Faroese literature

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In the Middle Ages many poems and stories were handed down orally. These works were split into the following divisions: sagnir (historical), ævintyr (stories) and kvæði (ballads, traditionally sung along with the Faroese chain dance, in modern times also used in modern Faroese music). These kvæði were eventually written down in the 19th century, they are still used in the Faroese dance without any use of instruments.

In the 13th century the Færeyinga saga (Saga of the Faroe Islanders) was written in Iceland. It tells the story of the settlement and early history of the Faroe Islands, though it is doubtful that it is entirely historically accurate.

Faroese literature in the traditional sense of the word has only really developed in the past 100–200 years. This is mainly because of the islands' isolation, and also because the Faroese language was not written down in a standardised format until 1890. The Danish language was also encouraged at the expense of Faroese. Nevertheless, the Faroes have produced several authors and poets. In the early 19th century the liberalist Nólsoyar Páll - Poul Poulson Nólsoy tried to end the trading monopoly that was affecting the islands. He wrote many poems, including his most famous work Fuglakvæði. Other poets include the brothers Janus and Hans Andreas Djurhuus, and Rói Patursson. Other famous authors from the Faroes include Heðin Brú (The Old Man and His Sons), Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen (who wrote in Danish) (known for his sole novel Barbara) and William Heinesen (The Black Cauldron, who also wrote in Danish).

Both Heinesen and Patursson have been awarded The Nordic Council's Literature Prize.

Faroese writers and poets[edit]

Timeline - Cultural Atlas - Important things that happened in Faroese literary and cultural history[edit]

  • 825 In Aix-la-Chapelle the Irish munk Dicuil published the book: ”Liber de Mensura Orbis Terrae” – or loosely translated ”The Book About the Measurement of the Earth”. Dicuil built on older sources, but added some knowledge also, as for example the location of the Faroe Islands. According to The Faroe Saga, the Faroe Islands belong to the crown of Norway and are made christian by Sigmund Brestirsson.
  • Ca. 990 – The Magnus Chatededral in Kirkjebø in Streymoy was erected but newer finished.
  • 1298 Seyðabrævið – “The Sheep Letter” Is the oldest preserved document regarding the Faroe Islands. Efter some 400 years in Denmark, the document was repatriated to the Faroe Islands. Since 1990 is has been at Føroya Landsskjalasavni (The Faroese National Archive).
  • 1349–1350 The Black Death.
  • 1403–05 The Húsavík Letters (These are found in the Aramagnæanske Samling, printed in Diplomatarium Færoënsk I, s. 36ff).
  • 1538 The Reformation.
  • 1547–1794 Den Lærde Skole i Thorshavn (Thorshavns Latinskole). The Latin School of Thorshavn.
  • 1588–1664 Ole Worm famous Danish medical doctor and natural scientist. He had a great interest in antiquarianism and he was the first to collect Faroese ballads. These were collected by for him by Faroese, and sent to him in 1639. Later these are only known in secondary sources, because of the fire in Copenhagen in 1728.
  • 1593 the Icelandic Arngrímur Jónsson published a latin text, called: “Brevis Commentarius de Islandia”, where the Faroe Islands are mentioned as “Insulæ, quæ ab ovium multitudine Færeyar, sev rectius Faareyjar, dictæ sunt (...)”, here we see, that it is the numer of sheep, that have given the Islands their name, although they are spelled as “Ferøier”, “Faarø”, “Fierø “. Jónsson has published another text called “Crymogaea” (printed in Hamburg), where he writes about the many sheep on the Faroe Islands.
  • 15. Century ”Historia Norwegiæ”. It was published by P. A. Munch in 1850 under the name: “Symbolæ ad Historiam Antiquiorem Rerum Norwegicarum”. It is written in the 15th century, but it relays on older sources, some dating back to the 12. Century. ”Historia Norwegiæ” is on Norway and the western islands; Orkney Islands, the Faroe Islands and Iceland.
  • Peder Jacobsen Spjellerup, he was a priest in the Northern Parish of Strømoy 1665 67. He wrote the first investigation of the Faroe Islands. Later his work was lost.
