Danish poet and author. Born 1789 in Torkildstrup on the island of Falster. Died in Sorø on the island of Sjælland/Zealand, 1862.

Initially educated at the Latinskole1 in Slagelse, where he graduated as a student2 in 1806. He went on to study at Copenhagen, at the same time beginning to write poetry and prose. His work attained wide popularity with the public, almost from the start.

Never completing his studies, Ingemann instead (in 1822) became a senior master (lektor) in Danish language and literature at Sorø Akademi (an old and respected school, founded in 1586). He and his wife Lucie Ingemann (née Mandix) moved into a house on the Academy grounds that, today, bears his name.

Inspired by the quiet, reflective atmosphere of Sorø and the monastery there, Ingemann cultivated his poetic vein, writing poems in the Romantic style, many of which have since been set to music (Ingemann's poems, with those of Grundtvig, make up the bulk of the content of the Church of Denmark's hymn book). For material, he used the Danish myths and legends that were the favourite subject3 of all the Danish Romantics. In particular, it was this historical and legendary approach to poetry that led Ingemann to compose the epic poem Valdemar den Store og hans Mænd ("Valdemar the Great and his Men", 1824), which was followed shortly thereafter by the historical novel Valdemar Sejr ("Valdemar the Victorious", 1826).

Valdemar Sejr was a great success, a bestseller of the time, and Ingemann followed up with several more novels, telling of the same general period in Danish history4, namely Erik Menveds Barndom ("The Childhood of Erik Menved", 1828); Kong Erik og de Fredløse ("King Erik and the Outlaws", 18335); and Prins Otto af Danmark ("Prince Otto of Denmark", 1834). The common thread of Ingemann's historical writings were a call for Danes to remember their past grandeur.

Despite the success of his historical prose, it is his poetry that Ingemann is best remembered for. Thematically, he wavered between Christian devotional hymns, perhaps inspired by the proximity of Sorø monastery; and historical epic poetry. Of the former, perhaps his most famous poems are I Østen Stiger Solen Op ("In the East, the Sun arises", 1837) and Der står et slot i Vesterled ("A castle stands in the West", 1838, set to music by C.F. Weyse). Of the latter, I alle de Riger og Lande ("In all the Realms and Countries", 1837) from the collection Holger Danske (1837), is equally famous.

It is hard to overstate Ingemann's contribution to the Danish national identity. Although he had some equals (notably Grundtvig), there were none to surpass him in poetic talent or emotional depth.

Ingemann died in 1862 and lies buried (with his wife) just outside the monastery church at Sorø. A monument adorns the grave, designed by the architect Christian Hansen and erected in 1863.


Note(s):

1 Latinskole is Danish, literally meaning "Latin school". The term is oldfashioned, and nearly obsolete. In Ingemann's time, Latinskoler were grammar school-cum-lyceum-type institutions.

2 Student is another venerable Danish term, but one that is still in use (I'm a student myself, having graduated Rysensteen Gymnasium in 1983). Essentially, a student is a graduate of a gymnasium (a lyceum/high school, weighted towards the "academic" style of teaching, rather than the "practical" style). In Denmark, it is required that one be a student or the equivalent, if one wants to pursue a higher education.

3 In particular, all the Danish Romantics loved the work of Saxo Grammaticus, the mediaeval historian/mythologist whose Saxonis Grammatici Gesta Danorum was the major source for Danish history before the 13th century.

4 This period being the 13th and 14th centuries (see Danish monarchs). In fact, the 19th century Romantics had a penchant for historical fiction set in the middle ages - compare Zacharias Topelius in Finland, Sir Walter Scott in Britain, and Victor Hugo in France.

5 The "outlaws" in question being the supposed conspirators accused of the murder of King Erik V of Denmark at Finderup Lade in 1286.

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