Hans Børli is a Norwegian national treasure. Often pictured in his lumberjack gear or knitwear, he radiates comfort and warmth and is an image of the ultimate man of nature. His poems are still widely read and often quoted. He was born on the 8th of December 1918 to a poor family. They lived on a remote farm deep in the Norwegian forests of Eidskog. He was a bright young man, but his education was cut short because of the war. Børli took part in the fighting against the Germans but was captured. Luckily, he was not deported to the work camps, but was released and worked as a teacher and a lumberjack for the remaining war years. And at the same time, he also wrote poetry. His first collection, Tyrielden, was published in 1945 to great acclaim and good sales. And he kept on writing, publishing works almost every year from then on. However, his popularity as a writer did not stop him from continuing his forest work; rather it was reinforced by it. Nature was his muse, and he was inspired when he spent time surrounded by the tranquil greenery. However, his poems are not merely romantic tributes to the beauty of the forest, but the forest rather serves as an animated allegory to illustrate the complexity and fragility of life. Børli’s works are filled with wise words about what it is to be a human being in this world.
To celebrate the centenary of his birth, we would like to pay tribute to him and his beautiful poems by posting some of them here alongside the English translations by Louis A. Muinzer.
Vi sitter i slørblå junikveld
og svaler oss ute på trammen.
Og alt vi ser på har dobbelt liv,
fordi vi sanser det sammen.
Se – skogsjøen ligger og skinner rødt
av sunkne solefalls-riker.
Og blankt som en ting av gammelt sølv
er skriket som lommen skriker.
Og heggen ved grenda brenner så stilt
Av nykveikte blomsterkvaster.
Nå skjelver de kvitt i et pust av vind,
– det er som om noe haster…
Å, flytt deg nærmere inn til meg
her på kjøkkentrammen!
Det er så svinnende kort den stund
vi mennesker er sammen.
On the steps in the mist-blue evening
we sit in the cool June air.
And all that we see is double,
because it is something we share.
Look – the lake’s shining with scarlet
from the land of the sunsetting sky.
And bright as a piece of old silver
Is the diver’s red-throated cry.
And the bird-cherry’s burning in silence,
Its blossoms alight by the gate.
A breeze makes their white clusters tremble
– as if there is something can’t wait…
Oh, move yourself closer against me,
here by the kitchen door!
We are given a short time together,
then given no more.
som kvelden ringer
høyhet fram i alt og alle…
får gylne vinger
når de flyr i solefallet…
So strange to see
how the evening rings
loftiness forth and makes things bright…
Even the crows
have golden wings
when flying in the sunset’s light…
These poems are taken from the volume We Own the Forests and Other Poems, Hans Børli, translated by Louis Muinzer. Browse and buy here.