Wadham College Chapel, Oxford

by Nordahl Grieg (1902-1943), a Norwegian poet during WWII,
translated by John Irons.

Pain fills the roar of the organ, and all the young wills are bowing
low in fear and ache to realms that we know not of.
Candles fl icker in darkness like daffodils cold is cowing,
a hymn rises up to the roof praising God who is perfect love.

Then from a pale-red star the storm of the Lord starts descending,q
though one last breaker still rolls of the organ’s delightful roar;
the chaplain lifts up his voice, his white distant words upwards wending:
“Let us remember the dead, the fallen who’ve gone before” …

An unending grief of names foredoomed to blood, tears and weeping,
smiling young names his voice brings alive to us one by one,
friends who toiled on the river, blue-bladed oars clean-sweeping,
while poplars lining the Cherwell quivered till autumn was gone!

Iron and horrors and cold in pointlessness and in battle,
that was your lot and that too the prime of your youth swiftly stole.
Bullets that whistled past ears and bodies that cramps made rattle,
corpses that rotted – the soul though? friends, what became of your souls?

A brother of yours I recall, who cherished a dream never-ending:
to smoke a while of an evening over a white-painted gate …
He came home to his longing, though his heart pain always was rending:
that you could not be there as well, on summer’s eves languid and late.

But God who is perfect love and gave him that dream for his keeping,
remembers you every one, brothers of hardship and need.
He roams in the upper air, along stars’ white highways sweeping,
ensuring that all get to live – before death’s hour all must heed.

We kneel in the organ’s roar for dead, unknown friends departed,
young tortured souls who sank into that great rest while we grieve.
Are they alive beyond death, in a land to know we’ve not started?
Dear God, if my faith can help, then shall my heart believe.

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