North in the World

North in the World:

Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, A Bilingual Edition

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North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, A Bilingual Edition

Author: Rolf Jacobsen

Translator: Roger Greenwald

Publisher: University of Chicago Press (2002; paperback 2015)

ISBN 9780226333540

Price: US $21



Rolf Jacobsen (1907-1994), Norway’s first Modernist poet, is widely acknowledged as one of the great poets of Norway and of Scandinavia in the 20th century. He has also earned a wide popular audience, because ordinary readers can understand and enjoy the way he explores the complex counterpoint of nature and technology, progress and self-destruction, daily life and cosmic wonder. His importance as a writer has grown steadily; his work has been translated into over twenty languages. He achieved something very rare: he wrote poems that are accessible and rewarding to ordinary readers, but that yield greater and greater depth on repeated reading.



North in the World presents a careful selection of Jacobsen’s best poems: 120 poems drawn from all twelve of his books, plus one late poem that appeared in book form only after the poet’s death.

The book’s Introduction supplies necessary background and some pointers about the poems. All the poems appear with Norwegian and English texts on facing pages; endnotes explain allusions, proper names, and place names. Indexes to titles and first lines in both languages make it easy to find particular poems.



In a career that spanned more than sixty years, Rolf Jacobsen published twelve books and six collections. He was a member of the Norwegian Academy of Language and Literature and was honored with the Norwegian Critics’ Prize (1960); Norway’s most prestigious literary award, the Aschehoug Prize (1986); and two awards bestowed by the Swedish Academy: the Dobloug Prize (1968), and the Grand Nordic Prize, popularly known as the “Little Nobel” (1989). Writing in Stand Magazine, David McDuff called Jacobsen “one of the West’s greatest twentieth-century poets, who may be ranked on a par with Auden, Eliot and Montale.”

Jacobsen grew up partly in Oslo and partly in the countryside; that experience gave him a double perspective that lasted his whole life. On the one hand, he was an urban person with a keen interest in modernity, technology, and progress; on the other hand, he had a Norwegian’s appreciation of nature, sharpened by his knowledge of the contrasting city. Each perspective informed and tested the other. So he was not a naive or sentimental “nature poet,” and he was not naive, either, about the damage that humans were doing to their planet and themselves. He was, one could say, one of the first poets anywhere to take an ecological view of the world.



Roger Greenwald grew up in New York City, attended The City College and the Poetry Project workshop at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery, and then took graduate degrees at the University of Toronto. He has won two CBC Literary Awards for his own writing, as well as numerous awards in the United States and Canada for his translations. He has published two books of poems, Connecting Flight and Slow Mountain Train, and several volumes of poetry in translation, most recently Guarding the Air: Selected Poems of Gunnar Harding, which won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. He is a Senior Fellow at Innis College in the University of Toronto.

North in the World is the winner of the American Translators Association’s 2004 Lewis Galantière Award, given every two years for “a distinguished literary translation into English from any language other than German.” One of the judges wrote: “This book has been a very happy discovery for me. The poems are knockouts. [The translations] function perfectly as English poems in their own right.” Czeslaw Milosz wrote: “Discovering Jacobsen was a joy. I am grateful to his translator, Roger Greenwald.” Jay Parini commented: “Roger Greenwald, himself an impressive poet, has done a rare job of translation, creating verbal objects in English that have the urgency, simplicity, and the necessary, unforgiving depths of great poetry.”



The Boat on Land, a CD of Roger Greenwald reading his translations of poems by Rolf Jacobsen and Tarjei Vesaas (and two poems in Norwegian), is available here:

The Roads Have Come to an End Now: Selected and Last Poems of Rolf Jacobsen. Trans. Robert Bly, Roger Greenwald, and Robert Hedin. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2001. ISBN 978-1556591655

[The poems in this book translated by Greenwald are included in North in the World. Most of the poems translated by Hedin are not in North in the World, and they present additional aspects of Jacobsen’s thought and work. Most of the poems in this book translated by Bly are among those translated by Greenwald in North in the World, so for readers interested in translation (whether or not they can read Norwegian), a comparison would be instructive.]



If you enjoyed North in the World, the following other Nordic writers available in English may appeal to you:

Tarjei Vesaas. Through Naked Branches: Selected Poems of Tarjei Vesaas, Revised Bilingual Edition. Translated, edited, and introduced by Roger Greenwald. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2018. ISBN 978-0-9995803-4-9.

Gunnar Harding. Guarding the Air: Selected Poems of Gunnar Harding.  Trans. and ed. Roger Greenwald. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-9856122-7-6.

Tomas Tranströmer. Selected Poems 1954-1986. Ed. Robert Hass. Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, 1987. ISBN 0-88001-113-0.

Paal-Helge Haugen. Meditations on Georges de La Tour (poems). Trans. Roger Greenwald. Toronto: BookThug, 2013. ISBN 978-1927040638.

Niels Frank. Picture World (book-length poem in 24 parts). Trans. Roger Greenwald. Toronto: BookThug, 2011.  ISBN 9781897388853.





This Reading Guide was prepared by Roger Greenwald, Senior Fellow, Innis College, University of Toronto. Copyright © 2016 by Roger Greenwald. It is free for download and personal or educational use by all interested readers, including reading circles, classes, and teachers. All other rights reserved. This Guide may not be changed, abridged, or excerpted in any way and may not be re-posted on websites.


PRESENTATION OF POEMS, WITH QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION  — Please download the complete guide in PDF here