Search results for "Edith Södergran"

Sisters beneath the skin — the letters of Edith Södergran and Hagar Olsson

11 February 2009 | Articles, Authors, Extracts

Edith Södergran and Hagar Olsson

Edith Södergran and Hagar Olsson. – Photos: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, Åbo Akademis bildsamlingar.

Almost one hundred years ago, a small Karelian village close to St Petersburg, near the Finno-Russian border, saw the birth of a fearless new form of modern poetry.

The Finland-Swedish poet Edith Södergran (1892–1923) began writing her burning lines inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideal of the new man and his philosophy of creativity. Södergrans’ poems were free of any traditional pattern and full of strong images. Her work, which ran to six collections of poems, later achieved classic status in the modernist traditon that she presaged.

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Poems

2 February 2009 | Fiction, poetry

Edith Södergran (1892–1923) was born in  St Petersburg to Finland-Swedish parents; she later lived in an isolated Karelian village on the Finnish side of the Russian border. She published only six collections of poetry, in her native Swedish, before her untimely death from tuberculosis and poverty at the age of 31. Her bold, intense, sensuous and visionary poetry has made her a classic of Finnish literature. Her letters to her friend, the writer Hagar Olsson, were published in 1955.

Violet dusks

Violet dusks I bear within me from my origins,
naked maidens at play with galloping centaurs...
Yellow sunlit days with gaudy glances,
only sunbeams do true homage to a tender woman’s body...
The man has not come, has never been, will never be...
The man is a false mirror that the sun’s daughter angrily
                                   throws against the rock-face,
the man is a lie that white children do not understand,
the man is a rotten fruit that proud lips disdain.

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Dark gods: on the prose and poetry of Mirjam Tuominen

31 December 1991 | Archives online, Authors

‘With her collection of short stories, Mirjam Tuominen, hitherto an unknown name, has won a place among the very elite of our literature; it is a long time since we have witnessed such an important debut. What is so strange is that the author who is now making her appearance is a truly original talent. She is an artist in soul and spirit, and not merely a more or less gifted writer… There is no doubt that she touches the nerve of our time very intimately, and that her short stories are not products of literature, but really do contain within their form the living word.’

With this enthusiastic review, in 1938, the leading Finland-Swedish critic Hagar Olsson, who had also been the friend and active supporter of Edith Södergran, introduced the young Mirjam Tuominen’s first collection of short stories, Tidig tvekan (‘Early hesitation’). More…

Breton without tears

31 March 1994 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from Euroopan reuna (‘The edge of Europe’, Otava, 1982). Introduction by H. K. Riikonen

