Tomten Wonders – A Golden Shovel Poem Inspired by Viktor Rydberg, 10 December

©Jonas Norén

Holy Midwinter Night
Your long dark cold is hard
Lonely stars sparkle and shimmer
Dream dust glimmer on all sleeping
In house and barn, the dog in the lonely yard
Lending light to inky night, hours deep
Think toiling late into midnight hours

Vigil kept by the Moon
Bathed in her silver boon, as she wanders her silent whir
Midwinter night, when the snow glows white
painting on pine and fir
Inky shadows and bright light, as snow glows white
Shimmering stars on roof thatch
All dreaming, only Tomten keeps watch

In the snowy night all is silent
Gaia sleeping is
White blanket over wood and plain
Hiding all life
Snug in barrows, as out there
All is still, all is frozen

Slowly from afar only
The murmur of the waterfall
Dreamt as much as heard
Winters death as slow soughing

To thrumming of deep meaning Tomten listens,
half awake and half in a dream
Midwinter Night’s eternal seem
Giving visions to hear
The ebb and flow, life’s echo, of the eternal time stream

Tomten wonders,
from where life came and where it’s going
Tomten wonders,
if Gods or humans where the source
of where the world is is flowing

©RedCat


I had a different vision. But the influence of Tomten was undeniable. And I felt the kind, caring gaze of the farmwifes of my childhood. Living in just that type of isolated farm. Learning me old folktales mostly forgot.
They would have smiled at my folly. Hugged me. And told me, if I put myself in the attention of the unseen, I’d best be willing to pay my due.
So, I sent a message via my muse that all I wanted was to share the wonder of Midwinter, to give Tomten his chance to deep brooding and rest. Without all those Lutheran work ethic lessons.

The poem is a Golden Shovel. The last words of each line are, in order, words from a line or lines taken, another poem. For my piece I choose the first and the penultimate verse of Tomten by Viktor Rydberg. I started with translating them, since I found no translation I thought good enough. Below you’ll find those two verses.

Midwinternight’s cold is hard
Stars sparkle and shimmer
All sleeping in the lonely yard
Deep into midnight hours
The Moon wanders her silent whir
The snow glows white on pine and fir
Snow glows white on roof thatch
Only tomten keeps watch

Silent is wood and plain, all
life out there is frozen
From afar only the waterfall
Heard as slow soughing
Tomten listens, and half in a dream
seem to hear the eternal time stream
Wonders, where it’s going
Wonders, where the source is flowing

©Viktor Rydberg, first published in 1881. Translated by RedCat

Notes on the text

After untold hours reading I decided to keep the Swedish word Tomte. Even Astrid Lindgrens prose version from 1961 is titled “The Tomten”.
Simply because there is no equivalent in English. Tomten is neither gnome, goblin, elf or Robin Goodfellow as in this old translation. Tomten might be mischievous or outright revengeful if treated badly. But mostly he was seen as part of the place, a valued knowledgeable farmer, a paragon of Lutheran work ethics.

Today we see Tomten with a red cap, but Tomten of old was not so garishly dressed – then everyone would have seen him all the time.
The poems second verse start with – “Stands there so gray by the barn door, gray against the white drift”

There is also the word Nisse, which today is much conflated with Santa’s Elves.
Anyhow, a Nisse was so to speak, never the Tomte in charge on a farm, at least in Sweden.

Also linking to Open Link #280 – LIVE! at dVerse.

13 thoughts on “Tomten Wonders – A Golden Shovel Poem Inspired by Viktor Rydberg, 10 December

Add yours

  1. I love the time and effort into creating this post and really enjoyed hearing you read about Tomten. I learned about a new figure from the world of myth and magic today. Sounds like a handy fellow to have around and only asks for porridge and a bit of beer-soaked bread in payment!

  2. This is absolutely magical! :D I especially love the image; “Vigil kept by the Moon/Bathed in her silver boon, as she wanders her silent whir.”💝💝

  3. This is the perfect dark magic winter tale! I so enjoyed your reading – it conjured up those fairy tales of old. I think we call this guy ‘Tom Thumb’ in English? I can’t quite remember his story so I’m going to go and look it up…

  4. I so enjoyed listening to your reading and, this morning, when I read all the background notes that go with it, I was full of curiosity about other Scandinavian myths and legends. Your poem is a delight; as Ingrid said, it’s the perfect dark magic winter tale. It does sound a little familiar, and I think there is a similar character in Germanic mythology. I particularly enjoyed the way you set the scene in the lines:
    ‘Dream dust glimmer on all sleeping
    In house and barn, the dog in the lonely yard
    Lending light to inky night, hours deep
    Think toiling late into midnight hours’
    and the internal rhymes, such as
    ‘Vigil kept by the Moon
    Bathed in her silver boon, as she wanders her silent whir
    Midwinter night, when the snow glows white
    painting on pine and fir’.
    You also captured sounds in the ‘murmur of the waterfall’ and ‘Winters death as slow soughing’.

  5. I so enjoyed this poem and your reading of it. And thank you for the background and explanation. I’d never heard of this creature (is that ok to say? I don’t want to offend him and bring bad luck!) Your poem really describes the silence and wonder of winter–as well as the magic. I like how made Tomten into something more complex.

  6. Loved this so much, and your reading on the recording was spectacular. Tomten asks some good questions, not only about where we all come from, in our messes and our joys, but wondering “where the source is flowing.” The soft and hard rhyming in this is so gently wrought, the sounds echoing that eternal stream spinning above and upon us. all the shimmers and glimmers, so sweet! :)

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