What is Norway’s national anthem, and what are the lyrics in English?

17 May 2024, 17:14

A parade for Norway's annual National Day
A parade for Norway's annual National Day. Picture: Alamy

By Siena Linton

‘Yes, we love this country’ became Norway’s official national anthem in 2019, and celebrates the love and devotion the Norwegian people have for their country.

Norway’s official national anthem is ‘Ja, vi elsker dette landet’ (‘Yes, we love this country’), but throughout the 18th and 19th centuries there were several other contenders with various social and political undercurrents.

The history of Norway as a country is deeply entangled with that of its Scandinavian neighbours, and as a result several of the musical works that have been used as de facto national anthems have a lot to do with the historical climates of the time.

The current national anthem was written by Bjørnsterne Bjørnson and Rikard Nordraak in the mid-late 1800s. It has been in use since the mid-1860s, but wasn’t officially recognised as the nation’s national anthem until just a few years ago in 2019.

Read more: The world’s greatest national anthems, ranked

What is the history of Norway’s national anthem?

From 1523 to 1814, Norway existed in a union with Denmark, often known as the ‘Twin Realms’ or the ‘Dano-Norwegian Realm’. As a result, many Norwegian nationals were spread throughout the region, residing in Danish towns and cities.

In Copenhagen in 1771, Johan Nordahl Brun wrote the drinking song ‘Norges Skaal’ (‘Norway’s Toast’), also known by its first line: ‘For Norge, Kiæmpers Fødeland’, or ‘For Norway, birthplace of warriors’. It carried themes of Norwegian nationalism, and as a result was banned just a year after its composition by Danish-Norwegian officials for being anti-Danish in nature. Its revolutionary themes gained it the nickname ‘the Norwegian Marseillaise’ after the French national anthem.

Read more: What are the lyrics to the French National Anthem, La Marseillaise?

Despite this, it remained popular in particular with Norwegian students in Copenhagen, and from the 1800s it became the unofficial anthem of the nation.

After the dissolution of the union in 1814, a competition was arranged to find the best national anthem. The winner was ‘Sønner av Norge’ by H.A. Bjerregaard, which became the de facto anthem throughout the first 50 years of independence.

In 1859, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson began to write the words which would later become the lyrics of Norway’s current national anthem, the melody to which was provided a few years later by his cousin, Rikard Nordraak, who was also friends with Edvard Grieg. The first public performance of ‘Ja, vi elsker’ took place on 16 May 1864 in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Norway’s status as an independent kingdom.

Bjørnson was a writer and poet and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1903, becoming the first Norwegian Nobel laureate. In reference to his newly-written national anthem, he apparently said: “Our National Anthem is that of a small, peace-loving nation, but if it is sung in the hour of danger, determination clad in armour speaks from every line”.

Bjørnson was also known for his natural ability to motivate the masses with his moving speeches, so it seems only right that his words should be the ones to represent Norway in music.

Ja, vi elsker dette landet (2020)

What are the lyrics to Norway’s national anthem in English?

The complete anthem consists of eight verses, but usually only the first and final two are sung. These three patriotic stanzas talk of the love and devotion of the Norwegian people to their country.

Yes, we love this country
as it rises forth,
rugged, weathered, over the water,
with the thousands of homes, —
love, love it and think
of our father and mother
and the saga-night that lays
dreams upon our earth.

Norwegian man in house and cabin,
thank your great God!
The country he wanted to protect,
although things looked dark.
All the fights fathers have fought,
and the mothers have wept,
the Lord has quietly eased
so we won our rights.

Yes, we love this country
as it rises forth,
rugged, weathered, above the sea,
with those thousand homes.
And as the fathers' struggle has raised
it from need to victory,
even we, when it is demanded,
for its peace will encamp (for defence).

The original lyrics of the Norwegian national anthem

Ja, vi elsker dette landet,
som det stiger frem,
furet, værbitt over vannet,
med de tusen hjem, —
elsker, elsker det og tenker
på vår far og mor
og den saganatt som senker
drømmer på vår jord.

Norske mann i hus og hytte,
takk din store Gud!
Landet ville han beskytte,
skjønt det mørkt så ut.
Alt, hva fedrene har kjempet,
mødrene har grett,
har den Herre stille lempet,
vi vant vår rett.

Ja, vi elsker dette landet,
som det stiger frem,
furet, værbitt over vannet,
med de tusen hjem.
Og som fedres kamp har hevet
det av nød til seir,
også vi, når det blir krevet,
for dets fred slår leir.