Wednesday 21 March 2018

Poetry: Swedish hymn that could have come from a Gael...

Johan Olaf Wallin 1779-1837
Johan Olaf Wallin 1779-1837

When we drew with Sweden last month in Euro 2016 in France, it probably didn't occur to many of us that we were virtually playing what we could call our distant cousins. Most of the Vikings didn't go home, you know, after they came here in the 8th Century. The combination of green eyes and red hair is as much a Swedish characteristic as an Irish one.

I was thrilled when I came across a Swedish poem from the 18th Century which could have come from a Swede or Gael.

How many poems like it there are in Gaelic which deal with the presence of God in nature in a personal way.

I liked the poem so much I thought I would translate it into English and had it sung by a school choir at St Nicholas Church of Ireland in Dundalk. The late Archbishop George Simms took the service. He was enchanted with the blend of racial elements in the hymn and felt it set off all sorts of jangles in our mind about who we are.

Here is the hymn. I wonder would the present Archbishop, Michael Jackson, like to have it sung in St Patrick's some day? If he would like to do so, 'Varsågod' (go ahead).


Where is the Friend that everywhere I'm seeking?

When daylight comes my longing grows for Thee, King.

When day departs I have not found my Master,

Though the heart beats faster.

I hear his Voice where summer winds are breathing,

Where forests sing, and where the river's seething.

Its splendour fills me, and where that Voice is,

My heart rejoices.

I sense his Being in every move of nature,

The flower that blooms, and bends towards its Creator,

The very air I breathe, each sigh I utter,

Mingles with my Lover.

Be strong my soul, hope, pray, surrender.

Your friend beckons: soon you'll taste how tender

His love can be; and sink upon his Bosom

And never lose Him.

Translated from Swedish by Ulick O'Connor

Johan Olaf Wallin 1779-1837

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