I was hoping to interest the family in a trip to Epping Forest today for a bit of new year Shinrin-yoku (restorative 'forest bathing'), but the heavy rain and fierce wind have put us all off. Instead I have been reading We Own the Forest and Other Poems by Hans Børli (1918-89), the Norwegian woodsman who spent his days as a lumberjack and put down his poems 'at night while the other forest workers slept, exhausted after a hard day's work.' He wrote one entitled 'I Like Bad Weather', seeing it as a release or as a kind of forgetting: rain, like tears, drumming on the birch bark roof of a hay barn whilst the forest drifts in grey mist. In other poems like 'The Forest's Song', 'Have You Listened to the Rivers in the Night?' and 'The Forest Rustling' he conveys a sense of the truth and beauty to be found among the trees. Børli also wrote political poems: 'I have never owned a tree', he says in 'We Own the Forests', and those who do, rich men with their 'stock in Borregaard timber company ... can't buy the sunset / or the whisper of the wind / or the joy of walking homeward / when the heather blooms along the path.'
In his introduction to the book, translator Louis Muinzer wrote of being encouraged in his task by the Finnskogen singer-composer Sinikka Langeland, who asked for some English versions of the poems she had set to music. I have embedded one of these from YouTube above - 'Langt innpå skoga' ('Deep in the woods'). In 2007 ECM released her collection of Børli songs, Starflowers - translations of the poems she used can be read on the blog That's How the Light Get's In. They give a sense of the landscape Børli experienced, resting in the quiet of night when 'starlight smells of fallen snow': the softly swinging sprigs of pine, mist resting white above the brook beds, the sound of rivers that give the impression that 'your soul is mysteriously remembering its future'. There we can imagine him finally closing his eyes on the forest and falling asleep, only to find that 'the dream is a tree that grows upside down', its roots among the stars,
while its crown spreads out its branches as
a resting place for the birds
in the boundless spaces of the human heart