Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Love stories

Sea at Smygehamn, Skåne

[Image source: .]

Poetry in Swedish, for the would-be translator, divides into two starkly different challenges. 

There's the unrhymed free verse, which preponderates nowadays and is highly translatable, at least reasonably so. Translating it is fun, you can dwell on details, on nuances. You can be hopeful that the resulting poem will be OK. This is the poetry in Swedish that most international readers will instantly think of: most of Edith Södergran and Gunnar Ekelöf, Pär Lagerkvist, Tomas Tranströmer, Göran Sonnevi and virtually all contemporary poets. 

But the bulk of poetry in Swedish, up to the 1960s, was metrical and rhymed. Rhymes may be masculine or feminine; the latter come easily, because of Swedish verb-forms and the suffixed definite article, and they are often an obligatory feature of the stanza form. Getting this poetry into anything like modern English is next to impossible, whether you strive to retain all its formal features or not. Translating it isn't fun, just hard slog. Nuances go out of the window. The most you can hope is that it won't be completely unreadable. 

It means that a poet like Karin Boye (1900-1941) is mainly known abroad for her unrhymed poems, whereas in Sweden her best-known poems are often rhymed. And Hjalmar Gullberg (1898-1961), nearly all of whose poetry is rhymed, was one of Sweden's most-read poets but is basically not known to the English-speaking world at all. 

Translating Swedish rhymed poetry into English used to be a bit more feasible. In the early years of the twentieth century, translators like Charles Wharton Stork and C.D. Locock, adepts in the English/US tradition of rhymed verse and its accumulated battery of handy conventions, made heroic efforts to bring us something of Runeberg and Fröding and Levertin and Karlfeldt. Even so, the results were often clunky. 

But who has those skills today? And even if we had them, what good would it do? It would be totally misleading to make Hjalmar Gullberg or Karin Boye sound like late Victorians.

I don't have any answer to this, except that perhaps it must always be the case that a literature reserves some of its treasures for speakers of its own language. 

But here, anyway, is an attempt to transmit some kind of shadowy sense of one of Hjalmar Gullberg's most famous poems, "Love Story" ("Kärleksroman"), published in the 1933 collection Love in the Twentieth Century (Kärlek i tjugonde seklet). The Swedish text is in tight four-line stanzas rhyming abab, except for section XII where the stanzas rhyme aabb



The blonde Venus shot out of the sea foam
and swam a race with me to the shore.
There was room for two on the rock outcrop.
We made for it. I pulled you up by the hand.

On stone, not like the princess and the pea, 
you lay and baked your brown limbs.
And you were twenty-one and strong and slim
And I want to trumpet that to the whole world. 


From science, and not from love poems, 
we get the answers that truly address the topic.
The youth with inhibitions, soul in conflict,
is cured once he sees a woman naked.

Exulting he sank into her arms, the ascetic
whose former worldview had all been Christ-coloured.
A shipwrecked man, I came out of the infinite,
rescued, upon the earth where I was born.


Romeo, Juliet, Isolde, Tristan,
were more in our grandparents' style. 
We've put that romantic stuff on the blacklist.
Get some air and light into the musty bedroom!

We know love in the month of August
can bear fruit in May in a clinic.
A new generation has replaced yearning
and prudishness with the matter-of-fact erotic.


Get married! One isn't so stupid. 
We mean to hold onto our freedom.
You stay with your man. I have my room.
Our only law is birth-control.

We don't bow the knee for any priest.
We make no promise of fidelity.
Thus runs the vow at our wedding feast:
I love you, as long as I fancy it.


One is modern, one is unprejudiced.
I am evidently one of the polygamous.
A woman entices. Who can let that be?
You bit your lip and didn't make a fuss.

Wein, Weib, Gesang! One dances and gets drunk.
The brief adventure is all set up.
You grieved a long time over my escapade.
Then you went off and did the same. 


Sleeping Venus, discovered in the image
of those paintings from the Renaissance,
with hand on naked sex, without a glance ...
What are you dreaming? What do your eyelashes hide?

Sleeping Venus, born for me from the sea-foam,
here's your body when I need your body.
But the glance and the dream go beyond my room ...
Though I fling myself on your limbs. 


The third angel blew a trumpet blast.
A star fell from the Milky Way's glitter,
where the nebulae are shaken like featherdown.
And the star's name was Wormwood, which is bitter.

And the man went with the woman he loved
in their daily thirst to life's deep well.
And the star fell into the well's depths and it gave
a bitter flavour to the sexual.


It was like being struck by lightning when I found
you meant everything to me in the world.
Too late! I knew that a strange man
was stroking your lovely hair on the pillow.

Oh you the only one, you who young and blonde
stepped out of the sea, as if you were born of foam, not earth!
We split after five years of misunderstandings.
I stood on the quay. And you stepped on board. 


How can two souls abandon each other?
I wrote a telegram: "Forgive me, come!"
And had this answer: "There's nothing to blame.
But that which was can never be made again."

I dreamed of a kind of correction course
for all that had gone awry and stood in need,
until someone sent me a foreign paper,
containing the announcement you were dead. 


Your foot was a bird in my hands.
Yes, my hands know you by heart.
What they narrate are your body's legends.
Every fingertip is a reliable witness.

If blinded by your splendour I had to shut my eyes
I found on the sheet or the pillow
an ear's labyrinth, a breast's rotunda,
like a goal for my hands' pilgrimage. 


My body, my whole being is a fire
that nothing slackens, nothing weakens.
Have I broken with love, been judged and condemned?
Those who break the laws of love shall be burned.

Out of the past I fetch your image.
Oh redeem me, you who alone have the power!
Transform this fire that rages so wildly,
so I can serve you, as an altar flame.


Out of memory's purgatory you stepped clean.
I meant this song as an epitaph for you.
Human progress craves sacrifice. We were selected. 
The car of the future drives over the smashed fragments.

I sing our comradeship's litany.
May higher powers condemn, or free!
My youth is dead and its books burnt.
"To another study my mind wills to turn."


Yet the swell sings on the azure coast,
sea meets shore, two separate elements.
Homesickness overcomes travel-lust;
but late, late shall the heart forget.

Eternal source, from whose deep flood
the goddess is lifted up on a mollusc's shell,
you sung for me of love unto death!
And still it roars in my soul, your blue chorale. 

Swedish text of "Kärleksroman":

Another Swedish text, somewhat longer. It has two additional sections and a different final one.

The Birth of Venus (La nascita di Venere), c. 1480 painting by Sandro Botticelli

[Image source: Wikipedia .]


Reading this Hjalmar Gullberg poem, I kept thinking of a poem written some sixty-five years later, Craig Raine's A la recherche du temps perdu (1999). 

There are big differences of course. Gullberg flies through such a wide range of tones, is interested in big ideas, is (in a broad sense) a religious poet; Raine's interested in memory, history, the grain of real things. Gullberg's poem was well-received; Raine's wasn't. 

Nevertheless the resemblances are striking. Not just the content but the method, the pain and flippancy and bathos. The male gaze. And yes, the rhyming. 

In this context I suppose it might be worth pasting what I wrote about Raine's poem back in 2002, though I wish I could disclaim the cattiness and reductiveness. 


Craig Raine: A la recherche du temps perdu (1999)

The woman who Raine intends to memorialise is unnamed, like Shakespeare’s young man, though the name is not secret even to an outer public since she is stated to be the Penguin translator of Flaubert’s Tentation

In the end her personality remains about as shadowy as the young man in the Sonnets. The flyleaf of the book (which might well be considered part of the poem, since I guess Raine wrote it) talks about restoring her “formidable complexity” (along with other things) but I don’t think this is achieved and don’t really see how it could be without supplying a lot more of her own words than we actually get. 

Raine uses about 800 lines of loose couplets, and I suppose one question that arises is whether his memoir would have more effectively achieved its aim (“To make you here”) in plain prose. Or again, he might have presented his material linearly, instead of cutting back and forth.  

It might seem rather against the grain to attempt to disentangle the chronology -- but since that is what Raine is shown doing himself (working out if he could have caught AIDS), and since it is after all possible (a marked difference from Shakespeare’s sequence), let’s accept the covert invitation. For after all, in doing this we are treating the woman as a real person, and thus forwarding the author’s project. 

Childhood, in Tunis (undated). She is 9 years old.

“thirty years ago” (i.e. from now, therefore late ‘60s?) their relationship began, and he read her poems. But the quotation about the “rare, precious hair of the dead” must have been written later, if it was written, as the poem says, when her father died -- because her father was able to refer to Raine as “the gutter-snipe” years after they’d split. 

Before the below, probably -- “At Stoneleigh, Watlington” -- she sublets, and makes Raine give a lodger notice. 

1969 -- She is in Strasbourg for a year, and writes him letters. Raine visits her, at Easter, and they go camping -- their happiest time together. (She is presumably an undergraduate doing her year abroad. Raine, born in 1944 so already in his mid-twenties, was tutoring.)

1970 -- she is living at Crick Road. Presumably soon after, they split -- since the poem says “things were going wrong”. 

Sometime later: she has a lecturing job and gives it up. Tries modelling. Her first adventure with “a total stranger” -- thereafter, many more. 

Also sometime later, she has a black boy-friend (Jamie, the one who gives her AIDS) -- but Raine and she go to bed at least once thereafter (“talking like sister and brother”). 

“1982, 83?” -- she is living at Gillespie Road. The cowboy boots, the nude photograph from her modelling venture. 

1986 “unreadable” novel published. (Three years before the next.) 

1989 (i.e. the year before the next). She already knows she has AIDS. Asks him to be her literary executor -- he refuses. 

“1990”. The last time they met, at Fornello’s, a restaurant. She invites him to Gillespie Road “sometime”, but he obviously doesn’t go.