I am reading a book, it says pour l’homme latin ou grec, un forme correspond à un être; pour le Celte, tout est metamorphose, un même individu peut prendre des apparences diverses, so it says in the book. A strange claim, considering that the word metamorphosis is Greek, and that the best-known book about metamorphoses, Ovid’s Metamorphoseon libri XV was written in Latin. In the myths of all peoples, at least the ones whose oral poetry was recorded in time, such as the Greeks, Serbs, Slavs, Finns, or Aztecs, metamorphoses play a very important part, the Celts are not an exceptional tribe in this respect. The author must mean that the Celts still live in mythical time, the time of metamorphoses when the human being assumed shapes, was able to fly as a bird, swim as a fish, howl as a wolf, and to crown his career by rising up into the sky as a constellation. Brittany is part of the Armorica Joyce tells us about in Finnegans Wake, that book is incomprehensible if one does not know Ireland, and now I see that Brittany is the key to one of the book’s locked rooms. I thought I already had keys to all the rooms after Dublin, the Vatican, and Athens, but one door was and remained closed, the key is here now, in my hand, I can get into all the rooms in the book, and I am home even if I should happen to get lost. The room creates the person, she becomes another when she goes from one room to another, this is metamorphosis, and when she leaves the house she disappears, she no longer exists. The legend on the temple at Delphi, gnothi seauton, know thyself, has led Occidentals onto the false track that is now becoming a dead end, polytheistic religions correspond to the order of nature, but as soon as the human starts to imagine that she knows herself, as soon as the metamorphic era ends, monotheism is born, the human being creates god in her own image, and that is the source of all evil. Planted like traffic signs at the far end of this cul-de-sac stand the hitlers and brezhnevs and reagans and thatchers, new leaves are appearing on the trees, the sun is shining. Landet som icke är* är en paradox: landet blev befintligt därigenom att Edith Södergran sade att det icke är. On the sea sailed a silent ship*, as I tracked my shoeprints across the sand on the beach, it was like walking on a street made out of salty raw sugar, I felt desolate. The wind bent the grasses, the sun warmed the back of my sweater, of course the sun always has the last word, I thought, things should be as they are, this thought gave me peace of mind. I walked past the cows, two of them already chewing the cud, the others still grazing, they stood in a line and raised their heads, stood at attention, as it were, as I walked past. I was not entirely sure that I was heading in the right direction, but then I saw the boucherie and knew that there was a café nearby. Madame greeted me in a friendly fashion, brought me a calvados and a beer and sat down for a chat, wanted to know if I liked the countryside here. I said that things looked the same here as in Ireland, she said that was true, but she had never been to Ireland. I finished my drinks and paid, left, decided to walk along the beach. I saw gun emplacements and two bunkers. I crawled into a bunker. Inside, it was dark and damp. I looked through the embrasure at the sea. I thought of the boys who had been incarcerated here. They had been given a death sentence. I examined a rusty object, what was it, I looked at it more closely, it was an axle from a gun’s undercarriage. As I arrive in my home yard, I note that the lilacs are beginning to bloom. More…

Enough is enough!

31 December 2001 | Archives online, Authors, Essays

Katri Vala’s admirers regarded her as a kind of priestess of passion for life. A hundred years after her birth, the contemporary writer Leena Krohn begs to differ

I have in my life been inspired by many poets – Salvatore Quasimodo, Charles Baudelaire, Nils Ferlin, T.S. Eliot, Edgar Lee Masters, Rainer Maria Rilke, for example.

Eino Leino, Uuno Kailas, P. Mustapää and Saima Harmaja are among the idols of my childhood, Edith Södergran and Helvi Juvonen those of my youth. Their verses must have formed such firm structures in my brain that I would be able to mumble them even if I were to become a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

Katri Vala has never been one of these poets. More…

A feminist and a dreamer

30 December 2008 | Archives online, Authors

The Swedish-speaking minority culture of Finland provided an unlikely crucible for the literary modernism that was to reshape western poetry in the early 20th century. Clas Zilliacus introduces the life, work and times of Hagar Olsson (1893–1978), writer and feminist

Finland-Swedish modernism – the most cherished ‘ism’ and period in Finland-Swedish literature – began in 1916, the year in which both Edith Södergran and Hagar Olsson published their first books: a collection of poems and a novel, respectively.

The principal feature of Södergran’s poetry is a tautly compressed treatment of poetic symbolism; her poems could cross the solar system, but were also able to find the key to life in the raspberry patch. The literary style of Hagar Olsson (1893–1978) had many more uses, but none of them were poetic. The two women became close friends in 1919 but, due to the distance between the poet’s home in Karelia and the critic’s in Helsinki as well as to Södergran’s illness and poverty, they mostly communicated by letters. Their correspondence: from 1919 to 1923, was published more than thirty years after Södergrans death from tuberculosis (1923) in the book Ediths brev (‘Edith’s letters’, 1955). More…

Far from the madding crowd

21 February 2013 | Articles, Non-fiction

Saima Harmaja (1913–1937). Photo: WSOY

Saima Harmaja (1913–1937). Photo: WSOY

‘I don’t belong to the crowd,’ the young Saima Harmaja wrote in her diary in 1933. Her work as a poet was for her a vocation that superseded everything else. In her diaries she often speaks as a sociable young woman, with a delicious sense of humour, but her best poems seriously explore love, and death which cast its shadow over her. A selection of her poems – the best of which have made her a Finnish classic – is now published in English for the first time

In her diary the young poet claimed: ‘I think I would die if I could not write.’ What Harmaja shared with the poets of the early part of the twentieth century who influenced her was the private and personally experienced nature of poetry itself, rather than the realisation of any current aesthetic programme.

