Olav H. Hauge
Olav H. HaugeFoto: Odd E. Nerbø

Olav H. Hauge

Olav H. Hauge (Olav Håkonson Hauge) was a poet and a fruit farmer who gradually emerged as one of the most significant Norwegian poets of the 20th century. He has been translated into more than twenty languages, and was himself an important translator of poetry from English, German and French.

Olav H. Hauge was born in Ulvik in Hardanger on August 8 1908, and died in the same place on May 25 1994. His parents were the farming couple Håkon and Katrina Hauge. In 1978, after several years of cohabitation, he married tapestry designer Bodil Cappelen.

Hauge attended middle school, but illness prevented him from taking the full exam. After two years at Hjeltnes School of Gardening, he spent half a year as an apprentice at the Agricultural College of Norway and three seasons at the State Experimental Station for Fruit Growing at Hermannsverk in the same capacity.

Hauge read extensively from childhood, and possessed great knowledge and insight into literature, language and general culture. He was often in poor health, but he worked as a jobbing gardener in the community, and as a fruit farmer on the piece of land his parents had reserved for themselves when they passed on the main farm to Hauge’s elder brother. Hauge also moved in with his parents, in the house which would remain his home for the rest of his life. Books and reading were at the centre of his life. Between 1946 and 1980 he published seven collections of poetry and a children’s book; between 1967 and 1992, he also published translations of poetry. Diaries 1924 – 1994 appeared posthumously in 2000. His poetry has regularly appeared in new editions: Collected Poems appeared in its ninth edition in 2010, and Poems in Translation in its fourth edition in 2009. 

Olav H. Hauge
Olav H. Hauge ved Njøs forsøksgard i Sogn, 1932.

The poet emerges

As Hauge grew up, the Ulvik community was entering a new era. The railway between Oslo and Bergen had been built, and many locals worked on construction sites in Tyssedal and Odda. Hauge was an eager user of the public library from an early age, and at fifteen, contact was established with his mother’s brother Edmund, who had immigrated to the US. Edmund sent books, and after his return to Norway in 1926, they could discuss them face to face.

In middle school, Hauge learnt English and German. He also taught himself French. Language learning strengthened a broad awareness of poetry from across the world, and laid an important foundation for his later development into an important translator of poetry.

Besides the Norwegian tradition, English romanticism is an important inspiration in his first collection Glør i oska (Embers in the ashes). The poem “Song til Stormen” (“Song to the storm”) shows affinity with poems by Shelley and Tennyson. He never abandoned traditional poetic forms, but he also soon felt the need to express himself within a modernist idiom. Lines from the poem “Elva burtanum fjorden” (‘The River beyond the Fjord’) from Seint rodnar skog i djuvet (Late the Woods Redden in the Gorge) (1956), may serve as an example: the river plunges down the precipice – and at the same time expresses a human fate: it “falls in a nightmare-bound dream /cannot get a word out /not a sound”. This development can be seen many places, for example in the introductory poems in På Ørnetua (On the Eagle’s Hillock) (1961), where “dream-blue peaks are mirrored” in the first stanza, while the second stanza, expressing struggle and strife, has “mountain fences/ against day’s/ ruinous fire”.

In the 1960s, Hauge reached an ever-expanding audience of all kinds of people. He was an excellent reciter of poetry, and as higher education became more and more common in the 1970s, many culturally and politically committed young people found something to identify with in his poetry.

 

Olav H. Hauge
Olav H. Hauge

Nature and tradition

Hauge depicts natural phenomena in a factually correct manner, while at the same time turning them into human portraits, situations and conditions. A poem such as “Under bergfallet” (“Under the Precipice”) (1951) combines the description of an ominous natural phenomenon with reflections on human existence: literally, on existence in a specific natural setting, and metaphorically and generally, as a part of the human condition. Emotion-filled poems on war also have their place in this context, especially in the collection Spør Vinden (Ask the Wind), published during the Vietnam War.

