Petter Dass – Norway’s National Poet

Petter Dass portraitIn Norwegian literature there are only a few poets who can compare with the rhythmical talent Petter Dass inhabited. The unique Baroque rhythm hits you not only in the ear, but in your whole body. Like the feeling from Johann Sebastian Bach’s bass lines, so it is in Petter Dass’ poetry.

Petter Dass, born in 1647 in Alstadhaug in Nordland County, was a stout, but lively poet and Lutheran clergyman. His poetic works contain a religious depth, but is humorous in a serious manner. He belongs to a pompous and Baroque era, but is also concerned about the small elements in life. He is both urban and rural.

In 1672, he received his episcopal examination and was ordained a priest. In Norway, he is best known as a national poet, and his poetry can be divided into three main categories: Occasional poetry, topographic and religious poetry. Occasional poetry was a common poetic genre among ministers and officials, and it was written for specific occasions and ceremonies.

Petter Dass Nordlands TrompetPetter Dass’ most famous work is the ‘Nordlands Trompet’. It was first released in 1739, but he started writing it in the 1670’s. At the time, priests were required to inform the authorities about the state of their district. The topographical literature thus played an official role. From this bureaucratic genre, a new and interesting artistic direction grew, and in Norway ‘Nordlands Trompet’ is regarded as the foremost example in this genre. The poem is a description of the landscape and human life in Northern Norway in the 1600’s. In addition to enlighten, Petter Dass also provides moral admonitions and specific advice for hunting, fishing and household. The poetry works as structured teaching, and follow the rhetorical rule of presenting the theme from a general perspective to a specific.

The poem contains of 16 ‘chapters’. First, he describes the climate, birds, wildlife, ocean, agriculture and commerce in the region. Then, he takes a journey into the areas of Helgeland, Salten, Ofoten, Lofoten, Vesterålen, Senja and Troms.

The opening poem is presented as a ‘regional literary program’ in form of an allegory. He presents a meal and the ‘menu’ is specified in two stages. First, he lists the foreign dishes that will not be served (the rhetorical refutatio). Then, the local dishes are presents and offered the guests (the poem’s probatio).

Petter Dass speaks for regional and Christian values. This combination makes him an original Baroque poet. He foresees an earthy, exuberant and optimistic Christianity in the Northern Norwegian mentality.


Extract from ‘Nordlands Trompet’ (Unofficial translation):


Greetings to You, Settlers in Nordland,

From the House Lord, to the working Tyro,

Greetings to You, Kofte*-dressed Peasants!

Yes, everyone from the Coast to the Mountains (…)


 (…) To Dinner, Guests shall come in a Row,

My Table shall serve everything what

The House can offer!

Foreign Dishes will not be served,

Nor golden Skou-Essen** will be in hand (…)


(…) Not a single Sausage shall be left,

Not even Drinks for He who thirsts.

A Ham that I spotted, if somebody wants,

Has hung in the Smoke for nine Falls,

It is now fairly well cured (…)

Editor’s Note:

*‘Kofte’ is a knitted cardigan.

**‘Skou-Essen’ is a term for artificial food used to decorate the dining table.


Text and translation by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews

Source: Norwegian History of Literature, P.T.Andersen (2003)

Photos: Wikipedia

Categories: Culture, History, Reading

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