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Aslaug Vaa. Photo: Samlaget. Used by agreement.
Aslaug Vaa. Photo: Samlaget. Used by agreement.
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Aslaug Vaa (English)

Aslaug Vaa, Norwegian lyricist, dramatist and essayist. Vaa was a pioneer in the field of early female lyrical poetry in Norwegian Nynorsk. As a playwright she renewed the Norwegian theatre by writing poetic drama.


Vaa was born in Rauland on 25 August 1889 and died in Oslo on 28 November 1965. Her parents moved to Kviteseid when she was three years old, and she grew up there. She passed her matriculation exam at Aars and Voss school in Kristiania (now Oslo) in 1909 and then began to study at the University of Oslo. She was a journalist in the Norwegian Nynorsk newspaper Den 17de Mai, where she for many years was responsible for foreign affairs.

Aslaug Vaa as a student, 1907. Photo: Gustav Borgen. Source: Norwegian Museum of Cultural History at digitaltmuseum.no (item no. NFB.35987). In the public domain.

Aslaug Vaa as a student, 1907. Photo: Gustav Borgen. Source: Norwegian Museum of Cultural History at digitaltmuseum.no (item no. NFB.35987). In the public domain.

Aslaug Vaa was married to philologist and psychoanalyst Ola Raknes from 1912 until 1938, when the marriage was dissolved. She lived with her husband in Paris for two periods and studied literature and the history of art, folklore and philosophy at the Sorbonne. In addition came stays in London and Berlin, where she studied theatre and theatre history.

When Aslaug Vaa made her debut in 1934 with the anthology of poems entitled Nord i leite, she was 45 years old. Up until 1963 she published six collections of poetry. In addition she wrote four plays and a number of articles and essays in newspapers and periodicals.

The Telemark musicians Øyonn Groven Myhren and Odd Nordstoga have written music for the cycle of poems called «Nivelkinn» from Aslaug Vaa’s debut anthology. In 2002 they were awarded Spelemannsprisen, a prize for the best musical artists of the previous year, for their recording of Nivelkinn, which was a work commissioned for the Telemark festival in 2001. 

Popular poet requested by radio listeners

Aslaug Vaa wrote poems that were both traditional and modernist in form, and several of them have become beloved by the people of Norway. The poem «Så rodde dei fjordan» (1936), with a verse form reminiscent of a folk song, was for many years a regular request on the radio programme Ønskediktet on NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation), along with the love poem «Å eiga» (1935), where she uses freer rhythms. In well-known poems from her anthologies like «Etterklangen» and «Moreld» (1947) she makes use of more traditional metric verse. The less well-known poem «Skuggan» (1947) is clearly an early example of modernist and expressionist writing in both its form and its theme.

 
«Å eiga»

Stundom spør ein:
Kan ein eiga eit anna menneskje?

(...)

Fyrst når to men’skjer kan sei til kvarandre:
Gå der du vil,
du er du!
Gjer det du vil,
eg er eg –

Men eg ser vegen din
og eg lyder etter fotefari dine
og eg kjenner din vilje
strøyma gjenom blodet
i javne, rolege pulsslag –

Fyrst då kan to men’skje eiga kvarandre.

Excerpts from the poem «Å eiga» by Aslaug Vaa: Skuggen og strendan. Gyldendal 1935. 
Read the book on National Library of Norway´s website

Contemplative poet

The poems often have a reflective form, at the same time as they investigate thought as a process and an acknowledgement. Criticism of civilisation is often an integral part of many of the texts, which reflect over how we think, both ethically and humanly, for the common good in society, culture and civilisation. The poet is critical to a form of acknowledgement that favours only logical and empirical awareness («Tankekniven», 1936), and argues in favour of a rationality based on the senses and intuition as well as the factual.

An ecological message runs like a red thread through everything she writes. Body and soul and Man and Nature must be in equilibrium. The same applies globally. In her poems, drama and articles Aslaug Vaa urges respect and tolerance between peoples and cultures.

Aslaug Vaa reflected deeply over the nature of poetry, and in her own «poetic thinking» she seeks the primeval and authentic on the one hand, and the visionary and mystical on the other. 

Innovative dramatist

Her writing is characterised by Vaa’s knowledge of oral traditions and popular culture familiar to her from her upbringing in Telemark, combined with European and modern impulses from her many travels. This is particularly apparent in her playwriting. The poetic drama Munkeklokka (1950/1966) is based on folklorist material from Norwegian High Middle Ages, but is modern in form. The conflict is built around the issue of identity, relationships between people, eroticism and love life and religious topics. The play has a form that marks a clear break with the strong Norwegian realism in the tradition of Henrik Ibsen. 

Aslaug Vaa learned from the expressionist theatre of Max Reinhardt and the epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht in Germany. She wrote poetical drama and interspersed the realism with elements of song and poetry. The dialogues possess a quality that we usually find only in lyrical texts.

The plays Steinguden (1931/1939), Tjugendagen (1947/1950) and Honningfuglen og leoparden (1965/1966) are very different from each other, but all of them are experimental in form.

English translation Howard Medland

 

Sources

Sigrid Bø Grønstøl: «Dikt og tanke. Aslaug Vaa», i Sigrid Bø Grønstøl og Unni Langås: Tanke til begjær. Nylesingar i nordisk lyrikk. Oslo 2001

Leif Mæhle: «Fann eg dei stigar …». Vandringar i Aslaug Vaas dikting. Oslo 2001

Først publisert: 22.10.2018
Sist oppdatert: 22.10.2018