Friday, 23 October 2009

Våren the mystery

Edvard Grieg's wonderful Våren is running through my head. It's so beautiful, but the meaning is so elusive. The beginning of the poem, (Aasmund Olafsson Vinje 1818-1870) is fairly straightforward:
Enno ein Gong fekk eg Vetren å sjå
for Våren å røma;
Heggen med Tre som der Blomar var på,
eg atter såg bløma.
It seemed winter would not end, but now the first wild cherries are coming into bloom. Spring has come ! The ice is breaking, snow melts, rivers and waterfalls flow again. The grass is green and the birds are singing. I picked a flower. But then the poem changes mood:
Federnes Ånder eg trudde det var,
som dansa og sukka.
Derfor eg fann millom Bjørkar og Bar
i Våren ei Gåta;
derfor det Ljod i den Fløyta eg skar,
meg tyktes å gråta
What does it really mean? The words are pristinely elegant, like haiku. But like clean, pure air and the scent of early blossom, its meaning can only be intuited, not firmly grasped. What are these pictures of conifers and birches, of spruce branches sprouting the first fur-like signs of green lichen? In Grieg's setting, we can feel nostalgia, deeply felt but intangible feelings that imply that Spring, welcome as it is, means leaving the past behind. Often the song is called "Last Spring", assuming that the poet thinks he might not survive another winter. But that's not actually in the text, it's just received opinion. Possibly it comes from Grieg, who wrote the song when he was feeling old. Vinje's Norway was primitive, in the best sense of the word: things were tough and the people hardy, but death was part of life. Yet Vinje is evoking much more than standard Romantic death-obsession. He's expressing moods too complex to put into words. Grieg's setting is a wonderful, evocative commentary. So the meaning of the song is elusive and has to be felt in the soul. Which is why it's so beautiful for me.

More soon - thanks to a wonderful Norwegian, the poem's been elucidated, and the song, too !


Unknown said...

Thank you for posting this absolutely stunning recording. Flagstad captures the melancholic feeling of Grieg's piece so beautifully, yet still manages to bring some warmth to the piece.

Grrg said...

Okay so I'm FIVE YEARS late with this comment, but you should know that it's NOT a mystery why people think it's about the poet's last spring on Earth... it's made explicit in the climactic third stanza of the poem which no one ever sings. All four stanzas of the poem were printed in the first edition of score, you only ever hear the first and the fourth -- singing all four would make the song SUPER LONG and rather repetitive. Here are the two middle stanzas of Vinje's poem, in Vinje's original old spelling and with his quirky vocabulary:

Enno ein gong den velsignad eg fekk, at gauken eg høyrde,
enno ein gong ut paa aakren eg gjekk, der plogen dei køyrde.
Enno ein gong fekk eg skoda meg varm paa lufti og engi;
jordi aa sjaa som med lengtande barm aa sukka i sængi.
Vaarsky aa leika der til og ifraa, og skybakkar krulla,
so ut av bakken tok tora til slaa og kralla og rulla.

Saagiddren endaa meg unntest aa sjaa paa vaarbakken dansa
fivreld aa floksa og fjuka ifraa der blomar seg kransa
Alt dette vaarliv eg atter fekk sjaa som sidan eg miste.
Men eg er tungsam og spyrja meg maa tru det er det siste?
Lat det so vera: Eg mykje av vænt i livet fekk njota.
Meire eg fekk enn eg hadde fortent og allting maa trjota.