The Truth behind Edvard Munch‘s ‘The Scream’

von Wayne Caers

In 1893 Edvard Munch was walking with two friends along a fjord near Oslo.

One of his friends, a teacher of English named Björn, was describing his love of English poetry. He praised the genius of Shakespeare’s works, the beauty of Keats’ poems.

Speaking English, Björn proclaimed his undying love for this, the bard's language.

Edvard, more fascinated by the arts than languages, couldn’t really speak much English. He too tried to join in the conversation, endeavouring his contribution in English.

“I don’t can speak much English,” he began and wanted to continue as best as he could.

At that moment, his friend span around, holding his ears to his balding head, his mouth wide open in agony caused by this excruciatingly painful grammatical blunder.

Björn screamed at the sound of the words “don’t can”!

The sky immediately curdled, haemorrhaging a swirling blood red of heartache as this beautiful language was mortally wounded by Edvard’s dreadful gaffe.


Two onlookers stared in disbelief at the incredulity of the mishap, not believing that such words could be uttered in public.

The fjord swelled with a deluge of water as The Scream coming from Björn’s throat stirred the forces of nature into a fury unknown by the painter.

The moment was ingrained in Edvard’s memory for all time, as were the words of his dear friend Björn, who, although institutionalised for the rest of his life as result of this said walk along the fjord, was able to explain to Edvard:

“Don’t can, my friend, is an awful and complex version of what is indeed correct,” he said, his eyes bloodshot, his chin quivering.

“I can’t,” is correct. Please remember this for all time in my memory.

Edvard did, and painted The Scream to remind him of his howler.


Wayne Caers