Brand, “a dramatic poem,” was written in the summer of 1865, at Ariccia, near Rome. Fifteen months before, Ibsen had left Christiania, a voluntary exile, eager to escape from the narrow Scandinavian world, and burning with the sense of national disgrace. Denmark was in the throes of the heroic but hopeless struggle to which her northern kinsmen had sent only a handful of volunteers. He had travelled southward, almost within hearing of the Prussian guns; and among the passengers on the steamer was that venerable silver-haired mother who, as his sarcastic verses tell, believed so firmly in the safety of her soldier-son, and with such good ground, “for he was a Norwegian soldier.” In Berlin he witnessed the triumphal entry of King William, with the spoils of Dybbol. The. visible sign of the humiliation of Denmark symbolised for him the moral abasement of his own country; and this poignant experience set stirring in him the idea of a poem in which the national shame should be mercilessly brought home. This, Ibsen has told us in one of his illuminating letters on the history of the poem, was the germ of Brand. But the germ ripened slowly and with difficulty. It had to compete with other literary plans and with new seductions. At Copenhagen he had already designed a drama on Julian the Apostate; and now, at Rome, the first vivid contact with the ancient world, if it somewhat bewildered his imperfect culture, enthralled his poet's imagination. In September he tells Björnson that he is working out his Julian scheme “with eager delight.” But this “rich kingdom,” where the dream children of his fancy sported, was invaded from time to time by a sombre guest, at whose coming they fled. Thus he symbolised, in a little poem From My Home Life, the interruption of his delightful labours upon Julian, by the urgency of another task, less congenial, but which weighed on him like a nightmare and would not let him go. This was the original, or narrative, Brand, first referred to, in the same letter, as “a longish poem.”
The epic Brand, as it is usually called, is a fragment, or collection of fragments, consisting of some two hundred eight-line stanzas. It was written, with painful but conscientious labour, fluctuating purpose, and increasing dissatisfaction, between September, 1864, and July, 1865. Several cantos were written more than once, in different rhythms. The action corresponds roughly to the first quarter of the drama, but is much more expansive and loosely strung. Narrative was at no time quite natural to Ibsen, and he seems never to have decided whether he was writing a novel in verse with declamatory episodes, or a series of invectives with novelistic filling-in. The boyhood of Brand and Einar (at first called boll and Axel), and Brand's meeting with Einar and Agnes (Dagmar) on the mountains, and with Gerd, are told with more elaboration and more realism than in the drama, but with less power. Ibsen had not Chaucer's or Ariosto's art of reconciling matters of fact with a stately and intricate stanza. It is otherwise with the invective passages. For the purpose of chastisement this weightier and more sonorous lyric instrument is more effective than the short, sharp reverberating rhythms of the drama. Two passages of peculiar interest are found in the “Epic” only: the opening lines, vibrating with passion and shame, addressed “to my Accomplices ”; and the scornful picture of one of those patriotic meetings at which the men who had failed to answer the cry of their “brother in need,” listened to enthusiastic assurances that the blood of the Vikings still ran in their veins. The orator is the quondam protagonist of “Norse” Romanticism, Wergeland; and Ibsen could not have condemned the Romantic faith of his own Bergen days with more emphasis. For the poets, as he bitterly recognised, had misled the nation: they were “accomplices” in its guilt.
"We have coquetted with a race departed;
Trick'd out its moulder'd body with false charms,
Hung Memory's hall with armour and with arms
To make a pigmy people jocund-hearted:
Darkling we sang of glories that were gone;
But one great point-we quite forgot to touch it;
Ancestral treasure may he call his own
Who has not got a hand wherewith to clutch it ?"
Or again, with ironical sarcasm;
"A people of glorious recollections, this is!
A people that in ancient days was strong,
A people of fighting men and fighting misses,-
When poets have commission for a song;
A people that before no peril blenches,
That shakes its fist against the armed East,
That stands serene before the Southern trenches-
When orators are fervent at a feast."
