Thursday, 22 November 2018

Little Kerstin and the Mountain King / Den Bergtagna

The Swedish title of this ballad is usually given as Den Bergtagna. Now you sometimes see words described as untranslatable, or even lists of untranslatable words being passed around. I don't know whether this is only a Scandinavian or Swedish thing, I imagine it probably isn't, but certainly the Swedes seem very pleased with their so-called untranslatable words.

Of course there must be something in it. Some things are undeniably lost in translation, though this will often have more to do with the cultural significance of a word or phrase than the meaning itself. For example, the most famous of all the Swedish untranslatable words is lagom, which means just the right amount, or just right. It is actually never difficult to translate this into English in a compact, flowing, elegant way that does not call attention to itself. And perhaps that is the problem with such trivial translation of the most untranslatable of all the words in the Swedish language. When every Swede believes that a concept is so Swedish that it cannot exist outside the Swedish language, simply using this word in Swedish conjures up all sorts of cultural context that anyone reading an English translation that perfectly describes the literal meaning of the word would completely miss ...

Anyway, Den Bergtagna is not that difficult to translate as a concept (though not as easy as lagom, perhaps), but it does lose all of its elegance and compactness when forced into English. It means the one taken away to the mountain(s), or even the one taken away by the mountain(s).

Sometimes the ballad is called Little Kerstin and the Mountain King (this is one Norwegian title: Liti Kjersti og Bergekongen). This title is easy to translate word-for-word, so that is why I usually call this ballad by that name in English. The situation starts to become complicated, though, when we start to talk about Norwegian versions of the ballad: the single Swedish ballad (with many variants) corresponds in Norway to what everyone recognises as two separate ballads with slightly different plots and different titles. The other Norwegian title is Margit Hjukse (this is just a girl's name, and so is untranslatable).

Anyway, I like this ballad, it's a real classic, and was and is still very popular. This ballad was chosen to be the first in Geijer and Afzelius's collection of Swedish ballads. I have been meaning to post about it for a long time, but have been putting it off until now ...

Little Kersti and the mountain king by Erik Werenskiold


Plot


Little Kerstin is out walking when she happens to meet the mountain king. Come away with me to the mountains, he says, and she goes with him. So they go up to the mountain (in some versions they go together, in others she follows him), and when the mountain door opens, they go in.

Kerstin stays under that mountain with the mountain king for many years, and has a lot of children with him. One day, she wants to return home to visit her mother. The mountain king agrees to this on condition that she does not tell her mother about all the children that she has had.

So Kerstin arrives at her mother's house, and her mother asks her where she has been for so many years. At first she tries to hide it: I've been out picking flowers, she says. But her mother isn't having this, and soon the truth comes out. I've been living in the mountain with the mountain king, she says. And I've had all these babies.

Well the mountain king hears her say this, and he comes as quickly as he can. He is not pleased. He hits her, and puts her on his horse, and they are soon riding back to the mountains. In some versions of the ballad, the mountain king also speaks to the girl's mother: Don't worry about your daughter, he tries to reassure her. She will be fine.

When they arrive back home, we may understand that the children are very pleased to see their mother return, yet Kerstin is not happy. The mountain king (or one of the children) gives her a drink of forgetfulness that makes her forget her former life and believe that she had always lived there in the mountain.

It's hardly a happy ending. And yet if the girl is able to live happily with her husband and all her children in her new life in a new place, why not? Does it matter that she has to drink or do drugs or whatever to forget how she lived before? Probably yes it does matter.

by Gerhard Munthe. The mountain king gives Little Kersti a drink

I mentioned that the Swedish ballad corresponds to two different Norwegian ballads with different titles. The lines between different versions of the ballad in Swedish are perhaps more blurred. The story I described above is probably closer to Margit Hjukse. Liti Kjersti has a different beginning: the girl is at home with her mother, and the mother notices that she has milk from her breasts leaking onto her blouse (they have a long conversation about this as Kjersti tries to deny it). And eventually it transpires that she has been sleeping with the mountain king. There are other very closely related ballads with different classifications as well.

Perhaps one reason this ballad has so many variations could be that it is such a relatable theme, with different verses, beginnings and endings resonating with different ballad singers.

