Vilhelm Ekelund 1880-1949
Swedish poet, aphorist, and essayist.
Ekelund is considered Sweden's leading aphorist and among its most influential modern poets. His career is generally divided into two phases. Prior to 1909 Ekelund focused exclusively on poetry, producing highly personal verse in the romantic mode. Later he abandoned poetry altogether in favor of prose, taking cues from classical models and the thought of such individuals as Friedrich Nietzsche, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The at times cryptic style of his aphorisms and essays betoken Ekelund's visionary quest in search of beauty and truth in an abstract or Platonic sense. Nevertheless, his writings—in both the symbolic imagery of his poetry and compact, philosophical musings of his prose—are acknowledged among the most enduring in twentieth-century Swedish literature.
Ekelund was born in Stehag in the Skåne district of southern Sweden, son of a village blacksmith. He attended the University of Lund—his father had moved to the larger town when Ekelund was in his early teens—but never obtained a degree. In 1908 he left Sweden to avoid some minor legal entanglements after engaging in a public altercation and simultaneously cast aside poetry, opting instead to write essays and aphorisms. He lived in Berlin until 1912, then relocated to Denmark, which he preferred to Germany, though he became seriously ill for many of the years he spent there. He eventually returned to live in Sweden in 1921, hoping to provide a spiritual voice to the younger generation in his native country, but instead found himself alienated from all but a small, devoted following of readers. Ekelund died in Salsjobaden, Sweden in 1949.
Ekelund's earliest poetic efforts are represented by his collections Vårbris and Melodier i skymning, which contain a variety of rhymed lyrics on personal subjects and introspective meditations inspired by the natural landscapes of his native Skånia. Ekelund's later poems, contained in In candidum, Dithyramber i aftonglans, and other volumes, represent developments in form, such as Ekelund's resonant use of free verse, as well as his passionate adoption of the ideals and precepts of classical antiquity. After forsaking poetry in favor of prose, Ekelund sustained his exploration of classical themes in a modern idiom, while breaking away fully from the romantic origins of his early verse. Inspired by his admiration for the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, Antikt ideal includes an impassioned praise of the German philosopher's concept of the indomitable will. A later, less strident collection of essays Veri similia represents the more moderate side of Ekelund's thought and betrays the influence of Emerson and Goethe among its models. The ideal of moderation is the ruling force in the essays of Metron and Attiskt i fågelperspektiv, both of which contain Ekelund's thoughts on the world's preeminent thinkers and artists since the classical era. In Påhafsstranden Ekelund equates the Nordic and classical ideals of bravery, fortitude, and sobriety. Among his later works, Plus salis offers Ekelund's thoughts on the synthesis of idea and reality in life.
Ekelund's poetry, essays, and aphorisms never reached more than a modest popularity during his lifetime, and drew consistently negative criticism from many of his contemporaries. Influenced in his style and thought by the German classicists, notably Friedrich Hölderlin and August Graf von Platen, Ekelund placed his passionate longing for the philosophical ideal of beauty before all other concerns, leading to what critics have observed are highly personal and at times abstruse writings. Still, Ekelund's passionate appeal in favor of the classical ideals of balance, moderation, beauty, and ultimate truth, coupled with his prophetic and experimental use of language, proved influential on the succeeding generation of poets in Scandinavia. Likewise, his bold style and mastery of the aphorism have made him one of the most highly regarded prose writers and versifiers in his native Sweden.
Vårbris (poetry) 1900
Syner (poetry) 1901
Melodier i skymning (poetry) 1902
Elegier (poetry) 1903
In candidum (poetry) 1905
Dithyramber i aftonglans (poetry) 1906
Grekisk bukett (translated poetry) 1906
Havets stjärna (poetry) 1906
Antikt ideal (essays and aphorisms) 1909
Böcker och vandringar (essays and aphorisms) 1910
Båge och lyra (essays and aphorisms) 1912
Tyska utsikter (essays and aphorisms) 1913
Agenda (essays and aphorisms) 1913-14
Nordiskt och klassiskt (essays and aphorisms) 1914
Veri similia (essays and aphorisms) 1915-16
Metron (essays and aphorisms) 1918
Attiskt i fågelperspektiv (essays and aphorisms) 1919
På hafsstranden (essays and aphorisms) 1922
Sak ock sken (essays and aphorisms) 1922
Lefnadsstämning (essays and aphorisms) 1925
Västöstligt (essays and aphorisms) 1925
Passioner emellan (essays and aphorisms) 1927
Lyra och Hades (essays and aphorisms) 1930
(The entire section is 229 words.)
SOURCE: "Vilhelm Ekelund," in Forays into Swedish Poetry, translated by Robert T. Rovinsky, University of Texas Press, 1978, pp. 65-71.
[In the following essay, Gustafsson analyzes Ekelund's poem "The First Spring Rain," noting the particular Swedishness of Ekelund's work.]
"Det första vårregnet"
Som ett nät av svarta spindelvävar
hänga trädens våta grenar.
I den tysta februarinatten
sjunger sakta, klingar, svävar
fram ur däldens snår och stenar
suset av en källas vatten.
I den tysta februarinatten
gråter himlen stilla.
"The First Spring Rain"
Black, like webs from spinning spiders playing
branches, moisture-heavy, bend
In the silent February night
singing slowly, ringing, swaying
out of rock-strewn, brushy glen
sounds of wellspring, watery delight.
In the silent February night
cry the heavens softly.
(The entire section is 1331 words.)
SOURCE: "Early Scandinavian Symbolism by Leif Sjöberg (Stony Brook) and N. L. Jensen (Aarhus)," in The Symbolist Movement in the Literature of European Languages, edited by Anna Balakian, Akadémiai Kiadó, 1982, pp. 580-84.
[In the following essay, Sjöberg and Jensen discuss how Ekelund was influenced by early Swedish avant-garde poets.]
While avant garde Symbolist and Decadent coteries were forming in Paris after 1880, August Strindberg (1849-1912) and Ola Hansson (1860-1925) made great headway in developing an avant garde in Sweden, where by 1900 there were several counterparts to Parisian groups. Students at Uppsala University joined to form Les quatre diables, to which belonged Sigfrid Siwertz (1882-1960) and Sigurd Agrell (1881-1937). This group exhibited their predilection for French poets, Arthur Rimbaud in particular, after he had been introduced in Svenska Dagbladet by Oscar Levertin (1862-1906). The poetic production of this period was later resolutely rejected by the poets themselves, which, as Gunnar Brandell put it, "has been a contributing factor to the disrepute of all Swedish Symbolism". Tuakretsen (The Tua-group) at Lund, led by Bengt Lidforss (1868-1913), cultivated the avant garde approach and kept up contacts with other international-oriented coteries, especially those in Berlin. Their favorites were Dehmel, George, Hofmannsthal and Rilke....
(The entire section is 1805 words.)
Gustafson, Alrik. "Two Early Fröding Imitations: Vilhelm Ekelund's 'Skördefest' (1900) and 'I pilhäcken' (1901)." Journal of English and Germanic Philology 35, No. 4 (October 1936): 566-80.
Notes considerable stylistic affinities between two of Ekelund's early poems and the works of Gustaf Fröding.
Shideler, Ross. "'The Glassclear Eye of Dreams' in Twentieth-Century Swedish Poetry." World Literature Today 51, No. 4 (Autumn 1977): 530-34.
Traces Ekelund's contribution to the tradition of poetry as dream-vision in Swedish literature.
(The entire section is 72 words.)