  • ”Ferøers Beskrifvelser” by Thomas Tharnovius. He was born in 1644 in Rostock. His father became the priest on Suðuroy. Tharnovius studied latin with the priest Lucas Debes. Later he studied theology at the University of Copenhagen, where he graduated in 1669. His work on the Faroe Islands is not as therough as that of Debes (1673).
  • 1592 ”Norriges oc omliggende Øers sandfærdige Bescriffuelser” by Peder Claussøn Friis (published in 1632). In this book is an account on the Faroe Islands written by the Faroese Jacob Oudensøn.
  • 1651 Jens Lauritzsøn Wolff published ”Norrigia Illustrata”, where there are some notes on the Faroe Islands.
  • 1623–1676 The Danish priest Lucas Debes wrote his work on the Faroe Islands. In 1673 Lucas Debes published: “Færoæ & Færoa Reserata”. Later in English (1675) and in German (1757) and a part of it was translated into Icelandic as well.
  • 1695 The Icelandic-Norwegian historian and professor Th. Torfæus (also known as Þormóður Torfason 1636-1719), published his work ”Commentatio historica de rebus gestis Færeyensium” in Copenhagen and later it was published in 1770 as ”Historisk Beretning om Indbyggernes Bedrifter paa Færøerne”. He also wrote on Orkney Islands in “Orknøerne” (1697), “Grønland” (1706) and “Grønlands ‘vedhæng’ Vinland” (1705). Thorfæus published the first Faroese ballad “Leivskvæði”, the Ballad of Leif in 1695.
  • 1756 Friedrich Christian Pelt publishes “Der Färöische Robinson” (The Faroese Robinson). The book is very poorly written and its 840 pages were published in Copenhagen and in Leipzig.
  • 1742–1790 Nicolai Mohr, Faroese scientist. Educated at the University of Copenhagen in economy and natural science. He did important work on Iceland: “Forsøg til en islandsk Naturhistorie” (1786).
  • 1746–1824 J.C. Svabo, sun of a priest, studies at the University of Copenhagen. He collected ballads, made topographical work and worked as a writer and as a scientist. His grand opus was not published in his lifetime. The work: “Indberetninger fra en Reise i Færøe 1781 og 1782” was not published as a whole before 1959.
  • 1751–1761 Two Faroese students wrote on Faroese matters. Gregers Møller (1727–1804), held a speech on Regensen in 1751 about Strømø: ”Declamatio in insulam Føroensem Strømøe”. The other Christopher Müller (1732-1804), wrote a ”dissertation” ( that was a paper that was made the basis for a ”disputation”) in 1761. The topic was the possibility for the Faroes to gain greater income in agriculture.
  • 1782 Johan Hendrik Weyhe wrote a Faroese grammar, which was ready for publication in, but was lost the same year in the fire in Copenhagen. He also wrote a number of religoius texts: ”Nogle vigtige Troens Articler, forestillende udi sytten Prædikkener (sic)” from 1733.
  • 1766-1808 Nólsoyar Páll. Sailor and poet. In 1806 he wrote the allegorical and anti-danish “Fuglakvæði”, the Bird Ballad.
  • 1771–1851 J.H. Schrøter Danish-faroese priest in Suðuroy, translator and publisher. He translated the Faroe Saga to Faroese and the
  • 1782–1837 H.C. Lyngbye Danish priest, publisher and collector of Faroese ballads
  • 1794–1869 Johannes Klemmensen (known as Jóhannes í Króki) he wrote down Faroese ballads in the great collection called Sandoyarbók.
  • 1787 The Stanley Expedition. A scientific gentleman Expedition. Later some of the books from this expedition were published: Wright, James: The Journals of the Stanley Expedition to the Faroe Islands and Iceland in 1789. Thorshavn, 1970.
  • 1796 Lars Hess Bing published a chapter on the Faroe Islands in his great work called: ”Beskrivelse over Kongeriget Norge, Øerne Island og Færøerne samt Grønland efter ældre og nyere, trykte og haandskrevne geografiske, chorographiske, topographiske, statistiske Skrivter, Afhandlinger og Efterretninger, saavelsom ved Brevvexling og ellers erholdte Oplysninger, forfattet i alphabetisk Orden”, published in Copenhagen in 1796
  • 1800 the Danish priest Jørgen Landts ”Forsøg til en Beskrivelse over Færøerne” was published. His work is mostly stolen from Svabo and Debes. Abouts Svabo he said:: ” A student Jens Svabo has given some written notes on Faroe”, when he actually had taken most of his work from the unpublished works of Svabo, that he had access to at the Royal Library in Copenhagen.
