The Poems of Julius B. Baumann: Five Translations

Julius Baumann grave marker

Julius Baumann’s grave marker in Cloquet, MN, donated by the “Sons of Norway” in 1926.

Some of the best advice for a young poet is to learn translation. It’s the advice Pound gave to Merwin, and it’s the advice Bly gave to me. So, always one to try new things, in the winter of 2014-15 I began translating the work of Norwegian-American poet Julius B. Baumann (1869-1923). Reading up on the Nordic languages (and relying extensively on digital copies of turn-of-the-century Norwegian-English dictionaries) I translated ten pieces from Baumann’s Fra Vidderne: New Poems (Augsburg Publishing House, 1915; Google Books). As far as I know, this is the first time these poems have appeared in English.

To provide a little background on Julius B. Baumann, in 1869 he was born to a family of fishermen in Vadsø, Norway. At the age of twenty he befriended two emigrants who offered to pay his way to the United States, and it was with the young writer’s yearning for life and experience that he left his native land. As a logger in Wisconsin he saw his first pine forest, and it was later as a farmhand in North Dakota where he first gazed upon plains of prairie and wheat. Working in the timber industry for much of his life, in his later years he moved to Cloquet, MN, where he managed a lumber store and served multiple terms as Carlton County’s register of deeds.

Prior to his coming to the United States, Baumann held the prevailing opinion of America at the time–that unlike Europe, it lacked culture. But as he studied the Midwest’s history and people, he found inspiration in the United States’ ideals and ambitions. This he channeled into poems celebrating the agrarian spirit, socialism, and the role of Norwegian-Americans in shaping the region. His first collection of poems Digte (Freemad Publishing Society, 1909) was well-received by the community, winning him much praise from friend and stranger alike, including Ole E. Rolvaag (future author of Giants of the Earth). This was followed-up by Fra Vidderne (1915) and, posthumously, a collected works Samlede Digte (Augsburg Publishing House, 1924). When he passed away, he received the honor of being the only poet for whom the “Sons of Norway” erected a monument (located in the cemetery of Cloquet, MN).

Although the following translations are only a sample of Baumann’s work, they capture well the themes he was known for. While I’m proud of some of these (e.g. “Morning Light” and “You”), I should note that these were my first attempts at translation–and thus my first lessons in translation-as-creative-act. So be nice.

Morning Light (“Morgen“)

Look to the east where, like a sea of fire,
the sky glows behind the black gates of night.
There is light, there is warmth coming.

The shadows are black wings fleeing the newborn day.

A red line folds and spreads across
the horizon, as wide as all of heaven rising.
There is light, there is warmth coming.

With time the whole sky embraces this peace.

The sun’s tender heart knows anguish,
does not forget the world’s suffering and pain.
There is light, there is warmth coming.

In its veins is Salvation.

Look where the scarlet curtain fills the sky,
the newborn child a thousand rays of bright light.
Greater its reach, further its grasp,

Look how it encompasses the world.

You (“Du“)

Inside of me is a little spring,
sounds faintly heard on a quiet evening.

As though my body were a valley,
I am filled with a whispering passion
washing away the brush.

Searching for its source, as expected:
It is you feeding the waters.

The Martyr’s Truth (“Sandhedens Martyrium“)

As beacons in the night, every new idea was scorned
by flinching eyes even if it anticipated the dawn.
Turning away, it takes a hundred hesitant years
until the people at last see the light.

Every honest man who stood up before the people
was accused of heresy but fearlessly walked to the gallows.
Every voice for freedom was silenced in chains,
continuing a hundred years of bondage.

But the truth prevails and grows with sacrifice,
and the day comes when they savor the light.

Norway’s Saga (“Norges Saga“)

As a child, I was entranced by my father’s stories of the Vikings.
His voice painted scenes of victory, played music of creaking
hulls and crashing iron.

Reading the stories for myself, I followed courageous Kings on
eastward ventures and conquests. I trailed the great Rurik
to Novgorod, men marching toward Greece and the Jordan River.

Dreaming, I smelled the old lands and waters, fought alongside
my brethren on crimson fields. (And now, I hear again
the familiar 
voice of my father).

Norway’s Wandering Sons (“Norges Udvandrede Sønner“)

As Norway’s Vikings ventured to distant lands,
here we stand as the heirs to Leif Erikson,
traveling once again across Atlantic waters.

As Norway’s proud, we must continue the struggle.
We must keep honor and courage in our hearts.
Our word must be as good as gold.

In our fathers’ eyes, the sun lit a divine spark.
Let us call it Odin and may the light upon the earth
remind us of who we are in this new land.

Source: Heitmann, John. “Julius B. Baumann: A Biographical Sketch.” Studies and Records of the Norwegian-American Historical Association 15 (1949): 140-175.

12 thoughts on “The Poems of Julius B. Baumann: Five Translations

  1. Bette Huston says:

    I loved reading these translations and I enjoy receiving your columns. I think Baumann made a good decision to come to the US as did my Grandmother who came from Sweden in early 1900.


    • Dagny Madsen says:

      My old grandmother was the aunt of Julius Berg Bauman who travelled from Kiby in Finnmark to America. D. Madsen, Tromsø


  2. Cynthia Johnson says:

    I am president of the Cloquet Sons of Norway lodge where Julius was an early and likely charter member. I found your blog via google as I was looking for more information on him for a friend who recently translated a few of his poems (including one you have translated) for a great-granddaughter’s son’s wedding. I am curious as to how you came to know of Baumann’s poetry. Would enjoy chatting with you, at least via email. Thank you.


  3. RoseMarie Baumann says:

    My husband, David Jul Baumann, was grandson to Julius Berg Baumann. His son, Jul Berner Johan Baumann kept the stories about his parents alive!
    Julius married Marie Potterud, who came to America with him. She brought her spinning wheel. It remains in the family, today.
    JBB’s poems were sometimes set to music.
    He often wrote of his mother and of Norway.
    I would like to hear more of the family connections mentioned.


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