Eva Norberg was a lyricist, hymn composer and translator. She is one of nine female authors, born in the twentieth century, to be represented in Den svenska psalmboken, 1986.
Eva Norberg was born in Stockholm on Christmas Eve 1915. The family consisted of Elsa Norberg, a midwife, and Hjalmar Norberg, an electrician who was interested in art, and grew to include two additional children, Johan Olov in 1917, and Elisabet in 1919. The Norbergs divorced when Eva was eight years old. Elsa Norberg and the children moved to Stockholm. Eva had hopes of becoming a småskollärare (pre-school teacher), but due to the family’s strained financial situation she could not realise her ambition.
From 1939 to 1944 Eva Norberg worked at Diakonistyrelsen’s (the Swedish church’s national board for parish life) publishing house in Stockholm. In 1944 she married the priest Karl-Erik Hagberg. They had two children together. Initially the family moved around in middle Sweden due to Eva’s husband’s role as assistant vicar in various different places. Part of Eva Norberg’s responsibilities as the wife of a clergyman was to run childcare and sewing groups. During the 1960s she began to work as a municipal librarian in Strängnäs. When she was nearly 60 years old she moved to Sigtuna and she worked as a librarian there and in Märsta. After she retired she went to live in her paternal grandmother’s cottage in Sunnansjö.
When Eva Norberg published her first poems in 1941, in a poetry collection entitled Evig låga, she had spent many years writing privately about life and everyday matters. The lyricist and psalm writer Karl-Gustaf Hildebrand, amongst others, encouraged her to publish what she had written for herself. In total, she produced eight volumes of poetry and a few books of prose. Eva Norberg is, however, best known as a composer of psalms and as a translator of Christmas songs from English into Swedish, for instance for the 1978 publication Dagen är kommen. Carols i svensk tolkning.
During the 1950s Eva Norberg was part of a committee along with Britt G Hallqvist, Anders Frostenson, Harald Göransson and others, which had been initiated by the Diakonistyrelse Sunday school organisation. Their task was to produce hymns for the children’s service, and in 1960 they published Kyrkovisor för barn. Eva Norberg supplied eight contributions, including a hymn to the Virgin Mary who “wandered cautiously” with her tiny baby in her lap over to the “church choir”, as it is somewhat anachronistically put. The background to this story is her personal experience of Mary standing at Christ’s side and that she, as a woman, has full understanding of women’s everyday experiences. Several of these church songs appear to have been lost, but this particular hymn was included, unchanged, in the 1986 hymnal, as one of five hymns about, and addressed to, Jesus’ mother, a new element in the history of the Swedish hymnal.
Eight of Eva Norberg’s own hymns are included in Den svenska psalmboken med tillägg, 2002, as well as another eight she had translated or edited. It was not unusual for her to write from a female perspective. One of them is the hymn about Jesus’ meeting with the woman at Sichar’s well on redemption and the meaning of life. Another one of her hymns is “Det gungar så fint när han bär dig, mitt barn”, which is often sung at baptismal ceremonies and is considered to be a children’s hymn. Eva Norberg has however described that she composed it in response to the tired child that lies within every one of us.
The experiences of human life and the richness of Biblical poetic language are apparent in many of Eva Norberg’s psalms, an example is the hymn commissioned by the psalm committee in 1969. They wanted lyrics for an old folk melody known from Oscar Lindberg’s Gammal fäbodpsalm. Eva Norberg has recounted how she was on a hill farm in Dalarna and imagined a hill farm girl waiting for her friend to collect her to take her home at the end of the summer. “Så kort var den fröjd som i världen jag fann, likt sommaren när hösten är inne” echoes the love lyrics of the Song of Songs, as well as the Old Testament’s words of the prophets and psalter hymns.
Eva Norberg has described her work as a lyricist, translator and hymn composer in some interviews. She was very clear about her work on editing English Christmas songs for their Swedish translations. According to her the contents of the carols often did not allow for exact translations, particularly where the text has to survive frequent repetitions: “The original may involve an awfully cute crib image, but this can verge on the banal. This becomes apparent when I seek to put it into Swedish.” As a hymn composer she described wanting be as write as well as the skilled carpenters she had met throughout her life worked. She believed that writing a text for a hymn was like entering a master’s workshop and seeking tools there which have stood the test of time: “They may leave blisters but one gets used to it.” It also required that the writer distance themselves to allow the words of the Bible and the voice of faith to shine through. In contrast, when writing her own poetry she spoke from a more autobiographical perspective.
In 1998 Eva Norberg was awarded the Wallin prize, which is handed out every three years in recognition of “deserved Swedish-language authorship in the Christian-humanist spirit, or for other significant personal efforts in a similar spirit”. The reason for her award was given as: “In all of Eva Norberg’s writings the reader is presented with ‘a divine voice’. Her message reaches across the generations – hymns for children and youth are as deep and as rooted as those aimed at the older generations.” The next year she received the Dan Andersson prize because: “Her melodic poetry is as pure and clear in tone as a hill farm hymn, grounded in the traditions of Finnmark and in Dan Andersson’s quest for light and meaning – poetry which rings out clearly toward heaven and lends the audience both hope and comfort.”
Eva Norberg died in Sunnansjö in 2004.