Danish Language Blog

Bright Nights Posted by on Aug 8, 2011 in Culture

Sommeraften – Summer Night

P.S. Krøyer captured the essence of a white night perfectly in this painting. (Copyright expired.)

Looking at today’s kalender I couldn’t help feeling a bit of nostalgia as it informed me the lyse nætter were coming to an end.

Lyse nætter, literally ’bright nights’, usually rendered in English as white nights, are the hallmark of a pleasant summer in Denmark. From about 5th of May till 8th of August there is literally nothing between dusk and dawn. The sun waiting just a few degrees below the horizon, dusk glides silently into dawn, resulting in a special kind of faintly illuminated night experience. It does get dark – at 10 pm or so – but never completely.

By the way, the word for ’night’, nat, is another example of a noun changing its root vowel in the plural. (The doubling of the ’t’ is just a spelling convention; let’s discuss this in another post, shan’t we?) A single ’bright night’ is called a lys nat. So in Danish, adjectives (words like ’bright’, ’dark’, ’rainy’) also get inflected. Fortunately, it is very easy to make the plural – you just add an -e.

Lyse nætter without too many skyer (clouds) provide a very romantic backdrop for holding hands and suchlike activities. They are also perfect for improvising a garden party. You just need a good grill (or rather a good griller-in-chief), some pølser (sausages), salat and a lot of øl (beer). If you start early, you and your venner (friends) can enjoy the atmosphere well into the night.

Lyse nætter were a popular theme for Danish artists during the Romanticism (mostly the 19th century). Somehow the bright nights linked Denmark to its Nordic past rather than to, say, Italy or France. This notion got popularized by the singalong 1922 song ”Danmark, nu blunder den lyse nat”, written by Thøger Larsen and Oluf Ring (melody). It is still sung today.

Let’s take the first and two last verses:

Danmark, nu blunder den lyse nat
bag ved din seng, når du sover.
Gøgen kukker i skov og krat.
Vesterhavet og Kattegat
synger, imens det dugger,
sagte som sang ved vugger.

Denmark, now the bright night is slumbering
behind your bed, while you’re asleep.
The cuckoo’s calling in the woods and the thickets.
The Western Sea and Kattegat
are singing, while the dew is falling
slowly like cradle songs.

Køer og heste og får på græs
hen over brede agre,
åbne lader for fulde læs,
sejl, som stryger om klint og næs,
byger, som går og kommer –
det er den danske sommer.

Pasturing cows and horses and sheep
across broad fields,
full-loaded, open barns,
sails sweeping around the cliff and the foreland,
showers passing and coming –
that is the Danish summer.

Pigernes latter og lyse hår
leg, som får aldrig ende,
øjnene blå som vand i vår
mildt om et evigt Danmark spår
sol over grønne sletter
lykke og lyse nætter.

The girls’ laughter and fair hair,
neverending play,
the eyes with the blue of water during spring
mildly predict an eternal Denmark,
sun above green plains,
happiness and bright nights.



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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.