Although the mountain king in the ballad is literally a supernatural subterranean man, typical of Scandinavian folklore, it is no great leap to think of him representing any outsider, or even any abstract idea or lifestyle that someone may abandon their old life to go and chase, and that may be reluctant to let them go.

Here is one of the Swedish full text versions of this ballad. This one is a version from Östergötland from Arwidsson.

I've written only about Swedish and Norwegian versions of this ballad. Given how popular the ballad was and is in those countries, it is hardly surprising that it is also well known in Denmark as well. There it is typically called Jomfruen og Dværgekongen (The Maiden and the Dwarf King). I'll not write more here about Danish versions though as this post is long enough already.

Previously on this blog I wrote a post about Agneta and the Merman, which has a similar drink-to-forget-your-former-life ending. Another ballad with a very similar idea is Sir Olof and the Mermaid, though this has opposite gender roles (note this ballad is quite different from the Sir Olof and the Elves ballad or The Mermaid ballad that I have covered in this blog).

A few years ago I wrote a song called The Fell Queen that was inspired to some extent by this story and others like it. So if you have seen me out singing anywhere in Cumbria in the last five years or so, it's quite possible that you might have heard me singing this. I have now finally recorded it, so have a listen if you like.

Little Kersti and her mother by Erik Werenskiold

Melodies


Here are three Swedish melodies for the ballad:

(1) Den Bergtagna (Ahlström No. 26 / Berggreen No. 1), melody from Västergotland, Värmland.

(2) Den Bergtagna (Berggreen No. 2), melody from Värmland, Uppland, etc.

(3) Jungfrun och Bergakonungen (Ahlström No. 192), melody from Östergötland.

And one from Norway:

(4) Liti Kjersti og Bergekungjen (Berggreen Norske No. 7), melody from Telemark.

In terms of omkväde lines, melodies (1) and (2) above both have: tiden görs mig lång / men jag vet att sorgen är tung; (time is long for me / but I know that sorrow is heavy). Melody (3) has löf och hallonkvist / ty hon bär en hjertelig ånger; (leaves and raspberry canes / for she bears a great sorrow).

There are over a hundred text variants of this ballad in the Norwegian archive, with many different ömkväde lines. I will mention a couple of significant things:

One common omkväde is: tida sker meg lange / det er eg som ber sorgi så trange (time is long for me / it is I who bear a great sorrow). This is Landstad's omkväde for Margit Hjukse, and it is obviously the same as for the Swedish melodies (1) and (2) above.

Another is a very long one along the lines of what is seen for (4) above: Bron folen løyper lett / Mæ dæ rigner å dæ blæs / Nora under fjöllo / Inne under hello / Der leikar dei (The brown horse runs easily / It rains and it blows / In the north under the fells / In under the rocks / They are playing).

Another is along the lines of: Ti lil lil haugen min / Di dansar så lett gjenom lunden. Of course the second line here (they dance so easily through the woods) is very similar to the (single) omkväde line typically used in Sir Olof and the Elves as I discussed earlier on this blog.

Recordings


I will start off with some Swedish versions of the ballad ...

Gunnfjauns Kapell are a Swedish folk band from Gotland. The band's name comes from the name of a deserted church on the island of Gotland. Den Bergtagna appears on their 2001 record Dansä Läite.



The band Stormfågel's version of Den Bergtagna.



Signe Widholm från Bergsjö, Hälsingland sings a short unaccompanied version of the ballad from the Sveriges Medeltida Ballader collection.



These first three versions of the ballad all use the same melody and the same omkväde.

Estampie also included Den Bergtagna on their album Secrets of the North.



Here are Ulv, going for their characteristic sound, and a different melody.



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The next recordings are all Norwegian, and I'll start with some interpretations of Margit Hjukse, which is closest to the typical versions of the Swedish Den Bergtagna. You can see it is not only the plot, but also the omkväde and even the melody that are similar:

Arve Moen Bergset is a Norwegian folk singer and fiddler who also sang with the group Bukkene Bruse. Here is his recording of Margit Hjukse from his 1987 album Arvesølv.



