Study Guide

Gunnar Ekelöf

Gunnar Ekelöf Essay - Ekelöf, Gunnar

Ekelöf, Gunnar

Introduction

Gunnar Ekelöf 1907–1968

(Full name Gunnar Bengt Ekelöf; also transliterated as Ekeloef) Swedish poet, essayist, and translator.

Ekelöf has often been described as the most important poet of modern Swedish literature. His work, which reflects the influences of the mystical poetry of ancient Persia and the Orient, Taoist and Indian mysticism, and French Symbolism and Surrealism, is complex and enigmatic. Written in the modernist aesthetic tradition, Ekelöf's poetry challenges the reader to abandon conventional perceptions of both poetry and reality. True to the work of the Surrealists, his works also call upon readers to explore the relevance of the subconscious to their thinking. Thus, Ekelöf's work is often filled with fantastic, dreamlike images and symbols which mock rational thought. Against this backdrop, reality and self emerge as Ekelöf's major concerns, while freedom from the dualistic morality of good and evil become his personal and poetic aim.

Biographical Information

Ekelöf was born into a wealthy family in Stockholm, Sweden. He described his mother, with whom he never shared a close relationship, as a member of the "petty nobility." His father, a stockbroker, contracted syphilis while Ekelöf was a child; the disease caused him to lose his sanity, and eventually resulted in his death. The loss of his father led Ekelöf to regard himself as an outsider, and the image of the outcast or loner appears frequently in his poetry. Ekelöf's academic career was widely varied. He studied Asian languages in London, England, as well as in Uppsala, Sweden, and in Paris during the 1920s he studied writing, music, and drawing. Both music and the visual arts surface as important influences in his poetry. Ekelöf was elected to the Swedish Academy in 1958. He died of throat cancer in 1968.

Major Works

Ekelöf's first book of poems, Sent på jorden (1932; Late Arrival on Earth) proved itself an influential work in its time. Written during a period of the author's deep despair and drawing upon the techniques of French Surrealism, the volume presents a bleak, nihilistic vision of a world hurtling toward destruction. This work, Ekelöf's "suicide book," was written at a time when the bourgeois humanistic culture of Sweden was under fierce criticism by such groups as the Marxists, and is considered revolutionary because it attacked not only the bourgeoisie but also "the conventional structures of language and literature." Full

of nightmarish imagery of death and decay, Late Arrival on Earth marks the beginning of Ekelöf's lifelong attack on traditional conceptions of reality as well as of poetry. Dedikation (1934; Dedication), Ekelöf's second book of poetry, reflects the influence of French Symbolism: here, Ekelöf portrays himself as an interpreter or "seer" whose vision extends beyond the perimeters of superficial reality. More positive than Late Arrival on Earth, Dedication shows the author groping toward the truth which he believes lies beyond reality and seeking a "oneness" denied by the moralists' artificially constructed poles of good and evil. Transcendence of such boundaries, Ekelöf believed, allows one to become fully "oneself." In Sorgen och stjärnan (1935; Grief and Stars), Ekelöf denies the existence of reality altogether: concepts, institutions, rules, and boundaries are seen as artificial, the mere inventions of persons struggling to impose order on the chaotic and unending struggle between good and evil. Ekelöf regarded Färjesång (1941; Ferry Song) as the culmination of his thought. More intellectual than his previous works, Ferry Song displays the influence of Symbolism and Romanticism. Attempting to reconcile the ideal and the real, the poet questions the validity of our traditional conceptions of both the self and reality. One of Ekelöf's most frequently discussed works is En Mölna-elegi (1960; A Mölna Elegy). Reminiscent of James Joyce's novel Ulysses, the Elegy consists in part of the poet's intricate musings, revolving around a single day he spent on the Mölna jetty outside of Stockholm, and contains an abundance of literary and historical allusions, including obscene lines from ancient Roman poetry. In general, Ekelöf's later poetry pursues themes similar to those of his earlier works, but in a different style and manner. In many of these works, there is an absurd element and an apparent attempt to eliminate all but the most necessary words and images. On numerous occasions, Ekelöf himself denied that these works were even poetry. The most widely-known examples from this phase in Ekelöfs career are Diwan över Fursten av Emgión (1965; Divan about the Prince of Emgión), Sagan om Fatumeh (1966; The Story of Fatumeh), and Vägvisare till underjorden (1967; Guide to the Underworld.)

