Week 495: Siste Smerte, by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

The Norwegian poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910) wrote this poignant lyric towards the end of his long life. I don’t know what kind of reputation Bjørnson enjoys now, but when I was in Norway some sixty years ago I got the impression that while Norwegian readers were proud of Ibsen for having gained an international reputation, they reserved their actual affection much more for Bjørnson, whom they regarded as their national poet. Be that as it may, he did not figure in my Cambridge syllabus, which concerned itself with more modern figures like Ibsen and Knut Hamsun, and my Cambridge tutor was slightly dismissive of him as ‘a Grand Old Man’ of literature. I rather liked him, but what do I know…

The translation that follows is my own.

Siste Smerte

Å, nu har jeg lært det
hva jeg fryktet først,
at den siste smerte,
den er også størst.

Kan ei mer arbeide,
har ei krefter nok,
kan ei lenger veide
mine tankers flokk.

De er over fjellet,
samles aldri mer.
Og jeg selv på hellet
imot graven ner.

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

Last Pain

Ah, now I have learned it,
What I feared at first:
That the pain we suffer last,
That one is the worst.

Can no longer labour,
All my powers wane,
Cannot herd together
My flock of thoughts again.

Far across the mountain
Forever more they stray,
While upon the nether slope
I take a downward way.