Nattens Lys (translated as The Light Of The Night)
is an interdisciplinary project based on the poetry of Gunvor Hofmo
Nattens Lys is initiated and lead by Liv Kristin Holmberg and Christina Lindgren and supported by The Norwegian Art Council, The Audiovisual Fund, The Norwegian Freedom Of Expression Foundation, The County of Oslo, Fund for Performing Arts.
The project consists of several parts:
1) Recording of poetry readings. Recordings of readings made by persons who has an relationship to Hofmo poetry. During the spring 2014 more than 150 persons responded to the announcement in newspapers, radio and social media and came to the temporary sound recording studios. The studios were arranged in churches, museums, and litterature houses in Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen. The readers brought one, two, three or more of their favourite poems. More about this in Norwegian under “Innlesningsaksjon”.
2) An audiobook with new recordings in addition to recordings of the poet herself reading 14 poems. This was recorded in 1969 by the Norwegian Broadcast Company NRK. The readings will be composed into a musical composition for voice, organ and piano by Liv Kristin Holmberg. More about this in Norwegian under “Lydbok”.
3) A durative concert installation/ wake with music, the recorded readings of the poems and shadow theatre from sunset to sunrise in Jacob Church Oslo: Saturday the 11th at 20.00 till sunday the 12th April 2015. More about this in Norwegian under “Scenekunstforestillingen”.
4) A durative concert installation/ wake with music, the recorded readings of the poems and shadow theatre from sunset to sunrise. In Vor Frues Kirke in Trondheim: November 9th till 10th 2018. Including the commissioned music by composer Stefan Thorsson Lidelsens Jubel, for counter tenor, choir and organ. More about this under Våkenatt Vor Frues Kirke» and «Nyskrevet Vigiliamesse».
5) Memorial memory of Kristallnacht and the 100 year birth day of Ruth Maier: In Kulturkirken Jakob, Oslo. November 9th 2020. More about this under «Markering Ruth Maier 100 år».
About Gunvor Hofmo
It would be a great question, who has enriched the world more: the busy ones or those who suffer?
Gunvor Hofmo was born in 1921 and lived all her life in Oslo until her death in 1995. Her first poem appeared in print in 1936; early in her life she demonstrated and realised that the pen was indeed a strong weapon. She experienced the Nazi invasion of Norway and the way it affected people. She saw the effects of war in Europe. She witnessed how two uncles and an aunt were all identified as suspects, arrested and transported to camps in Germany. One uncle and her aunt died just before peace was declared, while the other uncle (Rolf Hofmo) was rescued and evacuated by the Swedish Red Cross in their Bernadotte busses operation. Gunvor Hofmo saw her friend, Ruth Maier, arrested, marched aboard SS Donau on 26 November 1942 and deported to Auschwitz. A time filled with fear of what humans were able to do to their fellow human beings and shock over what they actually did. Evil, betrayal, terror. Gunvor Hofmo captured all this with her pen and cried out in despair for justice and dignity.
She wrote mainly poetry, a total of more than 700 poems published in 19 collections. She is considered to be one of Norway’s foremost modernists. Jan Erik Vold, himself a poet and the author of Gunvor Hofmo’s biography (“Mørkets sangerske” 2000 ) calls her work “the strongest lyrical writings by any woman in Norwegian”.
Gunvor Hofmo spent 17 years of her life in the psychiatric hospital at Gaustad, where she was admitted after the war. In a time when society wanted to forget the horrors of war, Gunvor Hofmo found it impossible to forget. In a time when Norwegians saw themselves as victims and wanted to look ahead in an attempt to lick their wounds, she looked the evil of mankind straight in the eye. She insisted that this evil had to be met with its own counterforce: human dignity. In a time when the aim was rebuilding, Gunvor Hofmo feels that every single building block has been shattered. In a time when the focus is on material values, Gunvor Hofmo insists on reminding us of the responsibility we as human beings have for each other.
In the last year there have been a number of stage performances and concerts based on the life and work of Gunvor Hofmo. Nattens Lys is our contribution to this renewed interest and at the same time different in its form. Here it is not her biography, but the poems themselves that are the main focus of attention.
The public have been invited to contribute with their own readings of the poems (see more under Innlesningsaksjonen). The work of recording all these readings of her poems has shown us the power and ripple effects created by Gunvor Hofmo’s pen. Injustice and human pain and suffering remain a part of our world. That is why we still need to listen to her voice today.
