Motion in (ski) poetry
The Trysil-Knud epic translation challenge
M. Michael Brady
There are innumerable ski songs. Skiing themes are frequent in fiction, and the sport has drawn many writers, most famously Ernest Hemingway, who in the 1920s escaped the bleak winters of Paris to ski in Switzerland. In films there have been many ski scenes and even full-length features, such as “Downhill Racer” (1969) starting Robert Redford. In comparison, ski poetry is more constrained, though it may well be the oldest form of ski literature and exists in all skiing countries. In the U.S., poets have been drawn to skiing, including Vera Joyce Nelson, the Oregon poet who published a collection of ski poems in the 1951 American Ski Annual. And there have been humorous poems by skiers, including “Slippery Lines” by Bud Yallalee, published in 1966 in Burlington, Vermont.
And there’s an epic ski poem, written in 1863 in Norway by Bernt Lund, an army officer and poet. In the elevated style of the epics of old, it centers upon the achievements of a hero, Knud, whose exploits on skis in and around the town of Trysil were said to be unmatched in his day. The real-life Trysil of the mid 19th century was an ideal setting for a ski epic, as the world’s first official ski meet was held there in 1855, and the first ski and biathlon club was founded there in 1861. Knud was not any one person, but rather a synthesis of the young men of the town and its surrounding farms, known afar for their skiing skills. The epic was published several times and then in 1897 gained national recognition with its publication in Christiania (as Oslo then was named) in an edition illustrated with color lithographs by artist Andreas Bloch.
The Trysil-Knud epic consists of 32 stanzas of rhyming couplets, many extolling Knud’s prowess in ski jumping and downhill skiing. As was then the custom, Knud is said to have jumped in military dress uniform, firing a musket while in flight, and to have skied so skillfully downhill in untracked snow that he could speed hazardously close to a tree and snatch a jacket hanging on it.
There most likely are no complete translations of the poem into English, as the best sources of translations of Norwegian literature—the National Library in Oslo and the library of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota—have none. With poetic license, the first two stanzas:
Ved østerdalske skiløberkor
der hørtes engang saa stort et ord
om Trysil-Knud, som stod paa ski
i Bratbergkampen og Glommelid.
Ved præmieløb og ved exercis,
da var det Knud, som vandt første pris;
han gik i spidsen, hvorhelst det gjaldt,
og sto, hvor ellers den bedste faldt.
Might in English be:
The Eastern Valley skiers were agreed
that they had heard of no mightier deed
than Trysil-Knud descending on skis
down Bratberg and Glomme with ease.
Knud was ahead whenever it counted,
steadying himself when others floundered.
And in the dash down it was no surprise
that he was the one to claim first prize.
Might some NAW reader, conversant in the Dano-Norwegian of the mid 19th century, attempt the complete translation? The complete poem is on the Norske Dikt website at dikt.org/Trysil-Knud.
This article first appeared in the September 2009 issue of the Mountain Gazette (published in Boulder, Colorado).
This article also appeared in the March 11, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.