There are similarities between his relationship to nature and his relationship to folk poetry and other types of folklore, Old Norse and Western tradition, classical Chinese poetry and Japanese Haikus, as well as Eastern religion: primarily Zen Buddhism. Hauge evinces an immediate empathy with these traditions. He seems to speak directly with and with familiarity about Acestes (from the Aeneid); figures from the classical Chinese era; and characters from early Nordic tradition, such as Ogmund of Spånheim (from The Saga of Håkon Håkonsson), Leif Eiriksson and others. Such poems are also often meta-texts, such as “I have three Poems”. It tells of Emily Dickinson who wrote so many poems, but published hardly any: “she just cut open a packet of tea / and wrote another one.” This is how poems should be, they should ”…smell of tea. / Or of raw earth and freshly split wood.”

Hauge can be read both as a romantic and a modernist. Linguistically, he followed the older Nynorsk tradition, with conservative inflectional forms and an avoidance of Danish and German loan words. Politically, he was an independent radical.

 

In joke and earnest

Hauge has described his own development humorously in the poem “I Sang of a Dry Twig” (1971). Dry twigs appear also in the strong portrait “The Gardener Dreams” (1946, reworked in 1964). The setting is the churchyard, with a big bird cherry tree and other growths along the church wall, and “below, someone is raking dry twigs”, but in his daydreams escaping “this world”. The 1971 poem has a laugh at this: the song of dry twigs, the dream, the bird cherry and the church wall has been exchanged for a humorous string of rhymes: “now I sing /of the bumble bee / which buzzed / in the cherry tree / here one day / till she carelessly / hit the wall…” Such humour is mostly found in his later books, including the ABC (1986), which for every letter had a verse by him and a picture by Bodil Cappelen. This, however, coexists with serious thoughts until the very end, as in “I Stop below the Old Oak on a Rainy Day” (1980). The old oak becomes a subject with whom the aging poet’s persona shares confidential reflections.

 

Olav H. Hauge’s thoughts also appear in his diaries. Here, we find evidence of a vivid life of the mind, with reflections on his own existence, on daily life, and not least on literature, art and cultural phenomena in general.

Idar Stegane

English translation, including quotations, Kjetil Myskja

 

 

Sources

Hadle Oftedal Andersen: Poetens andlet. Om lyrikaren Olav H. Hauge. Oslo 2002.

Einar Bjorvand og Knut Johansen (eds.): Olav H. Hauge. Ei bok til 60-årsdagen 18. august 1968. Oslo 1968.

Andreas Bjørkum: Målmeistaren frå Ulvik. Ord og former hjå Olav H. Hauge. Oslo 1998.

Bodil Cappelen og Ronny Spaans (eds.): Tid å hausta inn. 31 forfattarar om Olav H. Hauge. Oslo 2008.

Katherine Hanson: Nature Imagery in Olav H. Hauge’s Poetry. Online edition. University of Washington 1978.

Ole Karlsen: Fansmakt og bergsval dom. En studie i Olav H. Hauges romantiske metapoesi. Oslo 2000.

Atle Kittang: “Olav H. Hauge og dagbøkene hans”. In Olav H. Hauge: Dagbok 1924–1994 Band I. Oslo 2000.

Idar Stegane: Olav H. Hauges dikting. Frå “Glør i oska” til “Dropar i austavind”. Oslo 1974.

Cathrine Strøm og Aasne Vikøy (eds.): Omsetjaren Olav H. Hauge. Bergen 2009.

Staffan Söderblom: Och jag var länge död. Läsningar av det ambivalenta: Olav H. Hauge. Göteborg 2006.

Terje Tønnessen (ed.): Tunn is. Om Olav Hauges forfattarskap. Oslo 1994.

Knut Olav Åmås: Mitt liv var draum. Ein biografi om Olav H. Hauge. Oslo 2004.