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How Things Have Gone: From a Popular Norwegian-American Song
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How Things Have Gone

Ballad, translated by Einar Haugen

Come, Norwegians from hilltops and valleys,
To whom Norway and Norse folk are dear;
Let's sit down now and chat here together
On the life we have led over here.

At the start we had troubles a-plenty
. . .
We heard only a meaningless babble
When our ears caught the speech of the land.

'Twas a long pull learning the language . . .

We were not in the ranks of the wealthy,
And our homes took a long time to build;
We sought work that would earn us some money,
For our youngsters were hungry and chilled.

With the passing of years we were hopeful,
That our lot would improve over now;
For the children were learning the lingo,
And we sold some produce from the cow.

So we dug us a hole in the hillside;
There was house, there was hearth, there was home —
But at nightfall, as homeward we plodded,
We were fond of that sod-covered room!

We were pleased and content with our living.
Well endowed with the gifts of the Lord;
We demanded much less to keep happy
Than today when we more can afford.

We had known just the rock slopes of Norway,
Gave the Yankees the best of the land;
We were seeking for woods and for water,
And the prairie was not in demand.

But whenever we needed some money,
We would work for the Yankees a time;
We would labor and slave to our utmost,
Were so willing 'twas almost a crime.

Those were days when the roads weren't level;
They were rocky and rugged indeed.
When we drove into town in our oxcarts,
There was never an excess of speed!

When the Yankees perceived how we struggled,
They were ready at once with their praise;
And they shared with us many a tidbit;
Now may God bless their generous ways.

We desired to show we were grateful,
And were anxious to be of some use;
We took hold of the roughest of jobs here,
Just to show them what we could produce.

We split rails till the forest re-echoed,
And the chips looked like sparks as they flew;
You should see how the trees came a-crashing;
We cut hundreds before we were through.

Did you see how the Yanks were astonished
When they learned of what stuff we were made?
When six bushels we hoisted at once, sir,
They agreed that we had made the grade.

Now the years are commencing to lengthen,
. . .
And although we have had our reverses,
We look forward without any fear.

We have schoolhouses, farms, and our churches,
And we're still ever forging ahead; . . .

Now our children have grown up to manhood,
They can scratch for themselves when they need . . .

We have daughters adorning our households . . .

That our lads are accounted the bravest
Won't be cause for surprise any more
If we just don't forget for a moment
That they sprang from the Vikings of yore.

Let us hope that our manhood will prosper
And grow stronger as year follows year . . .

How Things Have Gone with How Things Have Gone: Digest

First printed in 1878 and signed "Starkad" - for Syver Sigurdson Holland (1839-84) - the above is the main part of what seems to be the most popular of all songs written in the United States in a Norwegian rural dialect. Einar Haugen's comment: "Our ballad . . . caps a generation of Norwegian pioneering in Wisconsin".

In 1893 a Norwegian traveller included the ballad in travel memoirs published in Norway in 1896 with the comment, "the contents . . . will help to throw light on life in the western world (Vesterheimen)."


Norwegian American song lines, Literature  

Einar Haugen: "A Norwegian-American Pioneer Ballad." NAHA Volume XV: Page 1.

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