I recently watched Ingmar Bergman’s achingly doleful Wild Strawberries, and one particular part stood out: the poem read by Isak Borg, the lonely old professor, when asked to resolve a lunchtime debate over the existence of God. After some Internet research, I learned the poem is an 1819 Swedish hymn by Josef Olaf Wallin called “Where is the friend I seek everywhere?” – which a helpful blogger translated.
The full hymn is eight stanzas, but here is one English translation of four of them that captures the plaintive yet uplifting tone of the film:
Where is that friend, whom everywhere I seek?
When the day dawns, my longing only grows;
When the day flees, I still cannot find Him
Though my heart burns.
I see his traces, wherever power moves,
a flower blooms, or a leaf bends.
In the breath I draw, the air I breathe
His love is mixed.
I hear his voice, where summer winds whisper,
where groves sing and where rivers roar
I hear it best in my heart speaking,
and me keeping.
O! When so much beauty in every vein
of Creation and life fail,
How beautiful must the source be,
The eternally True!
This poem can’t resolve the debate over God’s existence, but it certainly favors one side. The film focuses on Borg’s struggle to grasp his life’s meaning and the consequences of his callousness more than questions of faith. But with this hymn on his mind, how can the remorseful professor, at the end of his life, not think about What It All Means?