Nordahl Grieg

Antiwar songs by Nordahl Grieg
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Nordahl GriegNorwegian poet, novelist, dramatist, and journalist. In the1930s Grieg was in his country among the foremost young dramatists. His theatrical techniques and stage effects showed the influence of Russian experimental theatre and film. During World War II Grieg's poetry gained a wide audience in the occupied Norway. Gried died in 1943 when his plane was shot down over Berlin. His distant relative was the famous composer Edvard Grieg.

"...Grieg is primarily a lyricist and dramatist who eagerly attempted to unite life and poetry. He went out into the world, as a sailor, vagabond, and journalist to find the material for his writing rather than plumbing the human intellect and psyche." (Sven H. Rossel in A History of Scandinavian Literature 1870-1980, 1982)

Nordahl Grieg was born in Bergen into a cultured family. His father was a school principal and a teacher of music at a university. Grieg's mother came from politically active family. Following his father's footsteps, Grieg entered the University of Olso in 1920 to prepare himself for a career in education. Next year he intermitted his studies and went to sea. He worked as a sailor on a freighter bound for Australia. In 1922 he traveled through Europe.

As a writer Grieg made his debut with Round the Cape of Good Hope, a collection of poems. Between the years 1922 and 1925 he studied philology and wrote for Tidens Tegn and Oslo Aftenavis. In 1923-24 he studied at Wadham College, Oxford. After graduating from the University of Olso, Grieg continued his travels. The Ship Sails On (1924) gained wide attention with its revealing picture of the lot of Norwegian sailors. Later the international Red Cross launched a campaign against the veneral disease problem in port cities.

In 1927 Grieg was a newspaper correspondent in China where he reported about the civil war between the Kuomingtang and the Communists. His first play, A Young Man's Love, was produced in Bergen in 1927. It was followed by Barabbas (1927), an expressionistic avant-garde piece, which reflected his experiences in the Orient. It compared the pacifism of Jesus with violence of the rebellious reprobate. In the battle between passive resistance and revolution a young man is overpowered by the attraction of brutality. In 1930 the English writer Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957), who also went young to sea, travelled to Norway to meet Grieg. In England Grieg become a kind of myth. Graham Greene compares in his book of memoir, Ways of Escape (1980), the author's arrival in 1931 down a muddy Gloucestershire lane to the appearance of three crowns on a gate. Greene had rented a cottage with his wife Vivien and Grieg came "to look him up," as he told. "The dreamlike atmosphere of his friendship remained: it was a matter of messages, warm and friendly and encouraging and critical, mostly in other people's letters. The only time I visited Norway he was away living in Leningrad, but the messages were there awaiting me. Nordahl Grieg, like a monarch, never lacked messengers."

Grief established the magazine Veien Frem in 1936, which became an important forum for antifascist debate. After spending two years (1933-35) in the Soviet Union - his addess was one time Room 313 in the Hotel Novo Moscowskaja - Grieg wrote three plays which showed his adoption of techniques learned from the Russian stage and film. The title of Our Honor and Glory came from a poem of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and referred ironically to the Norwegian shipping industry, which sent the sailors to their death in World War I. The Defeat had as its background the bloody events of the Franco-German war and the Paris Commune of 1871. It was Grieg's most successful play and inspired Bertolt Brecht's The Days of the Commune. Grieg used in it his observations and experiences as a war correspondent in Spain, where he witnessed the Civil War and the collapse of the Republican government. The revolutionaries lose because they are not brutal enough. Again Grieg uses two opposite personalities to illustrate conflicting ideologies. Varlin is an idealistic humanist, who wants to achieve victory "not through killing or dying, but through the creation of justice." Rigault believes in the necessity of terror. In his character Grieg bowed to the Stalinist policies and system of state terrorism.

Because of ideological reasons Grief accepted the Moscow trials and defended them especially in his novel May the World Stay Young (1938). In the story Ashley, an English philologist working in the Soviet Union, comes under the influence of Kira, a Communist girl, who firmly believes in party discipline. However, the Moscow trial reveal Ashley as a typical western European humanist, who is not able to act. Grieg himself confessed in a letter to Graham Greene that he was working in the strange bourgeois atmosphere of Moscow summer. "I am sure you will like to live in Moscow, there is such an enormous mass of people - a vast multitude of races, hopes and disappointments. And your hatred to nature can easily be satisfied here, here is no nature for many hundred miles, only something flat and stupid under an idiotical sky."

Following the German invasion of Norway, Grieg volunteered for active duty in 1940, but his adventures could have been invented by Jaroslav Hasek. Grieg was recruited in the army without uniform or weapon as a private soldier. In the mountains he met a patrol that carried in sacks gold from the Bank of Norway. In Narvik the gold was moved into an English destroyer and Grieg followed its journey - it was to be delivered to the Bank of England. At a station much later the clerk from the bank did not show up, and Grieg became bored, left a plainclothes detective with the gold on the platform, and took a taxi to the Charing Cross Hotel.

Grieg served in Norway's government-in-exile and made patriotic radio programs in England. In 1940 he married the actress Gerd Egede-Nissen. Grieg was killed in Germany on December 2, 1943. He had joined in the capacity of an observer an Allied bombing mission and did not return from an attack on Berlin. Grieg's film script, Greater Wars, written in London in 1940-41, was found in 1989 and translated from English by Brikt Jensen. Grieg's war poems were collected in a volume entitled Friheten (1945). His most famous patriotic poems include '17. Mai 1940,' Godt år for Norge,' and 'På Tingvellir.'