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 The poem’s title gives the reader an unusual sense of geographic location while indicating the poem’s historical content.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.)