Gåte are a young Norwegian band with an often heavier take on traditional songs. Margit Hjukse appears on their debut album Jygri (2002).



Here is a version of Margit Hjukse from the traditional Norwegian singer Halvor Håkanes. The recording appears on his album Eg Heiter Halvor (1992).



Almune are a Danish band playing early church music as well as folk and medieval ballads. Their version of Margit Hjukse appears on their 2018 album Bjergtagen.




Venelite og Bergjekongen is a track by Agnes Buen Garnås and Jan Garbarek from their album Rosensfole (1989). This is a great performance and a great take on the ballad! This is another Norwegian ballad that is very very close to the Margit Hjukse text or some Swedish Bergtagna texts, but with a different melody and omkväde (at least here).



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And here are some versions of Liti Kjersti. You can see that many artists have recorded versions of this song. Here is a selection. You will see that some have recorded versions of both Liti Kjersti and Margit Hjukse:

Liti Kjersti by Arve Moen Bergset is on the same album as mentioned above ... Arvesølv!



Gåte are another band who have recorded Liti Kjersti as well as Margit Hjukse. Their version of Liti Kjersti appears on their Gåte EP (2002).



Kirsten Bråten Berg is a Norwegian folk singer who has recorded several ballads. She sings about the elf king in her version: Liti Kjersti og Elvekongen. The song appears on her album Min Kvedarlund (1999).



The Norwegian band Folque, one of the pioneering Scandinavian folk rock groups, also recorded a version of this ballad. Liti Kjersti og Alvekongen appears on their 1980 album Fredløs.



Here are links to a couple more takes on Liti Kjersti in case you need more! by Ragnhild Furholt and by Iselin

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I will also mention Scott and Johanna Hongell-Darsee's takes on this ballad in English translation. Their album The Mountain King is inspired by this ballad, and here are links to a couple of live performances on YouTube of versions: Far in the Hills (Liti Kjersti in English), and The Mountain King (a Finland-Swedish version of Den Bergtagna in English).

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E. G. Geijer and A. A. Afzelius, Svenska Folkvisor Från Forntiden, Stockholm, 1814--1816
J. N. Ahlström, 300 Nordiska Folkvisor, Stockholm, 1878
A. P. Berggreen, Svenske Folke-Sanger og Melodier, Copenhagen, 1861
A. P. Berggreen, Norske Folke-Sanger og Melodier, Copenhagen, 1861
A. I. Arwidsson, Svenska Fornsånger, Vol 2, Stockholm, 1887

Norwegian texts for this ballad are in the Balladearkivet of the Oslo University Dokumentasjonsprosjektet.

My own translation of Little Kerstin and the Mountain King is included in my book, Lord Peter and Little Kerstin.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Heiemo and the Neck

The ballad for today is a Norwegian one: Heiemo og Nykkjen (or Nøkken; Heiemo and the Neck). Heiemo is the name of our heroine, who is a singer, and the neck is our favourite sinister music-loving water spirit, as seen in such ballads as The Power of the Harp.

Plot


The ballad opens with Heiemo singing. She sings so sweetly that the neck hears her where he is far out to sea.

So immediately we see the neck's typical traits of being a music-loving water creature. What is unusual in this ballad, though, is that the neck seems to be onboard a boat ... In one version of the ballad from Hardanger there is an unusual description of the neck as "half man half boat" ...

The neck cannot resist the song he has heard, so he speaks to his steersman and tells him to sail for land. So the neck comes to land, and dresses himself up as a fine gentleman with fine clothes, a high hat, and curly golden hair. Then he makes a saddle and horse (sometimes from sand and running water), all kitted out in silver and gold, and he rides off to the party room (or church hall) where Heiemo is.

The neck asks the best singer to sing a song. And that is Heiemo. Her song impresses everyone.

The neck then says he will take Heiemo back to his boat with him. Heiemo is not happy at all at this. The neck tries to comfort her, but she is not having it. So she stabs the neck in the heart with her little knives.

So in the end Heiemo escapes with her maidenhood intact, and the neck lies dead on the ground for dogs and ravens to eat.

There are other versions of the ballad where Heiemo frees herself from the neck without using knives. In the Hardanger ballad I mentioned above, she names the neck's name, and he sinks into the depths, possibly to return ...

