Known in Norway primarily for his fiction, Tarjei Vesaas also wrote poetry rooted in an oral tradition from Telemark that includes both narratives and sung poems. The eldest son of a family of Telemark farmers, Vesaas is seen as one of the giants of Norwegian literature. His first novels, published in 1923 and 1924 received some limited attention, and in 1927 he received an award that allowed him to travel and live for a period in Munich, Paris, London, Cologne, Vienna, and other cities. In 1931 he visited the poet Halldis Moren, working in Switzerland, with whom he fell in love. They married in 1934 and settled on a farm a short distance from his family’s homestead.
By the end of that year Vesaas had published ten novels, two plays, and collection of short stories. During the Norwegian occupation by the Nazis (1935-1940), he published three more novels and a second volume of short stories. His first book of poetry, Kjeldene (The Sources) appeared in 1946, the first of five volumes of poetry he published. His novels of the 1950s and 1960s won him his greatest acclaim, among them, Fuglane (The Birds) was published in 1957. His powerful novel of 1963, Is-slottet (The Ice Palace) earned him the Nordic Council Prize.
His sixth collection of poetry, Liv ved straumen (Life at the stream) was published after his death in 1970.
Vesaas’s poetry often seems based in pastoral images and appears driven by the author’s relationship with nature. While that is true of his work, there is also in the poetry a great deal of metaphysical and psychological interplay, as nature and the imagination of the individual interact and transform each other. There also a bleak abstraction to many of his poems—witnessed, for example, in “Dead Lake,” “The Boat and the Fish,” and “The Boats on the Beach”—that draws his writing away from more standard poetry about the natural world into recognizable allegorical structures.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Kjeldene (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1946); Leiken og lynet (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1947); Lykka for derdesmenn (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1949); Løynde elders land (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1953); Ver ny, vår draum (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1956); Liv ved straumen (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1970).
ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS
30 Poems, trans. by Kenneth G. Chapman (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1971); Land of Hidden Fires, trans. by Fritz König and Jerry Crisp (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973); Selected Poems, trans. by Anthony Barnett (Lewes, England: Allardyce, Barnett, 1988); Through Naked Branches: Selected Poems, trans. by Roger Greenwald (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000).