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‘So much to think about’: Norwegian poetry of place and contemplation

I’m exploring the glistening fjords and cloud-kissed mountains of Norway this week. To immerse myself in this breathtaking place, I’ve gathered some Norwegian poetry to help me contemplate its landscape and cultural complexion. I hope you enjoy it too!

1. ‘Everyday’ (Drops in the East Wind, 1966) by Olav H. Hauge

But it’s possible to live / in the everyday as well, / in the grey quiet day, / set potatoes, rake leaves, / carry brushwood. / There’s so much to think about here in the world. / One life is not enough for it all. / After work you can fry bacon / and read Chinese poems.

Olav H. Hauge (1908–1994) has a significant place in the Norwegian literary landscape. He also expresses the Norwegian geographical landscape’s grandeur, simplicity, wildness and purity. Professionally he worked as a gardener in his own orchard. Born in Ulvik. In addition to hundreds of poems, he left many volumes of diaries behind when he died in 1994 that bear witness to a widely read man. Leaf-Huts and Snow-Houses is a good English translation by Robin Fulton of a portion of Hauge’s work.

2. ‘Rye’ by Cecilie Løveid

Yes suddenly you stood there as I dreamt in blue clothes dark / moustaches and high rubber boots on the edge of me. / Then you flew off / with your belly-side tight across rye buck so hot it smelled of / freshly baked bread.

Cecilie Løveid is a novelist, poet, playwright, and writer of children’s books. She has said that she regards the writing of a text ‘as making an object’, and that she is, first and foremost, trying to get this object to seem well made. Her work is both strict and almost ‘moulded’ as well as open, playful and flirtatious. She has written about 30 plays, librettos or other texts for radio or stage performance.

3. ‘Guardian Angel’ by Rolf Jacobsen

I am one you have loved long ago. / I walk alongside you by day and look intently at you / and put my mouth on your heart / but you don’t know it. / I am your third arm and your second shadow, the white one, whom you don’t have the heart for / and who cannot ever forget you.

Rolf Jacobsen’s (1907–1994) career as a writer spanned more than 50 years. He is one of Scandinavia’s most distinguished poets, who launched poetic modernism in Norway with his first book, Jord og jern (Earth and Iron) in 1933. Jacobsen’s work has been translated into over 20 languages. The central theme in his work is the balance between nature and technology, and he was called ‘the Green Poet’ in Norwegian literature.

4.  Not the Whispering Branch’ by Tone Hødnebø

Your mind open thinking how your thoughts move / like a forest aroused, and the tree-trunks cut down, one by one.

Tone Hødnebø has published five collections of poetry and has also translated Emily Dickinson into Norwegian. She has received some of the most prestigious poetry prizes in Norway and is one of the country’s most respected contemporary poets. She was born in Oslo (in 1962) and studied in Bergen, where she still lived when her first poetry collection, Larm, was published in 1989. She has taught creative writing in Norway and Sweden.

5.  ‘I have given my body to the ignorant and the enlightened’ by Steiner Opstad

In simpleness all will triumph or perish / I sigh, while others shout / I laugh, while others sleep / I kiss your eyes and close mine

Steinar Opstad is an award-winning poet and essayist who has received the prestigious Tarjei Vesaas’ Prize in Norway for ‘the best debut collection of poems’ and the Norwegian Poetry Club Award. He is the author of six collections and his Selected Poems was published in 2006 in Oslo.

6. The Daybright Shadow by Eldrid Lunden

Today it is April 18th and sun. My body / smells of sweat, ammonia and earth as I sit  / with a view of Egedius’s hills a hundred years later, they are / so dark, so light

Eldrid Lunden’s poetic work is some of the most important in Norway and a Nordic context. Her status as writer has been strengthened by her position as director of Creative Studies at Bø in Telemark, Norway’s first academic writing academy, established on her initiative in the 1980s. Her influence on the younger generation of writers is enormous, not only as a poet, but also as a mentor and experienced reader. She was awarded the Dobloug Prize in 1989, and the Brage Prize honorary award in 2000.

6. ‘Afften Psalme’ by Dorthe Engelbrechtsdatter

Four planks are my attire / In which I shall be laid out / With a sheet and a little more / I own not a feather. /

Dorothe Engelbretsdatter’s collection of hymns Siælens Sang-Offer was published in 1678. It has since been reprinted about 30 times (seven editions during her own lifetime). Her devotional book Taare-Offer was published in 1685. Her writing, which was a defence of female creative power, gave rise to the first debate in Denmark and Norway about the ability of women to write literature. After her husband died in 1683, her two sons emigrated, and she lived alone—partly supporting herself through her writing—for the next 33 years. She is often called the first ‘She-Poet in the Lands of the Hereditary King’.

7. ‘I hold the face against my eye’ by Ingrid Storholmen

When you are in your hand / The darkness of the palm // My hand is tired today / between the eye your arm

Ingrid Storholmen is poet, novelist and literary critic. She made her literary debut in 2001 with the poetry collection Krypskyttarloven. Among her other collections are Siriboka from 2007, and Tsjernobylfortellinger (Voices from Chernobyl) from 2009. Voices from Chernobyl consists of several fictionalised accounts told by Chernobyl survivors, based on interviews Storholmen conducted with victims. She was awarded Sultprisen in 2010, and the Ole Vig-prisen in 2011.

8. ‘No Longer a Shop of Pain. A Distorted Ballad’ by Eva Jensen

I will become one of the first poets with an artificial leg, illuminated standing with two different feet in oil up to my ankles while I continuously express myself.

Eva Jensen writes poetry, short stories, novels, and essays. She could be characterised as an explorer of genres, a trait she shares with many Norwegian writers of her generation. First and foremost, however, she sees herself as a poet poised on Europe’s northern rim. She made her debut in 1984 with Dikt og tekstar (Poems and Texts), a humouristic play on male authorities.

9. Petter Dasse’s Lament concerning his illness of six years by Petter Dasse

The burden that my back has bent / Is known to God omniscient, / While others can go forth and back: / I am the one stretched on the rack.

Petter Dass, (1647–1707), was the ‘father’ of modern Norwegian poetry during his generation. In an age of pedantry and artifice, his work stands out among his contemporaries for its vivid freshness, everyday language, and common appeal of his works. He is the first writer in Dano-Norwegian literature to strike a genuinely Norwegian note. He was a Lutheran priest who wrote baroque hymns and topographical poetry. He was deeply mourned after his death, and many fishing vessels of Northern Norway carried a black cloth in their sail for 100 years after his death, as a sign of mourning.

10. ‘Fire prinsesser’ by Agnes Mathilde Wergeland

Fluttering wind! / Slowly you wring the dream from / the sleeping mouths of the trees, / breathe it again with laughter / into the keen ears of the shadows!  / Humming, you follow the night’s lightly / rhythmic dance on the radiant paths

Agnes Mathilde Wergeland was a Norwegian-American historian, poet and educator. Agnes Mathilde Wergeland was the first woman to earn a doctoral degree in Norway. Neil A Hofland says her poem ‘Fire prinsesser’ is an almost perfect gem of Norwegian aesthetic poetry. Wergeland uses the homely subject matter of her immediate environment—in this case, the rose garden at Laramie—to fashion a melancholy fairy tale in the manner of Oscar Wilde.

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