Olaf Bull
Olaf Jacob Martin Luther Breda Bull or Olaf Bull was a Norwegian poet. He was born on November 10, 1883 in Kristiania (now Oslo
Oslo is a municipality, as well as the capital and most populous city in Norway. As a municipality , it was established on 1 January 1838. Founded around 1048 by King Harald III of Norway, the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1624. The city was moved under the reign of Denmark–Norway's King...

), Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

, and died on June 29, 1933.

His life

Olaf Bull's parents were author Jacob Breda Bull
Jacob Breda Bull
Jacob Breda Bull was a Norwegian author.Bull is best known for the novel Vesleblakken and for other novels and stories about descriptions of folk life in the Østerdalen valley. He also wrote historical novels, contemporary novels and poetry.Bull was born in Rendalen, the son of the priest Matthias...

 and his second wife Maria Augusta Berglöf. Bull grew up and was mostly raised in Kristiania. At the age of 13, he lived for some time in Hurum
Hurum is a municipality in Buskerud county, Norway. The administrative centre of the municipality is the village Klokkarstua. The municipality of Hurum was established on 1 January 1838 . The small village of Holmsbu was granted town status in 1847, but it did not become a municipality of its own...

 in Buskerud
is a county in Norway, bordering Akershus, Oslo, Oppland, Sogn og Fjordane, Hordaland, Telemark, and Vestfold. The county administration is located in Drammen.-Geography:...

, where his father worked as a writer.

He started gymnasium
Gymnasium (school)
A gymnasium is a type of school providing secondary education in some parts of Europe, comparable to English grammar schools or sixth form colleges and U.S. college preparatory high schools. The word γυμνάσιον was used in Ancient Greece, meaning a locality for both physical and intellectual...

 in 1899, and the same year he published his first poem in the school newspaper. After he finished gymnasium, he lived with his family in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 before returning to Kristiania in 1903 to begin his studies at the university
A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is an organisation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education...

. Olaf Bull could be considered a polymath
A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable...

 because in addition to both modern and classical literature, he mastered philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, history
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

, art
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect....

 and science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

. He was known as the “Oslo
Oslo is a municipality, as well as the capital and most populous city in Norway. As a municipality , it was established on 1 January 1838. Founded around 1048 by King Harald III of Norway, the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1624. The city was moved under the reign of Denmark–Norway's King...

-poet,” but he lived for extended periods in both France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 where his son, the poet Jan Bull
Jan Bull
Jan Bull was a Norwegian author and theater instructor. Born in Paris, he was son of the Norwegian poet Olaf Bull.- Bibliography :* 13 poetry – poetry .* Marianne – * Sommerfuglene...

, was born, and in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. He spent several years as a journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

 for Posten
Posten (Norway)
Posten Norge or Norway Post is the name of the Norwegian postal service. The word posten means the post or the mail in Norwegian. The company, owned by the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications holds a monopoly on distribution of mail throughout the country.-History:Posten was founded...

 and Dagbladet
Dagbladet is Norway's second largest tabloid newspaper, and the third largest newspaper overall with a circulation of 105,255 copies in 2009, 18,128 papers less than in 2008. The editor in chief is Lars Helle....


Olaf Bull is buried at Vår Frelsers gravlund
Vår Frelsers gravlund
Vår Frelsers gravlund is a cemetery in Oslo, Norway, located north of Hammersborg in Gamle Aker district. It was created in 1808 as a result of the great famine and cholera epidemic of the Napoleonic Wars. Its grounds were extended in 1911. The cemetery has been full since 1952...

 in Oslo.

His poetry

Bull's poetry collection ‘‘Digte’’ (= Poems) (1909) formed the foundation upon which he came to be recognized as Norway’s foremost poet. Olaf Bull composed his poetry using what is called in Norwegian
Norwegian language
Norwegian is a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Norway, where it is the official language. Together with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a continuum of more or less mutually intelligible local and regional variants .These Scandinavian languages together with the Faroese language...

 sentrallyrikk — poems about “central themes” such as love, sorrow and death. He used fixed stanza patterns and was known for his strong and emotional depictions. His poetry and work conveys a melancholy sense that all is transitory. In spite of this disconsolate tone, his recurring and powerful use of mood, faultless form and expressive voice communicate his belief that, although evanescent, art and beauty are important.

