Wednesday 25 February 2015

A poem by the Norwegian clergyman Petter Dass (1647-1707)

Petter Dasse’s Lament
concerning his illness of six years

A body full of grit and stone
Countless infirmities has known;
And yet I ween with pen or quill
One never can describe such ill.

Such is the life I’ve now acquired,
Of pain I am both sick and tired.
At times I wish my end were nigh:
I long for death, yet do not die.

The burden that my back has bent
Is known to God omniscient,
While others can go forth and back:
I am the one stretched on the rack.

The beast that each day pulls the plough
Is better off than me, I vow;
Should it withstand its daily toil,
Nothing at night its peace will spoil.

All day my pain won’t let me think,
At night I cannot sleep a wink,
My life is almost rent in twain,
When may I e’er find rest again?

Shall I squeeze out a single drop,
My mind beside itself says stop;
’Tis like an awl or knife that cuts
Stabbed ’twixt my member and my guts.

For six years weakness has held sway,
I have not had a quiet day.
Oh God of Mercy, grant me peace:
Year seven me from gaol release!

The Sabbath comes each seventh day,
Prepare my case, Jesu, I pray
That for my trials I after this
May share with you an hour of bliss.

I your disciple beg reprieve,
That from your school I may have leave,
As master you were sometimes brash,
But God be praised for every lash!

If I, oh God, have made you wroth
You now have flayed me, by my troth,
I’m now oppressed by countless hurts
And well receive my just deserts.

What are such wages when compared
With what from no man should be spared.
A thousand years of torment can
Ne’er pay the debt incurred by man.

When though on others my eyes play
Who are of selfsame ore and clay,
I find their sufferings are nought
With pains compared with which I’m fraught.

Each seems to have sufficent load
But when apportioned what I’m owed
’Tis weighed by merest ounce and jot,
And double weight would seem my lot.

Yes, wondered must have many a one
Just what the wretched man has done
That day and night so pained is he:
Shall he thus an example be?

Is there then no one in the land
As great a sinner as this man?
To injury they insult add
And many deem him to be bad.

No matter what their judgments be,
My illness stays the same to me;
Should heaven, sea and sky and earth
Take pity, it’s of little worth.

My wife, who time and time again
Has heard me sigh and e’er complain,
Knows hardly, faced with such duress,
Where she would be for piteousness.

My son and daughter, family,
Relations, can’t have failed to see
Just how much sighing and brave tears
I have endured down through the years.

And should my pain need proof entire
And testimonials require,
Ask every trunnel, every board
That in my bed is neatly stored.

Ask every house-beam for sure proof,
Ask walls and joints, ask rafters, roof,
Ask chairs and tables – all will tell
Just how things are with me as well.

Though childbirth often is unkind
To women when they are confined;
Once to their child they’ve given birth
Their pain gives way to joyous mirth.

I though have carried and have fed
The foetus that will leave me dead,
For six years borne it undesired,
It’s hardly odd that I’ve grown tired.

Oh God, our Saviour and our King,
Who can transform most everything,
Transform my pain while I’ve yet breath!
To life or to a blessed death.

To hear the translation read, go to here

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