Oslo, 19 November 2002
By Knut Ødegård

Rolf Jacobsen in a Major English Translation

Rolf Jacobsen
North in the World, Translated and edited by Roger Greenwald
The University of Chicago Press

An impressive and comprehensive translation of our greatest modern poet.

It is seldom that Norwegian poets are published in the major world languages, and more seldom still that they are presented in as thorough a way as in Roger Greenwald’s English translation of selected poems by Rolf Jacobsen, North in the World. The book contains no less than 121 of Jacobsen’s poems, from his debut book Earth and Iron (1933), through his great popular success Night Watch (1985), to an added final piece, “A Poem on the River Glåma.” This book also has the great advantage over most translations that it is bilingual, with the English versions and the Norwegian originals on facing pages.

Roger Greenwald is responsible for the selection, the translations, and a comprehensive introduction. Most of the translations have been published before, in The Silence Afterwards (1985) and Did I Know You? (1997), so that North in the World contains only four new translations. However, there is good reason both to rejoice that Rolf Jacobsen has now reached an international readership in such a broad and thorough presentation as this one, and to thank Roger Greenwald for his exertions in bringing our greatest modern poet into vivid poetic English.

Translations can always be debated, and so can the selection of poems in a book like this one. But there is precious little to question in Greenwald’s large selection of Jacobsen’s poems. The introduction is a fine presentation of Jacobsen’s work for the general reader, in which Greenwald explains distinctive characteristics of Jacobsen’s poetry, his own selection of poems, and his method as a translator. . . .

I suppose I might have preferred a somewhat more thorough exploration of the Christian (Catholic) aspect of this body of work. Rolf Jacobsen himself expressed a certain frustration over critics’ failure to see this, for example in Think about Something Else, where the third part bears the title “Section: VIOLET.” In a note to me he wrote: “That VIOLET is the ecclesiastical color that stands for ADVENT—that is, Expectation—no Scriblerus has yet discovered.” And one can always discuss the choice of words and the choice to omit words, for example, why “Få med deg bena, kom over for nå...” in “Grønn mann” [“Green Man”] has become “Get a move on, come on! because now...” (p. 193), in which the important word “over” is gone; or why “å lyse fred med sine hender” in “Månen og apalen” [“The Moon and the Apple Tree”] has become “to make peace shine upon us” (p. 99), in which the image of the hands disappears.

But, to repeat: we have here an impressive contribution by a translator, a book that permits few objections like these and renders them trivial.

© 2002 by Knut Ødegård, Aftenposten. Translated by Roger Greenwald. This material has been made available only for on-screen viewing; further reproduction or distribution requires permission from Knut Ødegård and Roger Greenwald.

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