Henrik Arnold Wergeland (June 17, 1808–July 12 1845) was a Norwegian poet and prose writer, born in Kristiansand. He was the eldest son of Professor Nikolai Wergeland (1780–1848), who had been a member of the constitutional assembly which proclaimed the independence of Norway in 1814 at Eidsvold. Nikolai was himself pastor of Eidsvold, and the poet was thus brought up in the very holy of holies of Norwegian patriotism. Wergeland was also the older brother of author Camilla Collett.
He entered the University of Christiania in 1825 to study for the church, and was soon the leader of a small romantic nationalist movement. He was a main force behind the celebration of Norway's constitution day on May 17, and his grave and statues are always decorated by students and school children every year. Notably, the Jewish community of Oslo pays their respects at his grave on May 17th, in appreciation of his efforts to allow Jews into Norway.
Critics claim his earliest efforts in literature were wild and formless. He was full of imagination, but without taste or knowledge. He published poetical farces under the pseudonym of "Siful Sifadda"; these were followed in 1828 by an unsuccessful tragedy; and in 1829 by a volume of lyrical and patriotic poems, Digte, første Ring, which attracted the liveliest attention to his name.
At the age of twenty-one he became a power in literature, and his enthusiastic preaching of the doctrines of the revolution of July made him a force in politics also. Meanwhile he was tireless in his efforts to advance the national cause. He established popular libraries, and tried to alleviate the widespread poverty of the Norwegian peasantry. He preached the simple life, denounced foreign luxuries, and set an example by wearing Norwegian homespun clothes. But his numerous writings were coldly received by the critics, and a monster epic, Skabelsen, Mennesket og Messias (Creation, Man and Messiah), 1830, showed no improvement in style. It was remodelled in 1845 as Mennesket (Man).
From 1831 to 1835 Wergeland was subjected to severe satirical attacks from J. S. Welhaven and others, and his style improved in every respect. His nationalist political propaganda lacked knowledge and system. His partisans were alienated by his inconsistent admiration for King Carl Johan, by his unpopular advocacy of the Jewish cause, and by the extravagance of his methods generally. His popularity waned as his poetry improved, and in 1840 he found himself a really great lyric poet, but an exile from political influence. In that year he became keeper of the royal archives. The following year, be moved from Damstredet to Grotten. He died in 1845. His statue stands between the Royal Palace and Storting by Oslo's main street, his back turned to Nationaltheateret. On Norwegian Constitution Day, it receives an annual wreath of flowers from students at the University of Oslo
Wergeland's Jan van Huysums Blomsterstykke (1840), Siialen (1841), Jøden (1842), Jødinden (1844) and Den Engelske Lods (1844), form a series of narrative poems in short lyrical metres which remain the most interesting and important of their kind in Norwegian literature. He was less successful in other branches of letters; in the drama neither his Campbellerne (1837), Venetianerne (1843), nor Søkadetterne (1848), achieved any lasting success; while his elaborate contribution to political history, Norges Constitutions Historie (1841-1843), is forgotten. The poems of his later years include many lyrics of great beauty, which are among the permanent treasures of Norwegian poetry.
Wergeland's Samlede Skrifter ("Collected Works", 9 vols., Christiania, 1852–1857) were edited by H. Lassen, the author of Henrik Wergeland og hans Samtid (1866), and the editor of his Breve ("Letters", 1867).