William Heinesen
Andreas William Heinesen (15 January 1900 – 12 March 1991) was a poet, composer and painter from the Faroe Islands
Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are an island group situated between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, along with Denmark proper and Greenland...


His Writing

The Faroese capital Tórshavn is always the centre of Heinesen's writing. He is famous for having once called Tórshavn "The Navel of the World". His writing focuses on contrasts between darkness and light, between destruction and creativity. Then following is the existential struggle of man to take sides. This is not always easy, however, and the lines between good and bad are not always clearly defined. Furthermore, Heinesen was captivated by the mysterious part of life. He called himself religious in the broadest sense of the word. His life could be described as a struggle against defeatism. One oft-quoted aphorism of his is that "life is not despair, and death shall not rule".


As he was born and raised before the Faroese language was taught in the schools, he wrote mainly in 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...

 but his spoken language was Faroese. All his books are later translated into his native Faroese
Faroese language
Faroese , is an Insular Nordic language spoken by 48,000 people in the Faroe Islands and about 25,000 Faroese people in Denmark and elsewhere...


He published his first collection of poetry when he was 21. He had three more published before he wrote his first novel Blæsende gry - Stormy Dawn - in 1934. He read every single one of the chapters to the painter Sámal Joensen-Mikines
Sámal Joensen-Mikines
Sámuel Joensen-Mikines was a Faroese painter. He was the first recognised painter of the Faroe Islands and one of the Faroe Islands most important artists. Many of his paintings have been displayed on Faroese stamps....

, as he was worried that his Danish wasn't good enough. That was followed up with Noatún (1938). Noatún has a strong political message - solidarity is the key to a good society. His next book The Black Cauldron (1949) deals with the aftermath of decadent living combined with religious hysteria. In The Lost Musicians (1950) Heinesen leaves the social realism of his earlier works behind, instead giving himself over to straightforward storytelling. Mother Pleiades (1952) is an ode to his imagination. Its subtitle is "a Story From the Beginning of Time".

Heinesen wasn't content with writing only novels. In the fifties he began writing short stories as well. Most of them have been printed in these three collections entitled The Enchanted light, Gamaliel's Bewitchment and Cure Against Evil Spirits (1969). In the novel The Good Hope
The Good Hope (novel)
The Good Hope is a 1964 novel by the Faroese writer William Heinesen. It received the Nordic Council Literature Prize....

, his main character the Rev. Peder Børresen is based on the historical person Rev. Lucas Debes
Lucas Debes
Lucas Jacobsøn Debes was a Danish priest, topographer and celebrated writer about the Faroe Islands. He wrote the first book about the Faroes, which was printed and draw the first detailed map of the islands.-His Arrival to Tórshavn:Debes came to the Faroe Islands in 1652 as a curate...

. When Heinesen was asked how long it had taken to write it, he answered "forty years. But then I did other things in between"


He received The Nordic Council's Literature Prize
The Nordic Council's Literature Prize
The Nordic Council Literature Prize is awarded for a work of literature written in one of the languages of the Nordic countries, that meets "high literary and artistic standards". Established in 1962, the prize is awarded every year, and is worth 350,000 Danish kroner...

 in 1965 for his novel Det gode håb (The Good Hope), published in 1964. In the story Heinesen had the difficult task of reproducing 17th-century Danish. He succeeded, and won the prize. It is widely considered his best work.

When there were rumours that William Heinesen was about to receive the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981, he wrote to the Swedish Academy
Swedish Academy
The Swedish Academy , founded in 1786 by King Gustav III, is one of the Royal Academies of Sweden.-History:The Swedish Academy was founded in 1786 by King Gustav III. Modelled after the Académie française, it has 18 members. The motto of the Academy is "Talent and Taste"...

 and renounced his candidacy. Later he explained why:
The Faroese language
Faroese language
Faroese , is an Insular Nordic language spoken by 48,000 people in the Faroe Islands and about 25,000 Faroese people in Denmark and elsewhere...

 was once held in little regard – indeed it was suppressed outright. In spite of this the Faroese language has created a great literature, and it would have been reasonable to give the Nobel Prize to an author who writes in Faroese. If it had been given to me, it would have gone to an author who writes in Danish, and in consequence Faroese efforts to create an independent culture would have been dealt a blow.

In 1980 on his 80th birthday Heinesen was appointed "Tórshavn's Citizen of Honour" by his home town.

Heinesen died in 1991 at the age of 91.


  • Arktiske Elegier og andre Digte (Arctic Elegies and other Poems), Copenhagen 1921
  • Høbjergningen ved Havet (Haymaking by the Sea), Copenhagen 1924
  • Sange mod Vaardybet (Songs towards the Depths of Spring), Copenhagen 1927
  • Stjernerne vaagner (The Stars Awaken), Copenhagen 1930
  • Den dunkle Sol (The Dark Sun), Copenhagen 1936
  • Digte i udvalg (Selected Poems), Copenhagen 1955
  • Hymne og harmsang (Hymns and Songs of Indignation), Copenhagen 1961
  • Panorama med regnbue (Panorama with Rainbow), Copenhagen 1972
  • Vinterdrøm. Digte i udvalg 1920-30 (Winter Dream. Selected Poems 1920-30), Copenhagen 1983
  • Samlede digte (Complete Poems), Copenhagen 1984
  • Digte (Poems), Copenhagen 1990

Short Stories anthologies

  • Det fortryllede lys (The Enchanted Light), Copenhagen 1957
  • Gamaliels besættelse (Gamaliel Possessed), Copenhagen 1960
  • Kur mod onde ånder (A Cure for Evil Spirits), Copenhagen 1967
  • Don Juan fra Tranhuset (Don Juan from the Whale Oil Factory), Copenhagen 1970
  • Fortællinger fra Thorshavn (Tales from Tórshavn), Copenhagen 1973
  • Grylen og andre noveller (The Gryla and Other Stories), Copenhagen 1978
  • Her skal danses (Let There Be Dancing), Copenhagen 1980
  • Laterna magica (Laterna Magica), Copenhagen 1985
    • Laterna Magica. Fjord Press, 1987 - ISBN 0 940242 23 0


  • Blæsende Gry (Windswept Dawn), Copenhagen 1934
    • Windswept Dawn. Dedalus, 2009 - ISBN 978 1 903517 78 9
  • Noatun (Noatun), Copenhagen 1938
  • Den sorte gryde (The Black Cauldron), Copenhagen 1949
    • The Black Cauldron. Dedalus, 2000 - ISBN 978 0 946626 97 7
  • De fortabte spillemænd (The Lost Musicians), Copenhagen 1950
    • The Lost Musicians. Dedalus, 2006 - ISBN 978 1 903517 50 8
  • Moder Syvstjerne (The Kingdom of the Earth), Copenhagen 1952
    • Mother Pleiades Dedalus, 2011 - ISBN 978 1 907650 07 9
  • Det gode håb (The Good Hope
    The Good Hope (novel)
    The Good Hope is a 1964 novel by the Faroese writer William Heinesen. It received the Nordic Council Literature Prize....

    ), Copenhagen 1964
    • The Good Hope Dedalus, 2011 - ISBN 978-1 903517 98 7
  • Tårnet ved verdens ende (The Tower at the Edge of the World), Copenhagen 1976

External links

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