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Photo: The Ivar Aasen Centre
Photo: The Ivar Aasen Centre

Halldis Moren Vesaas (English)

Halldis Moren Vesaas, lyric poet and translator, was one of the most read, most frequently quoted and one of the Norwegian writers of lyric poetry most dear to the people of Norway since Wergeland and Bjørnson. 

Norwegian version

Halldis Moren Vesaas was born on 18 November 1907 in Trysil and died on 8 September 1995 in Oslo. She grew up in a magnanimous farming and folk high school environment, with parents who were interested in all things Norwegian.

Halldis Moren qualified for her teaching diploma at Elverum teacher training college in 1928, but worked for only short period in school, as a supply teacher in the primary school in Vinje from 1941 to 1943. After TT college, she was a secretary in Oslo Fylkeslag before travelling to Switzerland, where she acted as secretary to the Norwegian vice-consul for three years, from 1930 to 1933. There she became fluent in European languages, especially French. In 1934 she married author Tarjei Vesaas (1898–1970). The couple set up home in Vinje in Telemark.

Halldis Moren had her debut as a lyricist in 1929 with Harpe og dolk. From her debut and up until 1955 she published six more anthologies of poetry, Morgonen (1930), Strender (1933), Lykkelege hender (1936), Tung tids tale (1945), Treet (1947) and I ein annan skog (1955). There then followed a spell of forty years without further anthologies, until she in 1955, the same year that she passed away, published Livshus. During this period she wrote prose books, translated plays, edited books and magazines, wrote articles and was an active member of committees and governing bodies. The poems she composed, she published as «Lause dikt» (Loose poems) (the majority from 1955 up until 1977) in the anthology Dikt i samling (Collected Poems) in 1977.

Halldis Moren Vesaas won many prizes for her writing and the translations she produced. She was awarded The Bastian Prize in 1961 for Fedra (Phedre), Arts Council Norway’s Translation Prize for Lærde damer (Les femmes savantes) in 1986, and in 1991 she was appointed Knight of the «Ordre National du Merité» (National Order of Merit) for her work with French drama. In 1995 Vesaas was guest author during The Norwegian Festival of Language and Literature and in 1996 she received Diktartavla, a prize awarded annually to Norwegian lyricists.

«Ord over grind» 

Du går fram til mi inste grind
og eg går òg fram til di.
Innanfor den er kvar av oss einsam,
og det skal vi alltid bli.

Aldri trenge seg lenger fram,
var lova som gjaldt oss to.
Anten vi møttest titt eller sjeldan
var møtet tillit og ro.

Excerpts from the poem «Ord over grind» by Halldis Moren Vesaast: I ein annan skog. Aschehoug 1955. 
Read the book on National Library of Norway´s website

Poetical everyday life

Halldis Moren Vesaas belongs to the romantic Nynorsk tradition in Norwegian lyrical poetry. She wrote poetry about feelings and love, borrowing her images from nature. Her form language is mainly traditional, and often incorporates motifs, verse and legends from the oral tradition. Characteristic for Moren Vesaas is that she transforms the “grand style” in Nynorsk lyricism into an everyday style. She writes simple narrative poems with a great poetical strength.

The poems pay tribute to love and life, but also to the poetical aspect of everyday routines, such as housework, looking after children and caring for others. Alternative themes are puberty, eroticism and bodily experiences. Sigrid Undset and Hulda Garborg had written about these themes earlier in their novels, but Halldis Moren Vesaas was the first to thematize this in lyrical poetry; for example, in her very first anthology she includes a poem about menstruation. She gave the lyrical tradition a female voice which later Nynorsk lyricists, among others Marie Takvam og Eldrid Lunden, have been able to further develop.

