The good old days

Gustaf Fröding

From the poetry collection Nya dikter (1894). The title is ironic; the already established phrase, with its tone of pleasant nostalgia, is contrasted with expressive images of factory workers toiling for a living, oppressed by the authorities.

The stars twinkled silently for the hundredth time
years back and the forest was asleep.
The rapids roared, the wheels thundered,
the sparks crackled,
the ground shook,
the hammer throbbed heavy and lazy.

The bellows blew and the blower blew,
suffocating heat from the axles beat,
sweaty sooty blacksmiths slung
the sledgehammer against the bars,
nöpo with the pliers,
shaped the iron into harrows and ploughs.

"They give us slag for ore
and kick for our toil and toil,
they thresh us out like straw
...and then wash us down with booze.

My bitch has starvation cracked,
my daughter is the mill's bitch,
the trustee himself is related
with the poor man's first child.

He fires us hell hot
with rap and with fist,
he gets all a white-hot spit
in the back of the head one fine day!"

The rapids roared, the hammer pounded
the voice of the thundering knot,
no one heard a peep from the trampled,
skinned, pillaged
even in the hundredth
years of despair and heartbreak.

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