Critical Reception

Many critics have acclaimed Ekelöf as a profound thinker and have praised his ability to incorporate diverse influences into a coherent pattern of thought. Some commentators have expressed admiration for Ekelöf as a distinctly Swedish poet whose works are permeated by the sentiments and landscapes of his native country. Ekelöf's poetry has been characterized as innovative in form and technique, particularly in its adaptation of musical forms to verse. His poetry, scholars have concluded, is distinguished by its originality and its relevancy to the reader concerned with problems of the modern age.

Principal Works

Poetry

Sent på jorden [Late Arrival on Earth] 1932

Dedikation [Dedication] 1934

Sorgen och stjärnan [Grief and Stars] 1935

Köp den blindes sång [Buy the Blind Man's Poem] 1938

Färjesång [Ferry Song] 1941

Non serviam [I Will Not Serve] 1945

Dikter (collected poems) 1949

Om hösten [In Autumn] 1951

Strountes [Nonsense or Try flings] 1955

Opus incertum 1959

En Mölna-elegi [A Mölna Elegy] 1960

En natt i Oto ac [A Night in Oto ac] 1961

Diwan över Fursten av Emgión [Divan about the Prince of Emgión] 1965

Sagan om Fatumeh [The Story of Fatumeh] 1966

Vägvisare till underjorden [Guide to the Underworld] 1967

* Partitur [Score] 1969

*En röst 1973

Other Major Works

Promenader [Walks] (essays) 1941

Utflykter [Excursions] (essays) 1947

Blandade kort [Shuffled Cards] (essays) 1957

En självbiografi (autobiography) 1971

*Published posthumously and edited by the poet's wife, Ingrid Ekelöf.

Criticism

Leif Sjöberg (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: "Allusions in the First Part of En Mölna-Elegi," in Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 37, No. 4, November, 1965, pp. 293-323.

[In the following excerpt, while tracing the literary, mythological, and historical allusions in A Mölna Elegy, Sjöberg discusses Ekelöf's fascination with the theme of time and his connections to James Joyce and T. S. Eliot.]

If there has been a major shift in poetic theory during the past two centuries, it has been from an emphasis of the external world (around us) to the internal world (within us). Thus, for a long time the consciousness of man has been the primary target for a vast number of writers and poets. The great variety with which these consciousnesses are described may be illustrated by a brief consideration of three outstanding examples. In his Ulysses (1922), James Joyce devoted more than a quarter million words to revealing the complexity involved in the passage of a single, ordinary day, and later, in Finnegans Wake (1939) used as many words to dramatize a single night of a single character. Eliot, on the other hand, concentrated his discussion of The Waste Land to just over four hundred lines. At about the time when Joyce began preparing Finnegans Wake for the press, Gunnar Ekelöf (b. 1907) began to write En Mölna-Elegi, which was finally published in 1960. In an introductory note in Bonniers Litterära Magasin (BLM) 1946, Ekelöf described it as a poem concerning itself "with the relativity of time and time experience, perhaps also with a kind of Lebensstimmung. It is not a description of a time lapse but is (theoretically) supposed to occur in one moment (italics added). In other words: a transverse section of time, instead of a lengthwise section." This moment of Lebensstimmung, this second, comprises images from a number of centuries, and from various cultures and religions of the past and the present; it deals with the West as well as the East and with the primitive as well as with the sophisticated. It was a "work in progress" for more than twenty years and can now be read in a book which consists of a little more than sixty pages….

Since Ekelöfs A Mölna-Elegy is a meeting place of quotations, allusions, references, and, above all, identifications, it is desirable that the reader have a commentary available for a better understanding of the poem. The following essay is an attempt to trace and point out some of these allusions, etc. without propounding interpretations (except in a limited way). In some instances I have managed to get statements authenticated by the poet; in other instances I have quoted what have seemed appropriate passages from his essays.

