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Stjärnorna kvittar det lika (1930)

Nils Ferlin

Everybody is made of stardust, but this does not mean that the stars care about us.

Lees dit gedicht in het Nederlands
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't Is de sterren om het even

Te tellen zijn ze niet alle
aan sagen en fabels geen grens...
Men beweert dat een ster zal vallen
telkens bij de dood van een mens -

Winternachtkoude scherpt mijn gehoor    
en de bevroren muziek van de wind:
het janken der honden is wat ik hoor,
jankend als bij ´t lijk van een kind,

weduwen hoor ik schreeuwen
en kinderen snikken om brood-
- ´t Is de sterren om het even
of iemand levend is of dood.
Vertaling: Teresa Fogelberg, 2003
 

Stjärnorna kvittar det lika


Man kan inte räkna dem alla
sägner och sånt man hör...
Det säjs att en stjärna ska falla
var gång när en människa dör -    

Lyhörd i nätternas kyla
och vindarnas frusna musik
hundarna hörde jag yla,
som hundarna yla för lik,

änkorna hörde jag skrika
och barnen snyfta för bröd -
- Stjärnorna kvittar det lika
om någon är född eller död.


Uit: En döddansares visor, 1930

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Listen to this poem in Swedish.
Voiced by: Oscar Billing

This poem in 60 seconds
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This poem in 60 seconds

How much is a human life worth? It was a question Nils Ferlin frequently asked himself. As an actor and reporter, he traveled through all of Sweden, and recorded everything he saw. Often he encountered suffering and misery. Did anyone care? The stars certainly did not. And what about those in charge? According to the poem, Ferlin harbored few illusions about this.

Want to know more? On this website you can listen to the poem, discover its origins and its author and find out what the poem means to the people of Leiden.

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Nils Ferlin

Nils Johan Einar Ferlin

Karlstad 1898 - Uppsala 1961

After the early death of Ferlin’s father, his mother sold the parental home in order to afford her son's education. It was worth the sacrifice: Nils Ferlin became one of the most well-known poets from Sweden and received several awards with his seven poetry collections. He also gathered fame as an actor, and writer of songs.

Depression

Ferlin’s life was not a happy one as he suffered from depression. He lived on coffee, cigarettes, and liquor. In 1936, when Ferlin was thirty-eight years old, he hit his all-time-low after his mother passed away. She had been his tower of strength throughout his life. He got his life somewhat back on track when he married Henny Lönnqvist, nine years later. With her, Ferlin lived a stable life, although he kept struggling with depression.

Death

His final years were primarily spent in a hospital. Ferlin passed away in 1961. In Stockholm, his gravestone is engraved with his poem Inte ens en grå liten fågel (Not even a grey little bird), which is part of the poetry collection Goggles (1938).

What's this poem about?
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What's this poem about?

Stjärnorna kvittar det lika signifies as much as ‘it leaves the stars indifferent’ or ‘the stars could not care less.’ According to Kea Fogelberg, the poem is about placing dramatic events in perspective: “it tells that both birth and death are part of life.” Fogelberg is quite familiar with the poem as it was very dear to her father and it was painted on the wall of her doctor’s practice.

Accusation

According to Sten Fogelberg, Kea Fogelberg’s father, not only the stars but those in charge were also indifferent to famished children crying for bread and widows wailing in solitary. The poem can be read as a charge against injustice and oppression, often silenced or even reinforced by the center of power. Although the poem was written in 1930 - the start of the Great Depression - the poem is still significant today. People drown at sea, suffocate in trucks, die in war or because of starvation. Does anyone care?

In the grand scheme of things?

“It is said that a star falls from heaven / each time here on earth someone dies,” Ferlin writes. There are as many stars as there are people, and one individual human life means nothing to humanity as a whole, or to the universe. Whether you are rich or poor, significant or trivial, in the eyes of death we are all equals. This might offer some consolation, even in times of great individual suffering.

Origin story
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Origin story

Stjärnorna kvittar det lika (Stars do not care even mildly) is part of Ferlin’s debut collection named En döddansares visor (Songs of a death-dancer) from 1930. Ferlin believed that poems and songs were closely related. He wrote both poetry and music as he felt that there were barely any differences between the two.