But in spite of some grand passages, and three fine lyrics, Ibsen rightly judged that he was on a false tack. In July, 1865, the MS. was definitely thrown aside. Its subsequent fate was curious. Deposited, with other papers, when Ibsen left Italy, in the Scandinavian club, at Rome, it found its way into an antiquarian lumber-room there. Thence, in 1896, it was rescued by a Danish collector, A. Pontoppidan, only, however, to be deposited, unexamined, in the private lumber-room of his own curiosity-store; and it was only after his death, in 1901, that his executor, Karl Larsen, at length discovered and disclosed its true nature. Six years later he published it in an exemplary edition.
But if Ibsen abandoned the epic Brand, it was only as a runner, catching a glimpse of his goal, might throw off an impeding garment. One day in July, in St. Peter's, there suddenly flashed upon him, in his own words, “a strong and clear form for what I had to say.” He immediately threw the futile experiments overboard, and began to write with a freedom and inspiration he had never known. In his seclusion at Ariccia the dramatic Brand took shape with amazing swiftness. “It is blessedly peaceful out here,” he wrote to Björnson; “I have no acquaintances; and I write both morning and evening, which I never could do before.” Already in September the fourth act was finished, and he was confident of finishing the fifth in another eight days. In March, 1866, Brand,“ a dramatic poem,” was published at Copenhagen.
The publisher, Hegel (head of the great Danish house of Gyldendal), to whom Ibsen had been introduced by Björnson, was somewhat sceptical of the success of a verse drama so unusual in style, so long, and so fiercely abusive of those to whom it was addressed. But upon its publication it instantly took the whole Scandinavian world by storm. Four editions appeared before the end of the year, the eleventh in 1889, and the sale is still steady to-day. At Stockholm, in 1835, it was even put upon the stage, for which it was never meant, crowded houses sitting through a performance, fifteen times repeated, which lasted nearly seven hours. Outside Scandinavia, too, the author of Brand began to be named; it was the beginning of his European fame. In Germany, particularly, the passionate exaltation and masterful will which pervades it found quick response, after 1870, from a generation which had just watched the colossal shaping of the Empire, and was soon to recognise its secret ideal in the Übermensch of Nietzsche. No less than four verse-translations appeared there between 1872 and 1882.
But of the “European” Ibsen of later days there was as yet no trace in the author of Brand. It was addressed to Norway, and no small part of the secret both of its vast immediate success and of its enduring spell lay in the peculiar intensity of the bond, mingled of love and scorn, like the anger of Dante, which held him to her. It was a bond which liberated and clarified; which detached him from her provincialisms, and drew him nearer to her essential life; so that the poem which brought the sternest indictment against his nation was the first which went to its heart. And, not least, it liberated him from the traditional doctrines of poetic art to which he had still painfully clung in the epic Brand. “ Æsthetics,” he wrote to Björnson, “are as great a curse to poetry as theology to religion ”; and for motives so complex and original as possessed the poet of Brand, assuredly, no Æsthetics provided an adequate frame. Throwing theories and systems to the winds, he abandoned himself to the impetuous onrush of his own genius, and produced a poem which belongs to no school and emulates none, but, with a thousand crudities and negligences of detail, compels us, by the ethical and intellectual passion with which it faces the problem of life to think of Goethe's Faust, and by the tragic intensity of its greatest moments to think of Shakespeare and the Greeks.
Brand is thus, though it is also a very great deal more, a picture-say rather a grandiose etching, sombre, mono-toned, but penetrating and spiritual,-of modern Norway. “Never have I seen the Home and its life so fully, so clearly, so near by,” he told the Christiania students in 1873, “as precisely from a distance and in absence.” Under the Italian sky, among the myrtles and aloes of the “Paradise of exiles,” there arose before him more vividly than ever the vision of the stern and rugged Norwegian landscape, the solemn twilight of the fjord, the storm-swept glacier, the peasant-folk absorbed in the desperate struggle for bread, officialdom absorbed in material progress, “intelligence” growing refined, “humane,” and somewhat effeminate; and, emerging here and there, glimpses somewhat futile and forlorn of heroic manhood. A summer tour which he had made among the western fjords in July, 1862, on a commission from Government to collect popular legends, supplied a crowd of vivid local and personal reminiscences; a ruined parsonage under a precipice, a little mouldering church, a wild march across Jotunheim in storm and snow, and then the dizzy plunge down into one of those deep lowland valleys that strike up like huge rocky rifts from the fjord-head into the heart of the mountains.
