Das Sausen Des Waldes

My German to English translation of Knut Hamsun's foreward to the 1909 German edition of Det Vilde Kor. The foreward is a letter from Hamsun to Dr. Heinrich Goebel, who wrote the book's introduction. Hamsun's original letter in Norwegian has been lost.


My Dear Doctor!

The poems I have published make for only a small book, and perhaps they are not the best I've written, I do not know. Later, I will put out other collections, I have a great many verses. 

I do, however, find it disrespectful to my readers to publish early drafts and loose poetic sketches as finished poems.

Every poet knows that poems come about under a stronger or weaker pressure of mood. A sound buzzes in us, colors glow, there is the feeling of something inside trickling. It depends on how long this state of mind lasts. It has happened for me — in good moments — that before I have finished a verse the next one has begun to flow; I must then skip the half-finished verse, and begin with the new one further down on the page, and there is often only a single line here and there, which does not seem to follow the broader current. And why should I publish such a less than perfect draft? It would satisfy neither myself nor the readers.

So it is that I have a lot of poems that cannot be published until their form is improved.

I do not know how the great lyricists are working; their poems perhaps emerge completely finished and without mistakes at the instant a mood strikes them. I only wish to tell you, my dear Doctor, how my own verses have come about.

Incidentally, there is no major difference in my way of working with prose or poetry. A great part of what I wrote was penned at night after having slept a few hours and then awakening. I am at such moments clear-minded and extremely sensitive. I always have paper and a pencil beside my bed. I do not turn on the light, but begin to write in the dark when I feel something begin to flow. It has become a habit, and it is not difficult for me to understand my papers in the morning.

I do not wish to give you the impression of anything mystical in the development of my poems. That I am best writing in the dark at night is a sort of bad habit which began long ago when I had no light to turn on and was forced to make do. There is nothing mystical and nothing "ingenious" about it. The truly great poets probably have their own method, which is different from mine.

The summer is the most productive time for me. Many poems come about when I lie on my back in the forest. I try to get away from people and keep the memories of modern life far away, and I commit myself to those days of my childhood when I wandered about and cared for the animals at home. My feeling for nature — if such a thing is possible — came alive during that early childhood on the grasslands, in the woods, and in the mountains, and there I met the many animals and birds that have become my lifelong friends. Since the age of four the sea was also a part of the natural environment I grew up alongside. My home was on the Westfjord, and this fjord opens directly into the Atlantic Ocean.

Reports from the explorers on their explorations are my favorite reading. These people are not as skilled as professional poets with the adjectives they choose, yet they tell me so much. When I sometimes read descriptions of nature in modern novels, I am filled with disgust; I quickly see theirs is merely a somewhat learned knowledge of nature, influenced by some observation made on the spot, and not an inner and sacred empathy with the forest and its vastness.

Winter is for me the hardest time. I do not love the snow, its sight torments me, and I understand nothing but its deep and unnatural emptiness. I once wrote a long epic poem about winter during Christmas. But, sadly, it was not a success, although it was illustrated by one of our foremost artists.

If something happens in winter that reminds me of the summer, I always feel happiness and contentment. Rain falling upon the snow as a change in the weather, the chirping of a little bird in a tree, or the passing scent of a flower blossom, each put me under a spell for awhile; sometimes, when a fly buzzes in the window, a pang of joy passes through me in memory of the summer, now hidden beneath the snow.

Spring begins to take hold of me in February or March. The days are then clear again, one is given new hope, and the verses begin to come.

So many more poems are there ready and waiting to be finished.

This is, Doctor, what I can tell you about my poetry. Use these remarks as you wish, whether your plan is to translate them, or just to quote from the useful parts when you write your introduction.


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