Updated: May 18
Norwegian: No Levnar det i Lundar
Text: Elias Blix (1836-1902). Tune: Ludvig Lindemann (1812-1887)
1. The leaves upon the linden
Are growing in the lees,
The whole creation blossoms
With budding summer trees.
2. The lovely days when springtime
Comes north and water flows,
And out of this great wonder,
New life springs forth and grows.
3. God’s church with light shall blossom,
A city on a hill.
All through the dark of winter,
And when the sun is full.
4. God’s Word is always shining,
A light that will not cease.
A house built by the Spirit
Will shine in light and peace.
5. But once there came a winter
Into the church’s yard
As if the Lord were hidden
Abandoned with his ark.
6. It was a day of darkness
God’s word was still again
Our hearts were cold and frozen
They missed the sun and rain.
7. God sent his Holy Spirit
Like dew upon dry ground
And then our land awakened
As God’s Word could be found.
8. And now the times are golden
For Christ’s church to be raised,
The leaves upon the linden
Are growing in the lees.
9. Send light throughout our country
Fom mountains to the fjords
So people’s tongue are loosened
To sing God’s holy word.
10. Shine light across the beaches,
Like summer’s endless days,
Let burn along the borders
A holy fire of praise.
11. O spring, your days of glory,
New life from what seemed dead,
You show God has prepared us
A better spring ahead.
12. Come sing with me our praises
With love so pure and clear
That everything now living
Will praise our Savior dear.
The May 17th song service honoring the pioneers had just ended. It was an annual event in the Muskego church on the Luther Seminary campus in St. Paul. Several Norwegian exchange students were there in their national dress. They asked if they could sing “The Leaves Upon the Linden." It isn’t May 17th without it, they said. Of course. They stood up in front before the altar with the pulpit high above them and sang the first three stanzas without a book. (The entire hymn is not sung very often.) The day was complete.
The day commemorates the adopting of a new Constitution in Norway on May 17, 1814, freeing Norway from Denmark. (It didn't quite happen. Sweden got Norway and Norway did not become independent with its own king until 1905.) Muskego is the right place to have the service--it is the first church building the Norwegian immigrants built in America in 1844. Restored and moved to the Luther Seminary campus in 1904, it is a special place for Norwegian Americans. This year the virus has caused this service to be canceled--like most of the others, here and around the world. No flags flying, no children’s parade into city centers with bands and flags and national costumes in one of the most colorful festivals of the year. No communal singing of the national anthem and other patriotic songs such as this one. Blix' hymn has become almost obligatory for May 17, and also for spring graduations, weddings, and confirmations.
For the past thirty-five years or so on May 17 we have honored the tradition of the pioneers with a short song service of Scripture, prayers and hymns in Muskego followed by lefse on the lawn. Many come to the service and tell of their grandparents or great-grandparents being baptized or married there. It is a perfect day to honor them and their tradition. Now we always sing the Blix hymn in English.
My translation of it was first sung in Norway at a meeting of friends of Luther Seminary. After we had sung it, people came up to tell me how critical it was that I get the fourth line in the 11th stanza right. “Ein bedre vår ein gong.” A better spring ahead. They told stories of how much that line had meant to a friend or relative as they were approaching death. Even people who had shown little interest in the faith until then would ask to hear that line. It got them to face their ending and look forward to God's promise in Christ of something much better.
I can't imagine a better line for right now. Although our spring has been lovely, as they usually are, most of the world is longing for a better spring next year. And many faithful facing their last days are trusting in the promise that Christ has gone before to prepare us a better place, one where something even better than our temporal spring awaits us. As the song assures us, we see harbingers of it in the beautiful spring now. Just think of the glory that will be!
Elias Blix grew up in northern Norway, in difficult and poor times. His abilities as a student
gave him entry into the academic world. Starting at the seminary in Tromsø he worked his way through to finally becoming professor of Semitic languages at the University in Christiania. He became fascinated by the efforts to restore the Norwegian language back to what it might have been without the Danish influence. Blix began writing his hymns in New Norwegian as it was called. He is considered one of the best hymn writers of his time in Norway.
Unfortunately, Norwegian Americans did not learn nor translate any of his works because most of them had emigrated by the time his hymns became known and loved. Blix' hymn tells the story of Norway's history and landscapes using spring as a metaphor for the renewing of the church and the society.
Ludvig Lindemann is the Norwegian church musician of the 19th century, setting many of the hymns in the Landstad hymnal of 1869 and writing many choral anthems. He served as organist at the Cathedral in Oslo for many years. He collected Norwegian folk tunes and used what he learned in his own compositions.
One of the finest choirs in Norway singing practicing social distancing May 15, 2020--the first three stanzas
Våler Kantori/they sing five stanzas including 11 and 12
Parade before the Palace and the royal family in 2014 the 200th anniversary of the event