Monday, 26 January 2015

A poem by the Norwegian writer Rolf Jacobsen


It was that evening with the fireflies
when we stood waiting for the bus to Velletri
that we saw the old couple kissing each other
under the plane tree. It was then
you said, half into the air
half to me:
Whoever has loved long
has not lived in vain.
And it was then I caught sight of the first
fireflies in the dark, sparkling
with flashes of light around your head.
It was then.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

And one by Pär Lagerkvist

earth’s most lovely....

Earth’s most lovely at light’s waning.
All the love the sky’s containing
lies collected in a dusky light
o’er the fields,
the homes in sight.

All is pure affection, all is soothing.
Distant shores the Lord himself is smoothing.
All is close yet all far off, unknown,
All is given
to mankind on loan.

All is mine, and will be taken from me,
everything will soon be taken from me.
Trees and clouds, the fields through which I pace.
I shall journey –
lonely, without trace.

To see the original and here the poet read it, go to here

A poem by Karin Boye


Salt, bitter salt
the sea is, and clear and cold.
Deep down, there’s much that moulders,
the sea though cleanses all.
Wild, beast of prey wild
is the surf in its glittering bound,
but no human thoughts have ever
the sea-song’s full-bodied sound.
Strong, endless and strong
is the mighty march of the waves,
and strong with the unending sea
each gentle transient wave.
So give your life to the sea. There’s
life-blood required of a man,
though lastly, deep in the depths, he
will gain rest that none other can.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Brorson of the day

O Holy Ghost! immensely

O Holy Ghost! immensely
my heart yearns for its home,
your precious gem,
where all that pains intensely
you grant me to disown.
O Holy Ghost! immensely
my heart yearns for its home.

But ah, those seas restraining!
How can I find a way
past reefs unseen
and currents keen
my stronghold safely gaining?
I shall though, come what may.
But ah, those seas restraining!
How can I find a way?

This thought shall quell my fearing:
I’ll soon in heaven stand.
My faith make brave
to flout each wave,
and safe the ship be steering,
you know just what I can!
This thought shall quell my fearing:
I’ll soon in heaven stand.

A poem from the just-published Cathedra sequence by Albert Hagenaars

the tombstones of saint-denis

The light of Abbot Suger, ever new, falls on
canopies and tombstones, the vacant faces
of kings. Their graves are subject to

an emptiness greater than that of life.

Further down, in the crypt, their
amassed remains now acidify, sealed
off from the viruses of a belief

more menacing, penetrating

than that of the zealot from Geneva,
the arguments of the Enlightenment
or the yapping goddess of the Revolution:

our probing of DNA, nanos and the universe.

This gleaming marble, wearing away
in staring, suggests how we too might shine,
in a glow that knows neither day nor night

for love is deep, deeper than stone is dense.

Taken from the four-language collection Cathedra, the original Dutch by Albert Hagenaars.
For more information, consult his website at

Thursday, 22 January 2015

At a guess - the only hymn that includes a honey cake. By Brorson (1739).

God’s kingdom’s gospel is as sweet

God’s kingdom’s gospel is as sweet
as honey cake in flavour;
if in one’s heart it finds a seat
where one this food can savour,
it is the soul’s true honey fare
makes light the heart and free from care
and in Christ’s eyes delightful.

The word so sweet for which we crave
God’s mouth and heart have given,
it is a kiss that God us gave
when to despair we’re driven,
it is the strength of God’s own heart,
a honeyed cure that makes depart
sin’s every boil and abcess.

If you by sin are sore oppressed
which here your soul has smitten,
this heav’nly word’s to you addressed,
come, read what has been written:
As true as God lives ever more,
he never will your sighs ignore,
but lovingly receive you.

Just place this word upon your tongue
and to your pain apply it,
you’ll move God’s heart if truly sprung
from your heart’s depths you sigh it;
in Jesu’s name accept God’s grace
and hasten to its sweet embrace
for it is gladly granted.

Come, settle like a busy bee
in this word’s meadow-flowers,
the strength within seek earnestly,
suck deep for many hours,
there honey freely is bestowed,
the blood that from Christ’s wounds once flowed
in God’s word is discovered.

You think, if you’d an upright heart
no doubt would e’er assail you,
but when you feel lust’s wicked dart
deep down, you heart will fail you,
your heart will quickly grow quite weak,
because you lack the strength you seek
to banish sin for ever.

Your greatest sin can never face
or match at any hour
the mighty kingdom of God’s grace,
his true word’s living power;
he who has faith God’s grace shall know
no matter he be high or low
or where on earth he’s living.

An Easter hymn by Brorson

hark, you who are weeping

Hark, you who are weeping
and whose tears are steeping
where your Saviour lies,
banish tears and sadness,
now come days of gladness,
joy and peace your prize!
He aright
has used full might
all death’s shields to break and shatter,
and completely scatter.

