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Booklover — Call to Greatness

by | Jul 8, 2024 | 0 comments


Column Editor:  Donna Jacobs  (Retired, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC  29425) 

Against the Grain V36#3

In a tumultuous time, one often turns to the written word for solace, inspiration, or guidance.  For many, poetry is the perfect medium for this.  Many of the Nobel Laureates are poets and their works give us emotional food, many times when we are starving and don’t even realize it.

Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam was such a poet.  One lovingly beautiful description of his work by the Swedish critic, Sven Söderman, states:  “In the constellation of original artists who regenerated Swedish poetry at the end of the last century, Verner von Heidenstam was the most brilliant star.”

And with such an accolade, maybe it is no big surprise that Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam was awarded the 1916 Nobel prize “in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature.”

In today’s world, it is less and less of a challenge discovering works, especially poetry, from these early Nobel Laureates.  With websites like https://allpoetry.com, one can often get lucky, find something to enjoy, and maybe get a peppering of analysis.  “Åkallan Och Löfte” is one of four poems offered on the site and the title translates to “Invocation and Promise.”  (https://allpoetry.com/Carl-Gustaf-Verner-von-Heidenstam)  The poem captivates immediately.  And Yes, recognizing that it is presented in translation, one can only image the power delivered in his native tongue.

Let this poem from the early twentieth century bring its power to you.  We could easily imagine that it is written for us today.  The analysis is included for it also nourishes the timeliness of these words.

“Invocation and Promise”

And shouted three neighbors: Forget

the greatness you have laid in the earth!

I answered: Arise, our dream of greatness

about domination in the Nordics!

That dream of greatness still shines on us

to play in new exploits.

Let up our graves, nay, give us men

in research, in colors and writings.

Yes, give us a people on a precipitous brink,

where a fool can break his neck.

My people, there are other things to carry in hand

than a bread-filled Egyptian stew.

It’s better, that pot is spilling,

than the living heart rusts;

and no people shall be more than you,

that’s the goal, whatever the cost.

It better be reached by an avenger

but to nothing see the years go by,

it is better that all our people perish

and farms and cities burn.

It is prouder to dare his roll of the dice,

than thin with extinguishing flame.

It’s nicer to listen to a broken string,

than never to draw a bow.

I wake up at night, but around me is peace.

Only the waters storm and boil.

I could throw myself down in longing

as a praying warrior of Judah.

I don’t want to beg for sunny years,

about harvests of gold without end.

Merciful fate, kindle the lightning that strikes

a people of years of misery!

Yea, drive us together with scourges,

and bluest spring shall bud.

You smile, my people, but with stiff features,

and sings, but without hope.

You’d rather dance in silk robes

than your own riddle suggests.

My people, you shall wake up to youthful deeds

the night you can cry again

Analysis (ai):  Åkallan Och Löfte is a powerful and patriotic poem that expresses the speaker’s desire for greatness for his people.  It urges them to break free from complacency and embrace challenges, fostering a spirit of progress and innovation.

Unlike many of the author’s more serene and nature-inspired works, this poem reflects the tumultuous times of its composition, amidst political and social upheaval.  It echoes the themes of national pride and determination that characterized the period.

The poem’s relentless refrain, “Giv oss män,” emphasizes the need for strong and capable individuals to lead and inspire the people towards their destiny.  The speaker’s exhortation to risk and sacrifice contrasts with the tranquility of the surrounding landscape, creating a sense of urgency and determination.

Overall, Åkallan Och Löfte is a compelling call to action, urging a nation to rise above its current state and strive for greatness through adversity and sacrifice.”  


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