Sunday 28 June 2020

Henrik Wergeland: 'Pigen paa Anatomikammeret' (1836)

This poem by Wergeland continues to shock and amaze me. There is a modern anguish at the loss of innocence one can find in Blake, Baudelaire and Dylan Thomas (the crooked rose and crooked worm of 'The force that through the green fuse drives the flower') in it, and yet it dates from 1836.

The girl in the dissection room

– – Yes, it is her! Oh light here, quick!
Let not the knife yet even flick
       across this poor girl’s heart!
Oh, what cruel irony does glow
in this lamp’s gaze that stares down so
       on dead pain set apart.

So cold, yet when it breathed did not
the proud world gaze at it a lot?
       And bold eyes soon sliced through
the veil of golden dreams that she
the poor girl against poverty
       wore when as child she grew.

Like flower frozen in the ice
this cheek bears traits that in a trice
       should be well-known to me.
For childhood games that brought me joy,
before I was no longer boy,
       – Oh surely it was she.

She lived just opposite from us,
of humble birth, like in its moss
       the roof’s heartsease could thrive.
Fine folk could hardly contemplate
that blood so fair and delicate
       from paupers could derive.

Ah, many a face as this saw I
like monthly rose’s splendour die,
       as butterfly-dust brief!
Fate’s hand too firmly must have grasped,
and sin’s trace to such lives have clasped
       like snail’s slime on the leaf.

To see the original poem, go to here

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