Sunday, April 5, 2009

Norwegian Matters

A brief history of poetry in Norway... more info can be found here. It's the official UK site devoted to Norway, so it has to be good.

Norwegian poetry began way back in the day, with the Skaldic verse of the 9th century. The middle ages produced the ballads, improvised verse, and folkloric traditions one would expect. Hymn writing also became an important mode of lyric expression, which grew more prolific with the spread of education.

It seems that Norway's more recent poets followed common worldwide trends: symbolism, modernism, lyricism, etc. The 1960s gave rise to more experimentalism, the 70s got political, and the 80s moved to a focus on aesthetics. As the site says, "these two trends were then consciously synthesized during the 1990s," which should bring us about up to date.


Some Important Norwegian Poets (click on title of poem for more by the writer):

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910) - his poem Ja vi elsker dette landet ("Yes, We Love This Land") became the Norwegian national anthem.

The Tree

Ready with leaves and with buds stood the tree.
"Shall I take them?" the frost said, now puffing with glee.
"Oh my, no, let them stand,
Till flowers are at hand!"
All trembling from tree-top to root came the plea.

Flowers unfolding the birds gladly sung.
"Shall I take them?" the wind said and merrily swung.
"Oh my, no, let them stand,
Till cherries are at hand!"
Protested the tree, while it quivering hung.

The cherries came forth 'neath the sun's glowing eye.
"Shall I take them?" a rosy young girl's eager cry.
"Oh my, yes, you can take,
I've kept them for your sake!"
Low bending its branches, the tree brought them nigh.

Sigbjørn Obstfelder (1866-1900) - a symbolist, who became one Norway's foremost early modernist poets.

Go here for a poem, reading, and translation. It's a Christmas poem with a corpse in it. Great!

Rolf Jacobsen (1907-1994) - another important early modernist, still frequently read today.


Up on the city’s roofs there are large fields.
That’s where silence crept up to
when there was no room for it on the streets.
Now the forest comes in its turn.
It needs to be where silence lives.
Tree upon tree in strange groves.
They don’t do very well, because the floor is too hard.
So they make a sparse forest, one branch toward the east,
and one toward the west. Until it looks like crosses. A forest
of crosses. And the wind asks
—Who’s resting here
in these deep graves?

Olav H. Hauge (1908-1994) - a popular lyricist who frequently alludes to Homer and Chinese and Japanese poetry. Frequently translated by Robert Bly.

Midwinter. Snow.

Midwinter. Snow.
I gave the birds a piece of bread.
And it didn't affect my sleep.

Paal-Helge Haugen (1945-) - another popular anti-metaphorical lyricist.
I had trouble finding full text of his work, but he has been translated often by Roger Greenwald, our main Norwegian guy.


And, Something Fun:



  1. I wonder about the term "anti-metaphorical lyricist"? I understand each portion of the phrase as it stands alone, but I am unfamiliar with this terminology as it is used to describe a certain type of poetry/poet. I suppose to consider a poet in this category their poems should deny the desire to "pussyfoot" around with indirect language such as metaphors, but how does lyricism fit into this equation? Does anyone know where this term comes from? I can come up with a few answers on my own, but I am curious about documentation that may include/employ this term.

  2. That's a good question. As I am not a poetry expert myself, I just used the term from the website, but it did give me pause as I was typing it out.


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