Harmaja is one of those poets whose works have passed through the hands of readers from decade to decade. She is also a prototype of the poet of her generation: gifts that led to the expectation of a brilliant career, a life that was brought to a tragic end by tuberculosis, leaving just five years of work as a poet. More…

Subterranean, pre-verbal

31 March 2007 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Claes Andersson, poet and psychiatrist, ponders the difficulties of writing, and how to get down to it. These are extracts from the collection of articles, Luova mieli. Kirjoittamisen vimma ja vastus (‘The creative mind. The rage and burden of writing’, Kirjapaja, 2002)

Some subjects or ideas need years on the back burner before they submit to being written about. The wise writer learns the basic rule ofthe good midwife: don’t panic, don’t force, wait, and help when the time for birth is at hand, but know also when a Caesarean section is advisable or even necessary. More…

Between Eros and Thanatos

30 September 1989 | Archives online, Authors

Tua Forsström’s poetry is deeply disturbing. Inside her clairvoyant linguistic structures there appear realities and visions that like icons establish a strong and direct link with visions, perceptions, memories, desires and dreams which I myself recognise but which are concealed. Reading her becomes a crossing of borders: I have been in this room before! This reality filled with ambivalence and antagonistic forces, this magnetic field between Eros and Thanatos touches me to the marrow of my experience! More…

God and the incomplete

30 September 1993 | Archives online, Authors

It took 25 years for Gunnar Björling to be transformed from the madman traditionalists universally considered him to be into a writer the world could not ignore and, moreover, a poet who, in his at- tempts to capture silence and say the unsayable, supplied ‘equipment for living’. When the Swedish Literature Society of Finland finally gave him a prize after the Second World War – his breakthrough as a poet had taken place in 1933, with Solgrönt (‘Sungreen’) – there was an outcry. The Society’s long-time president, an anti-Nazi historian, could not stomach the work of the poet’s Sturm und Drang period, and resigned in protest.

Björling published his first collection with his own press in 1922, a year before the death of Edith Södergran. Along with Södergran and Elmer Diktonius, he is one of the three great figures of Finland- Swedish modernism. His friend, the poet Rabbe Enckell, one of the few people who understood and were in sympathy with him early on, called him Europe’s last Dadaist. He himself gave himself the title of Universal Dada-Individualist. After the publication of his first book, he spent some time drinking in pubs, carrying on debates and writing moral laxatives for the constipated bourgeoisie in the hope that it would have a spiritual bowel-movement. It responded by laugh ing at him. He became incomprehensibility personified. He gave generous quantities of copies of his books to friends and patrons of literature which he would sometimes find, their pages uncut, in second-hand bookshops. More…

Out of Ostrobothnia

31 December 1992 | Archives online, Authors

This summer saw the publication of Hid (‘Coming here’), the third part of Gösta Ågren’s verse trilogy, which studies and describes the poets roots in Finland-Swedish Ostrobothnia. For Jär (‘Standing Here’), the trilogy’s first part, Ågren was given the 1989 Finlandia Prize, his country’s most prestigious literary award. The second part, Städren (‘The cities’), appeared in 1990.

In a letter to his English publisher, Ågren himself recently commented: ‘I have been working on the three collections for nine years, since 1984. They are, in a way, autobiographical. That is why the titles are formed according to the dialect of my home region. Normally they should be “Här”, “Städerna” and “Hit”.’ More…

Reclaiming the body

30 September 1992 | Archives online, Authors

The work of Agneta Enckell is a good example of what happened in young Finland-Swedish writing during the 1980s. The developments that took place then have much in common with what had happened earlier in the rest of Scandinavia: the strong social and political interests which a large number of the writers had explored since the mid 1960s changed character and were supplemented by a critical scrutiny of language itself, and by an examination of the possibilities and limitations of literature as a form of communication.

