• Pernille Aaen Søltoft
4. semester, Dansk (cand.mag.), Kandidat (Kandidatuddannelse)
With this master’s thesis, I seek to examine the national identity of Denmark expressed in poetry. For this purpose, I have selected four collections of poems, all of which touch upon the national aspect of their time: Digte 1803 (1802) by Adam Oehlenschläger, Rugens Sange (1806) by Jeppe Aakjær, Verdensborger i Danmark (1995) by Benny Andersen and YAHYA HASSAN (2013) by Yahya Hassan. The purpose is to illustrate the role of poetry in the establishment and continued negotiation of the national identity from the 19th century until now. Additionally, I examine the historical, cultural, and social developments depicted in the narrative of the national identity.

As the theoretical and methodological approach to my analyses, I examine the collections of poetry from a New Historicist and contextual angle. This approach is primarily based on the theories of Louis A. Montrose and Leif Søndergaard. Additionally, I include the theories of Frederik Tygstrup and Isak Winkel Holm regarding truths and facts to examine how literature can depict the surrounding conditions that are deemed essential by the New Historicist and contextual reading. Their distinction between cultural and literary poetics is also relevant because with this distinction, it is possible to examine how poetry both establishes and negotiates images of reality regarding the national identity in accordance with the conditions existing outside of the poems.

The thesis is interdisciplinary as the mentioned approaches are linked to historical theories about nations and national identity by Anthony D. Smith and Benedict Anderson. In 1991, Smith lists five components that together shape the definition of a nation and a national identity, and which provide the framework for my reading of the poems: 1) A historic territory or homeland, 2) common myths and historical memories, 3) a common, mass public culture, 4) common legal rights and duties for all members, and 5) a common economy with territorial mobility for members. Based on Smith’s components, I have listed a number of contexts that make up the prism through which I read the poems. As a second methodological approach, I also make use of quantitative analysis through a frequency analysis of the poetry collections to support the claims of the analysis.

The analysis is split into three parts to illustrate how the four poetry collections each establish and/or negotiate the preconditions for the emergence of a national identity. The analysis shows how all of the collections to a greater or lesser degree depict the five components, but also how they challenge the premises of the components at the same time. The poems depict the national identity as far more complex than the established components, and thus the analysis manages to illustrate the establishment of the national identity in a way that, as Tygstrup and Holm put it, cultural poetry does not. While the components emphasize a number of external circumstances that constitute the preconditions for the national identity on a general and collective level, they do not take into account all of the feelings, individual experiences, and attitudes that people will naturally have, and which shape their national identity: Those are accessed through poetry. The analysis gives us an answer as to why and how the individual manages - or does not manage - to establish their national identity, and how poetry plays a role in this establishment.

At the same time, the analyses establish the national identity as something too complex to be definitively defined as time and location affect the perception of it. Nevertheless, the analyses point us in the right direction: We are Danish when Smith's components are fulfilled. But we are still Danish even if we do not perceive the components to be equal in status. We can identify as Danish while having special affiliations with the Danish territory, but without attributing a special meaning to the Danish traditions, cultural heritage, and national symbols. This does not make the individual less Danish, but this is due to the fact that identity is an individual quality that - even though part of it relates to a community - differs from person to person. National identities are complex, as is literature: It revolves around the way we view and place it in society, and the status we attach to it. But if we let literature run its course, it can play a significant role in the way our national identity is established and developed: Because it manages to challenge, adjust, and shift our image of reality.
Udgivelsesdato31 maj 2021
Antal sider78
ID: 413307707