This Norwegian ballad has a Danish counterpart, Nøkkens Svig (The Neck's Betrayal), though there is a major difference in the way the two ballads end: in the Danish ballad the neck drags the screaming girl down with him into the water. (In Danish versions of this ballad the neck starts off in the water as well rather than on a boat ...)

by Kay Nielsen ... a dancing princess


Melodies


The most common omkväde lines for versions of the ballad in the Norwegian ballad archive are: with memory / two roses sleep in there. Alternatively, we see: boy! / the maiden dances with the lord; or: wake up you noble lads / for you (or I or he) have slept too long.

There are no melodies given for this ballad in Landstad's book, and I don't see any in Berggreen's book.

Recordings


There are a couple of major recordings of this ballad, both from Norwegian ladies, and both using the same melody (and omkväde ... the last of the three omkväde I mentioned above), though singing in rather different styles.

Kirsten Bråten Berg is a Norwegian singer who has been mentioned several times already on this blog. Heiemo og Nykkjen appears on her album Min Kvedarlund (1999).



Helene Bøksle is a Norwegian singer. Here is her version of Heiemo og Nykkjen from her album Elverhøy (2006).



And here is a live version from Helene Bøksle:



Finally, here is a vocal only version on YouTube from Frøya Myrxdottir. Again, she is singing the same melody / same omkväde:



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Norwegian texts for this ballad are in the Balladearkivet of the Oslo University Dokumentasjonsprosjektet.
Commentary on this ballad in Norwegian, plus some other texts:
http://www.bokselskap.no/boker/naturmytiskeballadar/tsb_a_48_heiemo

Monday, 19 November 2018

Record ...

Hello ballad fans. Not a ballad post today, but I have actually been working on two ballad posts, and hopefully will post them later on this week. But today I will let you know about another project I have been working on, really for many years, but more intensively recently. I don't know how many people reading this will know me from the Cumbrian live music scene ... probably not many of you. If you do know me from there, chances are you have heard me singing my songs, and if not, I imagine you will not have done. Well now I have made a record so you can all hear. It's on Bandcamp, so feel free to have a listen and get it if you like it! Here's the link ...


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Little Karin

Here comes a short post about a ballad that was recently relatively widely known in Sweden (as Liten Karin) as it was printed in many school songbooks and other songbooks. It is a bit of a grisly one, and has not been widely recorded by modern artists, though there are some recordings.


Plot


The story goes something like this: Little Karin is serving at the young king's court. The  king notices her, and asks her to be his. Quite a few verses of the ballad are spent with the king offering Karin various fancy gifts: a grey horse with a gold saddle, a gold crown, half of his kingdom, and so on. Each time, Karin refuses, saying that the king should give those things to the queen instead, and leave her (Karin) alone, with her honour intact.

The king then tells Karin that he will lock her in the tower. She replies that God will know whether or not she deserves that.

Next, the king tells her that he will put her in a nail-barrel. The nail-barrel (spiketunnan) we may understand is a torture device consisting of a barrel pierced by nails that may be rolled around with someone inside (apparently not widely attested outside of folklore). The king puts Karin in the nail-barrel and rolls it around ... you may understand she did not survive this. At the end of the ballad, two white doves come down from heaven and take Karin away, and then two black crows arrive from hell to take away the king.

This ballad is one of those that is classified as a legend ballad, as it tells a version of a legend of one of the saints. In this case, it is St Catherine. St Catherine is famous for her martyrdom involving a wheel (after she had upset a certain emperor). The Catherine wheel fireworks and the wheel emblem used as a symbol of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges that are named after her are a couple of examples of where how this wheel may be seen and remembered. The unusual nail-barrel rolling torture device that the king uses in the ballad to kill Karin is also a manifestation of this Catherine wheel ....

St Catherine (Gualenghi-d'Este Hours)

Geijer and Afzelius wrote that the Little Karin ballad was sung almost everywhere in Sweden, and that it was rare to hear the same version in more than one place. They printed two versions of the ballad in their collection (full text here). According to S-B Jansson, one of these was reprinted many times after that as a broadside, so that version of the ballad came to dominate. This ballad is also known in Denmark (as Liden Karen) and Norway.