Norwegian Nynorsk on the stage

Halldis Moren Vesaas made a huge and immensely important contribution to developing Norwegian Nynorsk as a stage language. Here she was following in the tradition of Ivar Aasen, Aasmund Olavsson Vinje and Arne Garborg, who translated and adapted works from world literature into Norwegian Nynorsk. She began her career as a translator in the mid-1930s and translated over fifty stage plays into Norwegian Nynorsk – from French, English and German, from Scandinavian languages and from Norwegian Bokmål. She worked mainly for The Norwegian Theatre, but also for Riksteatret (The National Touring Company), Fjernsynsteatret (NRK’s Television Drama) and Radioteatret (NRK’s Radio Drama).

Most well-known is her work to translate the famous dramas of the French classicists, for example Fedra (Phedre) by Jean Racine and Lærde damer (Les femmes savantes) by Jean-Baptiste Molière. Fedra, which had its Norwegian premiere at The Norwegian Theatre on 23 January 1960, represents a highlight. Halldis Moren Vesaas managed to create an elastic Norwegian Nynorsk stage language by combining pathos and poetry with a simple everyday spoken language, at the same time as she kept the language within the strict classicist verse forms of Racine, alexandrines.

Other highlights are her Norwegian Nynorsk translations of the works of William Shakespeare, among others Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, of Johann W. Goethe’s Faust and of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht. She also translated the dramas of modern European playwrights like Luigi Pirandello, Albert Camus, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Botho Strauss and Milan Kundera.

The drama translations, in the same way as the lyrical poetry, are characterized by Halldis Moren Vesaas’ ability to combine high poetry and everyday language within the bounds of strict literary patterns. She worked together with theatre people, directors and actors and wrote dialogues in a musical and elastic Norwegian Nynorsk stage language, adapted to suit living, modern human beings.

Queen of Norwegian Nynorsk

Halldis Moren Vesaas. Photo: Truls Hansen, NRK. Used by agreement.

Halldis Moren Vesaas. Photo: Truls Hansen, NRK. Used by agreement.

Through her lifelong commitment to the Norwegian Nynorsk written language, Halldis Moren Vesaas, rightly called the «Queen of Nynorsk», fulfilled many important roles in the Norwegian public sphere. She also translated foreign lyrical poetry, published four books for children, two books for youth, the essay collection Sett og levd and a biography about her father, Sven Moren og heimen hans (1951). She also wrote two personal memoirs of her life with Tarjei Vesaas, I Midtbøs bakkar (1974) and Båten om dagen (1976).

Moren Vesaas edited a whole series of poetry anthologies and wrote articles for magazines and periodicals, among others in Norsk Barneblad, Norsk Tidend, Urd and Syn og Segn. For a number of years she was a member of the editorial staff of Kvinnen og tiden and Samtiden and published many articles there. In addition, she wrote book reviews in the national daily Dagbladet for almost twenty years, mostly lyrical poetry. She was a member of Norsk Språknemnd (1952–67) (the forerunner to The Language Council of Norway) and Arts Council Norway (1965–73), both new institutions that she helped to establish and develop from the very beginning.

Halldis Moren Vesaas was a popular public speaker and lecturer, and a well-known and dearly loved reader of her own and other writers’ poems. In 1995, 7 months before her death, René Bjerke produced the documentary film Møte med Halldis, in which she read her own poems and talked about her life.

English translation Howard Medland

Halldis Moren Vesaas in her study in Oslo (1992). Photo: The Ivar Aasen Centre for Language and Written Culture, archive. Used by agreement.

Halldis Moren Vesaas in her study in Oslo (1992). Photo: The Ivar Aasen Centre for Language and Written Culture, archive. Used by agreement.


Halldis Moren Vesaas. Festskrift til 80-årsdagen (1987)

Sigrid Bø Grønstøl: «Orfevs’ vending. Inspirasjon og stemme i Halldis Moren Vesaas sin lyrikk», in Sigrid Bø Grønstøl & Unni Langås: Tanke til begjær. Nylesingar i nordisk lyrikk (2001) 

Ole Karlsen (ed.): Klarøygd, med rolege drag. Om Halldis Moren Vesaas’ forfatterskap (1996)

Først publisert: 22.10.2018
Sist oppdatert: 22.10.2018