Olof and the elves, and the theme for “You’re ashes and fire”

Hooves turning soil,
The morning calls.
Frostwork and pearls of dew.
Jarl Olof returns with the first burst of green.

Mountains and valleys,
The moor, the mist, and the river.

Hems and skirts, hair and dirt,
Frail are the arms of coiling veils.

The taunting calls and voices thrill,
The realm of ghostly echoes beguiles.

Pebbled skin and his chilled spine,
Turning trembling hooves around.

To worry and to woe, to break the promise of two.
His fate was decided a long time ago.

“Forgive me mother, forgive me father, brother and sister, again I must go.
Hooves turning soil,
The morning calls.
Seek the shadows,
Find the truth.”

Hooves turning soil,
The morning calls.
Frostwork and pearls of dew.
Return to you.

A free translation inspired by a famous Swedish medieval ballad called “Sir Olof and the elves” (SWE: Herr Olof och älvorna). I’ve always liked this one because it mentioned the elves. It’s a terrible story though, teaching people to stay away from the Scandinavian elves. As Olof rides home in the early morning he encounters the elves dancing. They call to him, urge him to join – but he know that should he yield to their call he’ll go mad from their strange song. Instead, he refuses, and turns his runner around to ride as fast as his horse can carry him. But the elves sends sickness to follow him. By the time he reaches his parents’ dwelling, he’s looking pale and unwell. A few rows later Olof dies from this sickness.

This is a typical retelling of the Scandinavian elves, the mysterious women dancing over the meadows. Thursdays were for example especially bad to run into the elves. There are many stories noted down about people who had happened upon elves and after engaging in their dance they never became the same again, or they got sick. Some claimed that their music continued to play in their ears for the rest of their lives. I suppose it was a way for my ancestors to explain sudden sickness or mental disorders.

So, around here, whenever the temperature drops overnight producing morning dew and floating misty veils we still say that the elves are dancing.

When I wrote “You’re ashes and fire”, I had again come across this old ballad. I felt that there is more to it than these old rows. Freely translating it was a way to further investigate what it ignited inside of me, and then I realised that anger is a strong theme here. Olof’s anger. The anger we all feel sometimes when circumstances we can’t control have our lives tumble over or take turns we don’t want, or weren’t expecting. And I don’t believe in supressing emotions, just as I don’t really believe in acting out in a harmful way either. I believe in feeling our emotions. They can be strong, and almost unbearable for a while, but then they dissipate, and fade. Just like the veils of the elves as morning progress and rays of sunlight makes their hair and dresses evaporate.

Are you angry about something? Sing along, feel your anger and let it go. Then take on the world, because this is better done with a clear head.

Elves and veils,

You're ashes and fire_cover3_800px_w

“You’re ashes and fire”

Feat. Marco Minnemann, Mohini Dey and Andrei Oltean

Release date: 30 September 2022

P.S. Curious about the old ballad about Olof? Here’s a more exact translation by Eva Toller along with the Swedish original: Sir Olof and the elves.