Ekelöf's relationship to Joyce seems straightforward and generally friendly. For instance, in one of his books of translations in which he preaches a Selective Affinity theory Ekelöf includes four poems from Joyce's Chamber Music. The collection of poems that many critics consider his best, Non Serviam (1945), may even have derived its title from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In A Mölna-Elegy Ekelöf has woven in the sentence "when the h, who the hu, how the hue, where the huer?" from Finnegans Wake which in a letter he once called "a gigantic cocoon." The telescoping of words that is so characteristic of Joyce is used sparingly in some of Ekelöfs later books.

Ekelöf's relation to Eliot is more involved and not entirely amiable. Ekelöf himself has rather effectively and energetically defended his integrity against some critics' assumption that he was dependent on Eliot:

Eliot I will undoubtedly have to suffer for all my life. I have (later) studied him by interpreting (= translating) him; I appreciate him as an artist, if not as a cultural critic; I have learned from his free blank verse (but as much from Shakespeare's); yet my poems still do not contain and do not express what his poems express and contain. In regard to the allusion and quotation method particularly in Non Serviam and A Mölna-Elegy, which I suppose will be especially regarded as inspired by Eliot, it should be noted that it is an ageold method, practised not only by a Petronius, a Dante, even a Rabelais or in our days a Joyce, but in all times by an innumerable host of "hermetic," symbolic, or mystic poets, naturally in such a way that each has sung his song hintingly according to his own turn of mind.

Ekelöf then goes on to say that he does not believe in artistic development by means of "influences," at least not in regard to writers who have something genuinely original to offer; instead he believes in development through a process of identification, i.e., "so that one recognizes himself both in what is new and old and furthermore in time, in the changes which the light of time throws onto the picture, which itself is living and changeable."

Nonetheless, on several occasions Ekelöf seems to have been influenced by Eliot. Arne Losman, in his essay "Kring En Mölna-Elegi" (1958), has listed a few of these, and makes reference to one of the most important themes of the elegy: a deep mutual connection with the past. This has been expressed in the lines: "Thus I feel / From the depth of my midriff my dead ones." Here Losman thinks he recognizes Eliot's influence, but he fails to be more specific. He goes on:

It is likely that Ekelöfs understanding of tradition, at least to some extent, has been inspired by Eliot. The Elegy is a quite orthodox application of the Englishman's concepts of tradition, which according to his essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919) involves historic mind, acquired through hard work, coupled with a feeling that all literature of Europe has a simultaneous existence: the poet becomes part of a living past. According to Eliot the best parts of the poetry are those in which the dead poets make their immortality most strongly felt.

"A few times I have started to read Eliot's essays but never got very far. There didn't seem to be anything there for me to gather. 'The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism ' is the only (critical) book I have had a real try at," Ekelöf has stated. Losman notes Ekelöf's introductory remarks to the Elegy (BLM, 1946), in which "ironically enough Ekelöf made use of the same Baudelaire allusion hycklande läsare as Eliot employed in The Waste Land. The fact that in the same notes Ekelöf conceded that his quotation method is "only partly a so-called Eliot method, a method which, incidentally, is not only Eliot's but is old as the hills," does not prove anything. The similarities Losman finds between the Elegy's doggerel "It was in the time when"…" and "Here we go round the prickly pear" in "The Hollow Men" are not very convincing. Is it not more reasonable to assume that Ekelöf has actually heard this doggerel rather than read it? Losman continues: "But Four Quartets are perhaps the poems by Eliot which show the greatest resemblances to the Elegy in terms of both form and content. The Elegy is 'a poem about the relativity of time and time experience'." Losman is tempted to compare this central theme with the opening lines of Burnt Norton: "Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in the past." and also with the main theme "In my beginning is my end," from East Coker, which Ekelöf translated.

