Vesaas, Halldis Moren (1907–1995)

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Vesaas, Halldis Moren (1907–1995)

Norwegian poet, prose writer and translator. Born Halldis Moren in 1907 in Trysil, Norway; died on August 9, 1995, in Oslo, Norway; daughter of Sven Moren (1871–1938, a writer); graduated from a teachers' college; married Tarjei Vesaas (the Norwegian novelist, poet and Nordic prizewinner), in 1934; children: son Olav Vesaas; daughter Guri Vesaas .

One of the first strong female voices in the modern poetry of Norway, Halldis Moren Vesaas was born in Trysil, in southeastern Norway, in 1907. The daughter of a writer, she attended a teachers' college and worked as a teacher in Oslo, Norway, and Geneva, Switzerland. She also worked for the Norwegian consulate in Vevey, Switzerland. Her knowledge of languages led to her work as a translator of such widely different plays for the Norwegian stage as those by Shakespeare, Racine, and Claudel, and to published works such as The Threepenny Opera and A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. Vesaas claimed that bringing literature to a wider public through the theater had satisfied her most.

In 1934, she married the novelist and poet Tarjei Vesaas, who became Norway's leading writer of the mid-20th century. Her numerous prose writings include biographies of her father and of her life with Tarjei, and essays on a wide variety of subjects, many in a warm, conversational style. People, books and nature, she stated, were the most significant things in her life, not necessarily in that order.

However, it is for Vesaas' many volumes of lyric poetry, influenced by poet Edith Södergran and spanning more than 60 years, that she will perhaps best be remembered in Norway. Her first collection, Harpe og dolk (Harp and Dagger, 1929), attracted attention because of its openness at a time when it was unusual for Norwegian women to publish poetry. She also often expressed faith in the creative power of nature, even as she turned toward bleak subjects such as World War II-era life in Norway and the postwar threat of nuclear annihilation. One of her many nature themes is that of the tree as a symbol of life, reflecting the significance of the traditional courtyard tree to be found on Norwegian farms. Her verse forms were essentially traditional, but later in life she turned more often toward modern experiments. Vesaas' readership was wide. Some of her other important collections were Morgonen (Morning, 1930), Tung tids tale (The Voice of Tragic Times, 1945), Treet (The Tree, 1947), and I ein annan skog (In a Different Forest, 1955).

Vesaas read from her last volume, Livshus (House of Life), on its publication only a few days before she died. By then, she had made an immensely significant contribution to the literature of Norway written in New Norwegian, not only with the amount and breadth of her writing and the charm of her personality, but also through public service on a number of literary and cultural committees, and her collaboration on an anthology of literature for schools. Halldis Moren Vesaas received many literary prizes, and the accolade of Commander of the Order of St. Olav for her services to literature.


Beyer, E., ed. Norges Litteraturhistorie (A History of Norwegian Literature). Oslo: Cappelen, 1975.

Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature. 2nd ed. NY: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Vesaas, H. Moren. I Midtbøs bakkar (On Midtbøs Hillsides). Oslo: Aschehoug. 1974.

Vesaas, O. En bok om Tarjei Vesaas (A Book about Tarjei Vesaas). Oslo: Cappelen, 1995.

Elizabeth Rokkan , formerly Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Bergen, Norway, and

James M. Manheim , freelance writer, Ann Arbor, Michigan