Not less intimately Norwegian, at bottom, is the imposing figure through whose lips Ibsen thunders at the sins of Norway. His name, meaning “fire” and also “sword,” bears the stamp of the heroic age. To everyday Norway he doubtless belongs less than his prototype in the fragment: the epic Brand is more human and less sublime; he still doubts his “call,” and the artist Einar proves almost his match in debate: the dramatic Brand is a prophet, “towering as he talks,” in the grandeur of burning faith, before which Einar's light-hearted dilettantism helplessly succumbs. “I read nothing but the Bible,” wrote Ibsen, at the crisis of the drama; “it is vigorous and strong”; and Hebraic imagery and allusion count for not a little in the speech of Brand. But spiritual fanaticism like his, even prophetic passion like his, had often been approached in the Scandinavian world; and no less than three contemporaries have been confidently pointed to as Ibsen's “model.” The Danish critics immediately declared Brand to stand for the Danish apostle of unfaltering will, Sören Kierkegaard. Norway preferred the Norwegian heretic Lammers. Of late years more interest has attached to the title of one of Ibsen's personal friends, Christopher Bruun,-still living, as a clergyman, at Christiania. Bruun had preached the national duty of fighting for the Danish brothers in need with a passionate eloquence equal to Ibsen's own, and sometimes amazingly like Brand's in thought and phrase: he had, moreover, as Ibsen had not, fought himself as a volunteer in the vain struggle. At the close of the war he went, with his sister Thea, to Rome, and there associated closely for several months with Ibsen. All three-Kierkegaard, Lammers, Bruun-probably contributed details to the history, the circumstances, or the portrait of Brand. But the essential stuff of the character came from the nature of Ibsen himself. His clerical profession is, in any case, merely costume. “I could have applied the syllogism just as well,” he told Georg Brandes, “to a sculptor, or a politician, as to a priest.” Galileo would have served his purpose, “assuming of course that he should stand firm and not concede the fixity of the earth.” The essential thing was thus the standing firm, the absolute self-surrender to a cause,-a demand applicable to every condition of life; and not least to Ibsen's own struggle, through want and hunger, to fulfil his own call, the All or Nothing of poetry. “Brand is myself in my best moments,” he declared to Hansen; and this, though not the whole truth, is the most vital part of it. The gist of the whole is therefore ethical, in spite of its theological clothing, and in spite of the theological phraseology in which Ibsen's own ethical conceptions were as yet habitually entangled. The faith which inspires it is the faith in the spirit of man-“the one eternal thing,” as Brand declares in a splendid outburst, that of which churches and creeds are only passing moods, and which, now dispersed and disintegrated among the torsos of humanity, shall one day gather once more into a whole.
But Brand's opponents, too, were not drawn wholly from the outside. If Ibsen was at moments Brand, he had in him also, as he very well knew, the making of an Einar,-nay, of a Peer Gynt. The joyous exuberance of the artist was as well known to him as his stern self-suppression; and the creed of glad abandonment to the glory of the hour, which Falk preaches so eloquently in Love's Comedy,was also the creed of the enthusiastic, lyric Ibsen whom the Brand in him held in cheek, and finally crushed out of sight. There are not a few tirades in Brand itself,, where it might be suspected that Falk or Einar had held the pen. At Bergen, in the fifties, he had made love as lightly as they to the young Henrietta Hoist; Einar's art was one of his dreams; and as late as 1860 he still practised at the easel. And it was the Einar in him, not the Brand, who revelled, during the first Roman months, in the “ideal peacefulness” of the life in “the blithe artist-world, to which only the life in Shakespeare's As You Like It could be compared.” In the Einar of the “Epic” fragment, as we saw, this is still apparent; the artist stands up to the Puritan somewhat as Orlando retorts upon Jacques. But in the drama, where æsthetics and the deliberate cults of beauty had been fiercely renounced, the artist's life lost the insecure remnant of its prestige; and the “ Light-heartedness ” which Brand goes forth to conquer, now attenuated and impoverished, is typified by an impoverished and attenuated Einar.