Melodies


There is one Swedish melody for Liten Karin in Berggreen (No. 15) and Ahlström (No. 49). It is quite unusual in that it does not have chorus (omkväde) lines, but every line in the ballad is sung twice.


Recordings


Rosenbergs Sjua is a band started by the Swedish folk musician Susanne Rosenberg. Their take on Liten Karin was included on their only album release: R7 (1999).




Øyonn Groven Myhren is a Norwegian folk singer. Here his her version of Liten Karin from the album Gullveven (2008)




Finally I will post a couple of live recordings: here Jan Hammarlund plays his one man and a guitar version of Liten Karin live at the Visklubben in Västervik (2013).




And a bigger band rather drum heavy version of Liten Karin from Slingerbult live in Gävle.




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J. N. Ahlström, 300 Nordiska Folkvisor, Stockholm, 1878, Nr 49, Liten Karin
A. P. Berggreen, Svenske Folke-Sanger og Melodier, Copenhagen, 1860, Nr 15, Liten Karin
E. G. Geijer and A. A. Afzelius, Svenska Folkvisor Från Forntiden, Stockholm, 1814--1816, Nr 3, Liten Karin

Sven-Bertil Jansson, Liten Karin, Musikverket

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Valraven / Valravnen

Ravens hold a special place in the oldest Scandinavian legends ... raven imagery often features in viking-age artwork, ravens are famous as a battlefield bird associated with death, and ravens named thought and memory are strongly associated with the god Odin. And as we can see here, there are raven stories in more recent Scandinavian folklore as well!

The Danish ballad I am writing about here tells a story of shapeshifting into the form of a raven (and another bird), and what must be done to escape from this curse and regain human form.

The ballad is called Valravnen, or The Valraven. The word valravn seems to come from this ballad, and it is used to mean a raven that is actually a human in raven form. (One of the tales in Winther's Danske Folkeeventyr tells a similar story, and is also called Valravn, but Grundtvig supposes that this tale could be based on the ballad.) The second part of the name, ravn, means raven. This much is clear. The first part, val, is sometimes taken to mean "of the slain", in a similar way to the Old Norse names Valhalla and Valkyrie. But this part of the name is very inconstant across the different versions of the ballad, and it seems to have been misunderstood and distorted. I won't list all of the variations here. Grundtvig speculates about various alternative interpretations of the name to do with shapeshifting, including var-ravn (were-raven, cf varulv, werewolf).

The ballad is pretty gruesome ... but carry on reading, I'm sure it'll all be all right in the end. Remember, in a world where you accept that people are transformed into birds, other far-out magical things are also going to happen.

The Boy and the Raven by John Bauer



Plot


The ballad begins with a verse about the raven before the action proper starts: The raven flies in the evening, he may not fly by day, and he will have bad luck if he cannot have good. And this thought of the sinister raven is remembered throughout the ballad as the repeated chorus (omkväde) line is just the same as the first line: But the raven flies in the evening.

The action starts with a maiden, Ermeline, standing in the high loft, looking out wide across the land, and seeing the valraven flying. She calls the valraven to her, promising to tell him her secret sorrows. She then explains what has happened (you will understand that the valraven was surely aware of at least some of this already!).

She tells of how her father remarried. Unfortunately the stepmother turned out to be an evil troll who turned Ermeline's brother into the valraven, and how he must remain unhappily in that shape until Ermeline has a daughter and until the girl can talk. Not only this, the stepmother also turned Ermeline's lover into another bird, silver and golden, and he must remain in that shape until he has drunk Ermeline's heart-blood. Not only that, but the stepmother also sent Ermeline away to an island to marry the stepmother's sister's son ... not a very attractive prospect.

The valraven then tells Ermeline that if she gives him the first child that she has, then he will take her to the land where her lover is. She agrees. So Ermeline gets onto the valraven's back, and they fly far away until they reach the land where her lover is flying in the sky like a bird.

As soon as the lover (a bird, remember) sees Ermeline, he strikes her with both his legs, and tears her into two pieces. He then drinks her heart-blood, and is at once transformed into a big strong knight.