These observations of alleged influence from Eliot could easily be matched with others that are equally facile and unsubstantiated. One such would be from Burnt Norton in which Eliot's "three aspects of time have been reduced to the central truth":

What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Ekelöf has written on this:

One can learn blank verse best from Shakespeare, but there it naturally makes an impression of being old-fashioned. Chiefly, what I have learned from Eliot is perhaps that in our time, too, blank verse works very well when one wants to set poetic prose, or everyday prose, into a kind of verse, thereby giving it a certain higher value. The sentences employing enjambment, with a period in the middle of the line, etc., also give the skillful writer an opportunity to take care of or suppress certain shades of meanings, as the need may be. But this is an artistic device, of which type there are many in existence. It is a part of the handicraft but not a form in itself. Form and contents are something quite different from the art of pounding in a nail, even if the latter may also be very useful. It is odd that such things can satisfy some critics when it is a matter of labeling a poet. But it is convenient, to be sure.

The sum of my "légitime défense" remains as before that my poems do not contain and do not express the same as his [Eliot's] poems express or contain, and this goes for both the kind of time experience as well as for the kind of artistic attitude and ultimate goal; it has validity also humanly, religiously or, if you choose, mystically, and in regard to acceptance of history and moral color. If the criteria of contents are insufficient in this case, it means that technical details are considered more significant, which would indeed be absurd.

This is not the occasion to discuss at any length the possible influence Eliot might have exerted on Ekelöf. However, let me report just one bit of evidence to the contrary which has amazed me. In Eliot's opinion, art is an effort "to metamorphose private failures and disappointments." Then should not the subtitle of the Elegy, "Metamorphoses," be related to this statement of Eliot's, so that perhaps the whole idea of identity changes in the Elegy would have originated from Eliot? The answer to this question is in the negative: From checking the galleys and page proofs of the Elegy at Bonnier's, the publisher, I found that the subtitle was added only on the second set of page proofs, marked July 7, 1960, i.e., shortly before publication.

It seems possible that The Waste Land, or the existence of such a poem, presented Ekelöf with a kind of warrant to develop the potential poem that was already in his mind. But is it so entirely improbable that Ekelöf with his extraordinary background and aptitude for creative work, would have turned out to be a "learned" poet even without Eliot? At any rate it seems feasible when one considers that Ekelöf had access at school to the same oriental sources as Eliot, and, moreover, that Ekelöf studied them in the original languages (which Eliot did not). Ekelöf also studied the classic authors, even translated Petronius (whom Eliot uses as a motto for The Waste Land) long before he had heard of Eliot. The titles of the essays "Vad åskan sade" (Promenader, 1941) and "Gerontion" (Utflykter, 1947) were probably used polemically. It is hard to determine exactly what part music has played in shaping these "learned" poems with their frequent allusions, repetitions, etc., but it might be pertinent to stress that Ekelöf had a good education in music, certainly better than Eliot's.

"The whole meaning of time itself changed radically as a result of social and technological factors; and this change, in turn, had far-reaching repercussions upon man's thinking about himself and his orientation in the modern world," writes Hans Meyerhoff. As time-saving devices became the symbol for industrial proficiency and progress, and "looking backwards" upon oneself and history was considered a waste of time, because it was a "negation of productivity and value," Ekelöf preoccupied himself with "one moment," which is obviously more than just a framework. However small an entity of "fragmentized" or "meaningless" time, it is nonetheless inseparable from the concept of the self, the identity, which Ekelöf has scrutinized so thoroughly and questioned so effectively in many poems, among them "Tag och skriv." "I have always learned from the past and mistrusted those who teach the future," Ekelöf has written. In an essay deploring our lack of traditions, Ekelöf has made a plea for a broader kind of education than our schools provide. It should be less divided into compartments, more unified, "because culture is one and indivisible." How can a student profit from being taught mere ideas? "Instead give him time, its social tone, its costume among high and low, street-mud and odors, its carriages and horses, music, even the street ballads, painting, even tavern signs, the sex morality, the shape of glasses, the decor on the plates, food recipes, the cries of the chimney sweep lads, the on dits and bon mots of the day, and give it to him visually."