The experience of working all this out is quite interesting, since it reveals a more vulnerable side to the woman than appears in swift reading through. Her own chaste letters (the “epistolary iceberg”) and her burning out of Raine’s “filth” from his, are now seen to pre-date her later sexual adventurings. The shock inspired by Grünewald’s painting is presented as prophetic of her death. But she retains a reserve to the end (“Details that make you cringe”). 

I meant to complain that, if not quite “unlovable”, she certainly strikes us as unloving. But she does have an affection for the famous dead (Racine, Proust, Caruso...) and for Raine himself, and we know too that she has a certain consideration for her parents’ feelings. She doesn’t love her goldfish. 

Raine’s couplets are easy to read, often humbly bathetic:

We ate a quiche, a quiche Lorraine.
Quiche hadn’t reached England then.

The bubble at the corner of your mouth.
Which seems somehow to mean so much.

Sometimes, there’s an unpleasing university wit, suggesting light verse:

The vulgar fraction and the better half.


The way your knees whispered together
like words of a feather -

And then there are the trademark successions of similes:

Tunis. The palm trees’ structure
is file and feather duster. 

The sea is sparkling like sandpaper.
Arabic script, its ripple and flutter

stencilled on whitewash.
The main café: a line of hookahs

like a single letter
practising itself. 

It’s hard to judge a passage like this as a whole (I like the sandpaper, but not the rest so much). The only way seems to be to see this as building up a civilised, inquisitive, accepting tone, a sort of fluid though limited medium in which the woman can be, to the same limited extent, re-membered. What we get is not the woman as a complete person (which would involve her relation to her parents and who knows who else) but the images that live in Raine’s imagination and bear her name. What else could he honestly come up with?

But I don’t like it very much. In some ways I even prefer Dryden’s Eleonora, though the author freely admits “One Disadvantage I have had, which is, never to have known, or seen my Lady”. Dryden passes methodically and blithely through each field of virtue -- Eleonora excels in them all -- and we are not informed of a single gossipy, peculiar little trait or taste. But Dryden, in surveying this model noble wife and mother, achieves more than he knows. Most of what we are we share with our peers. 

Of Raine’s poem I might say, unkindly, that its chief impression is “a glimpse of Oxford life”. But still, that's an honourable achievement, especially as the glimpses are so intimate (Raine’s athlete’s foot is the thing that made me wince most). 

Nevertheless, he doesn’t really stretch his art to meet the challenge that his desire to re-create contains. The poem feels simultaneously complacent and restless, as if he knows he wants to magic something out of the ashes of that cremation, but thinks that if he just gives his memories the good old Raine treatment it could possibly be enough. 


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Monday, January 25, 2021

When a butterfly flaps its wings

[Image source: . After the tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, on 22 May 2011. Many survivors reported sightings of "butterfly people", thought to be angels.]

The meteorologist Edward Lorenz discovered that in certain systems, characterized by nonlinearity (i.e. exponential development), tiny changes to initial conditions lead eventually to enormous differences. He discovered it by accident, when intending to repeat a computer simulation of weather over two months: a tiny initial difference caused by rounding produced an entirely different outcome. (This is why weather forecasting is only worthwhile for a maximum of two weeks.)

Peter Dizike's excellent account of Lorenz's discoveries, suitable for non-meteorologists:
(The links in this article to Lorenz's papers don't work. But here is Lorenz's seminal 1963 paper, "Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow":
Unless you are a mathematician, you'll struggle...)

Lorenz's initial account of the effect was in 1963. In his 1960s papers, he used the analogy of a seagull's wing.

But in 1972 he gave a paper, for a wider audience, "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?" -- and a meme was born.

The butterfly analogy was suggested by his colleague Philip Merilees, possibly thinking of Ray Bradbury's classic SF story "A Sound of Thunder" (1952), which also involves a butterfly. (In the story, an incautious time-traveller treads on a butterfly back in the Jurassic era: he returns to the "present" of 2055 to find it utterly different from the way he left it.)


But the two are different in spirit. 

Lorenz's paper suggested that, in theory and rarely and unpredictably and undetectably, a small event might end up precipitating a great event. 

Bradbury's story imagined that the network of causality is so taut that a small event probably will change all subsequent history.

"All right," Travis continued, "say we accidentally kill one mouse here. That means all the future families of this one particular mouse are destroyed, right?"
   "And all the families of the families of the families of that one mouse! With a stamp of your foot, you annihilate first one, then a dozen, then a thousand, a million, a billion possible mice!"
   "So they're dead," said Eckels. "So what?"
   "So what?" Travis snorted quietly. "Well, what about the foxes that'll need those mice to survive? For want of ten mice, a fox dies. For want of ten foxes a lion starves. For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction. Eventually it all boils down to this: fifty­nine million years later, a caveman, one of a dozen on the entire world, goes hunting wild boar or saber­toothed tiger for food. But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region. By stepping on one single mouse. So the caveman starves. And the caveman, please note, is not just any expendable man, no! He is an entire future nation. From his loins would have sprung ten sons. From their loins one hundred sons, and thus onward to a civilization. Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life. It is comparable to slaying some of Adam's grandchildren. The stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our earth and destinies down through
Time, to their very foundations. With the death of that one caveman, a billion others yet unborn are throttled in the womb. Perhaps Rome never rises on its seven hills. Perhaps Europe is forever a dark forest, and only Asia waxes healthy and teeming. Step on a mouse and you crush the Pyramids. Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity. Queen Elizabeth might never be born, Washington might not cross the Delaware, there might never be a United States at all. So be careful. Stay on the Path. Never step off!"
   "I see," said Eckels. "Then it wouldn't pay for us even to touch the grass?"
   "Correct. Crushing certain plants could add up infinitesimally. A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion. Of course maybe our theory is wrong. Maybe Time can't be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and finally, a change in social temperament in far­flung countries. Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps only a soft breath, a whisper, a hair, pollen on the air, such a slight, slight change that unless you looked close you wouldn't see it. Who knows? Who really can say he knows? We don't know. We're guessing. . . "


Either way, the butterfly's wing-flap has held great appeal for a crowded secular world in which so many citizens sense the insignificance of their own lives, their seeming inability to have any kind of influence or control over the march of events. 

If for life to be meaningful it must have material consequence, then how pleasing it is to imagine that no effort is required, that our small lives will cause magnificent tornadoes! And no-one can blame us for the unpredictable outcomes, and the powers-that-be will be very sorry they ignored us. . .

But of course this isn't only, or even primarily, about human ego and need for attention. 

The mythical image of the potent butterfly's wings has also flourished because it resists our sense of the helplessness of nature in the face of human destructiveness. Our physical sense that bulldozers matter, and butterflies really don't. Perhaps it even encapsulates an argument for leaving nature in peace: that we can't predict the consequences. 

The image has also appealed to our sense of a globally connected world. Lorenz' title placed the butterfly in Brazil and the tornado in Texas. In his paper, Lorenz speculated that a Brazilian butterfly might not be able to cause a Texan tornado, because the equator tends to partition weather systems. But later meme-users have often emphasized the long-distance aspect, replacing the original locations with others, as entertainingly compiled by John Burckardt:

And finally, unpredictability itself is something that humans value. A wave of something like joy passes through us whenever the weather forecast gets it wrong. 

As a species we can't seem to stop making more powerful and better technology. But we also hate and fear the power of technology. The way we don't control it ourselves, the terrifying speed of its flow across the planet. We think we might have to kill technology before it kills us. 


But now, some fifty years down the line, the butterfly has bedded into proverbial human discourse and no longer carries such emotional weight. 

It can simply signal any unusual outcome, as in Adam Collins' preamble to Sri Lanka v. S. Africa, 28/6/19 (Guardian OBO):

"A week ago, this looked like a stinker between two sides with no chance. But then the butterfly flapped its wings: Sri Lanka beat England and the race for the top four was turned on its head..."

Or it can refer to a known but insufficient cause, the tail wagging the dog, as in Lauren Rudd's financial editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 24 March 2013:

"Nonetheless, it seems the butterfly flapped its wings and the result was a drop in the market cap of some of our nation's largest corporations, all because Cyprus might levy a tax of 7.5 billion Euros ($10 billion) on bank deposits. Talk about irrationality. Do you really believe Cyprus's actions justify a 1 percent decline in Exxon's share price? It is nuts to think that because of Cyprus, Exxon should now be valued $4 billion less than a week prior. . . ."

The image has appeal for traders who know that small events in one country can affect markets across the globe. E.g. Brad W. Setser's post of 27 February, 2006 "A butterfly flapped its wings in Iceland ..."

Naturally, Covid-19 has brought the image vividly back to life. 

"The butterfly that flapped its wings in Wuhan might ruin Nigeria's economy," wrote Tobi Lufadeju on LinkedIn (16 March 2020)

One powerful aspect of the image is that it mysteriously deflates the significance of the big outcome. Like, If it was only a butterfly that caused it, then the tornado can't be such a big deal after all. Which is another thought that we often need to grab on to: that everything will be all right, that after all Tutto nel mondo è burla, life is an incomprehensible joke, we mustn't let it get to us. 

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Sir Walter Scott: Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since (1814)

Alice, the daughter of Donald Bean Lean, preparing breakfast for Edward Waverley, painting by Alexander Johnston (1815 - 1891)

[Image source: .]






Under which King, Bezonian ? speak, or die !
                                                Henry IV. Part II.

Title pages can tell us a lot. In this case, one of Waverley's principal themes is right here in front of us. The quotation from Shakespeare says, with vehemence, Choose your side! But that divisive political challenge is undercut by its original context, Ancient Pistol striking an absurd pose. Meanwhile, the subtitle "'Tis Sixty Years Since" hints at the reconciliation of opposed sides, with the mollifying implication that It was all a long time ago.  

