Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Terje Vigen

Go To

Terje Vigen is the best known narrative poem from the hand of Henrik Ibsen, written in 1865. It is set during The Napoleonic Wars and tells the story of a fisherman trying to break the British blocade of 1809, rowing all the way to Denmark to feed his starving family. The Britons spot him, capture him and keeps him for five years in prison, until he is sent home in 1814. By this time his family is long dead, and Terje lives his life alone as a pilot.

Several years later, Terje rescues a British yacht, and recognizes the nobleman as the young seacaptain who captured him. Vengeance nears, but Terje wavers when he finds that the daughter of the Brit is also named Anna, like his own dead daughter. Because of this, he lets them live, but the British lord gets a taste of what he led Terje through. In the end, all reconcile, and Terje gets his peace and happiness back.

This poem was reckoned somewhat a national treasure, and was obligatory to all Norwegian school children for many years. Full text in English is to be read here:.

The poem has also adapted into a film in 1917 by the Swedish director Victor Sjöström. The film, which was the most expensive Swedish film at that time, proved to be influential in itself as it is often credited as the start of the Golden Age of Swedish Cinema.

The poem contains the following tropes:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Terje Vigen breaks down and cries his eyes out, praying for the sake of his family, when he is captured by the British vessel. Doubles as a Tear Jerker.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Subverted with the British lord. As a young sea-captain, he is clearly proud because he actually managed to fetch a blockade breaker (Terje). The fact that he is not more than eigheen years of age at the time, would mean he is a British noble. Later, it becomes clear that he is not evil at all.
  • Badass Normal: Rowing across the Skagerrak, known for being a rather troublesome sea, and only using three days on the trip, is immensely badass, verging on the supernatural. A full naval vessel with sails could use a week on the same passage, providing the weather was good. Terje had to take the trip at a certain point of summer, or he might not have come across at all.
    • Some young enthusiasts planned to take the same trip, replicating the route, and did not account for the weather at all. They managed to get ten yards off shore, and there the wind stalled them.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Terje is a harmless and nice man, but is not to be tampered with when the weather turns.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Terje loses his family, but earns his peace of mind, and an apology from his opressor. Even more awesome when he manages to thank God at the very end. Understated that the tears and gratitude comes when the British lord hoists the Norwegian standard (the loss of his family during the years of need is evened out by the gain of independence).
  • Broken Bird: Terje Vigen is a male version. The poem tells in detail what broke him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The name Anna, which coincidentally is born by both Terje`s daughter and the daughter of the British nobleman.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The poem relies heavily on the chance meeting between the pilot and the lord in the last dramatic build up.
  • Determinator: Terje has, one some level, decided to bide his time. It eventually comes.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: At the end, the British lord offers his friendship.
  • Disease Bleach: Terje turns gray during his five years of imprisonment and constant pining for home. Later, the test he puts the British lord to, turns his hair completely gray over the course of one single night. A visual way to point out that Terje got his revenge.
  • Evil Brit: The British sailors come out as pretty heartless, when they ignore Terje`s heartfelt pleas, set sail for England and could`t care less if some civilians on the shore starve to death.
  • Heel Realization: The British lord recognizes Terje from years before, and admits defeat, because Terje puts him to a harsh test: "Now, you will feel a moment that might compare to the long years that broke me", is the essence of Terje`s words. The Lord takes the point.
  • I Am What I Am: "Because you made me so". In the end, Terje accepts the story of his life as it turned out.
  • Idiot Ball: Why would an experienced British sea-captain even try to sail the troubled waters of Skagerrak in bad weather, at a point where his yacht almost surely will be taken by the waves and hurled into the rugged coastline of Norway? He should have known the area better than that, being assigned there earlier on.
  • Manly Tears: Terje sheds one single tear in the last part of the play. He has not wept at all after his capture and liberation. For many years.
  • Naval Blockade: The historical seven year blockade posed on Norway by The British Empire during The Napoleonic Wars. Lampshaded and dated in the poem, underscoring the beginning of the direst years - 1809.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Terje delivers a brilliant one to the British lord. And then by understatement, to the British Empire!
  • Revenge
  • Running the Blockade
  • Sanity Slippage: Discussed at the very beginning of the narrative, and repeated later. In the time lapse between his imprisonment and the solving of the plot, Terje is known to be a little out of it in bad weather. When that happens, people avoid him in fear.
    most when a storm was nigh,-
    and then people sensed he was troubled yet
    and then there were few that felt no threat
    with Terje Vigen by.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Terje adopts it when he understands he will never see his wife and daughter again. It lasts for many, many years.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men