Friday, March 30, 2012

"Winters come and winters go, Summers come and summers go"...Soothing words of the Tomten

Two of my all time favorite books are:
The Tomten
and the sequel
The Tomten and the Fox

Both books are based on the folkloric Swedish character of the Tomte, adapted by Astrid Lindgren, with WONDERFUL watercolor illustrations by Harald Wiberg.
Lindgren was a renowned author of children's literature in Sweden. Her best-known character is the independent, unconventional, and untidy Pippi Longstocking.
(Side note, I haven't read the Pippi Longstocking books since I was a child. The truth is that I disliked the character Pippi and really didn't enjoy these books. Even though I now own them. I recognize they contain great and popular characters of children's literature. I should reread them to see if I have a better handle on Pippi now. I didn't like her untidiness. I hated that one of her socks always bunched down. I didn't like that the Horse lived in the house with her. I didn't realize I was so bothered by things being so mussed up).

The Tomten

A gentle story set on a peaceful farm in Sweden. Not much happens, but what does is comforting and calm. The Tomten goes around the farm, on a winter's night, visiting the animals quietly, tending them as necessary. The people never see him, but they know he is there. He soothes the animals, and speaks gently to them in Tomten (which they understand).

“Winters come and winters go, Summers come and summers go, Soon you can graze in the fields.”

He visits the dog (they are special friends), and checks up on the cat (cats often need double checking). He wishes the children were awake to talk to them too (children also understand Tomten), but alas they are asleep.

This book reads so gently and magical, it is a wonderful, soothing story book.

The Tomten and the FoxIn this book, Astrid Lindgren adapted a poem by Karl-Erik Forsslund. This also contains the wonderful watercolor illustrations of Harald Wiberg. The illustrations add to the hushed magical feeling of the story.

The Tomten saves the chickens from the prowling, and hungry fox, Reynard. However the Tomten is kind and sympathetic to the fox, and recognizes that Reynard is only doing what foxes do. To help the hungry fox, the Tomten offers his own porridge so that all will be safe on his farm.

Here is the original Viktor Rydberg's poem (in translation):
The Tomte
Deep in the grip of the midwinter cold
Stars send a sparkling light.
All are asleep on this lonely farm,
Deep in the winter night.
The pale white moon is wanderer,
And snow lies white on pine and fir.
Snow glows on rooftop shake.
The tomte alone is awake.

Gray, he stands by the low barn door,
Gray by the drifted snow,
Gazing, as many winters he’s gazed,
Up at the moon’s chill glow,
Then at the forest where fir and pine
Circle the farm in a dusky line,
Mulling relentlessly
A riddle that has no key.

Rubs his hand through his beard and hair,
Shakes his head and his cap.
“No, that question is much too deep,
I cannot fathom that.”
Then making his mind up in a hurry,
He shrugs away the annoying worry;
Turns at his own command,
Turns to the task at hand.

Goes to the storehouse and toolshop doors,
Checking the locks of all,
While the cows dream on in the cold moon’s light,
Summer dreams in each stall.
And free of harness and whip and rein,
Even Old Palle dreams again.
The manger he’s drowsing over
Brims with fragrant clover.

The tomte glances at sheep and lambs
Cuddled in quiet rest.
The chickens are next, where the rooster roosts
High above straw filled nests.
Burrowed in straw, hearty and hale,
Karo wakens and wags his tail
As if to say, “Old friend, “Partners we are to the end.”

At last the tomte tiptoes in
To see how the housefolk fare.
He knows full well the strong esteem
They feel for his faithful care.
He tiptoes into the children’s beds,
Silently peers at their tousled heads.
There is no mistaking his pleasure:
These are his greatest treasure.

Long generations has he watched
Father to son to son
Sleeping as babes. But where, he asks,
From where, from where have they come?
Families came, families went,
Blossomed and aged, a lifetime spent,
Then-Where? That riddle again
Unanswered in his brain!

Slowly he turns to the barnyard loft,
His fortress, his home and rest,
High in the mow, in the fragrant hay
Near to the swallow’s nest.
The nest is empty, but in the spring
When birds mid leaves and blossoms sing,
And come with her tiny mate.

Then will she talke of the journey tell.
Twittering to all who hear it,
But nary a hint for the question old
That stirs in the tomte’s spirit.
Now through cracks in the haymow wall
The moon lights tomte and hay and all,
Lights his beard through the chinks,
The tomte ponders and thinks.

Still is the forest and all the land,
Locked in this wintry year.
Only the distant waterfall
Whispers and sighs in his ear.
The tomte listens and, half in dream,
Thinks that he hears Time’s endless stream,
And wonders, where is it bound?
Where is its source to be found?

Deep in the grip of the midwinter cold,
Stars send a sparkling light.
All are asleep on this lonely farm,
Late in this winter night.
The pale white moon is a wanderer,
Snow lies white on pine and fir;
Snow glows on rooftop shake.
The tomte alone is awake.

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