That way of putting it suggests the burial of past differences in oblivion. But as most of us amateur psychologists are apt to think, suppression of the past doesn't truly heal. Scott was aware of the healing powers of time, but he aimed at a deeper kind of reconciliation: bringing past events back into the spotlight but trying to create a balance in the reader's mind, persuading us to drop our stereotypes, recognize and duly honour opposed points of view, and not feel the need to take sides. 

His novel had to negotiate several unconciliatory viewpoints that were still very current. 1. English prejudice against all things Scottish. 2. Prejudice against the benighted Highlands in particular (both within and outside Scotland). 3. Detestation of the Jacobitism that had been prepared to plunge Britain into another civil war. 4. Scottish and Tory resentment of the rule of Westminster and Hanover, horrified by the harsh reprisals once the rebellion had been crushed. 5. Religious intolerance towards Catholics and between the different strands of Protestantism. 

What better way to bring reconciliation than in an unpretentious adventure story whose manner and very genre disclaim political intention?

Scott's own idea of balance was a Tory and Unionist one, but that needn't stop us appreciating what he succeeded in doing; least of all amid the widening divisions of our own time.


Scott breaks the fourth wall straight away, to inform us that his hero's and book's name were selected by the author to avoid raising clichéd expectations: the novel's title was to be a blank canvas.

I have therefore, like a maiden knight with his white shield, assumed for my hero, WAVERLEY, an uncontaminated name, bearing with its sound little of good or evil, excepting what the reader shall hereafter be pleased to affix to it. (I.1)

I suppose, all the same, that Scott had heard of the ruins of Waverley Abbey near Farnham in Surrey (England's first Cistercian Abbey), and perhaps of its Annales de Monasterii Waverleia (valuable to medieval historians), and perhaps of Waverley Abbey House, built nearby in 1725 using some of the abbey stone. [Information:; Waverley Borough Council is named after the abbey.]

In the novel no precise location is suggested for Waverley-Honour, but Waverley passes through London on his way to Edinburgh and Dundee (I.7), which would be consistent with a Surrey location.

Scott's remark slyly overlooks the name's obvious suggestion of wavering, which will turn out to be entirely apposite to his hero's story.

The name doesn't tell the whole story, perhaps. When his father Richard "was returned for the ministerial borough of Barterfaith" (I.2), that name is a crushing judgment on Richard turning Whig, seen from the perspective of elder brother Everard. 

But Edward Waverley's own changes of allegiance arise from other motives than his father's venality. The young, dreamy Edward seems never to have quite taken on board the real political context that's comically sketched in these opening chapters. Uncle Everard painfully feels the implication of Edward joining the regular army; Edward himself does not. Being brought up in the households of both brothers has made him indifferent to political colours. And political allegiance is the last thing on his mind as he makes his naive way through the enchantments of his Scottish leave in the first half of the novel; but it turns out to be the first thing on everyone else's. The hero, abetted by the sly narrator, keeps making light of it. The "Demon of Politics" that arises at Luckie Macleary's (I.11) is just the unfortunate consequence of people having too much to drink; his Colonel's warning about keeping company with those not well affected to government is unnecessary fussing and Presbyterian prejudice . . .

Readers have been apt to follow the hero's lead; Waverley didn't raise hackles within Scotland as e.g. Old Mortality did, Scott's effort at reconciliation was so successful that it wasn't seen for what it was. 

The ultra-Tory Anti-Jacobin Review, indeed, remarked that a novel about the events of 1745 was "a task of peculiar delicacy". But there's little evidence that most early readers considered it a political novel. Of course it's much more than that; but political it certainly is. 

But Edward's youthful naivety isn't simply wrong. Arguably his insensibility (or rather, his sensibility to other things, including romantic infatuation) is one of the hopeful ingredients that can, eventually, bring healing to a wounded body politic. (The same faith that ultimately underlies Romeo and Juliet.)


'Is it of Fergus Mac-Ivor they speak thus,' thought Waverley, 'or do I dream? Of Fergus, the bold, the chivalrous, the free-minded, the lofty chieftain of a tribe devoted to him? Is it he, that I have seen lead the chase and head the attack, the brave, the active, the young, the noble, the love of ladies, and the theme of song,—is it he who is ironed like a malefactor, who is to be dragged on a hurdle to the common gallows, to die a lingering and cruel death, and to be mangled by the hand of the most outcast of wretches? Evil indeed was the spectre that boded such a fate as this to the brave Chief of Glennaquoich!' (II.39)

'Do you remember,' she said, looking up with a ghastly smile, 'you once found me making Fergus's bride-favours, and now I am sewing his bridal garment. Our friends here,' she continued, with suppressed emotion, 'are to give hallowed earth in their chapel to the bloody relics of the last Vich Ian Vohr. But they will not all rest together; no—his head!—I shall not have the last miserable consolation of kissing the cold lips of my dear, dear Fergus!' (II.39)

 'We part not here!' said Waverley.
    'O yes, we do; you must come no farther. Not that I fear what is to follow for myself,' he said proudly. 'Nature has her tortures as well as art, and how happy should we think the man who escapes from the throes of a mortal and painful disorder in the space of a short half hour? And this matter, spin it out as they will, cannot last longer. But what a dying man can suffer firmly may kill a living friend to look upon. This same law of high treason,' he continued, with astonishing firmness and composure, 'is one of the blessings, Edward, with which your free country has accommodated poor old Scotland; her own jurisprudence, as I have heard, was much milder. But I suppose one day or other—when there are no longer any wild Highlanders to benefit by its tender mercies—they will blot it from their records as levelling them with a nation of cannibals. The mummery, too, of exposing the senseless head . . .' (II.40)

Neither Waverley, nor Flora, nor Fergus are very specific about the form of the execution, and modern readers might be somewhat in the dark, as I was. 

But Scott didn't need to spell it out to readers of his own time. The penalty for high treason, for men, was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. For women it was burning (changed to hanging in 1790). But the sentence for men was still in place when Waverley was published, though by now it was carried out in a slightly less gruesome manner than in former times. Catherine Despard persuaded the government to waive the disembowelling and dismemberment when her husband and six others were executed at Horsemonger Gaol on 21 February 1803.  Likewise Robert Emmet (20 September 1803) and the Cato Street conspirators (1 May1820) were hanged until dead and then beheaded. 

When the Jacobite Col. Francis Towneley was executed on 30 July 1746 (Kennington Common)  he too was hanged until dead before being eviscerated. Three Jacobite nobles had their sentence commuted to beheading, carried out on Tower Hill on 18 August 1746 (Lords Kilmarnock and Balmerino) and 9 April 1747 (Lord Lovat)). 

But at Carlisle (the scene of Fergus's death in Waverley) it seems that the thirty-three Jacobite executions in Oct-Nov 1746 followed an older and more protracted recipe; the victim was revived after hanging and then disembowelled while still conscious before finally being beheaded. (The executioner, the "most outcast of wretches", was William Stout of Hexham.)

[See Julia Hickey's post here: .  Surprisingly, Wikipedia's two entries on the penalty of Hanged Drawn and Quartered (here and here) make no reference either to the Carlisle executions of 1746 or to those that followed the 1715 rebellion.]

So this was, in Waverley, the fate of Fergus Mac-Ivor and Evan Dhu Maccombich. 


Reconciliation is a great thing, but the reconciler's role can be a thankless one. Inevitably, starting from where he did, Scott conceded more to the above prejudices and stereotypes than we'd approve now; it's a kind of tribute to his success that we may feel, as with his portrayal of Jews in Ivanhoe, that his Highlanders are too much constructed out of stereotypic motifs derived from others: in this case passionate, violent, perversely honourable, thieving and blackmail, etc.  

' . . .Where the guilty are so numerous, clemency must be extended to far the greater number; and I have little doubt of procuring a remission for you, providing we can keep you out of the claws of justice till she has selected and gorged upon her victims; for in this, as in other cases, it will be according to the vulgar proverb, “First come, first served.” Besides, government are desirous at present to intimidate the English Jacobites, among whom they can find few examples for punishment. This is a vindictive and timid feeling which will soon wear off, for of all nations the English are least blood-thirsty by nature. But it exists at present, and you must therefore be kept out of the way in the mean-time.' (II.33)

That's Colonel Talbot, a figure whose cold wisdom is relished by Scott. No character on the Jacobite side comes anywhere close to his moral authority. The reader is supposed to take him seriously.

But we might suspect that Waverley uses some sleight of hand in its account of the rebellion's aftermath.  Talbot's point about clemency being extended to the majority of rebels is carefully weighted; "clemency" was not how the aftermath would be remembered. But affecting to lament the punitive harshness (as Scott no doubt did), does Waverley really face up to it? The penalty was barbarous, but of the two victims in the novel Fergus was a prime mover in the rebellion, perfectly conscious of the risk he took, and Evan Dhu is shown as voluntarily incurring (through loyalty to his chieftain) what the law would willingly have spared him. Waverley himself and the Baron of Bradwardine are both pardoned by His Royal Highness the Commander in Chief (i.e. William Duke of Cumberland), though with increasing reluctance. Scott contrives (is that the right word?) to avoid describing Culloden or any of the battles the government forces won; the only battles in Waverley are Prestonpans and Clifton Moor, the two Jacobite successes. We have a lyrical account of the destruction of Tully-Veolan, but the subsequent speed of its renovation (partly effected by Talbot's good offices) images a reconciliation with the present powers that may be a little too easy. For instance, Alice Bean, who "smiled and smirked with the best of them" at Waverley's wooing of Rose (II.38), an image barely troubled by the execution of her father and not at all by the imminent execution of her lover. We don't get a closer view of what the aftermath meant for the Highland way of life celebrated in earlier chapters. 

As the Anti-Jacobin reviewer noted, "The author ... steer[ed] clear of every thing which could give offense to the reigning family ..."  That included "Butcher" Cumberland's ruthlessness at Culloden and during the Highland purges afterwards; after all, this was the reigning monarch's uncle. 

