Hamar Arbeiderblad

20 April 2002  

Roger Greenwald
“North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen”
A Bilingual Edition
(The University of Chicago Press)

Jacobsen in New Translation

Reviewed by: NINA TEIGLAND

A broad selection of Rolf Jacobsen’s poetry has now been translated into English in the volume “North in the World.”

This is beneficial for Norwegian literature in general and for poetry in particular. With this book Rolf Jacobsen’s poems will reach quite a large group of readers, as the work of a world-class poet deserves to do.

Rolf Jacobsen’s poetic career spanned more than fifty years, a period that saw enormous changes, which in turn are reflected in his poems. Jacobsen made his debut in 1933 with the collection “Earth and Iron.” He published twelve such books of poetry in all, the last being “Night Watch” in 1985. “North in the World” draws on all twelve books and also contains one poem that was published after Jacobsen’s death in 1994.

Roger Greenwald is an American poet and a prize-winning translator of Scandinavian poetry. He has previously published two volumes of poetry by Rolf Jacobsen, “The Silence Afterwards: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen” (1985) and “Did I Know You?” (1997).

“North in the World” gathers together the earlier translations in improved versions and in addition includes four new translations, for a total of 121 poems. This selection is thus the most extensive collection of Jacobsen’s poems available in English.

In this book Roger Greenwald focuses on Jacobsen’s entire body of work and shows the development of his poetry. So “North in the World” serves wonderfully as an introduction to Rolf Jacobsen’s poetry for English-speaking readers.

In his translations Greenwald preserves the colloquial, apparently simple use of language that is characteristic of Rolf Jacobsen’s poetry. At the same time Greenwald manages to carry over into English the depth that lies in the poems. This is an achievement that demands respect.

As a translator Greenwald is highly faithful to the original text. This can be seen in the following lines from Rolf Jacobsen’s well-known poem “Landskap med gravemaskiner”—“Landscape with Steam Shovels”:

De spiser av skogene mine.
Seks gravemaskiner kom og spiste av skogene mine.
Gud hjelpe meg for en skapning på dem. Hoder
uten øyne og øynene i baken.

They’re eating up my woods.
Six steam shovels came and started eating up my woods.
God help me! what creatures they are. Heads
without eyes and eyes in their rumps.

“North in the World” is a thorough book that reveals the work of a conscientious and very attentive translator. Every detail—each word, each comma, the line breaks and the syntax—is carefully weighed in the translation of every poem.

The book contains an extensive introduction by the translator in which he supplies a brief presentation of Norwegian modernist poetry—too brief, in my view, and therefore insufficiently nuanced. The introduction also explains certain uniquely Norwegian phenomena that are not immediately comprehensible to foreign readers. The notes at the back of the book supply information on place names that occur in the poems—information that is also of the greatest interest to a Norwegian reader. And there is even a guide to the pronunciation of Norwegian words!

The selection included in the book is based on Greenwald’s evaluation of Jacobsen’s poems, as well as of how successfully they can be translated. It would be unjust to Rolf Jacobsen to publish pieces that are not good poems in English.

Rolf Jacobsen’s entire body of work is still not available to the English-speaking world. Nonetheless, “North in the World” is such
a comprehensive selection that it does a fine job of representing Jacobsen’s complete poetry.

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

Read three poems from North in the World

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Complete Table of Contents for North in the World

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