Thursday 25 June 2020


I met Sweden because a Dutch girl I had met at a folk high school in the Netherlands in 1964 was going to study there, at a folk high school near Trosa in Sörmland, Stensund. I fell completely  for the  beauty of the scenery and managed to stay for a few weeks in summer 1965 by offering to work in the kitchen and scraping paint off old buildings (falufärg) and repainting, which ought  to have ruined my  lungs but didn't. I had studied Swedish at Amsterdam university on a part-time basis, so had the advantage of being reasonably fluent.
The staff there were very helpful and introduced me to key figures in Swedish  literature, and also to Sven-Bertil Taube, who had recorded a wonderful LP called 'Skillingtryck' (1962). It is alas not available in digital form, but the  song I most liked can be found on the Internet. It is known as 'Vasa Visan' and described a bloody battle fought between Danes (Kong Christian) and Swedes (Konung Gustaf I) in and around Stockholm in 1520, known as 'The Blood Bath'. The young Sven-Bertil trills his Rs like a machine gun. The song exists in many different versions. And this English translation:

King Gustav I and the Men of Dalarna

To Dalarna King Gustav rides
To parley with his Swedes,
But Christian lies at Södermalm,
On stolen pork he feeds,
Christian sits safe in Stockholm,
He guzzles both wine and mead.

Listen good men of Dalarna
To all I have to say:
:|: Will you with me to Stockholm go
For there the Jutes to slay? :|:

The men of Dalarna answered him
They answered every one:
:|: Good Friday’s battle we still recall,
Much slaughtering then was done. :|:

To this King Gustav did reply:
He answered with this prayer:
:|: May God our Father in Heaven ensure
That we now better fare. :|:

The men of Dalarna answered him
Who bore the Swedish crown:
:|: Will you our battle-leader be
And take back Stockholm town? :|:

Snow grouse and squirrel in the tree
Our arrows seek and find;
:|: That bloodhound Christian surely then
To such a fate’s assigned. :|:

I’ll gladly your battle-leader be,
King Gustav told them true,
:|: If you will swear allegiance
And follow my banner blue. :|:

Then all the men of Dalarna
They answered one and all:
:|: We’ll gladly risk both life and limb
To make that tyrant fall. :|:

The man of Dalarna armed themselves,
Not one whole day but two,
:|: To fight alongside King Gustav
And see the battle through. :|: 

Gladly King Gustav then set out,
O’er Tuna bridge he rode;
:|: In numbers that the Danes amazed,
The men from Dalarna strode. :|:

Across the Tuna heath they spread,
this army of valiant men;
:|: Greater in number than the king
At one look could take in. :|:

He and his men at speed advanced,
They Stockholm would set free;
:|: Their shower of arrows thicker fell
Than hail does on the sea. :|:

He and his men they forged ahead
And made for Stockholm town;
:|: Their shower of arrows thicker fell
Than rain from clouds pours down. :|: 

The men from Dalarna then did shoot,
Their bows they drew and twanged;
:|: Thicker the swarm of arrows was
Than the seashore’s grains of sand. :|:

The men from Dalarna had their sport,
Their arrows did skip and nip;
:|: Two Jutlanders the third one bore
Up on their pikestaff’s tip. :|:

The miller’s wife she then came out
And loudly she did chide:
:|: The sacks of grain have all been ground,
Who’s to carry them inside? :|:

They are not sacks of grain that’s ground,
In spite of what you say;
The highest Jutlanders they are
That of late in Malm did lie,
The poorest Jutlanders they are
That from arrows came to die.

My head is simply splitting,
My limbs are heavy as lead;
:|: I’ve drunk marsh rosemary’s foul brew
That in Dalecarlia’s bred. :|:

My side is also aching,
All movement leaves me bent;
:|: I’ve tasted the herring sour and rank
That from Dalecarlia’s sent. :|:

From out their houses people came
Onto Stockholm’s streets they stepped;
:|: It caused delight to watch the Jutes
That from their horses leapt. :|:

A knight there was called Eric,
He moaned as if in pain :
:|: May Lord God help us Jutes, our land
We ne’er will see again! :|:

King Gustaf rode on his noble steed
Around the battlefield;
:|: I thank you, my men of Dalarna,
For faith that did not yield. :|:

At my side you have battled
As faithful Swedes and true;
If God me further life shall grant,
I’ll make this up to you.
If God me further life shall grant,
I’ll make this up to you.

You can listen to Sven-Bertil singing the song here

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