Olaf Bull

Olaf Bull

Olaf Bull 1883 – 1933

Olaf Bull’s parents were author Jacob Breda Bull 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 in Buskerud, where his father worked as a writer.

He started gymnasium 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 before returning to Kristiania in 1903 to begin his studies at the university. Olaf Bull could be considered a polymath because in addition to both modern and classical literature, he mastered philosophy, history, politics, art and science. He was known as the “Oslo-poet,” but he lived for extended periods in both France where his son, the poet Jan Bull, was born, and in Italy. He spent several years as a journalist for PostenDagbladetVår Frelsers gravlund

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 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. He inherited a nervous disposition from his father and abused alcohol. 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.