Aarestrup was born in Copenhagen, and died in Odense. He graduated in 1827 majoring in medicine. That same year, he married Caroline Aagard and they settled down in Nysted, on the Danish island of Lolland where he lived for most of his life but from 1849 he was a doctor on Funen. He was a close friend of the poet Christian Winther.
Working as a doctor, he wrote poetry in his spare time. Only one book was published while he was alive, in 1838: "Digte" ("Poems"). It was generally ignored by critics as well as the public at the time of its release. Another was published after his death in 1863: "Efterladte Digte" ("Posthumous poems").
Among Danish lyricists, Aarestrup is considered one of the most genuine amorists. Especially in his ritornelles and short and emphasized verses he reaches mastery. As a verse technician he is influenced by the German poet Friedrich Rückert but finds his own form. Compared to most contemporary Danish love poets he is much more sensual, material and audacious though still respecting decorum. His tune is teasing, ironic, witty and elegant but sometimes with a hidden fear of death and vanity. Among his most famous poems must be mentioned Paa Sneen (“On the Snow”), Angst (“Fear”), Til Nanna (“For Nanna”), Tidlig Skilsmisse (“Early Divorce”) and Var det Synd? (“Was It a Sin?”). Less known today are his few political poems that reveal his liberal sympathies.
Although not recognized in his own time, he is now widely considered one of the most influential Danish poets and is still read in Denmark today. Normally his poetry is regarded an important precondition of the great symbolist lyric Sophus Claussen.
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