BOOKS in Canada

November 2002

North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen.
[A Bilingual Edition]
Translated, edited and introduced by Roger Greenwald.
The University of Chicago Press
xxviii + 328 pages, CAD $54.95 cloth
ISBN: 0-226-39035-7

Excerpts from a review by Erling Friis-Baastad

[W]hen Norwegian poetry is discussed in North America, the accomplishments of writers like Tarjei Vesaas and Rolf Jacobsen become diminished because so much stress gets laid on how they boldly freed Norwegian literature from the shackles of the sing-song romantic nationalism of Henrik Wergeland and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. Vesaas and Jacobsen weren’t simply stylistic rebels. They were seers and sages, and one of the many great strengths of Toronto-based translator Roger Greenwald is that he recognizes this. Throughout his renditions of Vesaas, Jacobsen and Paal-Helge Haugen he has managed to capture the current of something far more profound, farseeing and otherworldly than mere rebellion against tired forms and postures. Rebels are enthralled by the forces they oppose; visionaries rise above them.

Greenwald’s latest gift to Anglophones is North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen. The poet-translator has spent more than two decades with Jacobsen’s verse[,] and he released a major collection of 96 ... translations in The Silence Afterwards with Princeton University Press in 1985. Much of the labor for that volume was performed under the guidance of Rolf Jacobsen himself. This new collection of 121 poems includes revised versions of the Princeton poems, and some of Jacobsen’s later writings, most notably poems written upon the death of his wife Petra, a close companion of more than forty years.

Perhaps it’s not all that surprising that the works of Rolf Jacobsen, Tarjei Vesaas and other elder Scandinavians have found a champion in Roger Greenwald just now. Weary of trends, of celebrity, of actions and reactions, we’re finally receptive to, perhaps even desperate for, some quiet wisdom, some guidance we can actually make use of, as opposed to merely clever exercises in stylistic wit.

© 2002 by Erling Friis-Baastad. This material has been made available only for on-screen viewing; further reproduction or distribution requires permission from Erling Friis-Baastad.

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