He has risen truly
from the dead, to duly
greet triumphantly;
at his earthly grave no
angels in the cave though
stand for you to see.
Your gaze stay
on where he lay!
There you should all pain be flinging
that your heart was wringing!

Come, draw nearer, merely
bury all that nearly
made your courage fail!
To his flock make haste now,
tell with joyful words how
he has made death quail!
Say to each
who’s fearful, teach
each disciple, from death’s prison
Jesus Christ is risen!

Let your heart stop fretting,
all its pain forgetting,
there’s no need for dread;
He has quenched the fire,
risen to inspire,
Jesus, who was dead.
He broke free,
his bride may she
likewise all her foes be smiting,
and in God delighting.

If your sins are many,
Christ says: every penny
of the debt is paid.
Anger off is driven,
grace now freely given,
be no more dismayed;
Jesus died,
and swept aside
all death’s wrath and tribulation
for your sole salvation.

Sin, can you but glower?
Hell, where is your power?
Death, where is your sting?
Christ is fully glorious,
I am now victorious,
them he down did fling!
God, who gave
at Jesu’s grave
us this victory amazing,
we will e’er be praising.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Here's a fairytale from The Brothers Grimm

The blue light
There was once a soldier who had faithfully served his king for many years: when the war was over, however, and the soldier was unable to continue to serve because of all the wounds he had received, the king said to him ‘You may return home, I no longer need you: you will receive no more wages, since they are only paid those who serve me in return.’ At this, the soldier had no idea how he was to scrape a living: he left in sorrow and walked all day long until that evening he came to a forest. When it grew dark, he saw a light which he set out towards and arrived at a house where a witch lived. ‘Please give me some shelter for the night and a little to eat and drink,’ he said to her, ‘for otherwise I will surely die.’ ‘Oho!’ she answered, ‘who would give a run-away soldier anything? I will, however, be merciful and take you in, if you do what I ask of you.’ ‘What do you ask of me?’ the soldier asked. ‘That you dig through my garden tomorrow.’ The soldier agreed to this and the following day he toiled away, but was unable to finish by the time evening came. ‘I can see,’ the witch said, ‘that you cannot work any longer today: I am willing to let you stay for one more night, but for this you must tomorrow chop up a cartload of wood until it is firewood.’ The soldier spent the whole day doing this, and that evening the witch suggested to him that he should stay one more night. ‘You need only do a small job for me tomorrow, behind my house there is an old dried-up well, my light has fallen down it, it has a blue flame and does not go out – you are simply to fetch it up.’ The following day, the old woman led him to the well and lowered him in a basket. He found the blue light and made a sign that she was to haul him up again. She started to haul him up, but just before he reached the edge, she stretched out her hand and wanted to take the blue light from him. ‘No,’ he said, noticing her evil intent, ‘I won’t hand over the light until I am standing safely with both feet on the ground.’ Then the witch flew into a rage, let him fall back down into the well and went away.

The poor soldier fell – without injuring himself – onto the moist floor, and the blue light kept on burning, but what good was that to him? he realised that he could not escape death. He sat there for a while, downhearted, then by chance he dipped into his pocket and found his pipe there which was still half-stuffed with tobacco. ‘That is to be my one last pleasure,’ he thought, took it out, lit it with the blue light and started to smoke. When the smoke had drifted around the cavern for a while, there was suddenly a small black manikin standing in front of him, who asked ‘Master, what is your wish?’ ‘Who am I to wish things of you?’ the soldier replied in astonishment. ‘I have to do everything,’ the manikin said, ‘that you ask me to.’ ‘Very well,’ the soldier said, ‘you can start by helping me out of this well.’ The manikin took him by the hand and led him through an underground passage, but he did not forget to take the blue light along with him. On their way, the light revealed to him the treasures that the witch had collected and hidden there, and the soldier took as much gold as he could carry. When he was back at ground level once more, he said to the manikin ‘Now go and tie up the old witch and take her to the court.’ Not long after, she came hurtling by as fast as the wind on a wild tom-cat with a wild shriek, and only a moment later the manikin was back again, ‘everything carried out as ordered,’ he said, ‘and the witch is already hanging from the gallows. – Master, what else is your wish?’ the manikin asked. ‘Nothing more at present,’ the soldier replied,’ you can go home: just be here at once if I call for you.’ ‘All you need do,’ the manikin said, ‘is to light your pipe with the blue light – and I will be standing before you.’ After which he disappeared from sight.

