Friday, 22 January 2016

Poem by the Norwegian 19th century poet Johan Sebastian Welhaven

The poem’s spirit

What e’en in richest language
stays locked with seven seals,
though words cannot express it
the poem yet reveals.

From language’s stern structure
from thought’s constrictedness
a free idea emerges –
the poem’s spirit this.

Within the soul its home was
ere verse was its attire,
and language-ore turned fluid
when heated in its fire.

The word it quite suffuses
like scent that rises up
from deep within the rose bush
in every flower cup.

And though the serried poem
can never hold it pent,
it still is always present
as is rose-petal’s scent.

The old complaint dismiss then
that no art ever can
portray the spark of thought out
of which a poem sprang.

For if it could be fettered
and be in print revealed,
it would within those limits
its life and force then yield.

It would with spirit’s freedom
on word-sounds dearly float;
and has in poem’s rhythms
a passage far too short.

A passage to a new life
within the reader’s breast;
there once more it will waken
in joy or sore oppressed.

And there be moved and nourished
and be just like the fire
that in the poet’s soul lay
ere verse to life aspired.

Thus only can the poem
retain its magic power
and what defies expression
within the word can flower.

Regard the tranquil pleasure
with which the poet’s blessed
when from his songs the spirit
now floats from breast to breast.

And let his fame but skywards
be borne by this day’s wind,
’tis not the true refreshment
that can assuage his mind.

But when his mental image,
though fame or none he knew,
takes root in some pure bosom
and there is born anew –

Oh, bring him then a message
his spirit there is rife,
for then his work is promised
what is eternal life.


John Irons said...

for those who can read norwegian, here is the original. it was first published in 1844.

John Irons said...