For a sense of what Waverley doesn't recount, see this 2018 article by Hamish MacPherson:

Then again, Scott probably went too easy on the Jacobite incursions too. There's more to military campaigns than romance. 

But I would rather celebrate his unprecedented re-creation of history than judge it by the aims of e.g. The Debacle or The Red Badge of Courage


Not everyone thought the historical novel a good idea. The London Quarterly Review , concluding a long and appreciative survey of Waverley (though the reviewer confused "Proud Preston" with Prestonpans) warned:

We confess that we have, speaking generally, a great objection to what may be called historical romance, in which real and fictitious personages, and actual and fabulous events are mixed together to the utter confusion of the reader, and the unsettling of all accurate recollections of past transactions ; and we cannot but wish that the ingenious and intelligent author of Waverley had rather employed himself in recording historically the character and transactions of his countrymen Sixty Years since, than in writing a work, which, though it may be, in its facts, almost true, and in its delineations perfectly accurate, will yet, in sixty years hence, be regarded, or rather, probably, disregarded, as a mere romance, and the gratuitous invention of a facetious fancy.

This, again, is a tacit recognition of political implications: the "confusion" of the reader may, on this view, get in the way of "accurate recollections". But the reviewer (John Wilson Croker, I think) doesn't sufficiently recognize the creative power of the historical novel, the way it can bring things to life, the way it welcomes the reader into a fully-imagined past world as histories themselves never do. 

Rose Bradwardine, painting by John Bostock (1826 - 1869)

[Image source: .]

He found Miss Bradwardine presiding over the tea and coffee, the table loaded with warm bread, both of flour, oatmeal, and barleymeal, in the shape of loaves, cakes, biscuits, and other varieties, together with eggs, reindeer ham, mutton and beef ditto, smoked salmon, marmalade, and all the other delicacies which induced even Johnson himself to extol the luxury of a Scotch breakfast above that of all other countries. (I.12)

The reindeer ham at Tully-Veolan came as a surprise to me. It must have been exported from Lapland, like the reindeers' tongues mentioned in Southey's Letters from England. Reindeer were once native in Scotland, but they became extinct in the thirteenth century or thereabouts. In the eighteenth century there was some interest in their reintroduction. The Duke of Atholl had fourteen reindeer brought to Dunkeld and released on the hills of Atholl -- pretty near to where we might suppose Tully-Veolan to be located -- but only one of them survived into a second year (information taken from James Richie, The Influence of Man on Animal Life in Scotland  (1920)). A reindeer herd was successfully established in the Cairngorms in 1952 by the Sami herder Mikel Utsi and his wife Edith Lindgren. The herd is now up to 150 animals.


The Pass of Bally-Brough, 1836 engraving by J.H. Kernot after a drawing by Henry Melville.

[Image source: The Corson Collection (Walter Scott Digital Archive) . Evan Dhu is about to shoot at the eagle.]

The cool and yet mild air of the summer night refreshed Waverley after his rapid and toilsome walk; and the perfume which it wafted from the birch trees, bathed in the evening dew, was exquisitely fragrant. [Footnote: It is not the weeping birch, the most common species in the Highlands, but the woolly-leaved Lowland birch, that is distinguished by this fragrance.] (I.16)

It's true, though having such a poor sense of smell myself, I've never noticed it. 

Bo Jensen's site tells us: "The tender leaves of downy birch, B. pubescens, are protected by a delicate balsam, endowing the birch moor with an enchanting fragrance in the early springtime."

However, Scott seems to be wrong in saying that the "weeping birch" -- by which he surely means Betula pendula (Silver Birch) -- is more common in the Highlands than Betula pubescens (Downy Birch). Both species occur, but Betula pendula has a comparative preference for lowland habitats. 


It's a remarkable thing that this seminal novel, an influence on all subsequent adventure stories, has never been made into a movie or TV serial, as far as I can make out. If you want to see Edward Waverley arriving by boat at the lochside cave of Donald Bean Lean, you'll just have to imagine it! 

Remarkable, but explicable. While there's much to be said for Goethe's opinion that Scott's first novel remained his greatest, its influence on popular culture has tended to be indirect. By the time movies were invented, Scott's own fame had declined: he was remembered more for his medieval romances, Ivanhoe and Quentin Durward (both filmed), than for his Scottish novels, which had been superseded in the popular imagination by the tributes of other authors, Kidnapped and the like.

But even in Scott's heyday Waverley proved resistant to treatment in other forms. There is no Waverley opera. Berlioz's Waverley Overture, Op. 1 (1827), is an exception, but it focuses only on the lines quoted in the score:

Dreams of love and Lady’s charms 
Give place to honour and to arms!

I should also mention Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson's short Gothic bluebook or "shilling shocker" Waverley; or, The Castle of MacIver: A Highland Tale, of Sixty Years Since (1821) -- I would love to read this. 

On radio the book has fared a little better -- a very little.

It was dramatized as a Classic Serial on Radio 4 (7 - 28/1/1994), in four one-hour episodes with Richard Greenwood as Edward Waverley. (Radio Times)

Back in 30 January 1949, a Sunday, the Scottish regional alterations from the Home Service schedule were as follows:

11.30-12.10 Roman Catholic service in Gaelic.
2.10-2.20 Sunday Essay, by Jack House.
2.30-3.0 "Scotland Round the World".
5.50-5.55 Scottish Savings.
6.15-6.30 "Martyr of Scottish Reform": Talk by Douglas Young.
7.45-8.25 Service from St Columba's Church, Lerwick, Shetland: The Rev. W. C. R. Smith.
8.30-9.0 "Waverley".

Of course I've no idea what that final programme was about. It may have been about the railway station in Edinburgh, or the new paddle-steamer on the Firth of Clyde.

Bailie Duncan McWheeble at Breakfast, 1854 painting by James Eckford Lauder

[Image source: . In the Scottish National Gallery.]


Bibliographic minutiae, of interest to no-one except myself!

Waverley was published in July 1814, in three volumes. However, most online texts divide the novel into just two volumes, the first of 29 chapters and the second of 43 chapters. (Chapter references given above are based on this arrangement, which I think follows the 'Magnum' edition of 1829.) 

The original arrangement was: 

Volume I, Chapters I-XXIII. The last chapter is Waverley continues at Glennaquoich, ending with the words "At a late hour he fell asleep, and dreamed of Flora Mac-Ivor."

Volume II, Chapters I-XXIV.  (I.24 - II.18 in the two-volume arrangement.) The first chapter is A Stag-hunting and its Consequences, beginning with the words "Shall this be a short or a long chapter? --" . The last chapter is The Conflict (i.e. Prestonpans), ending with the words "Such was the elegy of the Laird of Balmawhapple."

Volume III, Chapters I-XXIV. (II.19-43 in the two volume edition.)The first chapter is An unexpected Embarrassment, beginning with the words "When the battle was over, and all things coming into order, . . ."

The narrative claims to date from 1805 (i.e. sixty years after 1745) but scholars are increasingly doubtful whether Scott really began to write it as early as 1805; more likely it was 1808. But at any rate it took him at least six years to complete Volume I (including several years when the MS was mislaid, following Scott's removal to Abbotsford in 1811). Volumes II and III, on the other hand, were written in a mere three weeks in 1814.

The title-page extract that I reproduced above, including its Shakespeare quotation, appears at the start of all three volumes.

Speaking of quotations, most of the chapters of Waverley have authorial titles and not the epigraphs familiar to readers of Scott's later novels. Towards the end, beginning at III XVIII (misnumbered XVII) / II.37 titles are replaced by epigraphs. Yes, the epigraphs are a replacement for the titles, not an additional feature. The final chapter (III.XXIV / II.43) reverts to an authorial title: A Postscript, which should have been a Preface. It's a moot point if Dulce domum (III.XXII / II.41) is to be regarded as a title or an epigraph. 

Most of Scott's novels from Guy Mannering (1815) onwards have chapter epigraphs and not chapter titles. However, Quentin Durward (1823) and St Ronan's Well (1824) have both. The unusual form of Redgauntlet (1824) dispenses with epigraphs; instead, each letter or chapter announces what kind of thing it is, e.g. Narrative of Alan Fairford, Continued. With the Tales of the Crusaders (1825) Scott resumed his usual practice: epigraphs only (or sometimes no heading at all, e.g. The Talisman Chs 2-4). 

Fergus MacIvor sees the Bodach Glas, engraving by Gordon Browne

[Image source: .]


Friday, January 15, 2021

The Frome LETS scheme


These poems appeared in a recent post that ended up being mostly about other things, so I'm giving them their own home. And that's kind of appropriate, because they come from when I and my-then partner and the two girls were for the first time in a house that we owned, in Frome in 1993. We didn't own the house outright, of course. There was a big mortgage and money was always a problem. We got involved in the local LETS scheme -- a bartering scheme where tokens (then known locally as LETS -- a few years later they were renamed "Shuttles") could be exchanged for goods and services. It was a small-scale scheme, though I sold a car on LETS once. The main problem with the scheme was that it didn't pay the bills; you could only use LETS tokens to buy the things that people offered. The main useful thing I remember us buying was home cooked meals. Too many of the services were things that were nice-to-haves rather than essentials: foot massage, hair-wraps, guitar tuition. And I suppose this tendency is typified by my own contribution to my partner's stall at a LETS market, a slim booklet titled Little Poems in Frome. Here are some of the little poems:

6 am

Late again running down Weymouth Road
Beneath a cold blue skyburst,
& blackbirds somewhere up there too,
High in the high stone buildings.

Two shopgirls clatter up Catherine Hill
With lumpy work bags swinging.
Nothing happens without our will,
It's only our wills make action.

