The tragic intensity of “Jerusalem” is happily relieved by the undercurrent of Miss Lagerloef’s sympathetic humour. When she has almost succeeded in transporting us into a state of religious fervour, we suddenly catch her smile through the lines and realize that no one more than she feels the futility of fanaticism. The stupid blunders of humankind do not escape her; neither do they arouse her contempt. She accepts human nature as it is with a warm fondness for all its types. We laugh and weep simultaneously at the children of the departing pilgrims, who cry out in vain: “We don’t want to go to Jerusalem; we want to go home.”
To the translator of “Jerusalem,” Mrs. Velma Swanston Howard, author and reader alike must feel indebted. Mrs. Howard has already received generous praise for her translation of “Nils” and other works of Selma Lagerloef. Although born in Sweden she has achieved remarkable mastery of English diction. As a friend of Miss Lagerloef and an artist she is enabled herself to pass through the temperament of creation and to reproduce the original in essence as well as sufficient verisimilitude. Mrs. Howard is no mere artisan translator. She goes over her page not but a dozen times, and the result is not a labored performance, but a work of real art in strong and confident prose.
Villa Nova, Pennsylvania.
June 28, 1915.
A young farmer was plowing his field one summer morning. The sun shone, the grass sparkled with dew, and the air was so light and bracing that no words can describe it. The horses were frisky from the morning air, and pulled the plow along as if in play. They were going at a pace quite different from their usual gait; the man had fairly to run to keep up with them.
The earth, as it was turned by the plow, lay black, and shone with moisture and fatness, and the man at the plow was happy in the thought of soon being able to sow his rye. “Why is it that I feel so discouraged at times and think life so hard?” he wondered. “What more does one want than sunshine and fair weather to be as happy as a child of Heaven?”
A long and rather broad valley, with stretches of green and yellow grain fields, with mowed clover meadows, potato patches in flower, and little fields of flax with their tiny blue flowers, above which fluttered great swarms of white butterflies—this was the setting. At the very heart of the valley, as if to complete the picture, lay a big old-fashioned farmstead, with many gray outhouses and a large red dwelling-house. At the gables stood two tall, spreading pear trees; at the gate were a couple of young birches; in the grass-covered yard were great piles of firewood; and behind the barn were several huge haystacks. The farmhouse rising above the low fields was as pretty a sight as a ship, with masts and sails, towering above the broad surface of the sea.