Giovanni Bach described his work in this way:
"His poems reveal a masculine power and a forceful affirmation of his own individuality, notwithstanding the extreme pessimism that often envelopes them in a voluminous thick black veil. His poetry is deeply felt, rich in imaginative and intellectual quality."

Bull utilized his extensive knowledge and artistic strength, but showed an underlying fear and depression
Depression (mood)
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless...

. He inherited a nervous disposition from his father and abused alcohol
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

. Olaf Bull was known to be anti-authority and was regarded an “outsider” in society, but his poetry demonstrated that he never totally broke with traditional form and structure. Much of his poetry showed a powerful longing for the eternal and persistent. This longing was most apparent when he wrote about classical motifs.

Bull and Joyce

While James Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

 was working on Finnegans Wake
Finnegans Wake
Finnegans Wake is a novel by Irish author James Joyce, significant for its experimental style and resulting reputation as one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language. Written in Paris over a period of seventeen years, and published in 1939, two years before the author's...

, he wanted to insert reference
Reference is derived from Middle English referren, from Middle French rèférer, from Latin referre, "to carry back", formed from the prefix re- and ferre, "to bear"...

s to Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

n language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s and literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

, hiring five teachers of Norwegian. Bull was the first one. Joyce wanted to read Norwegian works in the original language, including Peter Andreas Munch
Peter Andreas Munch
Peter Andreas Munch , usually known as P. A. Munch, was a Norwegian historian, known for his work on the medieval history of Norway. Munch’s scholarship included Norwegian archaeology, geography, ethnography, linguistics, and jurisprudence...

's Norrøne Gude- og Heltesagn (= Norse
Norse may refer to:In history:* Norsemen, the Scandinavian people before the Christianization of Scandinavia** Norse mythology** Norse paganism** Norse art** Norse activity in the British IslesIn language:...

 tales of god
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

s and hero
A hero , in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion...

es). He was looking for pun
The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use and abuse of homophonic,...

s and weird association
Association may refer to:* Voluntary associations, groups of individuals who voluntarily enter into an agreement to accomplish a purpose** 501 non-profit organization** Alumni association, an association of former students of a college or university...

s across the barriers of language, which was something Bull well understood. Lines from Bull's poems echo through "this spider's web of words", as Joyce himself called Finnegans Wake, and Bull himself materializes under the name "Olaph the Oxman", a pun on his surname
A surname is a name added to a given name and is part of a personal name. In many cases, a surname is a family name. Many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name"...


In his letters home, Bull mentioned nothing about Joyce, most likely because he often asked his family for money, which would sound unconvincing with him at the same time being a teacher for a world-famous author. It is not known how Joyce got in contact with Bull, but both frequented the bookstore Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company or Shakespeare & Company may refer to:*Shakespeare and Company , an English-language bookshop in Paris, France; hosts the annual Shakespeare & Company Literary Festival in June....

 in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 which was run by Sylvia Beach
Sylvia Beach
Sylvia Beach , born Nancy Woodbridge Beach, was an American-born bookseller and publisher who lived most of her life in Paris, where she was one of the leading expatriate figures between World War I and II.-Early life:...

, who may have brought them in contact with each other. In 1926 Ulysses
Ulysses is derived from Ulixes, the Latin name for Odysseus, a character in ancient Greek literature. For more on the name Ulysses, see Ulysses .Ulysses may also refer to:- Literature and film :...

 was issued as a pirate copy in the USA, meaning that Joyce would receive no money for it. Together with Beach he wrote a protest letter, intending it to be signed by well-known writers from the whole of Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. Beach mentions in her memoirs that Joyce was particularly eager to have Bull sign it. Beach tracked Bull, who had left Paris to live in the French countryside. On behalf of Joyce she sent a man there to have the protest signed. Bull's wife Suzanne provided him with a copy of Bull's signature
A signature is a handwritten depiction of someone's name, nickname, or even a simple "X" that a person writes on documents as a proof of identity and intent. The writer of a signature is a signatory. Similar to a handwritten signature, a signature work describes the work as readily identifying...


