Quotes by Knut Hamsun

The Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun (1859-1952), dedicated the Nobel Prize in 1920, has written more than 50 works of literature in his lifetime, most of which are translated into English. Here you will find various quotes and extracts:

The long, long road over the moors and up into the forest–who trod it into being first of all? Man, a human being, the first that came here. There was no path before he came. Afterward, some beast or other, following the faint tracks over marsh and moorland, wearing them deeper; after
these again some Lapp gained scent of the path, and took that way from field to field, looking to his reindeer. Thus was made the road through great Almenning–the common tracts without an owner; no-man’s land.

(Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil)

In old age we are like a batch of letters that someone has sent. We are no longer in the past, we have arrived.

(Knut Hamsun)

A singular sense of confusion suddenly darted through my head. I stumbled on, determined not to heed it; but I grew worse and worse, and was forced at last to sit down on a step. My whole being underwent a change, as if something had slid aside in my inner self, or as if a curtain or tissue of my brain was rent in two.

(Knut Hamsun, Hunger)

There are emergent, bizarre mental stories, distorted feelings, quite strange disturbances in the life of the will, for example, remarkable nervous activities of which science can only posit the existence.

(Knut Hamsun, Psykologisk Literatur)

As one man stopped and set me to rights rather sharply for my behaviour, I turned round and screamed a single meaningless word in his ear, clenched my fist right under his nose, and stumbled on, hardened by a blind rage that I could not control.

(Knut Hamsun, Hunger)

In the corridors and galleries choirs of musicians march by, and rills of perfume are wafted towards me.

I clasp her hand in mine; I feel the wild witchery of enchantment shiver through my blood, and I fold my arms around her, and she whispers, “Not here; come yet farther!” and we enter a crimson room, where all is of ruby, a foaming glory, in which I faint.

Then I feel her arms encircle me; her breath fans my face with a whispered “Welcome, loved one! Kiss me … more … more….”

I see from my seat stars shooting before my eyes, and my thoughts are swept away in a hurricane of light….

(Knut Hamsun, Hunger)

It seemed beyond all measure dense to me, and I felt its presence oppress me. I closed my eyes, commenced to sing under my breath, and tossed to and fro, in order to distract myself, but to no purpose. The darkness had taken possession of my thoughts and left me not a moment in peace. Supposing I were myself to be absorbed in darkness; made one with it?

(Knut Hamsun, Hunger)

I raise myself up in bed and fling out my arms. My nervous condition has got the upper hand of me, and nothing availed, no matter how much I tried to work against it. There I sat, a prey to the most singular fantasies, listening to myself crooning lullabies, sweating with the exertion of striving to hush myself to rest. I peered into the gloom, and I never in all the days of my life felt such darkness. There was no doubt that I found myself here, in face of a peculiar kind of darkness; a desperate element to which no one had hitherto paid attention. The most ludicrous thoughts busied me, and everything made me afraid.

(Knut Hamsun)

It struck five o’clock! Again I sank under the weight of my prolonged nervous excitement. The hollow whirring in my head made itself felt anew. I stared straight ahead, kept my eyes fixed, and gazed at the chemist’s under the sign of the elephant. Hunger was waging a fierce battle in me at this moment, and I was suffering greatly.

(Knut Hamsun, Hunger)

If one only had something to eat, just a little, on such a clear day! The mood of the gay morning overwhelmed me, I became unusually serene, and started to hum for pure joy and for no particular reason. In front of a butcher’s shop there was a woman with a basket on her arm, debating about some sausage for dinner; as I went past, she looked up at me. She had only a single tooth in the lower jaw. In the nervous and excitable state I was on, her face made an instant and revolting impression on me – the long yellow tooth looked like a finger sticking out of her jaw, and as she turned toward me, her eyes wee full of sausage. I lost my appetite instantly, and felt nauseated.

(Knut Hamsun, Hunger)

Actually, in my opinion, a man didn’t have to be insane to be sensitive. There were people who could be wounded by trifles and whom a single hard word could kill.

(Knut Hamsun)

When good befalls a man he calls it Providence, when evil Fate.

(Knut Hamsun)

“What am I to do in the presence of such gracious, such overwhelming generosity? I no longer have my feet planted on the ground, I am walking on air, my head is spinning. It is not easy to be myself right now. I have had honours and riches heaped on me this day. I myself am what I am, but I have been swept off my feet by the tribute that has been paid to my country, by the strains of her national anthem which resounded in this hall a minute ago.

It is as well perhaps that this is not the first time I have been swept off my feet. In the days of my blessed youth there were such occasions; in what young person’s life do they not occur? No, the only young people to whom this feeling is strange are those young conservatives who were born old, who do not know the meaning of being carried away. No worse fate can befall a young man or woman than becoming prematurely entrenched in prudence and negation. Heaven knows that there are plenty of opportunities in later life, too, for being carried away. What of it? We remain what we are and, no doubt, it is all very good for us!

However, I must not indulge in homespun wisdom here before so distinguished an assembly, especially as I am to be followed by a representative of science. I will soon sit down again, but this is my great day. I have been singled out by your benevolence, chosen amongst thousands of others, and crowned with laurels! On behalf of my country I thank the Swedish Academy and all Sweden for the honour they have bestowed on me. Personally, I bow my head under the weight of such great distinctions, but I am also proud that your Academy should have judged my shoulders strong enough to bear them.

A distinguished speaker said earlier tonight that I have my own way of writing, and this much I may perhaps claim and no more. I have, however, learned something from everyone and what man is there who has not learned a little from all? I have had much to learn from Sweden’s poetry and, more especially, from her lyrics of the last generation. Were I more conversant with literature and its great names, I could go on quoting them ad infinitum and acknowledge my debt for the merit you have been generous enough to find in my work. However, coming from a person like me, this would be mere name-dropping, shallow sound effects without a single bass note to support them. I am no longer young enough for this; I have not the strength.

No, what I should really like to do right now, in the full blaze of lights, before this illustrious assembly, is to shower every one of you with gifts, with flowers, with offerings of poetry – to be young once more, to ride on the crest of the wave. That is what I should wish to do on this great occasion, this last opportunity for me. I dare not do it, for I would not be able to escape ridicule. Today riches and honours have been lavished on me, but one gift has been lacking, the most important one of all, the only one that matters, the gift of youth. None of us is too old to remember it. It is proper that we who have grown old should take a step back and do so with dignity and grace.

I know not what I should do – I know not what is the right thing to do, but I raise my glass to the youth of Sweden, to young people everywhere, to all that is young in life.

Prior to the acceptance, Professor Oscar Montelius addressed Mr. Hamsun: «I know that you prefer to be talked about as little as possible; but I cannot refrain from assuring you that all of us who admire your Growth of the Soil rejoice in having made your personal acquaintance.”

(Knut Hamsun’s acceptance speach when accepting the Nobel Prize in 1920)