Sometime ago, I was teaching English to a Japanese PhD student. He was an advanced learner so I set out to challenge him with more difficult material. Since he was interested in stories, I considered using the fim, The Danish Poet in class. I adapted the online material to our purpose by also transcribing the content. The text helped my student clarify the understanding he gained through listening.
I’m sharing the transcript here, for those of you who might have some use for it:
The Danish Poet
I used to think that everybody was adopted from outer space, that before we were born we were just little seeds floating around in the sky, waiting for someone to come and get us. The selection process was random and there was no rhyme or reason as to who our parents would be. In a way I was right because our chance to be born hinges on our parents’ meeting. My parents met completely by chance due to a chain of events that was set in motion many years ago in a small apartment in Copenhagen.
In this apartment there lived a Danish poet called Kasper Jørgensen (alternative: Urgenson). Kasper was so worried about running out of ideas that he often could not think of anything to write. He therefore went to see Dr. Mørk who specialized in this problem.
Dr. Mørk: Why don’t you go on a holiday? Get some fresh air. Kasper: Where can you go on holiday if you don’t have any money and you don’t speak French? Dr. Mørk: What about Norway? It’s cheap and they’re practically Danish.
Kasper began to research Norwegian holiday possibilities. At the library he came across a book called Scandinavian Confusion about famous Swedes who were actually Norwegian and famous Norwegians who were actually Danish, and so on. This is how he discovered the Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset who was originally Danish. She had written the epic novel Kristin Lavrans Datter and had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Kristin Lavrans Datter is the story of Kristin who is engaged to Simon. But Kristin falls in love with Erland and she breaks up with Simon and marries Erland against her father’s will. She regrets this fateful decision for the rest of her life and never forgives herself no matter how many times she walks barefoot and pregnant on pilgrimage to the Nidarese Cathedral.
This novel so profoundly moved Kasper that he wrote a letter to Sigrid Undset:
Dear Mrs. Undset,
I am a Danish poet. May I please come and visit you in Norway for inspiration.
Dear Mr. Jørgensen,
I could use a little inspiration myself nowadays. Please come and visit me anytime.
And so it was that Kasper went on holiday to Norway just as Dr. Mørk had prescribed. Kasper went to the nearest farm to ask for shelter.
Kasper: I am a great admirer of Sigrid Undest and I am on my way to Lilahummer to visit her. Farmer: What a coincidence! My family is related to her. My third cousin’s brother-in-law was Sigrid Undset’s great uncle’s niece’s husband’s grandfather. Kasper: So you’re family was originally from Denmark? Farmer: Well perhaps we are all originally from Denmark.
Kasper was offered food and shelter until the rain stopped. But as often happens in Norway the rain never really stopped. Kasper did not mind at all for Lindagorl had a beautiful daughter named Ingeborg who tended the chickens and romantically mapped the stars above the farm.
A summer romance was in full bloom when Kasper wrote a poem:
Ingeborg you changed my life.
Ingeborg please be my wife.
She explained that although she would like to marry him she was actually already engaged to the farmer across the valley. He was the son of her father’s best friend and a well-respected member of the community. An August wedding was planned.
Kasper: This is exactly like when Kristin Lavrans Datter can’t marry Erland because she’s engaged to Simon. But then she breaks up with him and marries Erland anyway in spite of her father’s stern objections. Ingeborg: Not exactly.
For Ingeborg had also read Kristin Lavrans Datter and knew that disobeying one’s father would lead to a life lived in the shadows of guilt and regret. Ingeborg gave Kasper a lock of her hair and promised that she would not cut it until they were reunited. He forgot all about his intended visit to Sigrid Undset and returned to Denmark heartbroken and empty-handed but for the lock of his beloved’s hair.
Kasper: How can I write when I feel so sad? Dr. Mørk: Some people think that’s the best time. Kasper: Really.
Kasper tried to write but nobody cared about his sad poetry. He reread Kristin Lavrans Datter again and again as if the cure for his broken heart could be found somewhere between the 1500 pages. Ingeborg was unhappy, too when she regretted that she had not disobeyed her father and married Kasper.
“You’d better cut your hair before I trip in it and twist my ankle,” said her husband. “There are worse things in life than a twisted ankle,” answered Ingeborg.
And then something much worse did happen. Ingeborg immediately wrote Kasper a letter telling him that she was now free to marry him. But Kasper never received the letter. And Ingeborg waited in vain for his reply. Meanwhile, Ingeborg’s hair grew and grew. She decided to employ the children in the neighborhood to comb and brush it for her. One of them was a little girl who was exceptionally good at arranging Ingeborg’s hair in complicated braids and knots and elegant beehives. Her name was Vreslimae and she became Ingeborg’s favorite hairdresser.
Ingeborg’s life passed uneventfully for years until the day that Sigrid Undset died.
Vreslimae: You must go to the funeral. Ingeborg: Why? Vreslimae: Because she was your relative. Ingeborg: But she was Danish. “When a relative dies you go to the funeral whether she’s Danish or not,” said Vreslimae.
Kasper was grief stricken by the death of his favorite author.
Dr. Mørk: You must go to the funeral. Kasper: But it’s in Norway. Dr. Mørk: Just go.
Kasper did not like being reminded of death but he went to Sigrid Undset’s funeral anyway and was glad he did because there he was finally reunited with Ingeborg.
Ingeborg: Great! Now I can finally cut my hair.
Kasper: Are you nuts? I love your hair.
Kasper quickly became living proof that some poets are better off happy than sad. He published a poetry collection called Joy and Happiness which was translated to all the Scandinavian languages and became a bestseller of sorts. Ingeborg was happy, too, but she was growing increasingly concerned about her split ends. When Kasper one day tripped in her unbraided hair and broke his thumb, she saw an opportunity. She called Vreslimae who was no longer a little girl but a young woman. She understood the urgency of the situation and jumped on the next train to Oslo to take the ferry to Copenhagen. The only available seat was next to a young man who was reading Kasper’s Joy and Happiness. His name was Peter and he told Vreslimae that he was going to Copenhagen for inspiration and to meet Kasper Jørgenson who was his favorite poet.
“That’s quite the coincidence,” said Vreslimae.
It remains to be said that Vreslimae gave Ingeborg a flattering haircut, that Peter’s visit to Copenhagen was very inspiring, that Kasper’s thumb healed nicely, and last but not least that Peter and Vreslimae fell in love with each other. Sometime later they became my parents. But had it not been for the Danish poet, and Sigrid Undset, a rainy summer in Norway, a slippery board plank, a careless mailman, a hungry goat, a broken thumb, and a crowded train, my parents might never have met at all. And who knows I might still be a little seed floating around in the sky waiting for someone to come and get me.