  • 1800–6 Nólsoyar Páll wrote “Fuglakvæði”, the anti-danish and anti-colonial “Bird Ballad”. He was the first ownerr of a tradeship. Later he became a national hero, this also due to his unexplaned death at sea in 1808. He also wrote ballads like “Krákuteiti” (The Ballad of the Crowe) and Eindadrongstáttur (both before 1800, but date is not known), Jákup á Møn (1800), Greivin av Orient and Frúntatáttur (1802–03). Gorpalandskvæï og Krákufrøði (1808).
  • 1807 Rasmus Rask writes a “Færøsk Sproglære”, a thesis on Faroese. He prints this notion in “Vejledning til det Islandske eller gamle Nordiske Sprog”, published in 1811.
  • Jákup Nolsøe the brother of Nólsoyar Páll was central to creating a living environment around the publication of Faroese Antiquarian Texts in the 1820ies. He is mentioned and admired by Svend Grundtvig “…at da en indfødt Færing, der er ansat ved Handelen deroppe, for nogle Aar siden, kun med Forandring i Udtalen, oplæste islandske Sagaer (…) da strømmede Indbyggerne til i stor Mængde, ja kom endogsaa over fra andre Øer for at høre, og glædede sig inderlig ved at lytte til de livlige Fortællinger paa deres Modersmaal om deres Oldtidsfrænder, hvis Minde for en Deel endnu levede iblandt dem. (Grundtvig, 1845, s. 73). He wrote “Færøsk Sproglære”, that never was published, but was well known, fx by the Danish Rasmus Rask, that later helped V.U. Hammersheimb to put together the first official Faroese orthography.
  • 1795–1864 Carl Christian Rafn was Danish and a greatly influential publisher and translator of old texts, working together with Icelandic and Faroese activists. It was because of him, that the “Færeyingasaga” – the Faroe Saga - was published in 1832. He worked together with Rasmus Rask in translating The Faroe Saga to Danish. Rafn also formed the greatly influential Oldskriftselskabet in 1825.
  • P.E. Müller Danish theology professor at the University of Copenhagen – more remembered for his work on philology and old nordic literatry history. He was the one to recognice the collection of ballads, that H.C. Lyngbye made in the Faroe Islands in 1817. Later he wrote the introduction in the publication “Færoiske Qvæder om Sigurd Fofnersbane og hans Æt” (1822).
  • Rasmus Rask was a world famous Danish comparative language historian. He was interested in Icelandic from his youth and in 1816 he helped in forming the Icelandic Literary Union (Hið íslenska Bókmentafélag) and in 1818 the Library in Reykjavik (later Landsbókasafn Islands). He helps form Literary Societies on London, Iceland and in Copenhagen. His interest in Faroese inspired and helped create the written Faroese language of 1846. He helped Rafn in the translation of Faroe Saga. He was one of the leading inspirations befind the Faroese Library (Thorshavns Læsebibliothek – Later Færo Amts Bibliotek – and even later Landsbókasavnið) – helping Davidsen with many gifts of books.
  • 1810 Jens Christian Djurhuus (1773-1853) (known as Sjóvarbóndin – “the farmer at Sjógv”), a farmer from Kollafjord in Streymoy writes the modern and important ballad “Ormurin Langi”. He is also known for writing the “Púkaljómur” (The Devils Ballad), a religious epos built on the English poet John Miltons “Paradise Lost”.
  • From around the year 1800 we see a growing attention on the Farose ballads. Svabo, Lyngbye, Schrøter, í Króki and later Hammersheimb collected
  • 1814 Rasmus Rask publishes the first Faroese ballad.
  • 1817 H.C. Lyngbye prints the ballad “Brókatáttur” by Nólsoyar Páll in Det Skandinaviske Litteraturselskabs Skrifter.
