Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On three poems by Rolf Jacobsen

Rolf Jacobsen is said to be the first modernist Norwegian poet.  See the Wikipedia article at  "Rolf Jacobsen (8 March 1907 – 20 February 1994) could be said to be the first modernist writer in Norway. Jacobsen's career as a writer spanned more than fifty years. He is one of Scandinavia’s most distinguished poets, who launched poetic modernism in Norway with his first book, Jord og jern (Earth and Iron) in 1933. Jacobsen's work has been translated into over twenty languages. The central theme in his work is the balance between nature and technology – he was called "the Green Poet" in Norwegian literature"

Three of Jacobsen's translated poems appear at    I've commented on these three poems as follows:

"Antenna-forest":  In this poem, the city has replaced the forests and where there were trees, there are now antennas on roofs.  The antennas apparently look like crosses and at the end the poet asks "Who's resting here / in these deep graves?"  The implication being (I'm guessing) that by replacing forests with cities, we are not only killing nature, replacing it with unnatural structures, but by doing this we are sealing mankind's doom.  Considered from the roofs, the buildings are graves in which people rest.

I don't agree with this very popular environmentalist position.  It could happen, but only if mankind does nothing to correct this trend.  The Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski) once infamously insisted that we return to a pre-industrial life style and killed a few people with letter bombs to get his manifesto read, but Kaczynski and perhaps Rolf Jacobsen take a short view.  I'm also an environmentalist, but don't believe it would be good to abandon scientific and technological progress in favor of  Luddite existence.  Jacobsen doesn't say quite what Kaczynski does and maybe at times I've been this pessimistic but given homo sapiens modus operandi, so to speak, I anticipate that we will move to the moon, then to Mars and from their perhaps to one of Saturn's moons.  In other words we are not doomed (IMO) to die (as a species) in the sterile structures we have replaced the forests with.  At the present time we in our Liberal Democracies still count on growing populations to finance our entitlements, but if we can quit doing that we needn't turn the earth into something like the planet Trantor from Isaac Asimov's Foundation.

"Guardian Angel":  This poem begins a bit like a pessimistic environmentalist poem.  The Guardian Angel is the bird that knocks on your window that you cannot know?  Why can't you know it?  Because you are blind.  The birds that knock at your window are "the blossoms that light up for the blind."   In the second stanza the Guardian Angel is the "glacier's crest above the forests."  There are no glacier crests above the Californian forests, nor do we haven any cathedral towers (or at least not many inasmuch as I've never heard of any here) so the Guardian Angel is probably Norwegian.  The Guardian Angel declares that the (Norwegian) reader of the poem loved this angel long ago, implying that the reader no longer loves him even though the angel walks along side him by day and speaks to his heart even though the reader doesn't know it.   Lutheranism doesn't emphasize Guardian Angels, Roman Catholics do, or have.  This Guardian Angel sounds a bit like the Holy Spirit.  The last stanza describes the angel as a "third arm" and "second shadow, the white one, / whom you don't have the heart for and who cannot ever forget you."  If Jacobsen intends this as a Christian allusion it isn't quite orthodox in Protestant theology although it might be acceptable in the Roman Catholicism sense.  The Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament as providing help to all those who belong to the Lord.  However, the recipient of the Angel's poem is described as not having the heart for this angel, and by extension the Holy Spirit; so if this is a Protestant Christian allusion then the theology behind it is Universalistic, i.e, all will be saved.  The two Protestant orthodox positions are (1) those whom God chooses will be saved, and (2) those who choose God will be saved.  Perhaps the recipient is Catholic and is at least estranged from the  Catholic Church.  But perhaps he belongs in some sense to the Catholic Church "who cannot ever forget you."

"Sand":  This strikes me as a naturalistic poem which expresses the Second Law of Thermodynamics and is not placing the blame for this entropy on homo sapiens.  "The starry worlds above our heads" are subject to this Law as well as is earth.  I've attempted to keep up with the latest cosmological theories and the cosmologists are not as certain of the position expressed in this poem as Jacobsen is.

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