The day is still at the structural stage;
The slowness of bare foundations
That need to carry all the coming activity,
The noise, the ham-ham-hammering,

The radio alarms pre-set to burst forth,
The breakfasts, bathing, front doors banging,
All that will soon emerge at a rush
To furnish the day, complete it.

On Cley Hill with my daughters

On the brow of  the hill white cattle appear,
And the girls make awed cries. It's sunset,
Almost the time when we pack up, chilled,
Return to warm homes and artificial lighting.
Their hooves are steady on the crumbling bank.
They are slow. There is much sweet green
Low-growing herbs on the chalk. The sky west,
Where the eye looks, or avoids,
Is the colour of crystallized pineapple.
It's hard to tell sloes from leaves,
Or blackberries from thicket,
For everything's silhouette here,
Everything except the looming white of cattle
And the girls' teeshirts. And the sky,
Which has no edge, no silhouette ever.

Near Bath

Clustered pipes in the shadows of a roadside
Elder-, ash-shadowed, here hemlock purple-sprouts to 2.5m
Bent saw-diagonalled where hoppers leap
& gold-pearl-tooth beetles creep to a dry tip.

The sun crowds, clover-scented shine dapples ivy, crisp-bags;
The warm yellow mulch of bluebell leaves, big caper-fruit.

Streetlamp in the rain

In November, one midnight comes
When I have to post a letter.
The rain is heavy and cold, and everything's dark
Except for the phone-box under the cypresses.

At the door, the wind punishes me
For wanting to walk out.
"The darkness and I have seen everyone off."
It punishes, but it attracts me.

I walk out fast and post my letter,
Start to walk back -
And I'm under a streetlamp
Looking up into its halo.

There in the halo, the rain seems to float,
Yes now I can see the rain itself
Hurtling down, each separate spit
Becomes visible for a moment.

And behind, the black white black white twigs
Of a silver birch bend round, round in a gleaming circle.
They make a high basket in
The heaven of the streetlamp.

I stand in the rain, the wind, the darkness.
A very small thing happens.
It's too quiet to hear, but I can feel it
Becoming, breaking the surface of being.

With a sense of terrible, tender surprise
I grasp for a moment what it is.
"I live here. This is my home.
That's my house. My family. Where I live."

High Fields

In Frome we're thirty miles from the sea
& that's only the Bristol channel anyway,
So I feel closed in and must stand in high fields
Where the ground crumbles in air, losing holds.

Sun and wind checker the hill-fort
From whose trough a warm uprush crests the bank;
It is like walking on a map. Saxifrage empires;
Gentian empires; to walk and descend is glorious.

Poem in a Christmas card

Christmas is a festival of yellow in the window
that draws the low sun in the brief afternoon.

Christmas is a special kind of rubbish on the floor,
a clean shrubbery inscribed with love-notes.

Christmas is when the kitchen table holds up trays
of fragrant sculpture, and says: Don't keep your distance!

Christmas is when the harlequin colours of the beeches
migrate indoors to create a midwinter space

where spluttering fires make faces glow for a second
with shy eternity amid the fantastic uproar.

Christmas is the familiar faces of those you have lived with all year.
At last you stop to admire them, to form new hopes.

Home Baking

Though everything that moves must lose its way
Venturing out in stormy corridors
From the cold kitchen of that later day
When hungry Time has eaten up the stores

I must believe this will not end your life
Which will stay here where warm and fragrant loaves
Stand on a wire tray, and this belief
Must diet on the drift of autumn leaves.

Friends in the evening

Everyone's easy,
& that's the whole point of friends
In the evening, intent on pouring tea,
Or rolling up and watching TV.

We all talk,
Because bringing up children, & having no money
& things that are hard to deal with, have to be faced
But not now, with tea and company;

& no-one can help,
But that's the whole point of friends,
With our backs to the shadows, the lost day
Put to bed, & we're not really talking

Or even listening,
This is formation flying in the warm colours
Of the winter sunset, round and round
In the dreamy heaven that we've found to share.

White Horse and Cley Hill

Over the town there broods a horse.
Over the town there broods a hill.
Blue Circle cement have tidied the horse,
& the National Trust looks after the hill.

They have outlived
All the weavers, tenants and nannies;
& they will outlive Year 9 at the college;
Those peaceful, forgotten gods,
Shored up by cement and the National Trust.

Modern Nature

The first day of July, we're driving into rain,
A sopping downpour that splatters,
Waiting at traffic lights, splatters the bonnet
With shiny explosions of water, quieting now,
We move into fifth on the bypass,  get underneath
That cloud again, down it sheets windlessly,
Except for our own flying Vauxhall, which frills
The seismograph water up, up, wavering up
Into the niches of the corner glass, and down,
Down as we slow into town, the radio signal
Stuttering into fuzz as we cross the river.

On top of the microwave, a yesterday bowl of salad
Has wimped out, and Wimbledon disrupted by rain
Is half way through sets. A potted tomato plant
Knocked flat by rain. The French doors creak.
My daughter slices courgettes and a carrot
To add to the sauce. I'm thinking uneasily
If I dare ring Providenza. My hair hasn't been cut
Since February, and last time she told me if you
Let it grow that long next time you can't come back.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The crab-apple store


Here's a sight that puzzled me, during a walk last week around and over Cley Hill in Wiltshire. (In the muddy dusk Cley Hill seemed twice as steep as usual.)

Anyway, before I reached the hill I passed a crap-apple tree: in this almost monochrome landscape the apples strewn across the ground were the only note of brightness. 

The interesting thing was that at the base of this tree and its neighbour the apples had been heaped up into two stores. The heap contained whole apples, nibbled apples and fragments. What animal did this?

My book on animal signs, Spårboken (a Swedish translation of a Danish book by Preben Bang and Preben Dahlström), didn't really help me, but what it says is interesting in its own right:



The eating marks of small rodents can commonly be studied on apples, both in natural places and in fruit stores. In general animals eat both the flesh and the skin, and the gnawing is easily discerned by the many small toothmarks along the gnawed edges and by the long cavities that the lower rodent teeth make in the flesh of the fruit. It's often difficult to determine from the gnawing exactly which animal species is responsible. By the size of the toothmarks you can always tell if the gnawing was done by an animal the size of e.g. a squirrel, rat or water vole, or by a mouse-size animal; the toothmarks of the former are at least double the size of the latter. A definite ID can only be made by taking into account other animal signs, the location, etc. 

[Birds, the authors note, don't eat the skin of apples, so they tend to hollow them out. Thrushes eat the flesh. Crossbills eat the pips, hence they favour small varieties.]

On today's revisit I saw the toothmarks (rather small), and also the animal holes lurking behind the stores at the base of the hollow trunks.

Windfall crabs. The two apple stores are at the back, at the foot of the trees

Windfall crab-apples.

Cley Hill from Little Cley Hill, 8 January 2021

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Translating Swedish


I've had a go at changing the blog colours -- for laptop users, not smartphones --, because someone told me that they found it tiring to read green on green. (That's also what the deleted comment is about -- I needed to check the comment colours.)


This is an idle follow-up post to my recent translation efforts, both of texts from the early twentieth century:

Selma Lagerlöf, "The Servant-Spirit" (Tjänsteanden) (1911):

That said, nearly all of these remarks are prompted by Tjänsteanden.

I didn't set out to do a free translation, but I'm always taken aback by how free I end up having to be. Swedish after all is a near relation to English, compared with most other languages. Yet it's remarkable the number of phrases that won't translate straightforwardly; the number of places where I found myself circling wider and wider from literalness in an effort to catch the right tone and to let the story flow. 


Swedish uses a number of subtle intensifiers, words such as ju and visst  (approximately "indeed" and "surely"). The effect can be nearly intangible and inexpressible in English, but it's there, providing a liveliness to the sentence, expressing the speaker's feelings and how the action is to be interpreted. Often I've translated them, but just as often I felt I didn't need to: the English sentence stood up without them. And now and then, in other places, I felt compelled to intrude an English intensifier of my own, a "sheer" or "utter" or "absolutely", when a literal translation lacked the necessary vigour. 


But it was not just about intensifiers. A labouring translator tends to be excessively aware of sentences in the original text that are somewhat tautologous -- and Swedish can certainly have that tendency -- , words I could safely ignore because they weren't really adding anything to the meaning. Yet there were other times when I felt compelled to do just the opposite, to include additional bits of English not because they were needed for the sense but because in English these words follow on so naturally that withholding them draws attention. 

Stories flow. Sentences are weighted and a story needs to balance them, to keep it all afloat. 


Translation is about clichés, to some extent. In a story such as this it's not about avoiding them. It's about using the right ones at the right time. These clichés, or proverbial expressions, are part of the common language, they are simply the correct way of saying things -- not according to august bodies or academies but according to ordinary communities. For example, during the shoe-making contest:

Med detta blev de färdiga lika snart båda två . . .

At this point were they finished equally soon both two

I think virtually everyone trying to re-express this in natural English would find themselves using the same phrase I did:

At this point they were neck and neck . . .

"Neck and neck" is simply the right way to express this idea. It's there to be used! 

But at the same time one must be cautious. One mustn't get so addicted to snatching at proverbial expressions that the text looks like a patchwork. And should you use a cliché in the wrong context or when it isn't a perfect fit, it really stands out. You'll get funny looks at the local pub, and from your reader too.


Swedish word-order is different from English, though not as different as German. The verb always comes second, so I morgon går jag till banken,  literally "tomorrow go I to the bank" isn't a stylistic inversion but mandatory. 

Re-sequencing here is a simple matter, but I found I was changing the word order a lot more than that. For all sorts of reasons, but basically to keep the sentences flowing lucidly, to avoid clottedness or ambiguity or long suspensions between words that English likes to keep together.