In another essay, "Modus vivendi," Ekelöf writes:

I wish to live associatively, want to find out about myself and the world thus: empirically, through memory and its connections, want to experience the world not only in the moment but in many possible moments of what my now is composed. The now has no univocal guide lines to offer me; I return to it when it has become memory, in order laboriously, with the help of other memories, to make a kind of decision, which is hardly more than a confirmed divination. But such confirmed divinations can by and by become a vague conviction which will grow clear. That is my now. Which was then.

The introductory scene of the Elegy is set on the Mölna jetty. "I am sitting on a bench of the past / I am writing on a page of the past." The time is at sunset an evening when the transition from September into October is about to take place. Next to the I, the poet, seems to stand a squint-eyed, gaudily dressed Harlequin, or buffoon, who is playing an absurd ditty which is known in numerous variations throughout Europe: "and it was at the time when the legless ran / and the fingerless were playing the guitar till it rang…." With this literal reading the scene sounds more theatrical than it actually is. Not only is it stated that the ditty is "mute," but also that it is sung for someone who is "deaf," which must indicate that the buffoon is a personification for autumn, with its multicolored motley leaves. As further proof of this can perhaps be taken the fact that the buffoon never reappears in the Elegy only the musical indication "Sept. Oct."

The poet is experiencing a very special kind of mood, which appears shut off from external reality, only passively acting as a receiving medium of what turns up in his mind, an extraordinary repository of unassorted fragmentary memories, impressions, ideas, and experiences, just like the autumnal leaves, whirling past for a moment, before they quietly fall down and disappear from sight. The time referred to in the absurd ditty is a time of extreme conditions, whether in the past or the present or the future and suggestive of death, ghosts, and, in fact, chaos: more precisely, to the years preceding World War II. But it also has the function of setting the mood for the imagined or experienced metamorphoses occurring in the Elegy. The problem of identity, which is such a basic theme in Ekelöfs writing, has in effect been brought up already in these opening lines about the "I" and the personified fall….

A few weeks during "the last summer" the odd-looking buildings at Mölna had been swarming with pitiful crippled children, "incomplete larvae and lemures," (lines 10-14). A common theme in Ekelöf is here reintroduced: incompleteness, captiveness within a higher being, as later on in the sections Méga Aléxandre and Stateíra mo (lines 369 ff. and 407 ff.). The word lémures refers to ancient Roman spirits that moaned at night. This ghostlike, macabre sight conveys a hint of people dressed in institutional garb or soldiers advancing in war-time equipment and at the same time it conveys a hint of peaceful but clumsily manouvered ballet of marionettes. In his BLM notes Ekelöf states: "to illustrate the technique of the poem, it can be mentioned that the cripples are a vision with which the main protagonist seeks to disguise the general picture of the Germans invading the past. The crippled ones really invaded Mölna a few years earlier."

Now the buildings are deserted again. Perhaps it is the fall of 1937 at Mölna. The external emptiness in the place reflects the internal emptiness or loneliness felt by the main protagonist, the experiencing mind. The relativity of everything is demonstrated in lines 18-20: he feels the same apathy (or perhaps a different one?) as when these wretched beings were about; now they symbolize the advances of Nazi Germany. "What do I care? My life has stopped," he feels. His life is discussed in terms usually reserved for a malfunctioning clock or watch, which fits in with the general theme of time, so often repeated and varied in the Elegy. But it may prove more rewarding to read "stannat" (line 20) as "stannat här" or as "blivit instängt," thus emphasizing the physical aspect rather than the psychological. If so, "stopped" would signify the unfeasibility of travelling and also of attempts to change life, which the more alert intellectuals must have felt strongly before the imminent war, as expressed later in the Elegy:

All that never came to be
All that led to nullity
Waves that glittered
Waves of which I used to think:
You are a way to the world
As far as desire you bear us
But it never began

Some indications of time in the beginning of the Elegy are: the bench of the past, a page of the past, September, October, November, the time of the "absurd" ballad, last summer, a few weeks' illusion, now and at the end of the poem a slightly modified and improved line from The Land That Is Not, by the great Finland-Swedish poet Edith Södergran, in which again an aspect of time is referred to:

A capricious moment stole from me my future….

