingers for five thousand women. You know what those medics would have told their CO to do with those [51] glove-fingers? Do you know, Pedro?" She thrust her half-finished plate aside. "Really, what we're expected to do with no help from anywhere, from anyone . . ."

"Don't strike him," I said; "he was just doing the impossible. Haven't you heard, Londa? That's what we're famous for."

"Famous!" The New Zealander rose abruptly from the table, her dessert fruit in her hand. She pointed to all the empty places, those of the supply men still out after dark fighting to get tomorrow's milk for our children, of the nurses still up in camp trying to locate and isolate the measles cases the last transport had introduced, and at the vacant chair of our Belgian engineer, who was exploring the freezing warehouses in hopes of uncovering in the masses of German material the hundreds of light sockets and switches he still needed to complete his winterization of the DP [displaced persons] living quarters.

"Do you know what I think?" Londa swung around with her hand on the doorknob, looking as if she were going to tear it off and throw it at us to try to knock some sense into us. "I think we've all gone crazy, the whole Godforsaken pack of us."

She flung open the door and a red-headed sergeant standing in the doorway said "You do, do you?" He swept her with a look of admiration -- she was always beautiful in anger.

"Well, lady, wait till you see what I've brought. Then you'll really know what it is to be nuts."

The sergeant walked over to Pierre at the head of the table. He thumped down in front of him the large box he was carrying.

"You're in command here, I take it." The sergeant clapped a sheaf of directives down top of the box.

"This is a Red Cross POW food parcel. And this here is General Eisenhower's poop on how it's to be broken down."

We slit the gummed tape sealing the carton. We had no idea what the sergeant was talking about until we got the box open. Our eyes popped as we lifted out a pound package [52] of cube sugar, tins of Cheddar cheese, of sardines, Nescafé, corned beef, tuna, Spam, dried milk, Crisco, a half-pound chocolate bar and seven packs of American cigarettes.

"That's to help out the DP food ration," said the sergeant. "Your troubles are over for winter food. There's about fourteen thousand calories in that box. You get one per month per DP. I've got four boxcars of this stuff down on the tracks, fifteen thousand food parcels. Got orders to stick around with my guard until you've unloaded.Then it's your baby."

Londa brought him coffee, her nerves forgotten in the excitement. We all talked at once. We looked again at each item of the Red Cross prisoner-of-war food parcel. The Europeans had not seen such luxury foods since 1939 and some had never seen Nescafé, Spam and vitamin tablets. Since Pearl Harbor, I had not seen all those things we "gave up" for three years or more. I looked at the tuna that had been practically unprocurable for my war-worker lunches. I read the familiar names of Camel, Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, and thought of the war-baby cigarettes for which we had queued up in the shipyards.

"You say one food parcel per month for every DP in Germany?" I asked.

"Yep," said the sergeant blowing on his coffee.

"For how long?" asked Londa.

"Jeez . . . if you could see them Army depots, you'd say for years."

"We must have thought a lot of our boys would be behind barbed wire," I said. It seemed a strange twist of fate that those superb high-calorie foods that had disappeared from our chain-store shelves for all those years should now turn up with such a different destiny.

"Gott sei dank, as we say over here," said the sergeant with a freckled grin. "it ain't us that's gonna eat 'em."

Pierre was scribbling on his paper napkin. He looked a bit wild when he laid down his pencil.

"I make it that with fifteen thousand parcels, seven packs [53] of cigarettes in each, we have a hundred and five thousand packages of cigarettes," he said unbelievingly.

"That's just what I mean, chief," said the sergeant. "Roughly ten thousand cartons -- a thousand reichsmarks the carton in the black market.  You got about ten million reichsmarks right there to take care of, not to mention what Crisco, Nescafé, and chocolate brings. It ain't hay what I've got sittin' down there on the tracks. Crazy, see what I mean?" He turned to Londa. "Lady, you ain't seen nuthin' yet!"

We began to see something even before we got the boxcars unloaded, but not the black market lust the sergeant had warned us about. That would come later, much later. First we were to see the more basic reaction of hungry people who had lived for more than six years on black bread and potato soup and who now had a mountain of delectable foreign foods unloaded in their midst. We were so stunned thinking of the value of the cigarettes which we would have to guard with questionable DP police, it did not occur to us that one taste of a fatty pink slice of Spam, for example, would be enough to throw our camp into a maddened uproar.

We started unloading next morning as soon as the Polish committee had selected a group of "men of confidence" to pass the parcels from boxcar to trucks. Marcel delegated his most trustworthy drivers to the long haul from station to Central Supply, uphill through pinewoods all the way in slow second gear. DP police were stationed at intervals to see that no packages were tossed off en route and team members took up posts where they could watch the DP police.

But it was as if the whole population of Poles had smelled that food, right through the heavy cartons that packaged it, right through the tin that sealed in each wondrous unheard-of item. Before the first trucks had discharged their loads in the warehouse (which our engineer was hastily fitting up with iron window bars) the woods bordering the main road were alive with scurrying forms. Calm streets thronged with [54] ...