Yet even in the mature drama Ibsen's inner complexity of nature, the still unsolved antinomies of his mind and heart, disturbed the contours of his original scheme. It is not merely that satire and invective pass over into tragedy; that the great crusader who takes up arms against the triple-banded foe has himself to struggle in the grip of his terrible formula, and finally to perish amid the utter ruin of his work. He has simply given All, as his formula required; utter ruin, if called for, was in the bond. To Ibsen himself, when he called on Norway to help the Danes, her practically certain failure was irrelevant; nor is it likely that he would have been moved by the fact, since made known, of the Russian warning to Sweden. Together with all this, however, there is a subtle, probably unconscious, shifting of the moral perspective, a change in the point of view. The beautiful creation of Agnes (who perhaps derives some traits from the winning and gracious personality of Thea Bruun), the comrade first of Einar, then of Brand, shares the joyous nature of the one and the heroism of the other. But both her joyousness and her heroism are permeated and transfigured by love, in which both men arc so poor; and as the tragedy deepens to the harrowing pathos of the fourth act, and the pitiable desolation of the fifth, it is Love and no longer Will which seems to have “the laws that are not of yesterday but from eternity” on its side; while the “All or Nothing,” once the wakening cry of a young Herculean God to an effete generation, comes to resemble the blind fanaticism of a solitary man and a passing time. And the final assurance, which rings in his dying ear, that the God in whose name he had crushed Love is the God of Love, stamps him, not as a martyr to his faith, about to receive his due meed, but as one who has sought a noble end with imperfect insight; a tragic hero, for whose fate deep-seated error of his own is in part responsible. But this was not exactly theBrand who was to be the mouthpiece of moral law to an offending people. Open self-contradiction there hardly is; but a shifting of the stress, from Will to Love, is unmistakable. Ibsen loved his country, but love was not the burden of his message to it. Yet the message once delivered, love began to emerge and to reassert itself. An apparently trivial anecdote, which he quietly relates at the close of his account of the genesis of Brand, probably lets us in very close to the truth. ”While I was writing Brand I had, standing on my table, a scorpion in an empty beer glass. Occasionally the creature sickened; then I would give it a bit of ripe fruit, which it threw itself furiously upon and poured its venom into; then it got well again."
Brand is written throughout in one or other of two varieties-iambic and trochaic-of four-beat verse. Instead of being deftly intermingled, as in L' Allegro and Il Penseroso, they are kept strictly apart, and used to accentuate the distinction between two types of scene; the iambic being chosen for the more pedestrian and familiar scenes, the trochaic for those more passionate and poetic.
The present translation retains the metres of the original, and follows the text, in general, line for line. But no attempt has been made at exact correspondence in points, such as the use of single or double rhymes, and the sequence and arrangement of rhymes, where the original itself is completely arbitrary.
C. H. H.
 Correspondence, Letter 74.
 Correspondence, Letter 17.
 vv. 34-41.
 vv. 900-907.
 H. Ibsen's Episke Brand. Copenhagen, 1907.
 Correspondence, Letter 20.
 Speech to the Students, printed in full in Halvorsen, Norsk Forfatter-lexikon, art. “Ibsen.”
 Bruun modestly limits his own contribution to the “wallet ” carried by Brand in the first scene: “that wallet, I have Ibsen's own word for it, is the one I carried through the Danish war, and across the Alps, and was very proud of.”-Larsen, Episk Brand, p. 247
 Correspondence, Letter 74.
 Correspondence, Letter 74.
Herford, C. H. (1894), Brand, Heinemann, London; this version is based on the reprint in Henrik Ibsen (1911), Brand, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.
Morgenstern, Christian (1901), "Brand", in Henrik Ibsens sämtliche Werke in deutscher Sprache, Fischer, Berlin.
Input by Fredrik Liland, Oslo, 2011.