The soldier returned to the town he had come from. He entered the finest inn and had beautiful clothes made for himself, then he ordered the innkeeper to arrange as magnificent a room for him as possible. When it was ready and the soldier had moved in, he summoned the black manikin and said ‘I have served the king faithfully, but he sent me away and would let me starve, now I will have my revenge.’ ‘What am I to do?’ the manikin asked. ‘Late at night, when the king’s daughter is lying in bed, you are to bring her here asleep, she is to serve me as my maid.’ The manikin said ‘for me that is an easy matter, but for you a dangerous one. If it is found out, things could go badly for you.’ When the clock had struck midnight, the door flew open, and the manikin entered carrying the king’s daughter. ‘Aha, there you are, are you?’ the soldier cried. ‘Get down to work at once! Go fetch a broom and sweep the room.’ When she had finished, he ordered her to come to where he was sitting, stretched his feet out towards her and said ‘pull off my boots’, then threw them in her face, and she had to pick them up, clean them and polish them. But she did everything he commanded her to, without resisting, silently and with half-shut eyes. At the first cockcrow, the manikin returned her to the royal castle and to her bed.

The next morning, when the king’s daughter had got up, she went to her father and told him she had had such a strange dream, ‘I was carried through the streets at lightning speed and taken into the room of a soldier, who made me serve him as his maid and wait on him and do all the chores, sweep the room and polish his boots. It was only a dream, yet I am just as exhausted as if I had done all of this.’ ‘The dream might possibly be true,’ the king said, ‘I will give you a piece of advice, fill your pocket with peas and make a small hole in your pocket; if you are fetched once more, they will fall out and leave a trail in the street.’ When the king said all this, the manikin was standing invisible beside him and heard everything he said. That night, when he carried the sleeping king’s daughter through the streets once again, some peas did indeed fall out of her pocket, but they were unable to leave any trail, for the cunning manikin had strewn peas out in all the streets in advance. And the king’s daughter was obliged once more to perform the duties of a maid until cockcrow.

The next day, the king sent his people out to look for the trail, but it was in vain, for in the streets the poor children were sitting harvesting peas – they said ‘last night it rained peas.’ ‘We must think of something else,’ the king said, keep your shoes on when you go to bed, and before you leave from there, hide one of them. I’ll be able to find it.’ The black manikin heard the suggestion, and when the soldier that evening asked him to fetch the king’s daughter once more, he advised against it and said, there was no means of defeating such an act of cunning, and if the shoe was discovered in his room, things could go badly for him. ‘Do what I tell you,’ the soldier replied, and the king’s daughter had to work as a maid a third night; but before she was carried back, she hid one shoe under the bed.

The next day, the king had the shoe searched for throughout the town: it was found in the soldier’s room and the soldier himself, who at the manikin’s request had made off for the gate, was soon caught up with and thrown into prison. He had forgotten to take his best possessions with him when fleeing – the blue light and the gold, and all he had left in his pocket was a ducat. When he now, loaded down with chains, stood at the window of his prison cell, he saw one of his comrades passing. He tapped on the window-pane, and when the man came up, he said ‘be so kind as to fetch the small bundle that I have left behind me at the inn – here is a ducat for your trouble.’ His comrade ran off, and brought back what he desired. As soon as the soldier was alone once more, he lit his pipe and had the black manikin appear. ‘Have no fear,’ he said to his master, ‘go to where they would take you, and allow everything to happen, just take the blue light with you.’ The next day, the soldier was put on trial and, although he had done nothing evil, the judge condemned him to death. As he was being led out, he asked the king for a final favour. ‘What favour is that?’ the king asked. ‘That on my way out I am allowed to smoke one last pipe.’ ‘You may smoke three,’ the king answered, ‘but do not imagine that I will spare you your life.’ Then the soldier took out his pipe and lit it with the blue light, and when a couple of rings of smoke had risen from it, there stood the manikin with a small cudgel in his fist and said ‘What is my master’s wish?’ ‘Strike the false judges and their henchmen to the ground for me, and do not spare the king either, who has treated me so badly.’ Then the manikin set about them like lightning, zick-zack, back and forth, and whoever was even touched by his cudgel dropped to the ground and did not dare to move any more. The king was terrified, and started to plead, if only for his life, gave the soldier the kingdom – and the princess as his wife.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Know your 36th psalm? Here's Ingemann's version

The Merciful One
(Based on Psalm XXXVI, vv. 5-9)

Lord, unto the heavens your mercy extends!
To clouds your great faithfulness rises;
O’er mountains the hand of your righteousness bends,
O’er valleys and towns of all sizes.

Your love, Lord, resembles the heaven’s embrace,
Each judgment the depths of the ocean.
You lead to salvation the souls of our race,
Pay heed to the sighs of creation.

Your great loving kindnesses, Lord God, abide
Where children of men toil and swelter!
In darkness the wing of your love is spread wide –
Beneath its vast shadow we shelter.

You slake the soul’s thirst in the desert’s cruel might,
You rescue the dove sorely frightened –
The fountain of life is with you, in your light
One day we shall all be enlightened.

An interesting Piet Hein twist to 'das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben'

Freedom’s freedom to do what?
Everything you like a lot,
just as long as you make sure
not to flout a single law.