  • 1819 The Danish professor P.E. Müller gets 19 ballads sent from the Faroe Islands. He asked Peder Hentze the priest of Sandoy to collect ballads. Hentze gets Jóhannes í Króki to do this.
  • 1822 The first Farose book is published: “Færöiske Qvæder Om Sigurd Fafnersbane of hans Æt” by H.C. Lyngbye in Randers. 593 pages with an illustration of Tindholm and Dragasund. The book is dedicated to Her Royal Highness Queen Maria Sophia Frederika(?)”. There is also a dedication to Anders Sørensen Vedel and Peter Syv. The book was published with a thesaurus and with some mucial notes. Most of the ballards were written down by J.H. Schrøter.
  • 1823 Johan Henrich Schrøter translates and publishes the Gospel of Mathew in his own orthography: “Evangelium Sankta Matthæussa, aa Førisk o Dansk. Gjivi üt uppaa Prent eäv tui Danska Buibils Selskeäbinum” (Randers, Elmenhoff, 1823). The book was republished in 1973, with a foreword and a theaurus by prof. Chr. Matras.
  • 1820–1840 Both the ballad selection “Fugloyarbók”, “Sandoyarbók” and the ballad selection called the ballad selection from “Sandvík” are complete. Hammersheimb bought the “Fugloyarbók”, Svend Grundtvig bought the “Sandoyarbók” and gave it to the Royal Library. The “Sandvíkar” collection was lent to Jørgen Bloch.
  • 1826 Thorshavns Læsebibliothek Stiftes.
  • 1828 Færøernes Amts Bibliotek (National Library of the Faroe Islands).
  • 1832 Nordisk Tidsskrift for Oldkyndighed / udgivet af det Kongelige Nordiske Oldskrift-Selskab.
  • 1832 The publication og the Færø Saga: “Færeyínga Saga eller Færøboernes Historie, i den islandske Grundtekst med færøisk og dansk oversættelse, udg. Af C.C. Rafn”.
  • Johan Henrich Schrøter translated the text to Faroese. C.C. Rafn and Rasmus Rask made the Danish translation and he also changed the Faroese translation.
  • 1836 Mémoires de la Société Royale des Antiquaires du Nord. In 1836 the Society began the publication of the Annaler, to contain contributions in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish or Icelandic, and the Mémoires, to contain translations of the principal works of the Society as well as occasional original contributions in French, English or German. It runs from 1836/1839-1850/1860; nouv. sér. 1866/1871-1932/1933, which would clearly cover the time period of the Aarbøger, which was the continuation of the Annaler. [Harvard Univ. cat.]
  • 1840 Faroese ballands are published in Germany: “Versuch einer geschichtlichen Charakteristik der Volkslider germanischer Nationen”. Lpz.
  • 1840. (Dahl, Erik: Tyske, franske og engelske oversættelser af færøkvæder. Festtidskrift til Matras, 1970).
  • 1840 the Faroese medical doctor Napoleon Nolsøe published: “Qväabók um fodna Manna Roisnir frå fisti Findartui. Irt i Féreiun o goimt I Huanum ät okkara døvum. Skriva úr gomlum Bløvum äv Candidatus medicinæ & chirurgiæ N.Nolsøe. Kjeibinhavn 1840”.
  • 1789–1895 The Faroe Islands are the topic a many non Danish travel writer and other expeditions. Primerely worth mentioning are The Stanley Expedition in 1789. It was a gentlemans expedition lead by Sir John Stanley. His father being one of the richest men in England. At the age of 22, he set out to lead a scientific expedition to Iceland and the Faroe Islands (Wreight I: West, 1972).
  • 1815 George Stuart Mackenzie published: “A Short Account of the Faroe Isles, Drawn up for the Edinburg Encyclopedia”. Danish publication in 1822 med anmærkninger af bl.a. H.C. Lyngbye og Dr. Pfil. Forchhammer.
  • In the 19. Century, a number of tourists and other travelers came to the Faroe Islands, and out of this there are a number publications and travel vriting – like the German Carl Julian Graba, who visited the Faroe Islands. And in 1828 he published:
  • ”Reise nach Färö”, first published in 1848, in: Fr. Heinzelman ”Reisen nach Färö, Island, Sibirien, und den Nord-polarländern”, vol. 2, part.1 (64 s.).
