Holger Drachmann Biography (Danish Poet, Playwright and Novelist)


Who was Holger Drachmann? Information on Danish poet, playwright, and novelist Holger Drachmann biography, life story, poems and works.

Holger Drachmann Biography (Danish Poet, Playwright and Novelist)

Holger Drachmann

Holger Drachmann; (1846-1908), Danish poet, playwright, and novelist, who attained a high place in Danish literature as a lyric poet. He was born on Oct. 9, 1846, in Copenhagen. Starting out as a marine painter, Drachmann took a painting trip in 1871 to London, where his meeting with English trade unionists and refugees from the Paris Commune of that year strengthened his own revolutionary tendencies. On his return to Denmark in 1872 he became closely associated with the new radical literary movement led by Georg Brandes.

Digte (1872), Drachmann’s first volume of poems, reflects his youthful rebelliousness and his disgust with conservative bourgeois ideals. This and four other volumes of poems in the 1870’s firmly established him as the leading lyric poet of Denmark. But he had an unstable temperament, and after the dissolution of his first marriage and a remarriage, he praised, in his poetry of the 1880’s, all the conventional values he had previously scorned. An affair with a music hall singer made him turn his back once again on bourgeois respectability, and he put on the mantle of a Bohemian poet. His third and last marriage brought him back to a more settled existence but also to less inspired poetry. He died on Jan. 14, 1908, at Hornbask, Denmark.

Drachmann’s best poetry—personal, passionate, and musical—is of very high quality, Volund Smed (1894), his best play, contains undertones of both the Edda and Shakespeare. His best novel, Forskrevet (1890), personifies the two aspects of his nature in two characters, a vagabond poet and a diligent artist-writer.


Falling behind in his studies, he did not enter the university until 1865, leaving in 1866 to become a student at the Academy of Fine Arts. From 1866 to 1870 he is a disciple of Professor Sørensen, to become a painter of marine themes. Around 1870 he falls under the influence of Georg Brandes , and without abandoning painting he begins to devote most of his time to literature. On several occasions he travels through England , Scotland , France , Spain and Italy , and his literary career begins with the letters he sends to newspapers in Denmark where he narrates his travels.


After his return home, he settles for a time on the island of Bornholm , painting seascapes. He proceeds to publish his first book of poems, Digte (1872), and joins the group of young radical writers who followed Brandes. Drachmann was in doubt as to whether his main strength was drawing or writing. Already by this time he had had many experiences in his life, especially among sailors, fishermen, students and artists, and the problems of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune had persuaded him that a new and glorious era was about to begin.

His book of lyrics, Dæmpede Melodier ( Muted Melodies , 1875), made it clear that Drachmann was a poet with a royal calling, and he began to produce books in prose and verse. Ungt Blod ( Young Blood , 1876) contains three realistic stories of contemporary life. But he returned to his true specialty with his magnificent Sange ved Havet; Venezia ( Songs of the Sea; Venice , 1877), and won the passionate admiration of his contemporaries for his work in prose, with interludes in verse, entitled Derovre fra grænsen ( Over the border there, 1877), a series of impressions that Drachmann makes of the sight of scenes from the war in Germany.

During the following years he visits most of the main countries of the world, but he especially becomes familiar through his travels with the sea and the life of the man of the sea. In 1879 he publishes Ranker og Roser ( Tendrils and Roses ), a series of love verses with a very fine melody, in which great progress in his technique is evident. Around this same time he writes Paa sømands tro og love ( On the Faith and Honor of a Sailor , 1878), a book of short prose stories.

Around 1880 Drachmann breaks away from the Brandes and the radicals, and becomes the leader of a kind of nationalist or popular-Conservative movement in Denmark. In his books he continues to celebrate the lives of fishermen and sailors, both in prose and in verse, themes that were very popular at the time. These include Paul og Virginie and Lars Kruse (both 1879); Østen for sol og vesten for maane ( East of the Sun and West of the Moon , 1880); Puppe og Sommerfugl ( Chrysalis and Butterfly , 1882); and Strandby Folk(1883). In the early 1890s he again joined the Brandes group, though without abandoning his national motivations. His numerous changes of sides are often considered opportunistic although in reality they were probably the product of his undying enthusiasm and desire for a positive basis for his art.

In 1882 Drachmann published a polished translation or paraphrase of Byron ‘s Don Juan . His romantic play De he Der var engang ( Once Upon a Time ) written in 1885, is a great success when performed at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, and became a classic. His tragedies Of him Volund Smed ( Wayland the Smith , 1894) and Brav-karl (1897) finish making him a recognized writer of popular plays in Denmark. In 1894 he published a book of Fantastic Melodramas in Rhyming Verse, a collection containing some of Drachmann’s best writings.

His novel Med den brede Pensel ( With a Thick Brush , 1887) which was followed by Forskrevet in 1890, the story of a young painter, Henrik Gerhard , and his revolt against his bourgeois surroundings . Closely related to this novel is the work Den hellige Ild ( The Sacred Fire , 1899), in which Drachmann talks about himself. In this autobiographical work there is almost no plot history, but it abounds in lyrical passages. In 1899 he writes his romantic play Gurre ; in the 1900 drama, Hallfred Vandraadeskjald ; and in 1903, Det grønne Haab. He passed away in Copenhagen and was buried in the sand dunes at Grenen , near Skagen .

Drachmann is one of the most popular Danish poets of the modern era despite the fact that much of his work has been forgotten. It fuses attitudes of a modern rebel with a romantic vision of women and history. His personality often belied his literary merits and in numerous ways he played the role of a “typical” bohemian poet with a turbulent private life. His relationships with various women (his “muses”) were often the subject of great scandal but at the same time they were the fuel for his inspiration. Especially “Edith”, a cabaret singer who was his mistress during the 1890s and inspired much of his best love poetry. The poetic method of his often rhetorical and occasionally “wordiness”


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