Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Heiemo and the troll

Three years ago, more or less, I decided I wanted to have a wider knowledge of folk music. Until then, folk music and celtic music were the exact same thing in my mind. I started surfing the net and I eventually found a post in a Spanish speaking website called “Around the world in eighty albums”; I guess I downloaded fifty of those albums. I’ve kept searching and searching and I still think celtic and English folk are my favourites, but lately I’ve found myself listening to Scandinavian folk quite often.

There’s one specific song that is stuck in my mind these days. I found it in a Norwegian music compilation called Music of Norway- Nordisk Sang and its title is Heiemo og Nykkjen. I searched for a youtube link to post it on facebook and not only I found the link, but I found what the song is about in the description of this video, which also has a nice version of the song. Thanks to Sheila Louise Wright for the video, the story, the lyrics and the translation!

The story behind this song is an ancient one. In researching this piece I have found versions of the tale all over the world. Water trolls, sprites, mermaids and sirens are found in nearly every culture, many of which share a similar name for the creature at the centre of the tale. In Scandinavia, Nykkjen (of 'Nykr' in Old Norse) is a "water-horse", but is also a shape-shifter who can assume any visage he chooses. He is usually seen luring unsuspecting people to the waterside and their death by singing or playing music. 

Perhaps some of the more familiar tales come from "The Iliad & Odyssey") Odysseus & the Sirens), the 7th cen. Anglo-Saxon tale from Beowulf (Grendel's Mother was a water troll or "merewif"), and the 15th cen. French tale of "Melusine".

This particular version of the story in Scandinavia originally comes from "Nokken Svig" (Nokken's Fraud/Trick), first written down in "Karen Brahe's Folio/Visebog", a Danish collection of songs dated 1570-1583ad. The age of tune is a more vague. Based on the mode it was written in and its small note range, it it is very likely medieval, though it was first written down only in the 1800s in Norway.

The tale tells of a young girl who is pursued and kidnapped by a water troll who is in love with her, having fallen in love with her singing voice. The earliest versions of the tale say that she dies in the end. In this version however, Heiemo escapes by stabbing the troll in the heart and leaving him to die.


Sheila Louise Wright

Here’s the first version of the song I heard, sung by Kirsten Bråten Berg, plus the lyrics in English and Norwegian which I found in Sheila Wright’s video. By the way, I'm leaving on holidays in three days so I won't be able to write again until September.


Heiemo sang her poem, it was singing in the hillside
- wake up you noble youngsters-
The Water spirit heard it, striding on the sea,
- Because you now have overslept -

Heiemo sang her poem, it was singing in the hillside
The Water spirit heard it, the pagan dog.

The Water spirit spoke to his helmsman:
"You steer my ship upon christian land!"

"I will go upon christian land,
the beautiful maid I will have."

He then enters her house
with high hat and rosy cheek

The Water spirit danced and Heiemo sang her poem
it pleased all folks in the houses

"Now every one has to go to his own home,
Heiemo I bring with me on the ship."

"Heiemo, Heiemo, quiet your wrath,
You should sleep on water spirit's arm."

She stabbed the water spirit in his chest,
the nail ran into the root of his heart.

"Here you lay water spirit, naked to raven and dog.
Still I have my singing need."


Heiemo kvad, det song i li.
- vakna dikko ædelege drengje --
Det høyrde nykkjen, på havet skrid, 
- For de hev sove tidi for lengje.-

Heiemo kvad, det song i lund
Det høyrde nykkjen, den hei'inghund

Nykkjen tala til styringsmann:
"Du styre mitt skip på kristne land!"

"Eg vil meg på kristne land gå,
Den vene jomfruva vil eg få."

Så gjeng han seg i stova inn
med håge hatt og blomekinn

Nykkjen han dansa, og Heiemo kvad, 
det gleddes alt folket i stogunne var

"Nu må kvor gange heim til seg,
Heiemo tek eg på skipet med meg."

"Heiemo, Heiemo, still di harm,
Du skapo sove på nykkjens arm."

Ho stakk til nykkjen i holamot,
odden han rann i hjarterot

"Her ligg du, nykkjen, fyr ravn og hund
enno hev eg min kvedarlund."