Creator / Henrik Wergeland
Romanticism vs. Enlightenment
should summarize the work of Norwegian author Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845), playwright, poet, political lobbyist and historian. He is arguably the trope codifier
for the Norwegian romantic movement at large, and also the patriotic movement in Norway
during the 1800s. In his day, he was a badass, or at least a badass boaster
, writing poems and plays until his last cough. He died of two-sided Pneumonia at the age of 37.
To be honest, he was Blessed with Suck
because of his father, Nicolai Wergeland, who had been a member of the Norwegian Constituent Assembly
, and made a lot of enemies. It is said that the son inherited a number of his father`s enemies, although it is known that he made up the best way he could. A natural Large Ham
, it was obvious that Wergeland was able to make enemies all on his own, and was known for his quarrelsomeness on behalf of the less fortunate. He was prone to get himself into legal strife, and the greatest of those nearly ruined him. His wilfulness, and his ability to help the poor, made him a Folk Hero
, and as such, he is also the biggest Memetic Badass
in Norwegian literature. No other poet has ever been said to ride the rainbow.
Wergeland is probably most known in non-Norwegian countries for his political lobbyism on behalf of Jews
. The Norwegian constitution was strikingly clear on not allowing Jews access to the realm, and Wergeland worked for years to get this paragraph amended. He finally succeeded, though it would take another six years after his death to get the case closed. Swedish Jews paid for his memorial monument in gratitude.
Wergeland was a friend to the commoners, and generally a pain in the ass for all cultural snobs. His quarrelsomeness made him a lot of enemies, and he was hunted down by lawsuits that nearly ruined him. He was also a hardass republican, ultra-patriotic, in a country mostly ruled by a Swedish king. The said king eventually gave him an occupation, which caused many of his earlier friends to turn him down.
The Norwegian leftist movement consider him a hero, and he became quite rightly a national icon. His massive production, makes him, however, somewhat hard to read, but most Norwegians can recite at least one of his poems. His influence is apparent in the plays of Henrik Ibsen
and other writers. Notable works by Henrik Wergeland
- Creation Man And The Messiah. His Magnum Opus, written in 1829, and rewritten on his deathbed in 1845 (somewhat abridged) under the title Man. This poem proves Wergeland could write cosmic poems with the best of them (Dante Alighieri, John Milton, William Blake).
- The Jew, a collection of poems written for the jewish question in 1841, followed by the Jewess in 1845. Both collections are prone examples of tolerance and understanding - quite anti racist for the time.
- A number of plays and short stories, often farcical and political.
Tropes found in the work of Henrik Wergeland:
- Anvilicious: It is hard to imagine anyone dropping his anvils in such an elegant manner.
- Artist Disillusionment: A number of times. Most famously in his poem Follow the call, where he calls himself out of it, stating that a small audience is better than no audience at all. And if somebody listens, he will have achieved something anyway. This particular case begins with a moment of disillusion, because he is writing in a language that hardly survives his own breath (or, is understood by very few), and not on a world language like English.
- Apocalypse How: When the Russians had defeated Poland at Ostrolenka (1831), Wergeland wrote a lengthy poem about it, called Cæsaris, pointing fingers directly at the Russian empire. Here, he predicts a "burning planet" and burning towns, in a way that comes close to nuclear devastation, as well as a planet off course, tumbling wildly into space without any connection to gravitational orbit. Although this seems pretty bad, he manages to invert it, by also predicting that life with come crawling back in time. Even if it takes a thousand years.
- Deadpan Snarker: When it came to social criticism, Wergeland could snark with the best of them. He criticized the lot of the paupers, after an incident when five paupers froze to death in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.
Who are we to ask? The body, or the retainer of the poorhouse? or the priest? The latter one is, after all, respectable.
- Call to Agriculture: Wergeland was an eager, self taught botanicist, and used flower metapors all over the place, as well as didactic poems and essays on how to grow and use almost anything that can sprout from Norwegian soil. One of his farces ends with a Deus ex Machina fairy coming in with a set of flowers, each and every one of them carrying a virtue meant to kill or neutralize lies. As it happens, the use of metaphors fits every single flower extremely well. He also wrote a poem to a friend who just happened to be a botanicist, and the flowers are everywhere.
