A Flame is Burning

Our sixth book, “A Flame is Burning,” (Der brænder en Ild) was first published illegally in 1944, by the underground publisher Folk og Frihed (Folk and Freedom). At that time, only one of the seventeen contributors was named. Hans Kirk, for his poem “Western Prison” (Vestre Fængsel). Hans Kirk had been arrested earlier, and sent to Horserød, but he had escaped and was out of the country when this book was first published. Naming the other authors could have led to their arrest, and possibly to their death.

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Early in the morning of April 9th, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Denmark. There was a non-aggression treaty between the two countries, which Germany simply ignored. They claimed, of course, that they were simply protecting Denmark from Great Britain.

There was little organized resistance to the invasion, and Denmark was not prepared or able to stop the German army, air force, and navy. There was some sporadic resistance from the beginning, and some Danes refused, from the start, to accept the foreign occupiers. But the Danish government essentially capitulated on the first day, and tried to establish a form of collaboration. The argument was that it was better to accept reality, than to be bombed and destroyed by a vastly superior military force. That argument is still being debated today.

But slowly a resistance movement did grow. One major turning point was the collapse of the Danish government, and the declaration of martial law by the Germans, on 29th August, 1943. It was a day that Kaj Munk called “A proud day for Denmark.”

This collection of prose and poetry provides a unique insight into the mood of occupied Denmark. It not only criticizes the lack of resistance to the Nazi occupation, but also encourages the Danes to stand in solidarity against the occupiers.

The story by Martin A. Hansen, “A dialogue on killing and responsibility,” illustrates the deep divide in Danish society during that time with respect to the killing of snitches. The Danish noun “et drab” is normally interpreted as “a kill,” though it can be interpreted as “Murder” in some contexts. But it is generally accepted that killing in self defense is not murder. If someone breaks into your house, and you kill them in self defense, then it will not be interpreted as murder. That was the dilemma for many Danes. Had the Germans broken into their home, and was any means of self-defense justified?

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Kaj Munk The Wartime Poems

Kaj Munk The Wartime Poems

About the Poems

Kaj Munk started writing poetry in grade school, and never stopped. He felt torn between the need to write, and the call of the church. He chose both. He was Denmark’s pastor/poet/playwright.

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With one exception, the poems in this collection are taken from the Memorial Edition of the works of Kaj Munk, published in 1949 by Nyt Nordisk Forlag in Copenhagen, in nine volumes. The volume titled Poetry contains 218 poems.

This collection of poems is taken from those written during the occupation, with one exception. I include Kaj Munk’s first poem, written at the age of eight. The first line in that poem later became the title of his autobiography. The last line became the title of a collection of his writings and articles.

The poem given on the title page, Despair, was written after the evening church service, April 9th, 1940. That was the day that Germany invaded Denmark, and the long night of the occupation had begun. That poem is given again in the body of the text. The last poem, Demotion, is taken from “ That Fate Will Not Be Ours (Den Skæbne Ej Til Os),” printed in 1943.

The memorial poem by Martin A. Hansen was first printed in the fall of 1944, in the illegal collection A Flame Is Burning, published by Folk and Freedom. It was printed without the author’s name, as all such publications were strictly censored and illegal.

There are 30 poems in this collection. The first was written when Kaj Munk was eight, the next two in 1940, the following five in 1941, Hymn to the Faith in 1942, and the remaining in 1943.

About the Endnotes

Mathilde Munk, Kaj Munk’s youngest granddaughter (daughter of Arne & Hanne Munk) has written a short interpretation for all of the poems included here. There are also some historical references, and I urge the reader to consult these notes as they are reading the poems. They begin on page 57.

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Gustaf Munch-Petersen

Gustaf Munch-Peterson Selected Poems

Gustaf Munch-Petersen -Selected Poems

This is a bilingual edition of the selected poems of Gustaf Munch-Petersen, translated from the Danish by Brian Young. Gustaf Munch-Petersen joined the International Brigade in the fight against fascism during the Spanish Civil War. He died in battle in 1938. He was just 26 years old. He published four major collections of poetry during his short life. These poems are taken from those collections. The book also contains a tribute to her father by Ursula Munch-Petersen, his youngest daughter, not yet born when Gustaf left Denmark to fight in Spain.

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Ursula Munch-Petersen—A Daughter’s Tribute

Gustaf Munch-Petersen is my father. He was only 26 years old when he died, and it seems strange that he is still being published and read, not just in Danish schools, but now also in America.
Besides his poetry, he left behind two daughters– my sister who was two at the time, and me, not yet born. My sister Mette got married in Norway and had five children, and eight grandchildren. And I have two sons and three grandchildren.

It says in the Bible that the sins of the father are passed down through seven generations. All of Gustaf’s grandchildren have been marked by their grandfather’s absence, while at the same time he is proclaimed a hero. My sister felt betrayed, and has spoken very little about her Danish childhood. And now her children are asking me about it.

I have often thought, when I felt sad, that there was something waiting in Heaven–some kind of inheritance. When, as an adult, I read for the first time the book Primitive Religion by the Danish religious historian and linguist Vilhelm Grønbech, I experienced clearly my relationship to my father. My grandma had told me that Gustaf was tired of school, and that he would only take lessons from Vilhelm Grønbech, who wrote extensively about so-called “Primitive Religions.” My father’s insistence on taking lessons from Vilhelm Grønbech, and my joy and surprise when reading about the world’s religions as an artistic aspect of my life, helped me to feel a connection to him.

Every time a soldier is killed in Afghanistan I think about the far-reaching consequences for the families. But that my father’s poetry is still being printed and read, and because he felt it was an extension of the concept of art, and that he took his feelings and thoughts so seriously that he went to Spain when war was on the rise— that gives his fate meaning.

In 1937 you could still believe in the promise of the international participation for the defense of the Spanish people. Last year I was in Spain where now– and first now– one can talk openly about the civil war. A museum there had a collection of photos of all of the international brigades. There were volunteers from India and China, and it surprised me that people from so many places in the world came to fight for freedom.

I don’t know what young soldiers today are thinking when they say that they are going to war to “Make a difference”, but death in modern warfare must be even sadder and more meaningless today than it was then.

Ursula Munch-Petersen, October 2011

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