His first collection was published when Ferlin was 32 years old. The collected poems were written over a longer period of time, during which he engaged himself in diverse activities. When he was seventeen years old, he had his acting debut. Afterwards, he fulfilled his military service, worked as a sailor and a reporter and traveled with a theater company throughout Sweden. Despite all this, he could barely get by.

Share your story
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Share your story

Does this poem hold a special place in your heart? For example, do you remember when you first read the poem? Or did you come across it someplace unexpected? Let us know at muurgedichten@taalmuseum.nl! We would love to add your story to our website.

This poem in Leiden
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Nils Ferlin in Leiden

Photo Inge Harsten

Stjärnorna kvittar det lika (Stars do not care even mildly) can be found on the wall of Kea Fogelberg’s doctor’s practice. It was one of the favorite poems of her Swedish father Sten Fogelberg. The poem was painted on the wall after his death by request of his daughters Teresa and Kea.

It is rather unusual to request the placement of a wall poem. Nevertheless, the request of Fogelberg’s daughters was granted due to the “combination of several events.” “We were looking for a Scandinavian poem and they had one,” said Jan-Willem Bruins, who is part of TEGEN-BEELD Foundation and has painted multiple wall poems.

Right below the poem, next to the signature of Bruins (a small spider), there is a planetary symbol. The image originates from the booklet Teresa Fogelberg compiled for her father’s seventy-fifth birthday as he was particularly interested in outer space and astronomy. Was it coincidence or not? Kea’s doctor’s practice, where the poem can be found, is on the corner of De Sitterlaan and Van der Waalsstraat. Willem de Sitter was a professor of astronomy at Leiden University.

Quotes
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Citaten

Jag är ganska mager om bena, tillika om armar och hals

I have rather thin legs, as are my arms and neck.

Ferlin’s best-known quote from the poem En Valsmelodi
 

Fun facts
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Fun facts

  • Nils Ferlin considered poetry and melody to be exactly the same. Numerous poems by Ferlin were put to music by Swedish and foreign musicians alike; among these were Lille Bror Söderlundh and Rolf Wikström. Stjärnorna kvittar det lika was set to music by the band Street Fable from Leiden.
Read this poem in English
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Stjärnorna kvittar det lika

Man kan inte räkna dem alla
sägner och sånt man hör...
Det säjs att en stjärna ska falla
var gång när en människa dör -

Lyhörd i nätternas kyla
och vindarnas frusna musik
hundarna hörde jag yla,
som hundarna yla för lik,

änkorna hörde jag skrika
och barnen snyfta för bröd -
- Stjärnorna kvittar det lika
om någon är född eller död.

Video
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Stjärnorna kvittar det lika was set to music by the band Street Fable from Leiden.

Read this poem in English
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Stars do not care even mildly


Don’t count on six out of seven,
legends and such may be lies...
It’s said that a star falls from heaven
each time here on earth someone dies.

Clearly through nights’ coldness straying
with winds’ music frozen anew
dogs in the dark I heard baying,
as dogs around corpses can do,

widows I heard wailing wildly
and children sobbing for bread –
Stars do not care even mildly
if someone is born or is dead.

Translated by John Irons 
 

Liese dieses Gedicht auf Deutsch
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Den Sternen ist es schnuppe

Was hört man und weiss man von allen
Sagen seit allem Beginn...
Es heisst, dass ein Stern soll fallen,
so oft ein Mensch geht dahin -

Lauschend den Rufen der Eulen,
da eisige Winde schon ruhn,
höre ich Hunde heulen,
wie Hunde bei Leichen tun,

Witwen wimmern um Suppe,
und Kinder weinen um Brot -
den Sternen ist es schnuppe,
sie scheren sich nicht um den Tod.

Übersetzung: Klaus Rüdiger

Learn more
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Learn more

This entry was written by Het Taalmuseum in collaboration with Carolien Devilee. The translation into English is by Demi van de Wetering. The following publications were consulted:
 

Internet:

Conversation:
Interview & e-mail exchange with Kea Fogelberg