Dec 03 2008
Moon and Apple
by Rolf Jacobsen
English version by Robert Bly
When the apple tree blooms,
the moon comes often like a blossom,
paler than any of them,
shining over the tree.
It is the ghost of the summer,
the white sister of the blossoms who returns
to drop in on us,
and radiate peace with her hands
so that you shouldn’t feel too bad when the hard times come.
For the Earth itself is a blossom, she says,
on the star tree,
pale with luminous
— from The Winged Energy of Delight, Translated by Robert Bly
/ Photo by Athena’s Pix /
It’s past the summer season of apple blossoms and even the autumn of ripe apples (or, for those of you south of the equator, it’s much too early), but something about this poem spoke to me today. The blossoms of the apple tree glowing beneath the shining moon. And a reminder to us all that even when things seem difficult, the Earth itself — and each one of us — “is a blossom… on the star tree.” If we are blossoms, that must mean we are quietly ripening with the seasons, and in the natural unfolding of things we will become sweet fruit in the cosmos.
Rolf Jacobsen’s poetry often explored modern subjects: urban life, cars, industrial machine. But Jacobsen’s view of the technological 20th century was nuanced and expressed a melancholy awareness of how nature, quiet, and the interior life were overlooked in this new enthusiastic haste.
Jacobsen was born in Oslo (then called Kristiania). His father was a dentist and his mother a nurse. He was raised for part of his childhood by his uncle, a railway engineer. Jacobsen studied several years at the University of Oslo without graduating.
He married in 1940 and had two sons. He appeared to be happily married, and wrote several poem about his married life.
World War II was turbulent for Jacobsen. Like many in Nazi-occupied Norway, he became a member of the Norwegian Nationalist Socialist Party. When the Germans were defeated, he was spent nearly four years in prison for his affiliation with the occupiers.
Afterward, he settled in Hamar, north of Oslo, and became a bookseller and journalist. During this period he converted to Catholicism. Only after several years did he return to poetry, writing with renewed compassion, continuing to meditate on the shifting pace and focus of life in the modern era, becoming a greatly loved and respected poet later in life.
(I’ve never been to Norway, but in my early 20s I worked for a company called Rail Europe in the United States, and as part of my job I intimately memorized the maps of Europe. Something about seeing the city names of Oslo and Hamar feels like a strong flashback to that era of my life, traveling the rails in my imagination…)