Folk speech
general
Narrative

Tuberculosis in Swedish Nursery Rhymes

The Folklore:

I en sal på Lasarettet

I en sal på lasarettet

där de vita sängar står

låg en liten bröstsjuk flicka

blek och tärd med lockigt hår.

Allas hjärtan vann den lilla
där hon låg så mild och god.
Bar sin smärta utan klagan
med ett barnsligt tålamod.

Så en dag hon frågar läkarn,
som vid hennes sida stod:
Får jag komma hem till påsken
till min egen lilla mor?

Läkarn svarar då den lilla:
Nej mitt barn, det får du ej,
men till pingsten kan det hända
du får komma hem till mor.

Pingsten kom med gröna björkar
blomsterklädd står mark och äng,
men den lilla sjuka flickan
låg där ständigt i sin säng.

Så på nytt hon frågar läkarn
som vid hennes sida står:
Får jag komma hem till hösten
till min egen lilla mor?

Läkarn svarar ej den lilla,
men strök sakta hennes hår,
och med tårar i sitt öga
vänder han sig om och går.

Nu hon slumrar uti mullen
slumrar sött i snövit skrud.
Från sin tåligt burna längtan
har hon farit upp till Gud.

In a Ward at the Hospital

In a ward at the hospital
where the white beds stand
lay a small consumptive girl
pale and haggard with curly hair.

Everyone’s hearts the small one won
where she lay, so mild and virtuous.
She bore the pain without lament,
with a naive patience.

Then one day she asked the doctor
standing at her side:
Can I come home for Easter
to my own dear mama?

The doctor answered the small one:
No, my child, you can not,
but for Pentecost it may be
that you could come home to mother.

Pentecost came with green birches
with field and meadow in floral dress,
but the little sickly girl
still lay there in her bed.

So again she asked the doctor
standing at her side:
Can I come home in the fall
to my own dear mama?

The doctor answered not the small one,
but slowly caressed her hair.
And with tears in his eye
he turned around and walked away.

Now she’s slumbering under the loam,
slumbering sweetly in snow-white raiments.
From her patiently borne longing
she has fled up to God.

E: Where did you first hear this?

P: My mother sang it to me when I was really young.

E: Where did she learn it from?

P: She learned it from her mother and her mother alike. Also, despite our age differences my mom also sang it to my older siblings.

E: Do you know any history into its conception?

P: In the 1800’s TB was a major problem across Europe and a large amount of people were impacted by the deaths that occurred. Since this disease was such central aspect of peoples’ lives, it was reflected in the literature of the time.

E: What does this rhyme mean to you?

P: Initially it was just a song to me and I did not understand the meaning behind the lyrics. However, when I got older my mom brought the song to me and I understood the real context of it. This made me realize how dark of an outlook on life people had during this time period.

Context:

My informant was born in Sweden and raised in the United States. His entire family prior was from Sweden. He’s never brought up stories from his culture and was ecstatic when I asked him to participate. We sat in a very casual setting.

Analysis:

I’ve never heard a Nursery Rhyme be as overtly somber, but it does remind me of Ring Around the Rosies. Both are about terrible illnesses and reactions to them. As I further conversed with my informant I found out for the nearly half the year it’s dark around 18 hours a day. This creates a darker atmosphere and allows for the creation of more dark works.

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