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Edvard Grieg's Vond Dag

Vond Dag, from Haugtussa, music by Edvard Grieg, poetry by Arne Garborg

WE are fortunate to be given life. Fortunate to get this chance to love and engage with others in this beautiful world. But, because we accept that gift, and because it is fragile, we will be tested and moulded by the loss of life. By some perverse mechanism, loss helps us to find understanding and patience. Songs, and the arts in general, frame loss and give it an approachable size. This gift from my work as a singer is something I am continually grateful for.

There are countless songs in human culture about the end of romantic love. Edvard Grieg’s Vond Dag, or Evil Day, is one that strikes me deeply. In the cycle's previous songs we are with the heroine as she gave herself to her first love and spent a giddy week anticipating seeing him again. But in this song he does not show at the arranged time. The music is skillfully wrought and the act of singing it is a pleasure. It is a pleasure, too, to express the pain felt in rejection and shame. It is pleasurable to relate to her exquisitely painful moment. We can all relate to such stories and feel empathy and sympathy, and feel comforted that our similar experiences were not unique. We are shown that we were not alone.

Vond Dag has been helpful to me this week, but not in the way it is written. If I consume that song today only as it relates to romantic love, now at my age with a happy marriage and healthy children, it isn’t useful to me. It is deliciously sweet and nostalgic, but not useful. For me, now, it is more useful if I relate it to murder, accidental death and social upheaval.

Those are the realities that greet me on the radio, in the newspaper. Today I was awoken by the alarm telling me that 5 police officers were killed by sniper shot in Dallas. Last week I learned through social media that a schoolmate of my children was killed in a car accident. What do we do with our sadness at moments like these? We feel unprepared, ill equipped to take them in. We feel self-consciously inadequate to the moment.

This is when Vond Dag, and many other songs which are ostensibly about something else, becomes useful and consoling, cathartic and poignant. In singing this song I can experience inexpressible pain. I can crawl under a bush and weep tears that are blood-like, as if I am a wounded bird. I can cry, artfully, taking my phrase to the very end of my breath. I can connect with someone else’s ideas and expressions of loss and that makes me feel less alone.

The poetry and music, which together say more than words, give me permission to be unable to solve the problem. There is nothing we can do to help the heroine of Vond Dag with her pain, but let her know that we understand and are here. She will need to work through it on her own. And there is nothing I can do to help the police officer’s families. How can I share with all sides of the issue in Dallas, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that I feel the pain and want to help? And how do I help a mother, father and brother in our school community deal with the loss of their son?

I hope that experiencing Vond Dag will help you to feel less alone in your pain. I hope it will open you to the empathy we each deserve as we deal with terribly difficult problems in the world. And know that poetry, music and the arts are always there to comfort, commiserate and sympathize.

Vond Dag

Ho reknar Dag og Stund og seine Kveld

til Sundag kjem; han hev so trufast lova,

at um det regnde Smaastein yver Fjell,

so skal dei finnast der i “Gjærtarstova”.

Men Sundag kjem og gjeng med Regn og Rusk;

ho eismal sìt og græt attunder Busk.

Som Fuglen, saarad under varme Veng

so Blode tippar lik den heite Tåarer,

ho dreg seg sjuk og skjelvande i Seng,

og vrid seg Natti lang i Graaten saare.

Det slit i Hjarta og det brenn paa Kinn.

No maa ho døy; ho miste Guten sin.

Evil Day

She counts the days and hours and endless evenings

till Sunday comes; he has promised so faithfully

that even if hailstones fall on the mountaintop

they will meet in the “Gjætarstova.”

But Sunday comes and goes in rain and mist;

she sits all alone, weeping, under the bushes.

As a bird, wounded beneath its wing,

drips blood, so her hot tears fall.

she drags herself sick and shivering home to bed,

and tosses and sobs all night long.

Her heart is broken and her cheeks are burning.

Now she must die; she has lost her young boy.

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