Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gunvor Hofmo: Central female Norwegian poet

Gunvor Hofmo (1921-1995) is a central poet in Norway's literary landscape. The story of her life is closely connected to the poetry she wrote.
The second world war came to have a significant and lasting effect on her. Her first collection of poems to be published is from 1946 and was called Jeg vil hjem til menneskene, meaning I want to go home to the humans. With this she carved out a sense of meaninglessness and despair many people felt after that most inhuman war.
Part of Hofmo's personal despair during WW2 was that her particular friend, the Jewish Ruth Maier, was deported to Auschwitz where she died not long after. Their friendship was very close, and many have speculated whether they were lovers, although there is no real proof that they were more than friends. Later in life she lived with another woman writer, Astrid Tollefsen.
Maier's deportation may have been a major reason for why Hofmo was hospitalized with mental illness in 1943, with many more years of hospitalization before her. Ruth Maier's death was perhaps the most central event in Hofmo's life. Maier's absence seems to be an emptiness Hofmo keeps circulating around throughout her life, much of it recorded in her writings. From 1955 to 1971 Hofmo stayed at Norway's major mental hospital, and she did not publish anything during those years. But from 1971 she moved into a flat of her own and she again started publishing, continuing this until her death in 1995.
The following poem is one of great simplicity and at the same time great clarity and quiet. It is from a collection bearing the same name as the poem, published in 1991.

Navnløst er alt i natten

Navnløst er alt i natten
Stille, time etter time
legger tingene sine
navn fra seg
Treet og stenen
tolker altets stemme
og mister sin egen

At nighttime everything is nameless

At nighttime everything is nameless
Quietly, hour by hour
the things leave their
names behind
The tree and the rock
interpret the voice of the absolute
and lose their own

In somewhat the same vein is this poem from 1973:

Ingen klage

Ingen klage. Ingenting
Som glasset langsomt
fylles med kostbar vin

fylles vår dag
av naken eksistens.


No complaint

No complaint. Nothing at all
Like the glass is slowly
filled with precious wine

our day is filled
with bare existence.



Jonathan Wonham said...

A sad story.
The poems are night and day...

quescaisje said...

I apologize for writing about an old post, but I wonder if you could tell me whether any of Hofmo's books have been translated into English, French, or Spanish? I have looked through OCLC (the international database of library collections), but there is nothing. If you know of anything, I'd be grateful if you would write to me directly at miloubooks at yahoo dot com. Thank you! Bill Cotter, Austin, Texas