Regional accents or dialect are always a problem for the translator. How many times have I seen e.g. Gascon rendered in broad Yorkshire or Scots, and it never goes well. In this case Selma Lagerlöf herself didn't make much use of regional expressions. Nevertheless when translating provincial stories such as this one it's tempting to draw on local English expressions to convey a certain colour, but I've resisted it as much as possible. There are a couple in the text ("See here, Krus Erik. . ." or "he didn't rightly know") but only when they carried no particular special regional implication and I felt they emerged absolutely naturally. 

In general I found the best thing was to have the characters speak in fairly neutral but not too literary English. To hope to make the characters live "not by a caricatured and exaggerated use of . . . dialect, but by their habits, manners, and feelings" (Scott).

I used expressions that wouldn't have been current in 1911; I had to convey how I understood the story, in the language that I had. I tried to avoid the obtrusively modern. But I took the view that although the life depicted in the story is very different from ours in obvious respects yet most of its important elements still exist. Teenage boys are still self-centred and are still put upon and judged by others and still aspire to a life beyond what their circumstances allow. The world is still full of Konstantins. 


Swedish has two words (men, utan) that both translate to the same word in English: but. And Swedes often form sentences by chaining the two together: a men clause followed by an utan clause. These sentences always bring pain to the English translator because in English it's ugly and confusing to have two but clauses in succession. Here's an example, from the second paragraph of the story:

Det var höst, och solen var nergången för längesedan,

It was autumn, and the sun had gone down long since,

men vandringen gick inte fördenskull fram i mörker,

but (men) the walking did not go for that reason forward in darkness,

utan genom klar luft och månsken. 

but (utan) through clear air and moonlight.

Here's what I ended up with:

It was autumn, and the sun had gone down long ago, though that didn't mean they were walking in the dark, but through clear air and moonlight.

It was the best I could do, but the awkwardness is apparent. 


It's taken me a while to realize that Swedish is relatively chary when it comes to possessive pronouns. Hence in this story where the text has  mästarn ("the master") modern ("the mother") systern ("the sister") händerna ("the hands") fotarna ("the feet"), the best translation is often "his master", "his mother", "his sister", "his hands", "his feet". 

Before I grasped this, I was apt to read into the story a certain distance between master and apprentice or mother and son that, confusingly, was indeed there but not to the extent I at first imagined. 


Primarily I use, of course, the treasured Esselte dictionary that my Swedish grandmother gave me fifty years ago, a gift that in my mind has become a lifelong mission. 

But I also used Google Translate quite a lot, more than perhaps I should admit. Though all its results are to be scrutinized with caution, it can be useful when the dictionary won't play, e.g. for an unfamiliar form of an irregular verb, or an idiom that's only sprung up in the last few decades. 

The other thing that can help, as I've mentioned before, is to use Google searches to find the problematic word or phrase being used in other Swedish texts, which may shed light on what it means and how it's used. (I use Ecosia as my everyday search engine, because I like the tree-planting and the lack of "sponsored" results, but I must concede that for this kind of foreign-language search Google is far more effective.)

The essential online tool, though, is the Svenska Akademiens Ordbok (SAOB), the equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary, but free to access. (Not being very fluent in Swedish, I often paste its definitions into Google Translate to work out what it's trying to tell me.)


Thursday, January 07, 2021

Selma Lagerlöf: The Servant-Spirit (Tjänsteanden)


Shoemaker's bench

[Image source: . Acquired by Upplandsmuseet in 1919. It belonged to the shoemaker K.A. Millberg of Tibble (Björklinge), Uppland. (Just off the E4, about 10 miles north of Uppsala.)]

This week's pan-European celebration continues with Selma Lagerlöf's story The Servant-Spirit  (Tjänsteanden), first published in 1911 and collected in Troll och människor I (Trolls and Men I, 1915). 


Krus Erik Ersson, the parish cobbler, and his apprentice, Konstantin Karlsson, had sat all week making shoes at the rectory, and now at nine o'clock on Saturday evening were on their way home, which was a long way off, on the edge of the parish.

It was autumn, and the sun had gone down long ago, though that didn't mean they were walking in the dark, but through clear air and moonlight. It was as lovely as could be. The lake below the rectory lay mirror-bright, with a track of silver down the middle, and in the fields you could see dewdrops on every grass-stem, like white pearls in the moonlight. It was only when they had to pass through one of the groves of trees that it became dark around them. It wasn't particularly late in autumn, so the branches still had their leaves, and the tree-crowns spread out like a vault of the deepest black above their heads.

It felt rather strange to be walking, after six days of sitting bent over the shoemaker's bench. They panted under the weight of their packs, and neither of them said anything.

But the road from the rectory went past the graveyard, and when Krus Erik Ersson caught a glimpse of the old-fashioned grave crosses on the far side of the wall, then thoughts came to him quickly. 

"Hey, Konstantin," he said (and his voice became simultaneously anxious and yearning, as if he was passing a stranger's orchard at night and saying how nice it would be to have some of the apples). 

"It would be a really good thing, if one could only get a little grave-soil."

"Grave-soil!" said the apprentice, and he was so astonished he came to a dead stop. "You can have that all right, as much as you like. But what do you want it for?"

Krus Erik halted too, and now he was so affected by his own thoughts that he spoke as if he'd lost his voice and could only whisper. 

"That is the way that you make a 'spirrtus'. And the man who possesses a spirrtus can have anything he wants. He'd never need to make another pair of shoes. He could build himself a farm as high as the bell-tower. And he could have horses and wagons, and would never have to walk a single step."

The apprentice came from a home where they had pious and god-fearing ways and all superstition was banished. He stood in slow surprise and couldn't grasp that Krus Erik was being serious.

"It surely isn't possible that you believe such a thing, Master Erik," he said. 

"Certainly I believe it," said the other. And right there, where they were standing outside the churchyard, he began to tell about this person and about that person, folk who had got themselves a spirrtus and had been served by it. 

But he wasn't able to convince the apprentice. He was a tall, good-looking boy of seventeen, with a modest but slightly sleepy appearance. He asked in all innocence:

"If you truly believe in it, why don't you obtain one of these servants yourself?"

Krus Erik answered sadly: "I couldn't get one myself. That's beyond my powers."

With that he sighed, hitched his pack higher on his shoulders and resumed walking.

Konstantin remained standing. It seemed as if a faint interest in the matter had begun to stir inside him. 

When Krus Erik had gone a couple of steps further he stopped and turned to the apprentice. 

"You surely aren't suggesting, Konstantin . . ." -- and his voice shook at the mere thought of something so unheard-of -- "You surely aren't suggesting that I should walk into the churchyard and dig up the soil?"

"No," said the apprentice thoughtfully. "If you believe in it, I can quite understand why you can't."

"I never go past a churchyard at night without wishing that I had a spirrtus," said Krus Erik, "but I just can't have one. So there's no point in us standing here any longer, Konstantin."

He began walking again, but slowly, as if in the hope of being stopped. 

The apprentice didn't follow him this time either. The thing was, if there was one person in the world that he really cared for, that person was Krus Erik. His parents at home were so strict that they tolerated neither laughter nor games. The shoemaker, on the other hand, was always full of jokes and stories and was as much fun to be with as if he were a seventeen-year-old himself. And now, when Konstantin saw him walking off down the road, so old and worn out, he longed to do something that would gladden his heart.

He kicked his foot at a tuft of grass, so that the dew-drops flew up into the air. 

"See here, Krus Erik, I'm no more scared of this one bit of earth than of any other, and if you'll just wait for me a minute, then you shall have what you wish for."

He'd shaken off his rucksack and flung it down on the road as he was speaking. Now he made a spring over the roadside ditch and the wall, and he was standing within the churchyard before Krus Erik had time to order him to lay off. 

And actually it needed to come as a surprise to the master, for Krus Erik was as tender of his apprentice as of himself. He would never have let Konstantin go into a churchyard at night, if he'd been asked. 

Konstantin could easily have gathered a little soil from a grave that lay close to the wall of the churchyard, but this he didn't want to do. It wasn't often that he was in a position to distinguish himself in any way, but he had plenty of courage, and he wasn't averse to Krus Erik seeing it. 

He stopped finally at a grave mound that lay right in the middle of the churchyard, kicked away a bit of turf, and then dug out the topmost layer of earth with his hands. 

When he reckoned that he was far enough down into the ground, he took a couple of fistfuls of soil and filled the pockets of his jacket. How much soil was needed for an effective spirrtus, he didn't rightly know, but he thought that two full pockets ought to be enough. 

All this time he concentrated only on the matter in hand and felt no fear. His thoughts were busy with Krus Erik. He wondered what he would do, once he had a spirrtus to order about?

Everything around him was silent and still. It was almost a pity that he had neither seen nor heard any of those things that people usually see and hear in churchyards, and would have no adventure to brag about when he got back to his master.

He scraped the excavated soil back into the hole and laid the turf in place. He did it slowly, so as to use up some time. Krus Erik mustn't suppose that he'd been in a hurry. 

In the middle of the task he stopped and became completely still. It was not that a ghost had scared him, only a strange little thought.

It occurred to him suddenly that he was being very stupid, taking so much trouble to obtain a spirrtus for Krus Erik. Why shouldn't he keep it for himself? He was in just as much need of it as his master. 

In a flash he saw in front of him a little grey cottage with a single room, which was his home; a tall, gloomy and terminally ill man, who was his father; a thin and careworn woman, who was his mother. Truly, truly, he needed a spirrtus more than anyone else did. 

A leaf fell from a tree, just as he reached this point in his thoughts. It rustled as it went past his head, and he stood up in a great hurry. 

He looked around him with wild eyes. Had something happened, while he was bent over the grave? Were the dead awaking? There was a distinct whisper from grave to grave. There was a glimpse of something white in among the black shadows of the trees. The dead were standing there in massed groups. They had been there all the time. In the next minute he would see them.

