Dag Hammarskjold

I have no idea why, but I remember when Dag Hammarskjold died in plane crash.  It was big news, I recall, though I was only nine years old, and had no reason to know who he was or what he did.    I am still not quite sure.  Something to do with the U.N., I think.

I probably remember it because his name was so unusual to my western ear.  Very dignified sounding, yes?  Especially when newscasters repeated it and repeated it for days on the evening news (no twenty four coverage back then).  Newscasters were our eyes on the world then.

Yesterday, at Goodwill, when everything but pink tagged items was half off,  I picked up a copy of Dag Hammarskjold’s book, Markings, published after his death, this edition being the 25th printing completed in 1970.  It is a diary, or rather a collection of poems, 1925 – 1961.   He was, it says on the jacket, the second Secretary General of the United Nations, from 1953 until he was killed in a plane crash on September 18, 1961, on a flight to Rhodesia to negotiate a cease-fire between U.N. and Katanga troops.   No wonder it made the news, then.  Most anything about the U.N. made the news, more often than today, where the drumbeat is constantly pounding on one or two individuals.

The jacket also indicates this is not a book about his accomplishments in the world, but rather reflections on his personal relationship with God, and His universe, and the need for peace.   The last entry, dated August 24, 1961*,  “…I awoke to an ordinary morning/with gray light…” in a country he seems to remember, but how? when? has he really been there before…but he seems to recall standing on two summits “of the same mountain country,”  and he begins to get his bearings.

It must be quite something to be such a traveler, that you at first wonder just where you awoke.   Godspeed, Mr. Hammarskjold!   I have never forgotten you, though I am still uncertain why.

***  ***

* (Note: this translation varies slightly from the translation by Leif Sjoberg & W.H.Auden, shown to be the translators of the copy of the book I just purchased. I prefer the translation in my book.   I have no rights to either translation, and include this only to give you a feel for his reflections.)

August 24, 1961
Dag Hammarskjöld
Translated from the Swedish by Lennart and Gillian Nilsson

Is this a new land,
in a different reality
from today’s?
Or have I lived there.
before this day?

Woke up,
an ordinary day with grey light
reflected from the street,
woke up –
from a sombre blue night
above the tree line
moonlight on the moor
the mountain ridge in shadow.
different dreams,
the same mountain landscape:
twice did I climb the ridges,
I lived by the inmost lake
and followed the river
towards its source.
The seasons have passed
and the light
and the weather
and the hour.
But it is the same land.
And I am beginning to know the map
and the points of the compass.

rJo  3/3/19


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