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“Med istidens utdødde stemme” A Contextual Introduction to Tor Ulven’s Poetry


  • Magnús Sigurðsson

Summary, in English

The following paper discusses the ideological and aesthetic contexts discernible in the poetry of the Norwegian author Tor Ulven (1953–1995). Generally considered the major Norwegian poet to emerge after the Second World War, Tor Ulven was, in his own self-taught way, a “poeta doctus,” although his extensive knowledge – of European literary traditions, languages, philosophy, music and paintings – rarely if ever burdened his knife-sharp poetic images. Nonetheless, in order to better understand and appreciate Ulven’s work, I believe it to be of considerable importance to identify the rich and manifold traditions underlying his poetry. That is the aim of the following discussion, which in many regards remains a subjective reading of certain aspects and characteristics of Ulven’s poetry. The paper argues that these aspects and characteristics share, in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s formulation, a certain “family resemblance” with a number of Ulven’s predecessors – fellow writers and philosophers alike whom I elaborate upon in my discussion. I agree with and write from the American poet and translator Rosanna Warren’s belief that “poetry is, finally, a family matter, involving the strains of birth, love, power, death, and inheritance.” (Fables of the Self, 11) The two major books yet on Tor Ulven’s authorship – Janike Kampevold Larsen’s Å være vann i vannet and Torunn Borge and Henning Hagerup’s Skjelett og hjerte – point to and emphasize a different lineage than the one accentuated in the pages to follow. This does not mean that any one approach or emphasis has, to a degree, got it wrong. Rather, it is an indication of the wealth of influences and contexts to be found in Ulven’s poetry – contexts which the growing scholarly industry around Ulven has yet to map fully. A direct interpretative analysis of Ulven’s poetry as such therefore comes second in my discussion. Furthermore, to balance the somewhat subjective approach taken in this paper – relying as it does more on the free associations of personal responses than a fixed, theoretical framework – I interweave my discussion throughout with Ulven’s own comments on his work. These were given in an extensive interview to the Norwegian literary magazine Vagant in 1993, two years before Tor Ulven’s self-inflicted death. Together with my own suggestions on the context(s) of Ulven’s poetry, these authoritative (in every sense of that word) comments form the backbone of my discussion.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Tor Ulven
  • poetry
  • Paul Celan
  • Giacomo Leopardi
  • Gunnar Björling


  • Niklas Schiöler