He was frightened for a moment, but he stood still and didn't run. He fixed his gaze straight ahead. He mustn't start looking in all directions for ghosts. He didn't want to become terrified, didn't want to return to Krus Erik all out of breath and shaking. 

And with the steady gaze everything went away. The air became as if purified from ghosts and noisome creatures and he was able to walk back calmly. 

That notion of keeping the grave-soil for himself was something he thought no more about. 

What would be the point? It was only earth. 

It was really odd, that so wise a man as Krus Erik should have yearned for such a childish thing all his life.  

It was quite something to yearn for! Konstantin stuck his hands into his well-filled pockets. Just a bit of soil. 

But in that very moment Konstantin gave a loud, piercing scream, both wild and anguished, as if a ghost had shown itself to him. 

When his hands dug down into his pockets he knew that it was not soil that filled them, but the remains of dead men. It was fingers, toes, slippery eyeballs, shrunken skin, tangled hair, flesh, fragments of bone, tendons.

And all of it was sticky, cold, clammy, half-dissolved. He tore out his hands and set off in a mad flight towards the wall and the road, all the while trying to turn his pockets out and in so as to get himself free of the dreadful stuff. And the whole time he screamed, not so much from fear as from disgust. 

When he stood on the road once more and looked around for Krus Erik, he spotted him moving quickly away from the church. 

He hurriedly grabbed his bag and slung it on his back. He would have liked to run just as fast as his legs would carry him, but he didn't want to make himself look ridiculous. He clenched his teeth together and stuck to his normal jogging pace until he caught up with his master, who stood waiting for him at the corner of the assembly-house. 

"How is it with you?" asked Krus Erik, and when Konstantin said he was fine he asked no more questions. You see, Krus Erik knew that when someone suspects that someone else has seen a strange sight, it's not good to speak of it until a little time has passed. 

As for collecting the grave-soil, well, he could see how that had gone, from the state of Konstantin's in- and out-turned jacket pockets. 

In the summer, and as far into the autumn as possible, Konstantin slept up in the loft, where he'd placed some boards around a corner that he called his bedroom. It wasn't large, a narrow little bed took up nearly all the space, but the good thing about it was that he could lie in on Sunday mornings. When he slept downstairs in his parents' cottage he had to get up early so that his mother could make the bed before going to church. 

Since he'd started work at Krus Erik's it wasn't uncommon for him to sleep in on Sunday until the wall clock down in the cottage struck twelve, but this didn't happen on the day after the adventure in the churchyard, for he was already awake before ten. He instantly remembered everything. There was still a sensation of disgust in his fingers. It crept through them at the mere thought of what they had touched. 

It had all been his imagination, of course, just fright. He knew that it was nothing more than earth that he'd stuffed in his pockets. 

But Krus Erik had been right, after all. It was no small thing to go into the churchyard at night and to take grave-soil. 

Suddenly he shot out of bed. What if mother and Krus Erik should meet on the way to church, and what if the master should say that yesterday evening Konstantin had gone into the churchyard to obtain a spirrtus! He had to talk to the shoemaker right away, beg him to keep quiet. Mother would be beside herself.

Hurried as he was he could not bring himself to put on his shoes, they were so dusty and dirty. He took the polish and brush out of his rucksack and set the shoe on his hand. At the same time a whole mass of earth came pouring out of it. 

Konstantin drew in a sharp breath and exhaled again with a whistling sound. He saw how it had come about, this soil in his shoes. Most likely it had fallen in when he emptied his pockets in the churchyard. The shoes were so wide at the top. It couldn't have happened any other way. 

He looked at the grains of soil. It was like any other earth. Yes, that other thing had only been his imagination. 

He emptied both shoes and drew the earth together with his foot.

There wasn't much, but . . . Perhaps it was still enough for a spirrtus

He opened his pack again and took out a little tin box that he used for keeping tacks and sole-pegs, emptied it and swept the grave-soil into it. 

Krus Erik would have his spirrtus. And he would see that Konstantin had been the man to bring it home.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Although Konstantin barely gave himself time to taste the milk and bread that mother had left out for him, he didn't get to Krus Erik's cottage in time, for his master had already set off to church. Konstantin hurried after him to try and catch him up on the way, and he would have done it too, if it hadn't been for the shoes. 

He didn't know what had happened to them. They slipped at every step, which they had never done before, and they scraped at his feet. They began to chafe his skin, so that he had to stop walking. 

He took off his shoes and placed them by the roadside. He couldn't bring himself to walk barefoot, but with the shoes on he couldn't move from the spot. He already had sores on both feet from the rubbing. While he was sitting on the ground, at a loss what to do, a cart came along, and in it sat Öst Samuel Andersson with a stranger, who looked like a gentleman. They were driving very slowly, which seemed odd, because Öst Samuel was a horse-dealer and normally he drove so his horse was flat on the ground afterwards.

Öst Samuel was also an old friend of Konstantin's parents. Their cottage lay on outlying land below Öst's farm, and many were the times he had stood by them with support and advice, especially since father caught the severe disease that nearly always confined him to bed. 

When Öst Samuel came up to Konstantin he drew in the reins and asked him where he was headed. 

Well, he'd been going to the church, but now he'd got these rubbing sores, so he was going to have to go back home. 

Then Öst Samuel invited him to travel in the back of the cart. He wasn't going to the church, he was on the way to the churchwarden's in Aspnäs, but at least Konstantin could get a lift half way. 

Konstantin climbed up into the back of the cart. It was something, anyway.

At the front of the cart they were talking about Konstantin. First the stranger said something, but in such a low voice that Konstantin didn't catch it. Öst Samuel, however, had a louder voice and didn't know how to keep it down. So Konstantin heard him say that Yes, he agreed the boy looked all right and was obliging enough, but there was no go in him, and that was what they very much needed. The father was still ill, the mother was working herself to death, but the lad would rather just idle about. Now they had apprenticed him to learn shoe-making, and the master thought him good-natured and willing, but he didn't think he'd be able to make a proper shoe-maker out of him. He had a poor touch and was too slow. 

The stranger said something in return, in his low voice. He must have suggested that perhaps Konstantin could hear what they were saying.

Öst Samuel responded unconcernedly that the boy never heard anything. He always went about as if he were half-asleep. 

But for whatever reason Konstantin wasn't half-asleep that day. He heard all of this, and he heard everything else that the two travellers spoke of. 

Öst Samuel reined in the horse at the turn-off that went up to Aspnäs. Konstantin had to get down now, while the others drove up towards the farm.

"You'd better stir yourself now, if you're hoping to get to church before the priest leaves the pulpit," Öst Samuel called after him. 

But truly, it was all very well for Konstantin to stir himself. The shoe-scraping plagued him with each step. He progressed no faster than a snail. Maybe the spirrtus didn't want him to give it away?

The upshot was that the service had come to an end and the congregation were heading home before Konstantin even reached the hamlet around the church.

One of the first people that he met was the churchwarden from Aspnäs, who came striding down the middle of the road, as big and broad as if he wanted to take all of it for himself. 

The shoemaker's apprentice, who had worked in every farm in the parish, knew the churchwarden at once. He placed himself in front of him, held out his hand and said Good-Day.

The churchwarden offered his right hand, which was holding a walking-stick with a big silver knob. He didn't shift the stick into his left hand, but let Konstantin, as best he could, shake hands with the fist holding the head of the walking-stick. 

The lad didn't let it bother him, but said quickly:

"I think I should let you know that you have strangers at home. It's Öst Samuel and a gentleman from town. I know that, because I had a lift on the back of their cart."

"I see, I see, that's big news, certainly. Was it a while ago they dropped you off?"

"It's been a good hour now. But they'll certainly wait till you get home, because they want to buy your grey mare."

It was odd. On this day Konstantin felt no respect for the churchwarden, no shyness. He even ventured to pull his leg a little.

"I also heard how much they swindled you out of when they bought the horse off you last year, and I know how much the mare is worth and how much you could get for it, if you stuck to your guns."

As he flung this out he set off in the direction of the church. He walked quickly, ignoring the scraping shoes. 

The churchwarden called after him, but Konstantin pretended not to hear him and carried on walking. Then the big, heavy man came running after him. 

Konstantin merely increased his speed. It would be a good thing if next time the churchwarden learnt not to shake hands while holding his walking-stick. 

Finally he saw fit to stop. The churchwarden came up with him, out of breath and panting. 

It was surely not possible, that he knew as much as he'd boasted about? He probably just thought it would be a good laugh, to have an old man run himself into the ground trying to catch up with him?

Konstantin's face took on an offended expression. What was the point of him saying what he knew, if the churchwarden thought he was a liar?

The churchwarden sized him up with a sharp look. Then he thrust his hand into his breast pocket, brought out his wallet and proffered a five-kronor note.

"I don't believe you're lying," he said. "Tell me what you've heard, and you can have this."

The shoemaker's apprentice, who was still working without pay, grew hot with excitement when he saw such a large note. Here was a sight for Öst Samuel, who reckoned that Konstantin neither saw nor heard, but only walked and slept!

He told what he knew, of course, and took the promised reward. 

When he walked further along the road with the five-kronor note in his pocket, he finally encountered Krus Erik. 

At once he thought of the spirrtus. It was the perfect opportunity to give it to his master. The two were alone in the road, and no-one saw or heard them.

But Konstantin went past Krus Erik without stopping. He scarcely greeted him or said a word, just that he was going out on the lake to fish for perch. He'd arranged it the day before with the boys at the rectory. The spirrtus lay in his pocket as if it was riveted there. He told himself that he ought to find out if it amounted to anything before giving it away.


On Monday morning, when Konstantin sat once more at the low, narrow shoe-maker's table opposite Krus Erik, he was as wretched as he'd ever been before in his whole life. 

He was quite decided that he would give up the spirrtus to Krus Erik. He wanted nothing more to do with it.