- On his deathbed, he founded the "company of cabbage and roots", distributing seeds to working class people all over town and elsewhere, with descriptions on how to use them.
- Don't Ask: Wergeland was really upset after the smashing of Poland in 1831. He had written a number of poems on the subject, but when he later wrote a "catechism of freedom" for Norwegians, he underlined this on behalf of the poles: "Don`t ask of them. Don`t ask if I believe whether God and his justice rules in Heaven..." Understated that he felt really bad about the Polish situation after the Russian conquest.
- Creator Cameo / Author Avatar: In some of his farces, he is present himself, although under different names. As those farces were statements directed towards his critics, he features in the background (as Siful) in one of them, and as the poet Leontodon in another. In one particular case, he even doubled as an elf king.
- On the more serious side, we have the poet Sylvius, mooning over Stella in his first cycle of poems (a flanderized version of himself), being chided by Stella from the background.
- Determinator: A number of poems goes by this or the "don`t give up" slogan. He calls on heroic willpower, because the truth will be victorious no matter how hard it is beaten in the first place. And "God counts the will more than anything else".
- Dystopia: His satirical play The Last of the Wise, a dystopic vision of the future. True science fiction, as the action is set on another planet entirely.
- Friend to All Children: He wrote a number of poems, didactic and otherwise, for children. He also wrote about children, of course.
- Friend to All Living Things: Poems on flowers, insects, animals of all kinds. He even let his horse hold a lengthy speech on the subject of animal abuse.
- Good Samaritan: Jacob, the old jew in his poem Christmas Eve features prominently. He picks up a freezing child in a blizzard, and heads for the nearest house seeking shelter. Too bad he`s jewish, as the good christian couple will not let him in on Christmas eve. Tragedy ensues, when the couple find the jew dead at their doorstep the morning after, and understand that the child he carries is actually theirs.
- Having a Gay Old Time: Unavoidable after 170 years. A good example of this is quoted from Creation Man And The Messiah, where he speaks of "seeing with the far sight of the soul". In the original text, the words "far sight" came to be translated as "Television" in norwegian, and hilarity ensued instantly (See with the television of the soul...).
- Humans Are Cthulhu: Wergeland stated the "spiritual" origin of man in many poems, up to and including his cosmic magnum opus. Essentially, the idea was platonic/gnostic, meaning that the souls of humans originated on a higher level, and that they eventually would return to their maker. The task of Jesus, among other things, was to awaken that slumbering urge.
- Informed Judaism: In his poems written for the Jewish cause, Wergeland couldn`t resist this. Most apparently shown in the use of the name Jehova. Wergeland`s jews repeatedly utter the name, while real life jews are very cautious on this particular issue.
- Johannes Gutenberg: Wergeland wrote a poem to his honor to memorize the invention of printing. The press made knowledge shareable and accessible for all, something that fit well into his ideas of enlightenment.
- In the same vein, we would have expected Wergeland to praise the emergence of the internet, had he known about it: "Does the thought roll around the globe with the speed of ideas? He (Gutenberg) sprayed a radiant rain over earth of spirited, weird magical signs..."
- The Lost Lenore: Wergeland wrote a rather sweet poem in the cycle dedicated to his wife, where the spirit of a dead girl and former love interest introduces herself to be the guardian angel of the happy couple. Neat reconciliation.
- Metaphorgotten: Pretty much a staple of his style. He was definitely a grave offender in his early phase, to a point where the Pataphor came into play. It is tricky to explain how this actually works, but an example should be one metaphor railing into a long explanation, giving way to yet more metaphors (inside the first one), making the whole thing essentially taking on a life of its own.
- This gained him a heavy scolding from contemporary critics, who arguably didn`t get it.
- Mundane Made Awesome: In his youth, Wergeland had a pet rabbit, which used to run around in his bedroom. The creature was maimed, and had lost an ear and a leg. Wergeland wrote a poem dedicated to the rabbit, and managed to enter a cosmic vision on the way. Down the Rabbit Hole indeed...
- The Muse: Stella, being an amalgam of four love interests from his youth. His first cycle of poems book ends with poems dedicated to her. She is also mentioned in other poems from the same cycle, and is the sole inspiration for Creation Man And The Messiah.