Well ... the valraven puts the girl onto his back, and flies to a certain spring. He dips her into the water there, and Ermeline stands up, all healthy once again. So again she gets onto the valraven's back, and again he flies off across the wild sea. And he lands on a mountain top where Ermeline's lover is waiting. Ermeline and the knight apparently get on well, despite what has just happened. She thanks the valraven, and tells him to fly away, and that she will keep her promise.

Not long after that, Ermeline has a baby girl, and she gives it to the valraven. The valraven wishes that the baby girl could talk, and she does speak ... and at that, the valraven is at once transformed into a good strong knight.

So things finish off well for Ermeline in the end: she gets her brother, her child, and her lover.

Other versions of this ballad have some significant variations of the plot: typically, it is only the brother who is transformed into the valraven – the lover remains in human form and is merely sent away by the stepmother to a faraway land. (So the episode in which Ermeline is killed is absent.) The valraven again demands the firstborn child as payment for carrying the maiden to her lover. But now rather than waiting for the child to talk, the valraven must drink the baby's heart-blood to be transformed back into a man. The valraven does this (after pecking out the baby's eye!), and is duly transformed, and the baby is brought back to life again, so things all turn out all right again ...

Full texts for two versions of the ballad from old Danish manuscripts are given here and here.

A very famous illustration by Arthur Rackham of another ballad. The Two Corbies.
Veering off topic somewhat, but that ballad was actually translated into Danish by Grundtvig (as Ravnene)



Melodies


A Danish melody for the ballad is given: Valravnen, Berggreen (Danish), No. 24.


Recordings


These four renditions all use basically the same melody (very close to the one given above), but showcase rather diverse musical styles. As is typical, the ballad texts are all rather abbreviated from the versions found in the early manuscripts, but where it is possible to discern, they seem to be based on versions of the story with only one bird transformation ...

Gny - Valravnen: a rendition from the Danish medieval music group Gny




Sorten Muld - Ravnen. Sorten Muld have a rather original approach to traditional ballads (the name of the band means black soil, and is one of those phrases that shows up often in ballads ... for example as a suitable place for burying dead bodies). The style is called folktronica. Ravnen was something of a hit for this band, and versions appeared on both of their first two albums. If this traditional dance tune deserves a modern dance rendition then it has found it here!




Krauka - Valravnen: a rendition from the Danish viking folk music group Krauka




Dronningens Livstykke – Valravnen: from Dronningens Livstykke's album Katten i Sækken.





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S. Grundtvig, Danmarks Gamle Folkeviser, vol. 2, Copenhagen, 1856, No. 60.
A. P. Berggreen, Danske Folke-sange og Melodier, Copenhagen, 1860, No. 24.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Sir Olof and the Elves II

Following on from the first post on this ballad blog, about Sir Olof and the Elves (Herr Olof och Älvorna), I have posted a recording on YouTube of me singing a version of this ballad in translation. It's just 20 verses, so there are bits missing, but hopefully you can follow what's going on. Hope you like it ...


Sunday, 28 January 2018

Agneta and the Merman

The ballad of Agneta and the Merman tells one version of what can happen if you fall in love with a supernatural sea creature.

An unusual feature of this ballad is that it was (indirectly) illustrated by the Swedish artist John Bauer. Bauer's illustrations were actualy produced to accompany a fairytale based on the ballad story written by Helena Nyblom for Bland Tomtar och Troll.

The ballad is known in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. Typically, it is called Agneta och Havsmannen (or Agnete og Havmanden, etc). But sometimes the merman is called the sea-king (Havskonungen or Sjökonungen).

Agneta meeting the Sea King, by John Bauer

Plot


Agneta was out walking by the seashore, when a merman appeared from the depths. This merman was quite good-looking, we may understand. He asked Agneta to go with him to the bottom of the sea, and she replied that she would be very happy to do that if he would take her there. So the merman blocked up her ears and mouth, and took her down to the bottom of the sea.

After some time, about 8 years, Agneta heard the church bells ringing, and she asked the merman whether she might go to church. The merman replied that yes she could go, but that she must come back to her children afterwards. Also, he told her that she must not let her hair down, she must not speak to her mother, and she must not kneel in church. The merman then blocked her ears and mouth, and took her out of the sea.