[It turned out that the soldiers had incautiously rewarded the "men of confidence with the contents of a broken parcel, so the news was all over the camp...]

.. directive. No name in Germany carried more weight. Our Poles had already made new signs for the camp's main square originally called Adolf-Hitlerplatz, they renamed it Eisenhowerplatz. We typed Eisenhower's name large at the bottom of our translation and surrounded it with bands of typewriter stars.

We called Tak Tak Schön for a conference with the police chief and the scout leader. We knew by then that none of our Spam-maddened adults could be trusted with the opening of the food parcels. I had convinced Pierre that Londa and I could organize the scouts for this work. I asked for fifty to be sent to the warehouse early next morning, boys and girls but none under fourteen.

That night, while our Poles were reading on bulletin boards the death of their pakiety hopes, Londa and I worked in the warehouse setting up a production line. The dimension of the job ahead staggered us. The heavy cardboard flaps of the Red Cross boxes were glued as well as gum-taped, requiring an axe to pry them open. Each box contained twenty-five separate items.

Every time I looked at the stacked boxes looming like ancient step pyramids in the warehouse gloom, I could feel trouble brewing. I tried to calculate how long it would be before we could get that food started on its way to kitchens to assuage the awakened hunger of those who had already tasted it and the fiercely tantalized imaginations of those who had only heard how it tasted.

"It's fantastic," said Londa. "Food like this in the middle of starving Europe." She read a label on a sardine tin. "Packed in pure olive oil."

"Listen. I've been figuring. Do you realize that in those mountains of boxes there are exactly three hundred and seventy-five thousand individual items that will have to be handled one by one?"

"Dear God, no!" Londa dropped the tins she was carrying and stared at the angular stacks.

"It will take for ever, with children," she said.

[57] "Maybe not. Maybe they'll do it like a game. You know," I said, "sort of like playing shop." I was ashamed of the phrase as soon as I said it. Playing shop -- a memory from an unmolested childhood. "We'll use those box stalls for food bins."

We put samples of each food in a separate stall so our scouts would know where things should go. The light bulb swaying in the warehouse draught threw our shadows over the long table we had set up, low enough for a child to work at. When we stooped over it, it looked like furniture for infants.

Next morning Wildflecken was a city in revolt. Our DP workers staged a sit-down strike. Eight hundred woodcutters who went daily to the woods refused to get into the waiting trucks. The garbage disposal squad sent their trucks back empty to the motor pool. The carpenters and bricklayers detailed to blockhouse repair failed to report to the engineering chief.

The Poles intended to have a Red Cross parcel handed out to them whole. No monkey business about distribution through the thieving chefs of their camp kitchens, no tomfoolery about making one box last a whole month when it could be enjoyed in a single night of magnificent celebration.

"Pakiety . . . Pakiety." The whole camp resounded to the one-word chant that picked up volume and insistence each time an UNRRA car threaded the striking crowds. There would have been something comical in the demonstration if you had not thought of the years of privation that lay behind it, the years of longing for a tast of the good things of life. "Pakiety," they called like thwarted children. Oh please just once, their faces said, let us gorge our fill on liver paste, chocolate and juicy pink salmon; let us each know the feel in our pockets of seven whole packs of American cigarettes, just once, for the first time in our lives.

Londa and I waited for the scouts at the barred gate to Central Supply. We heard them coming before we saw them. Their scout songs rang through the woods as if they were off on some wondrous jamboree. Then we saw them marching up the hill towards us, fifty little boys and girls two abreast and in close formation, swinging their arms and singing lustily. A crowd of strikers, congregated outside the gate to prevent any workers from opening the Red Cross parcels, stepped back and made a clear path for the singing scouts. It had not yet occurred to the strikers that we were going to start the job with the only group we dared to trust.

Once inside the cavernous warehouse, we lined up the scouts beside the long table that held twenty-five food items spaced at intervals on both sides. The Countess talked in a story-telling voice as she went from tin, to carton, to envelope, briefly lifting each and telling what it was and how there were fourteen thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine others exactly like it which had to be sorted out and put in those separate stalls at the rear where horses used to be.

When the chewing gum, the chocolate and the tins of jam were held up before those fifty pairs of child eyes, I thought for one wild moment that I was going to sob. The wide blue eyes regarded unwaveringly, as in a trance, a raspberry jam label depicting a solid mass of red berries dripping with sugary highlights, a packaged bar wrapped in  chocolate-coloured paper scored off in squares like the chocolate inside, three sticks of gum which until then had been thought of as something that only came from the person of the American soldier. You knew that these things must have torn at the vitals of those children though not one of them gave any outward sign. They stood stiffly with arms at their sides looking up at the Countess with faces of wonder.

It was better when the children began handling the foods. The unbearable wonderstruck expressions left their faces as their fingers got used to the feel of the tins. Each child accustomed himself to the appearance and shape of the one item for which he was responsible. Ignatz tore open the tough box flaps and shoved the full boxes down the production-line table while the little hands reached in from both sides. The scouts worked with furious concentration, not at all like shopkeepers. At first they did not talk, as if in school, but after the first hour they were calling back and forth to each other in muffled voices, saying things that made the whole table titter.

