Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Everyone Is a World” is a paradoxical poem, setting up an impossible coexistence of the singular and the plural individual, of imprisonment and freedom, and of powerlessness and power. Its paradoxical statement well represents Ekelöf’s poetry. A modernist rebel poet who believed in the individual and who feared the dehumanization of an increasingly mechanized and bureaucratic society, Ekelöf wrote many poems with a similar message. With the title of the 1945 collection Non serviam and in poems such as “I believe in the solitary human being” (the Swedish original appears in Färjesång), Ekelöf fiercely placed himself as an outsider and a rebel. He also believed that it was exactly by finding and capturing in poetry what was unique within himself that he might express a universal human soul and be able to share experiences with other human beings. As a poet, he did so again and again. Thus, paradoxically, the outsider and rebel becomes the true insider, the speaker for humankind.
In “Everyone Is a World,” Ekelöf writes that human beings are plural. Equally often, in other poems, he maintains the opposite: that to be human is to be nobody. In the poetry sequence “Write It Down,” Ekelöf writes, for example: “You say ‘I’ and ‘it concerns me’/ but it concerns a what:/ In reality you are no one.” One could argue that Ekelöf is inconsistent, but in his view, the plural and the nonexistent self are not incompatible. The notions of self may be paradoxical, but then, in Ekelöf’s poetry, all truth is paradoxical.
Ekelöf developed a unique poetic style to enhance these contrasting meanings. He describes poetry writing as a quest for the hidden meaning, “a kind of Alchemie du verbepoetry is this very tension-filled relationship between the worlds, between the lines, between the meanings.” “Everyone Is a World” has one central image, the meaning of which can be seen between the parts that the image includes. The mighty steamship violates the natural, undisturbed world, the sea and the evening. The reader grasps the unnaturalness of the machine only through a contrast between it and the natural scene.
Using fragments and uncertain poetic locations, Ekelöf often frustrates his readers. His view that meaning is created in between elements rather than within separate entities can assist the reader in approaching his poems.