Heinesen, (Andreas) William 1900-1991

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HEINESEN, (Andreas) William 1900-1991


Born January 15, 1900, in Tóshavn, Faroe Islands, Denmark; died 1991.


Poet, artist, novelist, and short-story writer.


Nordic Council literature prize (Sweden), 1965, for Det Gode Håb; Sonning prize, University of Copenhagen, 1985.


Artiske Elegier (title means "Arctic Elegies"), 1921.

Høbjergning ved havet, 1924.

Sange mod Vaardybet, 1927.

Ranafelli, 1929.

Stjerne Vaagnar (title means "The Stars Awaken"), 1930.

Vinter-drøm; digte i udvalg 1920-1930, 1930, reprinted, Brøndum (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1983.

Blsende Gry (title means "Stormy Daybreak"), 1934.

Den dunkle sol, 1936.

Noatun, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1938.

Niels Peter, 1939.

Den sorte Gryde, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1949, reprinted, 1972.

Det fortryllede lys, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1957.

Det dyrebare liv, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1958.

Gamaliels besættelse, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1960.

Hymne og harmsang, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1961.

Det gode håb (title means "The Good Hope"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1964, reprinted, 1991.

De fortabte spillemænd, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1967, published as The Lost Musicians, translated by Erik J. Friis, Twayne (New York, NY), 1971.

Kur mod onde ånder, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1967.

Gygen, Grifia (Tórshavn, Faroe Islands), 1967.

Don Juan fra Tranhuset, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1970.

Panorama med regnbue, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1972.

Fortællinger fra Thorshavn, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1973.

Færøsk Lyrikk; gjendiktningar av færøysk notidslyrikk, Aschehoug (Oslo, Norway), 1974.

The Kingdom of the Earth, translated from the Danish with a introduction by Hedin Brønner, Twayne (New York, NY), 1974.

Samtale med William Heinesen, Tranehuse (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1975.

Tårnet ved verdens ende: en poetisk mosaik-roman om den yngste ungdom, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1976, translated from the Danish by Maja Jackson as The Tower at the Edge of the World: A Poetic Mosaic Novel about My Earliest Youth, Thule Press (Findhorn, Moray, Scotland), 1981.

Grylen og andre noveller, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1978.

Blæsende gry, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1979.

Fra billedmagerens værksted, Emil Thomsen (Tóshavn, Faroe Islands), 1980.

Arctis: Selected Poems, 1921-1972, translated from the Danish by Anne Born, Thule Press (Findhorn, Moray, Scotland), 1980.

Her skal danses (title means "The Dance Shall Go On"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1980.

Færøsk kunst, Emil Thomsen (Tórshavn, Faroe Islands), 1982, published as Faroese Art, 1983.

The Winged Darkness and Other Stories, translated from the Danish with an introduction and notes by Hedin Brønner, Wilfion Books (New York, NY), 1983.

Samlede digte, Rolv (Rødovre, Denmark), 1984.

Laterna magica: nye erindringsnoveller (title means "Magic Lantern"), Vindrose (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1985, translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally, Fjord Press (Seattle, WA), 1987.

Historien om digteren Ln-Pe og hans tamme trane, Carit Anderson (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1986.

God aften måne, god aften min ven, edited by Jens E. Donner, Fisker (Frederiksberg, Denmark), 1989.

Ekskursion i underverdenen: fortællinger fra Færøerne, Fisker & Schou (Frederiksberg, Denmark), 1998.


Faroese poet, artist, novelist, and short-story writer William Heinesen dedicated much of his creative life to the local folklore and culture of his Faroe Islands homeland. Born January 15, 1900, in the Faroese capital city of Tórshavn, Heinesen initially studied at the Copenhagen School of Commerce and intended to join his father's business, but found himself drawn intensely to the world of letters instead. Writing mostly in Danish, Heinesen published his first collection of poetry in 1921. During the next several years he wrote on such themes as loneliness and death, finding a voice for social consciousness by 1930 with Stjerne Vaagnar and Blsende Gry. Such titles reflect his interest in the struggles of the "common man" with the harsh nature of the Faroese environment.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Heinesen turned to the writing of novels, including De fortabte spillemænd, Det gode håb, and Tårnet ved verdens ende. De fortabte spillemænd is "thematically concerned … with creative souls in a stirring but limited environment," namely Tórshavn, commented a Booklist reviewer. In the book, unschooled but passionate musicians struggle to understand their desire for music and to continue indulging their passion in an environment that leaves little room for anything but the practical matter of survival. The same reviewer called the novel "a distinctive Faroese work." Another reviewer in Choice noted that within the novel's narrative, "comedy and tragedy are closely interwoven."

