[lit-ideas] Re: Landscape with shovels

  • From: "Torgeir Fjeld" <phatic@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2007 14:42:18 +0100

Rolf Jacobsen published his first collection of poetry in 1933, under the title 
_Earth and iron_. He later commented that the title could stand as an emblem 
for the duality of our modern existence: "Earth and iron, city and countryside, 
flowers and streets, the original and the man-made." 

Nature and technology, the eternal and the novel, tradition and renewal. From 
his very first collection he was fascinated by machines, the force of the new, 
the potentialities of progress. Later Jacobsen's fascination with machines is 
parallelled by a concern for its devastating prospects. Is Jacobsen's poetry 
describing a nature under threat by technology? In "Landscape with shovels" 
even machines are captured by the circumstance of modernity: Blinded and 
chained the machines appear to be governed by an agency that is not present, 
unavailable, and not to be found. Celebrated poet and critic Jan Erik Vold has 
described Jacobsen's work as characterized by "despair and consideration."

How could such a thoughtful poet end up serving three and a half years in a 
labor camp for treason after five years of loyal membership in the National 
Socialist party? 

Before 1940 he had been active in the labor movement. Late 1940 he joined the 
NS party headed by Vidkun Quisling, a membership that remained a secret until 
after the war. Jacobsen explained during the trial that he was given a choice 
between two kinds of treason: While England supposedly was the gravest threat 
to the working classes, Germany stood a fair chance of winning the war on the 
Western front. Membership in NS could aid in securing some of the spoils of war 
for Norway.

In January 1941 he was appointed editor of Glåmdalen, a local newspaper, to 
safeguard an editorial policy that was more friendly to the occupation 
authorities. The editor he replaced, Zachariassen, was arrested in Juni 1941, 
following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and later deported to the 
concentration camp Sachsenhausen. 

Jacobsen's brother Anton had invested in a company that constructed barracks 
for the German occupation authority near Trondheim. Secretly he aided in 
Skylark B, a spy mission for British SIS. Anton was arrested in September 1941 
when the group was uncovered. Rolf was granted a visit with his brother in 
March 1943. In July that year Anton was shipped to Natzweiler as a Nachts und 
Nebel prisoner. He died in January 1945 from dysentery in Durchgangslager 
Gröditz-Riesa close to Dresden. 

From August 1943 Rolf Jacobsen had started to sign his own editorials in 
Glåmdalen. Most of them were written in his own words, and not handed down from 
the German authorities. During the treason trial after the war it was 
demonstrated that Jacobsen went far in promoting Nazi views. Jacobsen was held 
in high esteem by his colleagues at the paper, including former editor 
Zachariassen, who said he had been "led astray," and that the whole matter was 
a "regrettable incident." 

Jacobsen continued to publish poetry after the war, to increasing national and 
international acclaim. He is translated into more than 30 languages. He 
appeared to have forgotten the war time events. When confronted with his 
membership in NS in a 1969 interview Jacobsen claims that it was an accident, 
something that happened automatically and without any engagement on his part. 
He also claimed the editorials had been given to him from an authority outside 
the paper, and that he had tried to make their views more moderate. In 1992 
Jacobsen stated that Sachsenhausen, where his predecessor had been sent, was a 
"moderate" camp, and that Zachariassen "wasn't so bad off down there." 

Jacobsen died in 1994, 87 years old. 

"Mike Geary" wrote kindly:
> Thanks, Tor.  Great poem.  Is it your translation?
> ___Landscape with shovels___
> They eat of my forests.
> Six mechanical shovels came to eat of my forests.
> God help me, what creatures they were. Heads
> without eyes and eyes in their buttocks.
> They wave their gobs on long shafts
> and have dandelions in the corners of their mouths.
> They chew and spit, spit and chew,
> for they no longer have a throat, only a huge
> gob and a rumbling tummy.
> Is this some kind of hell?
> For waders. For the excessively wise
> pelicans.
> Their eyes are blinded and feet chained.
> They shall work for centuries and chew bluebells
> into tarmac. Cover them in clouds of fat exhaust
> and the cold suns of projectors.
> No throats, no vocal chords and no complaints.
> (Rolf Jacobsen, "Landskap med gravemaskiner" from _Hemmelig liv_ 
> (Secret Life), 1954.)
> In Norwegian: 
> http://joruhs.stud.hive.no/norsk/dikt/landskap_med_gravemaskiner.doc
> On Rolf Jacobsen (including his Nazi sympathies): 
> http://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolf_Jacobsen
> There's an English language bio, that unfortunately has less 
> detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolf_Jacobsen

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