In "Letters to the Poet As A Young Man" Rilke recommends that his student read the nineteenth-century Danish writer Jens Peter Jacobsen in order to meet the master of contemplative literature. So, of course, I had to check Jacobsen out. Our local library had in its possession his novel Niels Lyhne (pronounced Nils Lu-na), so I checked it out. And as promised, it is one of the most precious, ruminative pieces of self-absorbed fiction anyone, even Marcel Proust, could ever desire. It is absolutely beautiful, as well. So attentive, so in tune with the silence of the contemplative life. I've only just begun it, thumbed through and read a few paragraphs here and there, so I can't say much more about it just now.
I'm not sure if this is really something ethnically Danish, or if it's more symptomatic of the nineteenth century, generally. The nature-writing is superb. Not grandiose, as much American nature writing is, but homey. Not ecstatic waterfalls, but cottage gardens.
Sometimes I wonder if my contemporaries among the Danes 'rebelled' against this melodic sweetness and love of nature. It still shows up in some of their films, like "Italian for Beginners," "Mifune," and others - urbane Danes rediscovering their rustic roots. Maybe that phase of rebellion against the past is over, over there, because after all, over here there is a kind of revival of Bertram-style nature writing, for example, Thirteen Moons. The pendulum appears to have swung yet again. Thirteen Moons, by Charles Frazier is lyrical, descriptive, attentive, contemplative - all my favorite things, by the way.
Sometimes I feel like my husband and I have not made such a great adjustment to 'modern times.' We seem to be holdovers from the nineteenth century, and now we're living in the twenty-first. Not sure if this 'backwardness' is related to being part native american and delaware moor, two cultures self-identified with the past, yet embedded in the present-day just like everyone else. Sometimes we think it's the spot we live in, here in Berkeley, on the grounds of former native american settlements.
I've heard it said that many Danes are surprised and perhaps a bit discomfited that American Danes seem to be stuck in an image of 'danishness' that belongs to the nineteenth century. That's when they left Denmark to emigrate to America, and Denmark has become 'frozen' for them as it was at that moment in the past. Every year there are various festivals of Danishness that celebrate the 'Denmark that was.' This disparity in self-image creates a rift with contemporary Danish Danes. These are some of the strange facts of ethnicity.
For an example of sentimental, nature-loving, nineteenth-century Danish Lieder, try picking out the tune of "Vandring i Skoven" (music notated in a previous post, Wandering in the Forest.)