The whole of Sunday afternoon during the fishing he'd had remarkable luck. He'd pulled up one big perch after another, while the other boys who were with him in the boat caught nothing. 

It wasn't so easy to say what it was down to. He was conscious of having been attentive and vigilant the whole time, while the others chatted and had their thoughts on other things. 

In the end they became irritated at not catching anything and rowed home right in the middle of his best fishing spell. And since the fishing gear and boat were theirs, they kept all the perch too. If they hadn't been so annoyed with him for being the only lucky one, they would perhaps have given him a couple of fish. As it was he ended up going home empty-handed. 

That was vexing enough, but things grew worse when he got home. Öst Samuel had been at his parents' to complain about him. He'd wanted to help a good friend of his buy a horse like one he'd had before. But now they'd been made to pay far too much for the churchwarden's grey mare, and that was all down to Konstantin. 

It was the churchwarden, who hadn't known to keep quiet, but who told Öst Samuel, once the sale was over, how he'd learnt what price to hold out for. And now his parents knew about the five-kronor note and everything else.

They were frightened because he had angered Öst Samuel. What would become of them all, if Öst Samuel stopped supporting them? 

Mother couldn't understand what had got into him. He'd never behaved like this before. What made him think of betraying other people's secrets and taking payment for it? He was a real Judas. 

Mother had taken his five-kronor note to give it back to the churchwarden. One couldn't keep such ill-gotten gains. 

Konstantin pretended to himself that he didn't credit the grave-soil with any power. But in his heart he was convinced that it was the cause of everything. 

That morning, when he was leaving home, he'd firmly decided to get rid of the dreadful thing as soon as he met Krus Erik. But the odd thing was, he hadn't been able to do it. Several times already he'd stuck his hand in his pocket and grasped the tin box in order to pass it over, but each time he'd regretted it. For it was such a strange thing to own something like this! And to think about it, and whether it had any real power. Although up to this point it had brought him only misery, yet it was practically impossible for him to part with it. 

He was so taken up with these thoughts that his work was worse than usual, and Krus Erik noticed it. But Krus Erik had a good way with his apprentices. He never had a go at them, but he had some little tricks that he used to get them working. 

"Hey, Konstantin," he said, "I see there are two pairs of shoes we need to finish today. How about if we have a race? You do one pair and I'll do the other, and let's see if we can keep up with each other."

The spirrtus went back in the pocket again. Konstantin took up the challenge with great eagerness. Here was a good way of finding out if the magic stuff really did anything.

They got out knives, hammers, pliers, lasts, leather, shoe-yarn, sole-pegs, every conceivable thing that was needed for shoe-making, and they set it all out before them. Then the master solemnly intoned One, Two, Three, and so the contest began. 

They cut out the uppers, glued the lining with rye-meal porridge, and while it was drying above the stove they twined the yarn together with the hard thread and attached pig bristles to the ends. 

At this point they were neck and neck, but Krus Erik was rather surprised when he saw how handy Konstantin was at twisting the thread and fixing the bristles. It was very different to his normal standard. 

Then it was time to cut out the soles and soak them to make them easier to handle. 

It was astonishing to see how quickly Konstantin's knife went round, cutting through the tough leather.

At the start Erik Ersson had worked a bit slower than usual, so Konstantin wouldn't be discouraged and give up all hope of winning. But he saw that he'd better buck up, if he didn't want to be left behind himself. 

They picked up their punches and their thread to stitch the upper on. The apprentice's hands moved as fast as a bird's wings. Krus Erik asked if he might see his work. He was concerned that Konstantin would get careless, working at such a rate.

Konstantin showed him a seam that was both straight and even, real exhibition work.

Not for a moment had it crossed Krus Erik's mind that he might not win this contest. But now he started to become a bit thoughtful. 

Konstantin was already ahead. And he moved his fingers as swiftly as a conjuror at a market. 

When it rang for the dinner-break Konstantin had already placed the first shoe upon the last and was sitting tapping the sole to make it smooth and hard. Krus Erik was nothing like so far advanced. Neither of them looked up from their work, though it was now their free time. 

Konstantin had the passing thought of how much he usually relished his break, but today it was another matter, today the work went of its own accord. He didn't grow tired, and nothing was difficult for him. He'd never realized before that work could be fun. 

They were called into the kitchen for their dinner. When they'd thrown down a bit of food they raced back to the farm-labourer's cottage they were using as a workshop. 

The other folk on the farm had worked out what was going on. And instead of having a rest after lunch the men gathered to watch the two shoemakers. 

At first they all took it for granted that Krus Erik would finish first. But when they'd looked on for a while they started to change their minds. One after another they said to Krus Erik that he'd surely never had such a lively apprentice as this.  

Krus Erik was sitting now and hammering the pegs into the sole. His blows were uneven and violent, and everyone thought his work was not as good as usual. 

With Konstantin, on the other hand, all went well. The work was done just as it should be done. Every hammer-blow told. 

"They're lovely shoes, they are," the farm-folk said. "You'll soon be able to set up for yourself."

The labourers went away, and the shoemakers heeled and pegged in silence. Then Krus Erik emitted a little cry. He had struck amiss, and hit his thumbnail with the hammer. 

Konstantin cast a hasty glance at Krus Erik. No-one else had ever been so kind to him or had so much patience with him. Now it occurred to him for the first time that perhaps his master would take it hard if it seemed that his apprentice could make shoes faster and better than he could himself.

The old man looked truly miserable, sitting there and forcing himself on. 

Maybe it wasn't a fair trial either. Konstantin had to admit that on any other day, without the spirrtus in his pocket, he couldn't have gone to work in this manner. He noticed that Krus Erik didn't even take time to stick his thumb in some water. He was afraid, of course, that Konstantin would get too big a lead.

The apprentice felt that he should spare his master's feelings and go a bit slower, but he couldn't stop himself. There was such a work-fury within him. 

When the bell struck five, both the shoes stood before him, complete. He shot them over to Krus Erik. 

The master laid down the shoe that he held in his hand, with the sole still not finished. He made a long and careful inspection of the apprentice's work. 

"You needn't do any more today. You can go home," he said quietly. 

"Aren't we working here tomorrow too?"

"Yes, I'll be working here," said Krus Erik -- and when he raised his head he threw a sharp, hateful look towards Konstantin -- "but not you. I can't be sitting here with an apprentice who does better work than I do myself."

Konstantin said nothing in reply, but took his cap and went towards the door. On the threshold he turned round. His hand went instinctively to his pocket, but it stayed there and didn't come out again.

"Thanks for everything then. Goodbye," he said, and slowly closed the door after him. 


Konstantin was standing in the moonlit yard at home and shooting at a target with his bow and arrows. 

He had done this on his own for years, since he was twelve or thirteen, but he'd never had any success with the shooting. It had certainly never happened that he hit what he was aiming at.

But time and again today he hit the bullseye in the small target he'd drawn on the cowshed wall. 

He looked splendid standing there and shooting, and one of his sisters had come out to look at him. He bragged and boasted of his prowess, as he'd never done before. 

He felt a never-ending need to distinguish himself, to demonstrate how skilful and strong and adaptable he was. He hoped that mother, too, might be standing at the window and watching him. 

But in his heart and soul he was ill-at-ease. He'd only got on to this shooting as a way of not having to think about Krus Erik and the spirrtus and all the horrible things.

He felt he was so wretched that he loved the spirrtus more than anything else in the world. It was just the same with him as with people who drank brännvin. They couldn't leave it alone though they knew it was destroying them. 

The spirrtus hadn't brought him anything but misfortune, but all the same he felt proud and strong and capable of doing anything, as long as he had it in his pocket.

When people drank they too felt bold and successful, just as he did now. But in the eyes of others they were just a mess. 

He would have liked to ask someone if it was wrong, him keeping the spirrtus. But he dared not speak to mother on such a subject, and Krus Erik was furious with him.

He suddenly stopped his shooting and turned to his sister, who stood and watched him. And it all came tumbling out, all the strange things that had happened to him.

She sat quietly while he was talking. She was so like mother, while she sat there and listened with obvious disapproval. 

When he'd finished, she insisted that he should tell it all to mother. 

"You're not thinking of blabbing to her, are you?"

"No, but I'm going to go and ask mother to come out here so you can talk to her."

Highly alarmed, he utterly forbade her, but she stuck to her purpose and turned to go inside.

"Don't! I'll shoot you!" he called out, raising his bow.

She turned around at his call. He'd already laid an arrow in the bow. She laughed at him. The bow was small and feeble and the arrow was a piece of wood without a metal tip. With that weapon he couldn't even bring down a sparrow.

"Go ahead and shoot! I'm still going in to mother," she said stubbornly. 

At that moment the arrow came whistling and struck her right in the eye.

- - - - - - - - - - 

She lay sick for a long time; she  had to stay at the hospital for several months. When she came back home, she had only one eye. 

Konstantin had become like himself again while she was away. He had gone back to apprenticing at Krus Erik's. He was good-natured, a bit clumsy and listless just like in the past.

"You mustn't think I aimed at your eye," he said. "I shot at the roof ridge, but just as the arrow flew off it was as if a hand had struck it, so it came straight towards you."

"Yes, I saw you didn't shoot in my direction," she said. 

"I took it back to the churchyard that night. I became so frightened of it."

She sat and pondered. She had become like an older, wiser person since the accident. She was no longer a child. 

"I wonder what it was,"she said. 

"It was really nothing. But I do long for it. Every day I long for it."

"I think . . ." she said, hesitating. "If you only supposed, if you only imagined, that you had it . . . then you'd be able to shoot and to make shoes just as well as when you carried it in your pocket."

"No," he said. "I've tried, but it doesn't work. That would be like someone saying that if you just imagined you still had your eye you'd see as well as before. That's one of those things that we ourselves don't have any power over."


Original Swedish text of Tjänsteanden:

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