Sunday, December 09, 2018

fox runs across the ice

[Image source: Photo by Emme MacDonald.]

This is a popular song in Sweden, known to all children. In its extended version it accompanies a round dance with actions (such as curtseying or bowing) -- e.g. round the midsummer pole or the Christmas tree.

Räven raskar över isen,
räven raskar över isen.
Får vi lov, ja får vi lov,
att sjunga flickornas visa?
  Så här gör flickorna var de går
  och var de sitter och var de står.
Så får vi lov, ja får vi lov,
att sjunga flickornas visa?

The fox runs across the ice,
the fox runs across the ice.
Shall we, yes shall we,
sing the girls' song?
  Thus the girls do as they walk
  and as they sit and as they stand.
So shall we, yes shall we,
sing the girls' song?

("Få vi lov att...?" is homologous to "Have we leave to...?" --  but with only the faintest residual tint of old-fashioned formality, so I've gone for "Shall we ..?")

The italicized lines, which accompany the actions, are usually sung in a slower tempo than the rest.

Subsequent verses are basically the same, but run through "gossarna" (the boys), "gummorna" (the old women), "gubborna" (the old men), then various optional professions: e.g. "skräddaren" (the tailor), "skomakarn" (the cobbler), "målaren" (the painter), "bagarn" (the baker) and "sotaren" (the chimney sweep). And such full-length renderings usually end up with verses about Grin-Olle and Skratt-Olle, who are apparently a pair of "snusande gubbarna" (funny snuff-stained old buffers). "De" (they) becomes "han" (he) in these later verses.

But like most popular songs, it's often abbreviated to a single verse or even a single line.

The single line (i.e. fox runs across the ice) is totemic, a title that has nothing in particular to do with the rest of the song.  As typical of nature in folk songs, it means both nothing and everything; it just means the song itself, the dance itself.

Because of this first line I always think of it as a Christmas song, but that's applying far too much logic. Besides, at midsummer in the north of Sweden ice isn't altogether a distant memory.

It's a pure sound game, too. Four different R-sounds followed by four different vowel-sounds.

raska -
r öve -
r isen

And "isen" also rhymes with "visa", but not very well. (If it was a full rhyme, I think that might get annoying after a while.)

The sound-pattern is preserved in the occasionally-reported variant "Räven raskar över riset" (Fox runs across the heather).

It's an old song. The scientist Olof Rudbeck described a version of the song in 1689, in his eccentric magnum opus Atlantica.

The melody normally heard today is a "polska", a dance tune in dotted triple time.

[Image source: . Photo by Olaf Schneider, used by permission.]



Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger