Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A greeting to Denmark

German troops march in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation

[Image source: https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/denmark.jpeg?quality=75&strip=color&w=1100]

Your house lies shuttered in dark tonight
and dampened the conversation sounds,
Oh Denmark! who lit the flame of art
   for a thousand years in our northern lands.
In the church that Absalon built in Lund
A song of memory should come after:
'Twas Danish culture that was our ground,
   and Tegnér his music found
   in honoured Oelenschläger.

Mörklagt ligger i kväll ditt hus
och dämpad är tonen i samtalsorden,
Danmark! Som tände bildningens ljus
   för tusen år sen i Norden.
I kyrkan som Absalon byggde i Lund
ett minnesaltare sången äger:
det var på den danska kulturens grund
   Tegnér i upplyst stund
   bekransade Oelenschläger.

Four-stringed was the northern lute that has burst:
but our hands seek now for that friendly grip.
Yet Christian still stands firm at the mast
   of Denmark's unbroken ship.
How could this proud people ever expire
once joined in Grundtvig's hymn of praise?
Unquenched by diktat of earthly power,
    God's soul-searchlight, the fire
    kindled by Kierkegaard's blaze!

Fyrsträngad var Nordens luta som brast:
nu söker vår hand de förlorade greppet.
Än står Kung Christian vid högan mast
     obruten på Danaskeppet.
Hur skulle det folk kunna tigas ihjäl,
som Grundtvig har sjungit med psalmsång samman?
Ej släcks på jordiska makters befäl
   Guds sökarljus i den själ
   där Kierkegaard tände flamman!

Joyous for parted friends to meet
In the springtime of books, or on summer morns;
sweet too, when snow sweeps winter-white
     its banner round fields and lawns.
Then glows at daybreak the sun so red
as if to inscribe a solemn promise:
From nights of unease and the soul's hard bed
    in the morning a flame will spread
    in Denmark's sacred colours!

Ljuvt är för vänner att komma hit
i bokarnas vår eller sommardagar,
ljuvt även då snön sveper vintervit
   sin fana kring fält och hagar.
Då flammar i gryningen solen så röd,
som var det ett löfte den frambesvärjer:
Ur nätter av oro och själanöd
   skall tändas en morgonglöd
   i Danmarks heliga färger!

[Extremely free translation... :)  The flag-conceit in the final stanza foreshadows Don Paterson's "Imperial". ]

Hjalmar Gullberg, a very popular Swedish lyric poet of the 20th century, came from Malmö in the extreme south of Sweden. This is his poem "Greeting to Denmark", published in 1942 when Denmark was under Nazi occupation  (in what's probably his best-known collection, Fem kornbröd och två fiskar = Five barley-loaves and two fishes). The poet is, we imagine, looking across the Öresund channel towards Copenhagen, some ten miles west of Malmö as the crow flies.

The poem emphasizes Denmark's role as a crucible of civilization in the Nordic world.

St 1

Absalon, a 12th century bishop, first of Roskilde in Denmark, then of Lund in Sweden. Presumably the "church" in question is Lund Cathedral, though its foundation predated Absalon's tenure. (Scania, now the southernmost part of Sweden, was part of Denmark until the mid-17th century.)

Esaias Tegnér (1782 - 1846), Swedish romantic poet whose epic Frithjof's Saga was once famous throughout Europe. The poem was somewhat influenced by the Helge of the Danish poet Adam Gottlob Oelenschläger (1779 - 1850).

St 2

N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783 - 1872), pastor and poet, important in the growth of Danish nationalism, also in Lutheran renewal, and in national politics (he began as a conservative but moved towards liberalism); a major composer of hymns and sacred songs. (He was also a pioneering Anglo-Saxonist and the first person to translate Beowulf into a modern language.)

Danish Jews fleeing to Ystad in Sweden in October 1943

[Image source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24427637]

The Nazi occupation, from 1940, was at first a peaceful cooperation and Denmark retained a high degree of self-government. This cooperation allowed them to resist the imposition of Nazi directives (such as anti-semitic policies). King Christian and the prime minister remained in situ, and came to be revered as symbols of a continuing Danish national identity. A few Danes were enthusiastic supporters of the Third Reich and fought on the Eastern Front. The question of whether cooperation was the right strategy continues to be debated to this day. But most Danish Jews survived, whereas in rebellious Norway a large part of the Jewish population was liquidated. In summer 1943, perceiving that Germany was losing the war, Danish resistance strengthened and as a result the Nazis dismissed the government and declared direct rule and a state of emergency. Danish Jews were assisted by fishermen to escape across the Öresund channel to Sweden. The Danish resistance organized acts of sabotage, the Nazis sent some Danish police to concentration camps and carried out other revenge killings, but by now they were too weakened to fully gain control of Denmark, and could not prevent general strikes in 1944. In October 1944, Hitler himself approved the confiscation of all Danish bicycles. Liberation came on May 5th, 1945.

Danes celebrate liberation, Copenhagen May 1945

[Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1f/People_celebrating_the_liberation_of_Denmark._5th_May_1945._At_Str%C3%B8get_in_Copenhagen..jpg]

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