Works published during his lifetime

  • Digte (= Poems), Gyldendal
    Gyldendal Norsk Forlag
    Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, commonly referred to as Gyldendal, is one of the largest Norwegian publishing houses .-Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS:Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS was founded in 1925...

    , 1909.
  • Nye Digte (= New Poems), Gyldendal, 1913.
  • Mitt navn er Knoph (= My Name is Knoph), Narveson, 1914 - the first Norwegian book to be translated to Danish
    Danish language
    Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in the country of Denmark. It is also spoken by 50,000 Germans of Danish ethnicity in the northern parts of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, where it holds the status of minority language...

    ; see Norwegian language struggle
    Norwegian language struggle
    The Norwegian language struggle is an ongoing controversy within Norwegian culture and politics related to spoken and written Norwegian. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Danish was the standard written language of Norway due to Danish rule...

  • Digte og noveller (= Poems and Short Stories), Gyldendal, 1916
  • Samlede digte 1909–1919 (= Collected Poems), Gyldendal, 1919.
  • Stjernerne (= The Stars), Gyldendal, 1924.
  • Metope, Gyldendal, 1927.
  • De hundrede aar (= The Hundred Years), Gyldendal, 1928.
  • Kjærlighet (= Love), Gyldendal, 1929.
  • Oinos og Eros (= Oinos and Eros), Gyldendal, 1930.
  • Ignis ardens, Gyldendal, 1932.


  • Kjærlighetens farse:tre akter (Love’s Farce: Three Acts), Aschehoug
    H. Aschehoug & Co , commonly known as Aschehoug, is one of the largest independent publishing companies in Norway. -History:...

    , 1919, published 1948. Written together with Helge Krog
    Helge Krog
    Helge Krog was a Norwegian journalist, essayist, theatre and literary critic, translator and playwright.-Personal life:...


Posthumously published works

  • Ekko og regnbue: notater fra en dikters verksted (Echo and Rainbow: Notes From a Poet’s Workplace), Gyldendal, 1987. Edited by Frans Lasson.
  • Olaf Bull: brev fra en dikters liv (Olaf Bull: Letters from a Poets Life), 2 vols., Gyldendal, 1989. Edited by Frans Lasson.
  • Ild og skygger: spredte notater fra et dikterliv (= Fire and Shadows: Scattered Notes from a Poet's Life), Nørhaven, Viborg
    Viborg, Denmark
    Viborg , a town in central Jutland, Denmark, is the seat of both Viborg municipality and Region Midtjylland. Viborg is also the seat of the Western High Court, the High Court for the Jutland peninsula...

    , 1991. Edited by Frans Lasson.

Literature about Bull

  • Suzanne Bull, Ni år: mitt liv med Olaf Bull (Nine years: My Life with Olaf Bull), Aschehoug, 1974.
  • Petter Næss
    Petter Næss
    Petter Næss is a Norwegian actor and film director. His first film as a director was the comedy Absolute Hangover in 1999...

    , "Olaf Bull, a wretched giant of Scandinavian literature (unpublished article, 1990)
  • Nete Smith, Olaf Bull, in: Twentieth Century Norwegian Writers, vol. 297, Gale Dictionary of Literary Biography, 2004
  • Fredrik Wandrup
    Fredrik Wandrup
    Fredrik Wandrup is a Norwegian journalist and writer. He has been affiliated with Dagbladet since 1976, and won the Riksmål Society Literature Prize in 1995.-References:*...

    , En uro som aldri dør. Olaf Bull og hans samtid (A Restlessness That Never Dies. Olaf Bull and His Time), Gyldendal, 1995.
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