Det gode håb revolves around a Danish vicar, newly assigned to the Faroe Islands, who struggles against a tyrannical and exploitative Danish government to improve conditions for his Faroese parishioners. The book was awarded Sweden's Nordic Council Literature Prize in 1965. Svend Birke Espegård, a reviewer in Books Abroad, remarked on Heinesen's use of the historical setting of the Faroe Islands during 1669-1670. He commented that Heinesen demonstrates "a sharp eye for colorful details." He observed that Heinesen's "descriptions of the wild nature and the peculiar population of the rough Atlantic islands are outstanding."

Heinesen wrote a number of epic-length works in the 1970s and 1980s. Tårnet ved verdens ende: en poetisk mosaik-roman om den yngste ungdom—translated as The Tower at the Edge of the World: A Poetic Mosaic Novel about My Earliest Youth—a loosely autobiographical novel, is structured around about seventy chapters of vignettes and "mosaics" that "draw a picture of Amaldus the Young and the boy's dreams and fantasies" as he grows up in Heinesen's own hometown of Tórshavn, commented Espegård in World Literature Today. The mosaic stories cluster around events in Amaldus's life that are particularly significant, such as his early experiences with females. The tower in the book's title refers both to a real-life lighthouse at Nólsoy, near Tórshavn, and to the longings of a maturing boy to explore the unknowns in his world and seek his own identity. At its core, "The people of Tórshavn, the ocean, and the cosmos are the world in this novel," Espegård noted.

Many of Heinesen's poems were collected in the multi-volume Samlede digte. World Literature Today reviewer W. Glyn Jones emphasized that Heinesen's poems "reveal two major preoccupations: the epic attempt to find an answer to the deepest problems of existence" and "the searching, critical examination of material existence." Jones found that the most evident aspect of the poems is "a constant and warm devotion to ordinary human goodness, a profound respect for true humanity, and a love of mankind."

As he grew older, Heinesen continued to write prolifically. At a time when many people immerse themselves in the leisure of retirement, the octogenarian Heinesen was writing many of his most significant works, including Her skal danses. The book involved Heinesen as a "poetic, humorous, and realistic narrator who fetches his subjects from Faroese culture and nature but also tells us essentials about living on earth," commented Espegård in World Literature Today. Espegård observed that Heinesen wrote "on the basis of the acquired wisdom of age." Her skal danses was awarded the Sonning prize in 1985.

Laterna magica, a collection of short stories, is "vintage Heinesen from the very start," remarked Jones in World Literature Today. Jones called the book "an impressive show of humor," and observed that "at the age of eighty-six, Heinesen is clearly writing with as much energy and verve as ever." Ann Paolucci, reviewing the book for the New York Times Book Review, considered the collection of ten stories to be "written in effortless style." Heinesen, Paolucci remarked, can "turn casual occurrence into kaleido-scope mosaics and ordinary descriptions of compelling images." Southern Humanities Review critic Anne Freeman called Laterna magica a work with "depth of vision that eliminates all but the essential." She commented on Heinesen's narrative skill, stating that he wrote with a "clear and simple prose style" using characters who were "ordinary folk." Heinesen infuses the work with dynamic themes such as "history is not linear" and "people cannot fully understand or control [their] lives but [that] one comfort is available, communion with our fellow man," Freeman stated.

In January, 1990, a year before his death, Heinesen celebrated his ninetieth birthday and the publication of a new book, God aften måne, god aften min ven. The book presents a collection of previously unpublished work, including essays, letters, stories, poems, and drawings. The theme of the work, according to editor Jens E. Donner, is centered around Heinesen's artistic intent: "the fusion of the tangible with the inexplicable." The book's "childhood memories and its references to … the musical life," it "forms a commentary to Heinesen's work."

A biographer in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature commented that "Heinesen is one of those rare authors who succeeds, both as a poet with a cosmic vision and as a narrator of fabulous tales, in creating his own universe."



Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, second edition, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Donner, Jens E., God aften måne, god aften min ven, Fisker (Frederiksberg, Denmark), 1989.


Apollo, November, 1984, John Boulton-Smith, review of Faroese Art, p. 361.

Booklist, June 1, 1972, review of The Lost Musicians, p. 847.

Books Abroad, winter, 1965, Svend-Birke Espegård, review of Det gode håb, p. 114.

Choice, April, 1973, review of The Lost Musicians, p. 234.

New York Times Book Review, May 24, 1987, Anne Paolucci, review of Laterna magica: nye erindringsnoveller, p. 12.

Southern Humanities Review, fall, 1994, Ann Freeman, review of Laterna magica, pp. 400-406.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1977, Svend Birke Espegård, review of Tårnet ved verdens ende: en poetisk mosaik-roman om den yngste ungdom, p. 626; autumn, 1981, Svend Birke Espegård, review of Her skal danses, p. 683; spring, 1985, W. Glyn Jones, review of Samlede digte, pp. 275-276; autumn, 1986, W. Glyn Jones, review of Laterna magica, p. 639; winter, 1991, W. Glyn Jones, review of God aften måne, god aften min ven, pp. 124-125.*

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Heinesen, (Andreas) William 1900-1991

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