  • Worth mentioning are also the French Charles Frédéric Martins accounts on a travel to the Faroes, published under the name: ”Essai sur la végétation de l´archipel des Féröe, comparée à celles des Shetland et de I´Islande meridionale”, In: Voyages de la commission scientifique du nord, en Scandinavie, en Laponie, au Spitzberg, et af Féröe, pendant les années 1838, 1839, et 1840 sur la corvette la Recherche, commandée par m. Fabvre”, published by Paul Gaimard in 12 vol. from 1842–55.
  • In 1842 the antology “Chants populaires du Nord” is published, it contains five Faroese ballads. They were published by Xavier Marmier, that took part in the Admiral Paul Gaimards expedition to the Faroes.
  • We could also mention George Clayton Atkinson's: ”Journal of an Expedition to the Feroe and Westman Islands and Iceland 1833” and James Nicoll: ”An historical and descriptive account of Island, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands, with illustrations of their natural history”. Edinburgh, 1860.
  • From 1883 to 1888 we find a number of French geographical investigations, as Jules Leclercq ”La terre de glace: Féroe –Islande: les geysers – le mont Hekla” (Paris, 1883) and from 1888: ”L’Islande et L’archipel des Færaeer” by Dr. Henry Lebonne.
  • Of other more regular travel writing, where some have a relatively high quality, it is woth mentioning Elisabeth Taylors ”The Far Islands and Other Cold Places – Travel Essays of a Victorian Lady”, she travelled in the Faroe Islands in 1895 (Taylor, 1997).
  • 1844 C.C. Rafn published both “Annaler for nordisk Oldkyndighed” and Antiquarisk Tidskrift, that both publish Faroese contributions by fx Hammersheimb.
  • In these publications Hammersheimb publishes ballads and articles on language.
  • 1845 Povl Frederik Barfod, a true believer in Scandinavianism and a true antigerman spirit. He played a role in supporting Faroese Language and literature. He wrote two very intense articles in “Fædrelandet” in 1845. His role is more of the agitator, than the philologist. He was also active in trying to form a Faroese Literary Society. (Frederik Barfod, et livs erindringer, 1897).
  • 1845 The invitation is sent out for “Indbydelse til stiftelse af et færøsk Selskab” signed by Frederik Barfod, A.P. Berggreen, FR. Hammerich, Fr. Helweg, Svend Grundtvig, V.U. Hammersheimb and the ielandic politician and philologist Jón Sigurðson m.fl.
  • 1845 N.M. Petersen, the first professor in Scandinavian languages at the University of Copenhagen, he stated that Faroese was not a real written language.
  • 1846 The Faroese written language find its final form through V.U. Hammersheimb. He is helped by a great number of philologists, such as Rasmus Rask (Rasmus Rask og færøsk, 1964).
  • 1846 The Danish medical doctor P.L. Panum published: ”Iagttagelser – under Mæslinge-Epidemien paa Færøerne i Aaret 1846”. With this little book the young Panum – he was 24 years old- made a name for himself in the world of medicine. In 1847 he was attached harshly by eight anonymous and hateful articles by Faroese living in Denmark.
  • 1844 V.U. Hammersheimb writes the article “Det færoiske Sprog”, published in: “Kjøbenhavnerposten”, 19. dec. 1844 under the pseudonym “En færing” (A Faroese).
  • 1845 Svend Grundtvig published “Dansken paa Færøerne Sidestykke til Tysken i Slesvig”
  • 1845 A new law on Schools in the Faroe Islands (Skoleforordning vedr. Færøerne med skolepligt).
  • 1848-1851 Hammersheimb published: ”Meddelelser fra en Rejse paa Færøerne 1847-48” and a long range af other articles in “Antiquarisk Tidsskrift” (Matars, s. 53).
  • 1852 The first printing facility in the Faroe Islands.
  • 1852 The Faroese politician and lawyer Niels C. Winther published the first Faroese newspaper “Færingetidende” in Denmark.
