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Poems and Songs   By: (1832-1910)

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New York The American Scandinavian Foundation London: Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press 1915


I lived far more than e'er I sang; Thought, ire, and mirth unceasing rang Around me, where I guested; To be where loud life's battles call For me was well nigh more than all My pen on page arrested.

What's true and strong has growing room, And will perhaps eternal bloom, Without black ink's salvation, And he will be, who least it planned, But in life's surging dared to stand, The best bard for his nation.

A life seventy seven years long and but two hundred pages of lyrical production, more than half of which was written in about a dozen years! The seeming disproportion is explained by the lines just quoted from the poem Good Cheer , with which Björnson concluded the first edition of his Poems and Songs . Alongside of these stanzas, in which the cause of his popularity and powerful influence is also unconsciously revealed, may well be placed the following one from The Poet , which discloses to us the larger conception of the mission that Björnson himself in all his work and life, no less than in his lyrics, so finely fulfilled:

The poet does the prophet's deeds; In times of need with new life pregnant, When strife and suffering are regnant, His faith with light ideal leads. The past its heroes round him posts, He rallies now the present's hosts, The future opes Before his eyes, Its pictured hopes He prophesies. Ever his people's forces vernal The poet frees, by right eternal.

"The best bard for his nation" is he who "does the prophet's deeds," who "rallies now the present's hosts," and "frees, by right eternal." Poet and prophet Björnson was, but more than all else the leader of the Norwegian people, "where loud life's battles call," through conflict unto liberation and growth. It has been said that twice in the nineteenth century the national soul of Norway embodied itself in individual men, during the first half in Henrik Wergeland and during the second half in Björnstjerne Björnson. True as this is of the former, it is still more true of the latter, for the history of Norway shows that the soul of its people expresses itself best through will and action. Björnson throughout all his life willed and wrought so much for his country, that he could give relatively little time and power to lyrical self expression.

But Björnson strikingly represented the past of Norway as well as his contemporary age. He was a modern blending of the heroic chieftain and the gifted skald of ancient times. He was the first leader of his country in a period when the battles of the spirit on the fields of politics and economics, ethics, and esthetics were the only form of conflict, a leader evoking, developing, and guiding the powers of his nation into fuller and higher life. In his many sidedness Björnson was also in his time the first skald of his people, almost equally endowed with genius as a narrative, a dramatic, and a lyric poet; with talents scarcely less remarkable as an orator, a theater director, a journalistic tribune of the people (his newspaper articles amounted, roughly estimated, to ten thousand book pages), a letter writer, and a conversationalist.

If, furthermore, we take into account also Björnson's labors and achievements in the domain of action more narrowly considered, it is no wonder that his Poems and Songs make only a small volume. Examining the book more closely, we find that three quarters of its pages were written before the year 1875, so that the lyrical output, here published, of the thirty four years thereafter amounts to but fifty pages... Continue reading book >>

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