12 march 2022: A literary comparison

John Bjarne Grover

The norwegian poet and prosaist Hans Henrik Holm grew up in Oslo but wrote in a very archaic rural language - so archaic that most norwegians have difficulties with understanding it and there are glossaries appended to his works. I myself tried to translate one of his prose texts and had to look up a majority of the words. It turned out that the short text from his 1972 'Hard-røynd frå havland og dalsògur' (= 'hard experience from ocean-land and valley-suck' - the word 'sògur' looks like it should mean 'stories' but probably means 'suck'), the short chapter XI 'Dalbòtnen andar av gòvande brål' ('The valley bottom breathes with damp seasoned air'), has a suggestive similarity with the opening lines of Arundhati Roy's 1997 "The God of Small Things". Here are copies of the two texts (including glossary to Holm's archaic norwegian) with my attempt to translate Holm into english:

1. Hans Henrik Holm chapter XI 'Dalbòtnen andar av gòvande brål' (218 kB) plus glossary part 1 (87 kB) and glossary part 2 (81 kB)

2. Arundhati Roy's 1997 'The God of Small Things' (183 kB) the opening lines (first page)

My attempt to translate Holm's text, based on limited knowledge of his language - and guessing on some of the words:

The forest green under tree trunks is embellished with its own purpose. Cosmos thrives in happy dew. Anemones thrive at flowers, pines at fragrant sprigs. Expectation mirrors itself in the pondered motivations, rolls its soft stoat fur in thickets, eager to lap in juices in gurgling courage. Silver rhymes surround the hides. We hear about collection of flowers and tarred crosses, about erosion warnings at northward creeks and road intersections, about witches on devilish trails. At cairn-peaks midsummernight vigils its holy morning dew, at easter morning many believe to see angels around the sun, at michalsmas you dream about the girl you want. All threads wind up from an all-secret ground. Soil, plants and vaults lift their hidden origins. The connecting Bough is thorough expectation. The finest beauty sways around the bosom membrane, juices itself in willing yearning. Swallows couple in swinging circuits. We all have a great moment in hope. Common creed inspires the wishes, sweets itself with kisses, feeds the heart with love. Fringes of cloud are lowered to bridal sweep around the hillsides.


Holm, H.H.: Hard-røynd frå havland og dalsògur. Gyldendal, Oslo 1972.

Roy, A.: The God of Small Things. Flamingo, London 1997.

© John Bjarne Grover
On the web 12 march 2022
Last updated 13 march 2022