"They've named each other after the product they sort," said the Countess. "Mr. Tuna has just remarked to Mr. Salmon that his face was pink. Mr. Sugar says to Miss Tea Bags that they ought to get along together despite the difference in their ages." She wiped her eyes and pointed to the pigtailed girl at the end of the table who collected the small envelopes of vitamins from each parcel. "They call her Miss Pill; they think those vitamins are medicine. "

Mr. Milk Powder, handling the largest tins, was the first to fill a carton with his product. He called for a grown-up to lift it away to the stalls, where other scouts crouched at the task of stacking the separated items. Within the first hour the children had swung into their jobs like some piece of intricately co-ordinated machinery and the pile of emptied cartons grew high enough to start the burning.

I walked back and forth, bending, shoving, lifting, lending a hand wherever needed and watching the children all the time. I found myself studying their quick precise gestures as if I had been drawn into some child world of strange intensity whose meaning eluded me. Through the high cobwebbed windows the morning sun penetrated as a diffused moonlight which fell on the absorbed children and made them seem more like memories of children recalled across grey spaces of time.

When I carried filled boxes over to the storage stalls, I stared at the children crouching there, stacking their individual products in automatic patterns of neatness and efficiency. A small girl in charge of the tapered tins of corned beef deftly alternated them to make a solid stack that would not spill sideways. The sardine boy stacked his oval tins one corner of his stall and his square tins in another corner. Even the littlest ones knew what to do without asking questions.

[60] I stood beside the lad in charge of cigarettes at the end of the unpacking table, watching how he patted the packs in edgewise until he came to the top of the box. I waited for the next cigarettes to come down the table to see what he would do. He took the next seven packages and lad them in flat for the final layer, bringing it exactly flush with the top of the box.

"Schön!" I said, admiring his ingenuity.

He looked up and grinned with professional pride. The one tooth missing in front gave his face the classical look of the rugged small boy the world over.

"Wie in der Fabrik", he said, patting his perfect packing with one stubby hand.

As in the factory! For an instant I did not take it in. It was as if Huckleberry Finn had spoken out of character. He brushed back a shock of sunbleached hair and held up his fingers fanned out to five.

" Fünf Jarhe ," he said, nodding like an old man.

That was the answer that had eluded me. That was the explanation for the children's dexterity and knowingness with small objects. The Germans had used their fast fingers in factories and war plants, had trained them to handle small parts with speed and precision. The Countess confirmed my sickening guess.

"Probably most of these over fifteen," she said, "had five years of slave labour in the factories before liberation. They took them as early as ten years, especially when they were bright and clever.

"I'm going to take them off this job," I said in fury.

"Oh, but you cannot," said the Countess. "You must believe me, they are happy here. If you could only understand what  they are saying to each other. This is something new and exciting to do. Their pride of the scout . . . if you dismissed them now, they would feel they had failed you.""

"Dismiss?" cried Londa coming up with her tally sheet. "Who's talking of dismissing them? Look here. They've already opened over seven hundred food parcels. More than [61] seventeen thousand tins are already sorted and shelved. It's unbelievable."

"It will be when I tell you why," I said. I knew what happened to her welfare heart when I told her. "In any event," I added, "you weren't so damned naïve as to say it would be like playing shop. Dear God, when will I ever learn what I'm up against?"



[I've been reading snatches of The Wild Place (1953) while on visits to my Mum and Dad. They worked at Pestalozzi Children's Village for a few years around 1960; Kathryn Hulme's remarkable book was background to where their war orphans came from. It's too precious to risk borrowing, but this time I photographed a few pages, as transcribed above.]

Central Europe after the war was nearly starving and nearly in collapse. Germany was full of displaced Poles and Russians. The UNRRA gradually realized that any Russians who were repatriated were never heard of again; Stalin found it simplest to assume that any Russian found in Germany must have deserted.  Also, the boundaries were re-drawn at Yalta: Poland acquired a lot of Prussia. but a large region that had been Eastern Poland was ceded to the Soviet Union. Polish DPs from east of the river Bug weren't welcome in Poland, they were sent on to their original village. Unsurprisingly they were very apprehensive about being sent "home".

Wildflecken, in north-western Bavaria, was originally a training camp used by the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS. From 1945-1951 it became a displaced persons camp. Then it became a US Army training base, and from 1994 a German army training area containing the Warfighters Simulation Centre.


The Wild Place won the Atlantic Monthly prize for non-fiction in 1953. Contemporary notice:


Kathryn Hulme was an American, born in San Francisco in 1900.

The gigantic efforts of reconstruction and humanitarian aid in those post-war years, largely led by the USA, were formative for the consensus of  humane and liberal values under which most of my life has been spent.

However, a few days after I  wrote this post, the USA pulled out of the UNHRC (the modern equivalent of UNRRA), posturing in Stalinesque manner about it being a "cesspool".


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