In that crucial moment the hopes, aspirations, and expectations for the future were destroyed. The recurrence of the line adds to its central thematic significance here.

The beautiful "Wave Song" which corresponds to "Fire Song" in the latter part of the Elegy, repeats the onomato-poetic lines about the wind and the waves which return like echoes from a distant shore. In this "scene" the sun is setting. But note how explicit the image is: "The sun nailed on Danviken's spire." Danviken was a madhouse, a Bedlam. Ekelöf's essay, "An Outsider's Way," reads in part:

One of those remarkably strong, early memories was the sunset. That fits a future poet, but I do not know how I happened to become a cloud-watcher. The sunset lay heavy over my childhood and I even saw it in my dreams. The intensely brick-red church outside the windows it was the Johannes Church in Stockholm threw a hectic, sickly and, as it were, magnified reflection of the sunset deep into the rooms. In this red twilight my father wandered about like a shadow, insane for many years, mumbling, and with an absent, dilapidated face, followed by his nurses. When they had managed to place him in an easy chair he could sit for hours and "hear voices," as it was called, i.e., he mumbled monotonously, brooding, incomprehensively, and without end. The apartment had long corridors, and in the twilight there was a strange, ghostly atmosphere in its out-of-the-way spots while the funeral bells rang outside. In my memory red sunsets and bells are always inseparable.

Later, with the initial boldness of the years of indiscretion, I used to climb up on the roof to see the sunset. The roof was one of the highest on Johanneshöjden. I went up through a garret door and scrambled onto it, partly with and partly without the help of the fire ladders, until I could sit straddling the rooftop, where I would smoke forbidden cigarettes and stare at the sun like an anchorite. It was a dizzying height that of the house itself plus that of the ridge, for it stood teetering near the edge of a cliff, the bottom of which was in a backyard on Tegnér Street. The whole city was below me, and now and then the windows way off on Kungsholmen would sparkle perhaps they were being washed just then by equally fearless cleaning ladies during the fall housecleanings.

I didn't do it to show off actually no one knew of it. But I was saturated with a fantastic yearning for beauty that I was completely incapable of expressing. Now I don't understand how I dared. Sometimes I have nightmares about being dizzy.

These climbs to see the setting sun were related to my musical excesses, etc.

The winds carrying sounds of the ringing church bells across the city of Stockholm have played an immense part in Swedish fiction and poetry, from Almqvist through Strindberg and Söderberg to Siwertz. In his introduction to Livet i ett svunnet Stockholm Ekelöf points to the first chapter of Strindberg's The Red Room, in which the tolling of bells is particularly pronounced. The great part played by the wide and varied waters in Stockholm should not be forgotten. They seem to...

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Reidar Ekner (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "Gunnar Ekelöf: The Poet As Trickster," in Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 42, No. 4, November, 1970, pp. 410-18.

[In the following excerpt, Ekner examines the ways in which Ekelöf's shorter poems often seem embedded in an intricate, "larger context," details of which the reader might only discern in the future, when recalling the poem.]

Gunnar Ekelöf was not a brilliant conversationalist, but when he felt at ease he could be very entertaining. He would talk about his life and his reading, about people he had met, and he would do it laconically and drastically, in short snatches. Eventually, after a long pause, it often happened that he would finish with a sharp...

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Leif Sjöberg (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "The Later Poems of Gunnar Ekelöf: Diwan and Fatumeh," in Mosaic, Vol. IV, No. 2, Winter, 1970, pp. 101-15.

[In the following excerpt, Sjöberg explores Ekelöfs blending of Eastern mysticism with the Christian figure of the Virgin Mary in two of his later poems.]

In his prose works, the Swedish writer Gunnar Ekelöf (1907-1968) often returned to memories and dreams, some-what as Proust did. What triggered Ekelöf's memory might be a fragrance, a tone, or a certain light. He described childhood experiences, his observations from travels in the Mediterranean area or in Lapland, his fascination with people, books, and pictures. Certain of these...

