The People

Verner von Heidenstam's poem Folket
Verner von Heidenstam (1859-1940); painting by Johan Krouthén at Charlottenborg Palace.

From the poem suite "Ett folk", first published in Svenska Dagbladet on 22 September 1899; later included in the collection Nya dikter from 1915.

The Prophet Nahum speaks thus
to Nineveh, to the king of Assyria:
"They sleep your governors
and your chiefs, you first,
live separately and lie still;
on the mountains scattered is your people,
that no voice gathers anymore."
A people! I shudder at that word,
so full of songs and of the kvidan,
by the shouts of the gods and by thunder.
I shudder at that word
as for a sky-high giant being,
Whose foot trampled my ribs
as easily as I am a clam of sand.
One people, one people! Against the sky stand flames.
In the gloomy hollow way slam wagons,
and wild men with predator traps
and naked children and torn women,
they forge ahead, peacefully forward,
and forget the way they have gone,
and know not whence they come.
When children ask, no one answers.
Then rises from the circle of the elders,
with an ice-grey beard and a furry cloak,
trollish, one-eyed, with a raven on his shoulder
and the sword drawn, the underman.
He waves the bards - and sadly
they sing of forgotten homes,
when midnight stares over the tents.
He speaks - and around the sacrificial stone,
who stands bloodied by the oak,
he sets new deities
and remains himself as a god among them.
Then grows leafy Birka,
where rowing ships with singing at the oar
happily cut the reeds, and in the compound
stands fifteen-year-old dreaded mercenary
with robbed bride and greets home.
Soon the language like a chamber suit
is woven softly and follows the breathing of the chest.
It rings weekend, and centuries hunt
like shadows over the land.
It gets so quiet, so sad,
as when on a clear St. John's night
lit up the sky in straits and bays;
but deeply hidden in the hiding place of the heart
lives anxiety, when worries are silent.
My people, your hand is cold, but the gluttony,
that ices you, is the hour of dawn.
They sleep your governors
and your chiefs, my people,
live separately and lie still.

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