Old heltberg

I went to a school that was little and proper,
Both for church and for state a conventional hopper,
Feeding rollers that ground out their grist unwaiting;
And though it was clear from the gears' frequent grating
They rarely with oil of the spirit were smeared,
Yet no other school in that region appeared.
We
had
to go there till older;-though sorry,
I went there also,-but reveled in Snorre.

The self-same books, the same so-called education,
That teacher after teacher, by decrees of power royal,
Into class after class pounds with self-negation,
And that only bring promotion to them that are loyal!-
The self-same books, the same so-called education,
Quickly molding to one type all the men in the land,
An excellent fellow who on
one
leg can stand,
And as runs an anchor-rope reel off his rote-narration!-
The self-same books, the same so-called education
From Hammerfest to Mandal-('tis the state's creation
Of an everything-and-every-one-conserving dominion,
Wherein all the finer folk have but one opinion!)-
The self-same books, the same so-called education
My comrades devoured; but my appetite failed me,
And that fare I refused, till, to cure what had ailed me,
Home leaving I leaped o'er those bars of vexation.
What I met on the journey, what I thought in each case,
What arose in my soul in the new-chosen place,
Where the future was lying,-this to tell is refractory,
But I'll give you a picture of the 'student factory.'

Full-bearded fellows of thirty near died of
Their hunger for lore, as they slaved by the side of
Rejected aspirants with faces hairless,
Like sparrows in spring, scatter-brained and careless.
-Vigorous seamen whose adventurous mind
First drove them from school that real life they might find-
But now to cruise wide on the sea they were craving,
Where the flag of free thought o'er all life wide is waving.
-Bankrupted merchants who their books had wooed
In their silent stores, till their creditors sued
And took from them their goods. Now they studied 'on credit.'
Beside them dawdling dandies. Near in scorn have I said it!
-'Non-Latin' law-students, young and ambitious,
'Prelims,' theologs, with their preaching officious;
-Cadets that in arm or in leg had a hurt;
-Peasants late in learning but now in for a spurt:-

Here
they all wished through their Latin to drive
In
one
year or in two,-not in eight or in five.
They hung over benches, 'gainst the walls they were lying,
In each window sat two, one the edge was just trying
Of his new-sharpened knife on an ink-spattered desk.
Through two large open rooms what a spectacle grotesque!

At one end, half in dreams, Aasmund Olavsen Vinje's
Long figure and spare, a contemplative genius;
Thin and intense, with the color of gypsum,
And a coal-black, preposterous beard, Henrik Ibsen.
I, the youngest of the lot, had to wait for company
Till a new litter came in, after Yule Jonas Lie.

But the 'boss' who ruled there with his logical rod,
'Old Heltberg' himself, was of all the most odd!
In his jacket of dog's skin and fur-boots stout
He waged a hard war with his asthma and gout.
No fur-cap could hide from us his forehead imperious,
His classical features, his eye's power mysterious.
Now erect in his might and now bowed by his pain,
Strong thoughts he threw out, and he threw not in vain.
If the suffering grew keener and again it was faced
By the will in his soul, and his body he braced
Against onset after onset, then his eyes were flaming
And his hands were clenched hard, as if deep were his shaming
That he seemed to have yielded! Oh, then we were sharing
Amazed all the grandeur of conflict, and bearing
Home with us a symbol of the storms of that age,
When 'Wergeland's wild hunt' o'er our country could rage!
There was power in the men who took part in that play,
There was will in the power that then broke its way.
Now alone he was left, forgotten in his corner:-
But in deeds was a hero,-let none dare to be his scorner!
He freed thought from the fetters that the schools inherit,
Independent in teaching, he led by the spirit;
Personality unique: for with manner anarchic
He carved up the text; and absolute-monarchic
Was his wrath at mistakes; but soon it subsided,
Or, controlled, into noblest pathos was guided,
Which oft turned in recoil into self-irony
And a downpour of wit letting no one go free.-
So he governed his 'horde,' so we went through the country,
The fair land of the classics, that we harried with effront'ry!
How Cicero, Sallust, and Virgil stood in fear
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Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

Bjørnstjerne Martinius Bjørnson was a Norwegian writer and the 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. more…

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"Old heltberg" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 17 Sep. 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/4379/old-heltberg>.

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