Nordic Conquests

“The Song of Life’s Dismay”

In Northfield, Minnesota, St. Olaf’s College was celebrating the 17th of May—the day the sons of Norway wrote their constitution in 1814, declaring self-government and independence from Swedish rule.  It was 1907, just two years after the Swedes had released Norway and Prince Carl had become Haakon VII.  Thirty-one-year-old first-year instructor Ole Rölvaag gave the address, which took on surprisingly somber tones:

When the ship carrying our parents westward into the unknown, pointed its bow toward the evening sun; when those on board saw the rugged gray mountains of Norway sink beneath the horizon; when the golden sun-rays played for the last time on snow-capped peaks—then sank not only a shoreline from view but also their country—as their country, Norway no longer existed.

Ole Edvart Rölvaag had left his fatherland in late July 1896.  He did so not because of economic hardship, as so many farmers from the hinterlands of Norway, who longed for the vast, untamed, Midwestern prairies, had done.  The Rölvaag family had successfully fished the Lofoten waters for generations, and when Ole was 20 years old, the skipper of the fishing boat on which he had sailed for six winters offered to buy him his own vessel.  Nor did he leave for religious reasons.  While pietist Lutherans fled the dusty orthodoxy of the established Lutheran Church of Norway,...

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