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This article is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

From Ibsen to Hill John Haffenden

A PLAY that began as an epic is not, at first blush, an obvious choice for treatment by an English poet reputed for short intense poems. Ibsen's Brand is so complex that it can be taken as a study both in religious exaltation and in the pathology of pride. Brand enjoys an access of grace which (in the manner of Kierkegaard) shows him that God's ways are not Man's ways. Kierkegaard recognized the fundamental discrepancy between divine dispensation and human organization. For him it was salutary to embrace the contradiction, which allowed one to be reconciled to mortal life by virtue of believing in God's grand design. The message of human suffering and redemption is not commensurate to reason, and a posture of infinite resignation is the devout response. Brand's tragedy can be seen, in one interpretation, as that of living the life of God in a finite frame, and of refusing to temporize. Murdering human sentiments, the pastor seeks to die in all possible capacities: as father, as husband, and very nearly as his flock. The intersection of the timeless with time provides a drama which is rife with ambiguous or ironic possibilities. If the term had not already been appropriated in our time, we should call Brand the drama of the absurd. Often daunted, Brand is wholly sincere but can never be assured. One suspects that Ibsen, like his hero ("Brand is myself in my best moments," he wrote in a letter quoted in Inga-Stina Ewbank's instructive ...


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