Bengt Gunnar Ekelöf was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on September 15, 1907. His father, Gerhard Ekelöf, was a wealthy stockbroker, and Ekelöf grew up in big, finely furnished houses. Ekelöf’s childhood, however, was not a happy one, despite his comfortable surroundings. Gerhard Ekelöf had contracted syphilis, and his health was deteriorating when Ekelöf was a young boy. Before Ekelöf turned nine, his father died, and Ekelöf was sent away to boarding schools. When his mother, Valborg von Hedenberg, remarried several years later, Ekelöf felt rejected and homeless. Bengt Landgren and Reidar Ekner, the critics most familiar with Ekelöf’s biography, point out that Ekelöf’s relationship with his parents cultivated and reinforced his role as an “outsider.” Ekelöf’s failed love relationships—a 1932 marriage to Gunnel Bergström was dissolved after a few months, and an affair during 1933 and 1934 was broken off—reinforced Ekelöf’s “outsider” perspective.
Ekelöf was particularly fascinated by two subjects as a student: music and Oriental mysticism. In 1926, he spent one semester at the London School of Oriental Studies, and in the next year he began studies in Persian at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. Ekelöf was often sick as a student, and he never earned a degree, but his studies inspired a lifelong interest in Oriental mysticism and led to his discovery of Ibn el-Arabi’s poetry, which moved Ekelöf to write his first...
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