I want to go home
I want to gaze towards the stars
over the night-shining sea
that is singing, singing:
Wonderful is the night,
wonderful is the day, not one of them will die!
I want to go home to the humans –
like a blind man
is transilluminated in the dark
by sorrow´s starlight
Orginally: Jeg vil hjem til menneskene. From the collection Jeg vil hjem til menneskene (1948). Translation by Howard Medland
On a wet evening like this
you can feel it is her,
a Jewish woman they killed,
the one whose corpse they have burned
along with thousands of others.
Acrid the smell rises from the beach
at low tide.
The birds already whimper quietly.
Someone laughs in the distant twilight…
The voice sounds so gentle
as if they had night in them.
You just know it is her
and see her without seeing
and feel her brown look
cover you hopeless sorrow
as cold as snow.
And your desire to scream,
rage, cry and pray,
just like a small child
gets its own way,
everything you had painfully kept secret,
melts away beneath it.
You hear the gentle voice
the way you heard it last time,
asking without complaining,
subdued and strangely sad:
Warum sollen wir nicht leiden
wenn so viel Leid ist?
Originally: Møte. From the collection Jeg vil hjem til menneskene (1946). Translation by Howard Medland
I know no words anymore,
I know no words anymore,
A deep flood of shining colours
a high, high silence of grey –white snow.
God the Father´s face
I see above,
God the Father´s shining face.
I know no words anymore,
but colours and depth
Originally: Jeg kjenner ingen ord mer. From the collection Fra en annen virkelighet (1948). Translation by Howard Medland
From another reality …
The cry for reality makes one ill.
Far too close did I get to things
so that I burnt a path through
and stand on the other side of them,
where light’s not apart from the dark,
where boundaries nowhere are set,
only a silence that casts me into a universe of loneliness,
oh of incurable loneliness.
Look, I soothe my hand in the cooling grass:
That surely is reality,
that surely is reality enough for your eyes,
I though am on the other side
where grass blades are chiming bells of grief and bitter expectation.
I’m holding someone by the hand,
looking hard into somebody’s eyes,
but I am on the other side
where each person’s a mist of loneliness and fear.
Oh, were I only a stone
where the weight of this void could be held,
were I only a star
where the pain of this void could be drunk,
but I am just someone cast out into the borderland,
and I hear the silence roar
I hear the silence cry
from worlds deeper than this one.
Originally: Fra en annen virkelighet. From the collection From Another Reality 1948. Translation by John Irons
Here some more information about Gunvor Hofmo from the homepage Nordic Women`s Literature: Written by: Unni Langås
Gunvor Hofmo was born and grew up in Oslo, where her father was a meter inspector, and she attended commercial school. She wrote twenty poetry collections, the first five between 1946 and 1955, the last fifteen between 1971 and 1994, and became an important figure in post-war modernism.
The first five collections should be read from the perspective of the destruction of meaningfulness and humanity of World War II. She was immediately regarded as the poet of her generation, but her work was eventually rejected as obscure, and the gap between the poet and her readers widened. Testamente til en evighet, her last poetry collection before a sixteen-year break, hints at a different theme from war. The main character here is the blind, lonely, and mute child to whom the poet gives a language.
Hofmo’s final phase of writing is characterised by serenity and mature reflection. Whereas passion and pain were prominent in her first poetry collections, she was later more resigned and meditative. Gunvor Hofmo consistently shied the public. Her poetry was like a voice from the dark.
A review of 5) Memorial memory of Kristallnacht and the 100 year birth day of Ruth Maier: In Kulturkirken Jakob, Oslo. November 9th 2020. More about this under «Markering Ruth Maier 100 år».
Healing requiem for Ruth Maier
Ingress: Today it is 100 years since Ruth Maier was born. Nattens Lys (The Night’s Light) and Kulturkirken Jakob, by Liv Kristin Holmberg and Christina Lindgren, organized a dignified and important theater event to mark the Kristallnacht and Ruth Maier’s 100th birthday.