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Georg Otter (review date 1972)

SOURCE: "East Meets West—Gunnar Ekelöf in English," in Moderna språk, Vol. LXVI, No. 2, 1972, pp. 124-30.

[In the following excerpt, Otter offers a mixed review of Selected Poems as translated by W.H. Auden and Leif Sjöberg, arguing that while some of the translation decisions made in the volume are imprecise and misleading and indicate "a certain lack of feeling for Ekelöfs mysticism and his style, " it is useful to have an English translation of Ekelöf's later poems which has the potential to "reach a very wide public. "]

One of Gunnar Ekelöf's earliest attempts at revolt against society and Christianity took the form of muttering to himself during...

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Ross Shideler (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Listening to the Voices," in Voices Under the Ground: Themes and Images in the Early Poetry of Gunnar Ekelöf, University of California Press, 1973, pp. 1-34.

[In the following excerpt, Shideler asserts that the poem "Voices Under the Ground" serves as a commentary on the absurdity of death and as a reflection of the dialogues which occur within one's own consciousness.]

Gunnar Ekelöf's poem "Voices Under the Ground," published in In Autumn (1951) has been only casually touched upon by Swedish critics, yet it is one of Ekelöf's major poems. In it many of the crucial themes and images of the first twenty years of his poetry reach full fruition, for,...

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Irene Scobbie (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Swedish Poetry of the Twentieth Century," in Essays on Swedish Literature from 1880 to the Present Day, edited by Irene Scobbie, University of Aberdeen, 1978, pp. 125-72.

[In the following excerpt, Scobbie traces the development of Ekelöf's poetic career, focusing on its complexity and allusiveness, and noting the poet's interest in mysticism, Asian culture, and music]

[Ekelöf's] first published collection of poetry, entitled sent på jorden (1932), was advertised as Sweden's first Surrealistic poetry. Reluctant as ever to be categorised, Ekelöf declined to accept the label "Surrealist"; nevertheless, in spite of his claim that 'jag arbetade aldrig...

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Leif Sjöberg (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Gunnar Ekelöf's A Mölna Elegy: The Attempted Reconstruction of a Moment," in Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook, Vol. 1, 1979, pp. 199-214.

[In the following excerpt, Sjöberg analyzes literary allusions modern as well as Classical in The Mölna Elegy and discusses the poem's predominant theme of time.]

Muriel Rukeyser's translation marks the first English publication of Gunnar Ekelöf's En Mölna-elegi (Stockholm, 1960). Classified as 'work in progress' for more than twenty years prior to its publication, the Elegy demanded nearly a decade for the location and identification of its learned allusions and borrowings and nearly two...

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Sven Birkerts (review date 1984)

SOURCE: "A Cull of Trance-Roamers," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, Fall/Winter, 1984, pp. 192-212.

[In the following excerpt, Birkerts reviews Songs of Something Else: Selected Poems, and analyzes three poetic styles—surreal, mystical but conflicted, and lyrically spiritual—represented in Ekelöfs work.]

"Poetry is something which is only done by the whole man."
Gunnar Ekelöf

Gunnar Ekelöf came to poetry by a circuitous route. He first studied music in Paris, and when he abandoned that, it was to move to London to pursue Oriental Studies. It was not until illness forced...

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Aris Fioretos (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "Now and Absence in the Early Ekelöf," in Scandinavian Studies Vol. 62, No. 3, Summer, 1990, pp. 319-30.

[In the following excerpt, Fioretos focuses on "osynlig närvaro" ("invisible presence"), a poem which appears in Late Arrival on Earth, as a pioneering example of Swedish modernism.]

Gunnar Ekelöf's poem "osynlig närvaro" ("invisible presence"), first published as the fourth entry in sent på jorden (1932; late on earth), bears upon questions of poetic articulation. As such, it must be understood to express concerns that generate the texts of Ekelöf's debut collection in general. Demonstrating a paradoxical relationship between...

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