- Mythopoeia: His magnum opus is a retelling of the history of mankind as a myth, which also claims that all myths are related, and that all wisdom derives from the same source, or the same sage. There are also lots of non-human entities of higher celestial order, meddling in human affairs, or at least commenting on them.
- Older Than They Think: Wergeland was the first to use the mode of free verse, at least in Norway (his latest poems from 1845 at least). He may even have predated Walt Whitman in this area.
- Our Fairies are Different: Wergeland used The Fair Folk on several occasions in his plays, usually on the good side. In one particular case, it is lampshaded that the fairies in question is in fact reincarnated birds and butterflies. They also have the power to relocate souls - in this case, the soul of a naughty boy who has to be punished for rude behaviour against animals and insects. If he does not redeem himself, he will end up as one of the night elves. Hence, the fairies (night-elves) are actually the souls of departed animals, and thus closely connected to the cycles of nature.
- Our Souls Are Different: "Souls", as stated by a very young Wergeland (barely 21 at the time), are "spirit eggs" seeded inside humans. One soul may be the result of one single spirit, and when that happens, a human genius emerges, to alter the course of human history - he mentioned a few candidates, among them Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare and Napoleon Bonaparte. Usually, a soul would consist of half a spirit, sharing a spiritual identity with another human. And thus, the idea of Star-Crossed Lovers gain a specific meaning in the Wergelandverse.
- Our Spirits Are Different: Wergeland created the idea of "elementary spirits", or aions, roaming the universe. Those spirits would then split up to form the basis of more than one human soul. See the trope above for more details.
- A later version had two spirits already in love, who ensouled the sleeping bodies of Adam and Eve, ensuring that all humans shared that spiritual inheritance (Wergeland was not strictly consistent on this - he developed his ideas over a period of 17 years. That would be entire literary career).
- Self-Deprecation: On his deathbed, Wergeland wrote a rather humorous authobiography, pestering himself for some of his youthful failures, like the stalking business. He also imagines someone finding his skull twenty years after his death, and the skull holding a lecture over some nonsensical issues. Until the reveal: the skull harbored a rat all along.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Played straight in his poems, which, as a rule, are quite long and elaborate.
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: With fellow student and rival poet Johan Sebastian Welhaven. The two wrote insulting and humorous verses towards one another for a year. When those verses was published and printed by accident, the combat went haywire and made cultural history. Verged on volleying insults.
- Stream Of Consciousness: The rule in his early poetry, which, despite a defining title, seems to contain thoughts of almost everything.
- World of Ham: Inevitable. Some of his poems are just made for Chewing the Scenery good and proper. It Works!
- Creation Myth: His magnum opus, retelling the human history from creation to final doom.
- Dear Negative Reader: His poem Mig Selv ("Myself") is basically an answer to his critics in the newspaper Morgenbladet, particularly their statement that he was a grouchy and unpleasant person. In this poem, he first denies being grouchy or unpleasant because he's so very cheerful and mild that he needs only the hint of fresh air or a green leaf to experience pure joy; then he goes on to explain why he's not wasting his valuable time even getting angry with such a pitiful excuse for a newspaper, continues by stating it's no wonder he gets in a bad mood when he has to deal with idiots like them, and then finishes with a rousing praise of the stars in the sky, who shine so brightly that he just smiles peacefully in the face of such unfair mockery as he's been subject to. In 2008, during Wergeland`s bicentennial anniversary, Morgenbladet finally printed the poem on his birthday, and made a public apology for this. Yes, it took them that long.
- Working-Class Hero: Hans Jacobsen, described as being "heroic" because he appreciated freedom over slavery (which would have given him a more sustainable diet).
- Working Class People Are Morons: Subverted. Wergeland actually invented the term "working class" in Norway, and wrote several pamphlets for the workers to benefit from. He showed special attention to this group, and often helped them if he was able to. He strove for social enlightenment, and this made him loved among commoners. Many of them attended his funeral. He also married a commoner`s daughter, by the way. She showed such wit and intelligence that she completely won the hearts of his father and sister - the two of them became lifelong friends.
- World Half Full: All the way. Wergeland was a born optimist, and never gave up hope.