Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Dordogne” is a poem about an ancient intimacy with nature, which, according to the poet, humankind has now lost. This intimacy allowed prehistoric people to participate in the natural rhythms of death and life without feelings of alienation, and it allowed them to create an art that can still astound people tens of thousands of years later. The Stone Age, to which these cave paintings belong, dates from about 750,000 years ago until about 15,000 years ago. The poem is a quest poem in which the modern poet is seeking to find not only the closeness to nature but also the creative capacity that is the well-kept secret of the ancient people. The hidden source of water becomes an image for both natural and artistic life.

The belief that ancient people had access to more wisdom and a more unified life closer to nature is common enough in modern poetry. The Romantic poets of the nineteenth century were fascinated by history and what they saw as a more genuine human experience. Great modernist works such as James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) interweave stories of contemporary people with ancient myths and tales. Ekelöf, who translated Eliot into Swedish, explored various aspects of this theme. In the poem “The Gandhara Medallion” (the Swedish original is in the collection Färjesång, 1941), he explores the thematics of life in death and death in life. That poem ends, “Dead you are while...

(The entire section is 498 words.)