  • 1850 The Faroese Alexandur Weyhe publishes “Førjaríman” (Færødigtet). A National Epos written in Faroese. In 1851 he Publishes the collection of poetry: “Weihes Parnas”, where most of the poems are Danish and French.
  • 1854 A Faroese Grammar is published by V.U. Hammersheimb.
  • 1866 Aarbøger for Nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie / Annual of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries / Det kongelige Nordiske Oldskriftselskab.
  • 1856 The Royal Trade Monopoly is abolished.
  • 1861 The upper secondary school in the Faroe Islands, Realskúlin.
  • 1865 H.N. Jacobsen bookstore opens in Tórshavn.
  • 1870 The Faroese School for Teachers (Føroya Læraraskúli).
  • 1876 The rise og national poems and songs used in the student hall Regensen in Copenhagen. These were later collected and published in “Føriskar vysur irktar og sungnar äv føringun í Kjøpinhavn (1876-92).
  • 1881 Føroyingafelag í Keypmannahavn. The Faroese Union in Copenhagen is founded.
  • 1888 The Christmas Meeting in Tórshavn.
  • 1886–1891 Hammersheimb puts together “Færøsk Antologi”, (the Anthology of the Faroese) by request by the literary society: “Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur”. He is helped by stud.mag. Jakob Jacobsen.
  • 1889 Føroyingafelag í Føroyum. The Faroese Union of the Faroe Islands.
  • 1889 Rasmus Christofer Effersøe wrote wrote the historical play “Gunnar Havreki. Syrgileikur í 3. pørtum”. “Magnus” from 1892. “Best man vera sum er”, 1895.
  • 1890 Effersøe wrote “Hjá Dalabóndum” (inspired by Hostrup “En nat mellem Fjeldene”., performed in Tórshavn in 1890.
  • 1898 Fuglframi. A cultural Faroese publication published in the Faroes.
  • 1890 Føroya Bókafelag – The Faroese Book Society. Føroyingatíðindi. The first Faroese nationally oriented newspaper.
  • 1899 Føroyski Fólkaháskúlin. The Faroese Højskole is founded with inspiration from Denmark – vallekilde and Askov Højskole – by Rasmus Rasmussen and Símun av Skarði.
  • 1900 The first Faroese School book. The “Bíbliusøga” by Joen Poulsen. Later he spendt his life as a politician for the Sambandsflokkurin.
  • 1901-1990 Tingakrossur – the independent and, at times cultural radical, newspaper.
  • 1902 Búreisingur. An important Faroese national media and magazine published in the Faroe Islands by A.C. Evensen.
  • 1906 A.C. Evensen published “Føroysk lesibók fyri eldri born” (A Textbook on Faroese for older children).
  • 1907 A Textbook for younger children.
  • 1907 Spelling Book.
  • 1911 Lesibók (A Textbook and Anthology).
  • 1905–08 Oyggjarnar. The first (and only) Faroese newspaper for women.
  • 1907–1912 Føroyska Bókmentafelagið. The Faroese Literary Society.
  • 1909 Babelstornið (The Tower og Babel) the first Faroese novel by Regin í Líð (Rasmus Rasmussen)
  • 1912 First volume of short stories “Glámlýsi” by Rasmus Rasmussen.
  • 1914 J.H.O. Djurhuus published his “Yrkingar”. Said to be the first Faroese vol. of poetry.
    • First Faroese children book – Robinson Kruso – translated by Sverre Patursson.
  • 1915 Norðlýsi. Newspaper for the Northern Islands based in Klaksvík.
  • Føroya-tíðindi. Newspaper based in Tvøroyri in Suðuroy.
  • 1916 Virkið. Faroese Workers Union published its newspaper.
  • 1920 F.F. Blað Føroya Fiskimanna. Faroese Fishers Unions Newspaper.
  • 1921 Varðin. A literary publication is published.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Brønner, Hedin. Faroese Short Stories. The Library of Scandinavian literature, v. 16. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.
  • Landt, Jørgen. A Description of the Feroe Islands Containing an Account of Their Situation, Climate, and Productions : Together with the Manners, and Customs, of the Inhabitants, Their Trade, &C. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1810.

External links[edit]