The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Dordogne” is an unrhymed poem in free verse divided into three short stanzas. The title refers to the town situated in a mountain range in southern central France where some of the oldest remaining Paleolithic paintings were found in the nineteenth century. This was the first discovery of prehistoric European paintings, and it had a tremendous influence on art and art history. The poem’s title gives the reader an unusual sense of geographic location while indicating the poem’s historical content. The syllogistic, three-stanza structure of the poem suggests a technique that one often finds in Gunnar Ekelöf’s poetry. First, he contrasts the past and the present, prehistorical and contemporary man, in stanzas 1 and 2. Then, in the last stanza, he draws a paradoxical truth and meaning from the juxtaposition.

Written in the third person, the poem includes no personal or subjective perspective. The tone is distanced, descriptive, and reaches an intensity only in the third stanza, in which the meaning of the poem becomes explicit. The poem begins with a brief glimpse of the present-day town that notes only one feature: an unquenchable source of water whose origin remains a mystery. This notion of something mysterious and hidden functions as a bridge to stanza 2 and the prehistorical reality of Dordogne.

In the second stanza, the poet narrator takes the reader underground and back to prehistoric times. The narrator contrasts the water,...

(The entire section is 463 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Dordogne” is constructed around an opposition and an identification between life and death. The poet illustrates this paradox through a skillful use of contrasting fragments and of personification: The inanimate cave landscape seems mysteriously alive in contrast to the peaceful and dead prehistoric people who rest in the underground.

In the English translation, the use of personification begins already in the first stanza, with the reference to the mysterious source of water as “a vein of water/ that never gives out.” This translation reflects the Swedish second stanza, in which Ekelöf uses the clinical phrase “blood veins of water” to describe the water source. Ekelöf’s word in the first stanza is a neutral description of a source of water. This difference in the two versions is slight, however, and only serves to emphasize earlier what becomes of paramount importance later on in the poem.

The second stanza furthers the notion of the landscape being alive when it describes the caves as “the mountain’s lungs of chalk and cold.” This landscape is alive, a breathing, pulsating organism in which thunder “breathlessly hunts.” Nature has purpose, direction, and life. The use of personification serves to create the mysterious aura that surrounds these caves and their water system. It also serves to prepare the ground for those who rest within this system, who remain a part of and apart from this living nature: the dead....

(The entire section is 503 words.)