On the poem "Suddenly in December" by Rolf Jacobsen
I received North in the World by UPS a few moments ago. I went immediately
to some of the last poems he may have written:
In the last section, "from Night Watch," is the poem "Suddenly. In
December". Here are some excerpts
. . . It all went so fast. Two staring eyes. Words
I couldn't catch, that you said over and over.
And suddenly nothing more. You slept.
. . . Quick as a switch flicking off,
the tracings behind the eye flash out,
wiped from the slate of life-span. Or maybe not?
Your new dress, my face and our old stairs
and everything you brought to this house. Is it gone
- under the snow. Under the wreath of cedar?
Dear friend, where is our happiness now,
your good hands, your young smile,
your hair's wreath of light on your forehead and that
girlish glint in your eye, your spirit and
steady abundance of life and hope?
. . . Companion beyond death. Take me down with you.
Side by side, let us see the unknown.
It's so desolate here and the days are growing dark.
The words are few now and no one's listening anymore.
Dearest, you who are sleeping. Eurydice.
- Under the snow. Under the wreath of cedar.
On page 287 is a note saying "This poem begins a suite of poems from the
book Nattapent (Night Watch) that deals with the death of Jacobsen's wife,
Petra, and his memories of their marriage. Petra Tendo was born in 1912.
She and Rolf Jacobsen probably met in late 1937 or early 1938; they were
married on 21 December 1940 . . . . She died on 2 December 1983."
Susan was born 6 December 1944 and died 4 July 2015; so she didn't live
quite as long as Petra. In Petra's case "It all went so fast." Susan's
death was much more drawn out. The things the doctors did were of no help.
There were not "two staring eyes" in Susan's case. She died with her eyes
closed. There were not "words, I couldn't catch, that you said over and
over." Instead she hummed melodically, more musically than she ever had
when she was healthy.
Jacobsen wrote "Quick as a switch flicking off, / the tracings behind the
eye flash out, / wiped from the slate of a life-span. Or maybe not?"
Jacobsen had become a Catholic at some point, but how strong is anyone's
faith when something like this happens. It was enough for me that Susan's
faith was strong throughout her final days. As for me, "maybe not."
As to the merits of this poem, or at least the translation of this poem, it
is hard for me to be objective . . . maybe I'll have some more comments
later on - after I've read some more of his poetry. According to
authorscalendar.info/jaco.htm "In his last book, Nattapent (1995), Jacobsen
recalled their [his and Penta's] life together: 'Whoever loves for years /
hasn't lived in vain.' Mostly due to these touching poems, the collection
became a bestseller."
Jacobsen wrote, "Companion beyond death. / Take me down with you. / Side by
side, let us see the unknown," But he died February 20, 1994, more than 10
years after Petra died.