Review by: Elin Lindberg
Norsk Teater- og Shakespearetidsskrift
Publish Tuesday November 10th 2020
Today, November 10th, it is 100 years since Ruth Maier was born. By remembering her, we maintain our knowledge of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Her birthday coincides with the November pogrom, the Kristallnacht also called the Night of Broken Glas. On the night between November 9 and 10, 1938, the Nazis carried out extensive violent attacks on Jews in Germany. Ruth Maier came to Norway as a refugee in 1939. She took artium and studied at the School of Arts and Crafts. She wrote poems and painted watercolors. The poet Gunvor Hofmo became her soulmate, their relationship became very important to both of them. Ruth Maier was one of the 532 Jews deported on the ship Donau on November 26th, 1942. She was killed on December 1st, arriving at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In Kulturkirken Jakob we are warmly welcomed by the organizers of the theater event. Liv Kristin Holmberg and Christina Lindgren are dressed in a costume reminiscent of the liturgical mass hail. There are white flakes that have prints of, or are attached to, sheets of text. It corresponds well with all the textual material that the religious traditions, Judaism in particular, this theatrical event is associated with. Ruth Maier was also a talented writer, and she is forever associated with one of our greatest poets: Gunvor Hofmo. The actual entrance to Kulturkirken Jakob takes time, although there is a very limited number of audiences who can be together about this celebration right here. Candles are lit and we are once again warmly welcomed by the initiators Holmberg and Lindgren.
Ruth Maiers text
Ruth Maier’s diaries were kept by Gunvor Hofmo after Maier was deported. Hofmo tried to get them published, but was refused. Jan Erik Vold has made a formidable effort by highlighting the authorship of Gunvor Hofmo and also the texts and story of Ruth Maier. He has published the biographical books The Singer of Darkness (Mørkets Sangerske) and Ruth Maier’s Diary. In 2014, Maier’s diaries and letters were included in Norway’s documentary heritage and thus in UNESCO’s world heritage. Holmberg reads an excerpt from Maier’s text. It is from Christmas Eve 1941. At this time Maier is 21 years old. She writes thoughtful. On a train ride, she observes a traumatized, former Finnish soldier. He is in great mental pain. Through the diary text, Maier writes into a community: “I am not only me. To be me, I have to let all the others into my heart”. This makes Meier’s text and the theater event both deeply social and deeply political.
The young woman is walking in Vienna
The next thing that happens in Kulturkirken Jakob this evening is that we are introduced to Selma Maria Lindgren who is an artist and set designer. She is in Vienna, Ruth Maier’s hometown, and this evening walks between Maier’s two homes in this city. We follow the walk on video that is projected on the church wall. This is a good and successful move. Selma Maria Lindgren is about the same age as Ruth Maier was when she was killed, it creates a connection between the two. The fact that a living young woman is following in the footsteps of the dead helps to strengthen hope for a better future, and it seems reassuring.
Historian of religion and rabbi Lynn Claire Feinberg researches in her PhD project how the Holocaust has affected Jews in Norway, both collectively as an ethnic minority and individually as descendants of Jews. She spoke of an intergenerational trauma, living a life marked by the shadows of Auschwitz. She claims that the traumas that have affected the children and grandchildren of Jews who were killed or were in the concentration camps can also lead to growth. She emphasizes the importance of daring to realise the pain this knowledge entails. With Feinberg everyone rises and participates in a Jewish prayer for Ruth Maier. This physical action helps to bring to life the memory of Maier.
Song and poetry
Mathias Gillebo has participated in several of Holmberg’s theater events. The last time I met him in such a context was in Stamsund Church during the performance We Strangers during Stamsund International Theater Festival. In Kulturkirken Jakob he sings And the night rowes his light boat (Og natta ror sin lette båt) composed by Kjell Mørk Karlsen with lyrics by Åse-Marie Nesse. He also sings, to organ accompaniment, excerpts from O Domina Nostra, Op.55 Mediation on The Black Madonna by Henryk Górecki. Gillebo’s sacred song emphasizes the seriousness of the commemoration.
Gunnar Wærness has written a commissioned poem for the occasion. The work has references to Gunvor Hofmo’s poems, including the very famous I have waked (Jeg har våket) from 1954 «I saw my girlfriend, / the only one, I saw her / go to die». Wærness’ text touches on Maier’s life, it circles around it. Sometimes close, other times with a perspective from a great distance. At some points, the long poem is a little difficult to follow.
Through the hour-long theater event, 100 candles are lit in memory of Ruth Maier and the November pogrom. Holmberg, Lindgren and Gillebo carry the lights and put them in front of us in the audience. Later, they are placed on a wooden structure that stands in the centre of the church room. The wooden construction has a simple, but also somewhat sacred charachter. Finally, it is a luminous centerpiece. Selma Maria Lindgren has reached her goal in Vienna, we have followed her where she has walked through the almost deserted streets. She lights a candle in front of Ruth Maier’s last residence. The theater event has been a dignified and friendly moment of remembrance for a young woman who one of many was killed by the Nazis.