“If You Ask Me” is a short dramatic monologue in free verse. The speaker seems to be identical with Gunnar Ekelöf himself. In the opening lines he anticipates—and answers—a question posed by his unidentified interlocutor about where he existsfinns, the Swedish verb Ekelöf uses, means something between “abide” and “reside.” As the monologue continues, the reader becomes closely identified with the silent friend to whom the poet is speaking. Using the familiar du form of address (which in 1955 still implied a certain degree of intimacy), the poet explains that he lives beyond the mountains in a world that is at once far away and nearby. He admits that he inhabits another world but insists that the friend—perhaps without knowing it—lives there too. Like the earth’s atmosphere, this other world is everywhere; but, like helium, it only exists in minute quantities in relation to some of the other permanent constituents of the atmosphere like nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen.
The poet’s friend has apparently believed this other world to be some sort of mystical, transcendent realm; therefore he has asked for an airship (a helium-filled dirigible) to take him there. The poet tells him that what he really needs for the journey is a filter—that is, some sort of gas mask that will eliminate noxious gases. He tells him to ask for a filter that will take out everything that separates people from each other, a filter...
(The entire section is 401 words.)