Carl Michael Bellman’s Butterfly

i-1bfa9d22b47287c4ba35779cbac5bd2f-z_bellman_bellman.jpgOne of the brightest stars of Swedish literature is Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795). Much of his work is a kind of humorous beat poetry set to music, chronicling the lives of Stockholm drunkards and whores. Central themes are boozing, sex and death.

“You think the grave’s too deep?
Well then, have a drink
Then have another two and another three
That way you’ll die happier”

“A girl in the green grass and wine in green glasses
I feast on both, both gather me to their bosom
Let’s have some more resin on the violin bow!”

But Bellman wasn’t strictly speaking part of the underworld he wrote about. He was more of a bourgeois onlooker, periodically a court favourite, and counted the era’s top artists and intellectuals among his friends. One of Bellman’s most well-known and beloved songs is a piece of fawning praise to King Gustaf III, eulogising his great park and summer palace at Haga north of Stockholm. It was written in 1790-91 in an unsuccessful attempt to get Bellman’s wife Lovisa a job as overseer of the Haga household, and then modified and dedicated to the poet’s landlord whom he owed for rent. Pretty much everyone in Sweden can sing Fjäriln vingad syns på Haga, but some of the words are archaic and the syntax is convoluted, so few really understand the sense of the lyrics anymore. Here’s a literal translation I’ve made.

At Haga, the butterfly can be seen making its green home amid misty frost and down, its bed in a flower. Every little marshland creature, just awakened by the sun’s warmth, is inspired by the western wind to festive revelry.

Haga, in your bosom are seen sprouting grass and the yellow plaza. The proud swan raises its neck, rocking in your streamlets. From afar in the open spaces of the forest are heard incessant echoes: sometimes the hammering of granite, sometimes axes in birch and fir trees. [Referring to the king’s construction projects in the area.]

See, the Brunnsviken inlet’s little mermaids raise their golden horns, and water cascades higher even than Solna church steeple. On a neat road under vaulted trees the horse frolics and the wheel throws dust into the air, while the farmer smiles fondly toward Haga.

What a divine pleasure to be greeted by one’s beloved under the eye of such a mild monarch in a park as lovely as this! Everyone cries with gratitude whenever his eye falls upon them. Even the most bad-tempered person is happy when touched and charmed by that gaze.

For lyrical translations of Bellman into English, see Paul Britten Austin’s Fredman’s Epistles and Songs. Here are the Swedish lyrics for Fjäriln vingad including the little-known original job-seeking version. Haga hasn’t changed much in the past 200 years, and the whole park is open to the public. Highly recommended!

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6 thoughts on “Carl Michael Bellman’s Butterfly

  1. Britten Austin’s English versions have been recorded by Martin Bagge and are available on CD. And you also have to check out Bellman.net, which currently is in Swedish only, but if you manage to navigate the menues you get all the lyrics, comments, notes and MIDI versions of the music to all Bellman’s songs.

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  2. I would like to add Martin Best’s excellent recordings of the same B A versions. Not too sure about their availability, though.

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  3. Hey! i found all this pretty interesting, nice this music is available… now i only need some Swedish lessons son i can sing this properly heheh.

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  4. Yes, I was going to add Best to the list, too, but you beat me to it. Anyhow, here’s his version of “Så lunkar” (qouted in the blog):
    Is the grave to deep?
    Then take a sip!
    Raise the brimming goblet
    to thy lip.
    Yet a sip, ditto one, ditto two, ditto three!
    Then die contentedly.

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  5. Yeah, I’m aware of the distinction between those fictional entities, but iconographically they are very similar and I was aiming at a translation into everyday English. If I understand the lyrics correctly, Bellman is alluding to a sculptured fountain.

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