Well, when Agneta came to the church, you may know that she did let her hair down, she spoke to her mother, and she knelt down. When her mother asked her where she had been, Agneta told her that she had been with the merman, and that she had had 7 (or so) children with him. She also told her mother that the merman had given her a gold ring (and sometimes some other gifts).

At that, the merman appeared in the church, and all the pictures of the saints turned around. The merman was very upset. He told Agneta that the children were crying for her, and he urged her to come back to them.

But the ballad ends with Agneta telling the merman that she doesn't care that they are crying. She doesn't think about them at all, even the little one in the cradle. In some versions of the ballad, she says that she has already forgotten all about the children.


Agneta and the Sea King, by John Bauer


Although this ballad was known in Sweden (more than 50 variants are given in the Sveriges Medeltida Ballader list), it was not included in either Geijer & Afzelius's or Arwidsson's collections. No tunes for the ballad are included in Swedish songbooks.

The three Swedish texts that I have seen, one from Wikström's Folkdiktning (Asmundtorp, Skåne; full text here), and two from the Södermanland collection, are all very similar. They are also all very similar to Danish versions of the ballad, albeit slightly abbreviated.

In Denmark, the ballad was certainly popular. It also inspired a number of literary retellings, including those by Baggesen, Oehlenschläger, and H.C. Andersen, which spread the story more widely. As recently as 1992, a bronze sculpture (partly underwater) by Suste Bonnen celebrating this story was installed at the Slotsholms Canal in Copenhagen.

The ballad of Agneta and the Merman is reminiscent of the ballad of Little Kerstin and the Mountain King (Den Bergtagna / Liti Kjersti / Marit Hjukse). In both ballads, a girl runs away with a supernatural creature, lives with him for many years, has several children, and then returns to see her mother. But the differences lie not only in the fact that in one ballad the girl runs away with a mountain spirit, and in the other a sea creature. The endings of the two ballads can be quite different. In the Swedish and Danish versions of the ballad I have seen, Agneta refuses to return to her children at the bottom of the sea. In one Danish version, the ballad ends with her standing on the shore, laughing at the merman: the omkväde line hå hå hå perhaps comes from this final verse! In contrast, Little Kerstin is forced to return to the mountain, and only lives happily ever after after she has drunk a forgetfullness drink to forget her former life. Quite different. I will write about this Little Kerstin ballad soon ... I know, though, that there are Norwegian versions of the Agneta ballad where she too is forced to return and to drink.

The idea that church bells may be rung to disrupt the activities of trolls and other supernatural creatures, and to summon back those who have been abducted by them, can also be seen in Norwegian folk tales. Church bells tend not to appear in versions of the Little Kerstin ballad that I am familiar with.

Agnete og Havmanden by Vilhelm Kyhn


Recordings


I am not aware of any modern recordings of Swedish versions of the ballad, but it has been recently recorded in Danish and Norwegian.

Virelai are a group from Denmark. They play medieval music and Danish folk music. They have recorded many Scandinavian ballads, and are definitely worth checking out! Here they are playing Agnete og Havmanden live:




And a studio version from their album Fra Bølger og Bjerge (2011):




Mynsterland are also a Danish group, a young big-band folk group. Their recording of Agnete og Havmanden is on their eponymous EP (2017). The melody is the same as the one used by Virelai, but the song is rather longer.




A Norwegian version of Agneta og Havmannen by Lajla Renate Buer Storli and Kim André Rysstad with harp accompaniment from Lajla Storli's album Møya som Drøymde (2013).




An unaccompanied song in Norwegian by Halvor Håkanes from Eg Heiter Halvor (1999). Quite a short version (Agneta og Havmannen).



Another unaccompanied version in Norwegian by Agnes Buen Garnås, Halvor Håkanes, and Eli Storbekken (Agneta og Havmannen) ...



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E. Wigström, Folkdiktning, Copenhagen, 1880, No. 1.

Bidrag till Södermanlands Äldre Kulturhistoria, Södermanlands Fornminnesförening, Vol III, 1882, No. 25, p 43 and p 46.