In Finland the writers of the 1960s, led by the poet Claes Andersson, called into question the inheritance of Edith Södergran and the modernists of the 1920s, who at that time seemed to represent a tradition that was burdensome and limiting rather than living and productive in an Eliotian sense. More…

Poetry and Patriotism

31 December 1985 | Archives online, Authors, Essays

J.L. Runeberg. Painting by Albert Edelfelt. 1893.

J.L. Runeberg. Painting by Albert Edelfelt. 1893.

Much revered, but little read today, Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877) is famed for his patriotism and glorification of war in a just cause. Yet Finland’s national poet did not write in Finnish, and never heard a shot fired in anger. It is, perhaps, time for a reappraisal.

What did he himself think about becoming a national poet?
Enjoyed it, probably? Who wouldn’t!
Did he write what he wanted and let
the people find their own interpretation?
Or did he write what he believed
the people expected
of a national poet?

Lars Huldén, 1978

 

It would not be inappropriate to begin a collection of thoughts about Finland’s ‘national poet,’ Johan Ludvig Runeberg, with a biblical text, Second Samuel, 1:25: ‘How are the mighty fallen!’ Runeberg does not own the position he once did, either in the world at large or in Scandinavia; even in his home land his exceptional grandeur has been reduced or, horribile dictu, smiled at. More…

A portrait of Elmer Diktonius

30 June 1982 | Archives online, Authors

Elmer Diktonius

Elmer Diktonius at his home in Kauniainen (Grankulla). Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Elmer Diktonius, one of the leading Finland-Swedish modernists of the 1920s, was a revolutionary poet, prose-writer and critic who also tried his hand at composing. Professor George Schoolfield, whose article on Diktonius appears below, appends his own translations of several of the lyrics: a filler selection is going to be published in the United States, Recently Professor Schoolfield has been working on a biography of Diktonius which he hopes to publish soon.

The literary fate of the Finland-Swedish modernist Elmer Diktonius (1896-1961) has not been an altogether happy one. Saluted early and late in his career as Finland’s Strindberg and as a possible rival to Mayakovsky in the contest for the greatest lyricist of the revolution, Diktonius would seem, surely, to deserve a place on the world’s literary stage. Yet the attention he has received outside the north has been mostly unwitting: the writers of program notes quote his description of the Silbelius Fourth, ‘the bark-bread symphony’ without knowing its source, the collected concert-reviews of Opus 12: Musik (1933). Surveys that might have introduced him to a larger public are silent. The chubby Pelican Guide to the European Literature of Modernism ignores him; the Penguin Book of Socialist Verse omits him from its 134 specimens of the lyric left; and Ulrich Weisstein’s volume of Expressionism as an International Literary Phenomenon does not have him in its chapter on ‘Expressionism in Scandinavia’, although he would qualify – as the Swedish scholar Bill Romefors has proved – as the major northern heir of German expressionism. More…

Against the grain

30 June 1983 | Archives online, Authors

Gösta Ågren

Gösta Ågren. Photo: Studio Paschinsky

Gösta Ågren (born 1936) represents at least two qualities highly characteristic of Finland-Swedish writers. He was born and grew up in a part of Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnia – in the immediate vicinity of the two small coastal towns of Uusikaupunki (Nykarleby) and Pietarsaari (Jakobstad) – which has been the home of many of the most important Finland­-Swedish authors, from Runeberg and Zacharias Topelius through Mikael Lybeck and R. R. Eklund to Evert and Lars Huldén. And like Rabbe Enckell, Oscar Parland and others, Gösta Ågren comes from a family closely associated with literature – two of his brothers, Erik and Leo, are also writers, as was his sister Inga, who died young.

Otherwise Gösta Ågren is an author who in all important respects has gone his own way, often in opposition to the establishments, literary and otherwise, in southern Finland and Helsinki. More…