OverHavet

OVER HAVET (Across the sea)

My first step to writing this text was to do some research on the poem’s subject, Mr. Peter Mandius Nerland, the great-grandfather of the work’s commissioner. He emigrated to the United States from Finnoy Island, Norway in 1899.  Like so many immigrants, he left the Old Country in a steamer and came across the Atlantic to Ellis Island, ready to make a new life for himself in this land of opportunity. He ended up as a farm hand to the Noble family in Iowa, and eventually purchased his own farm, and raised a family. Mr. Nerland’s WWI draft card indicated that his eyes were gray, a detail I definitely wanted to include in the poem. I wanted to create a bridge in the poem between his old life and the new. The recurring imagery of crossing the sea was my way of symbolizing Peter’s life journey.  I included kennings like “wander-lust” and “ship-belly” as a conscious attempt to honor the style of old Norse sagas, perhaps reflecting the rhythms of the stories heard by Mr. Nerland in his youth.  I am indebted to my friend Bjørn Meyer for his help with the Norwegian text and pronunciation.
~ Charles Anthony Silvestri

 

Listen to OverHavet

My eyes look out,
Grey as the grey North-Sky,
Across the sea,
The sea of hope and opportunity.
The wander-lust of my people wells up,
Calling me to go—
Across the sea, Over havet,
Across the sea, Over havet,
Across the beckoning sea. Over det lokkende havet.

In this great ship-belly I wait,
With others like me
Set out to make a better life.
And now we stand together, line by line,
Masses huddled in the shadow of Liberty.
We’ve come so far
Across the sea, Over havet,
Across the sea, Over havet,
Across the storm-tossed sea. Over det stormfulle havet.
Work is hard in this New World,
As hard as in the Old;
But this land I work is soon to be my own—
A farm, a house, a wife, a child—
Fields of grain stretched out before me;
My home
Across the sea, Over havet,
Across the sea, Over havet,
Across the amber sea. Over det ravgule havet.

My eyes look out,
Grey as my grey hair now,
Across the sea,
From poverty and possibility
To the richest blessings a man can ever know,
Thankful now as I go,
Across the sea, Over havet,
Across the sea, Over havet,
Across the eternal sea. Over det evige havet.