Erik Axel Eriksson Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Erik Axel Karlfeldt (KARL-fehlt), born Erik Axel Eriksson, was the youngest among a group of four prominent Swedish writers, including also Verner von Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlöf, and Gustaf Fröding, who represent a period in Swedish literature frequently called “the golden age.” He was born and raised on a farm in the province of Dalarna, and his ancestors, both maternal and paternal, earned their living through either mining or agriculture. When Erik was ten, the railroad, and the modern, industrialized world it embodied, reached the southern parts of Dalarna. A few years later, right before he took his maturation exams, his father was arrested for embezzlement, and his family lost their farm. This had a profound effect of Erik’s personal and artistic development. A longing for the land and an idealized memory of the simple but joyous life in the country, colored by folk traditions and superstitions, would become a recurrent theme in his poetry. In 1889, he took the name Karlfeldt.{$S[A]Eriksson, Erik Axel;Karlfeldt, Erik Axel}

Although the family’s financial difficulties proved a serious impediment in Karlfeldt’s pursuit of higher education, he nevertheless attended the University of Uppsala, where he studied Germanic languages, literary history, and English, earning a doctorate in each of the latter two, in 1892 and 1898, respectively. While at Uppsala, Karlfeldt published poems in different newspapers, signed by various pseudonyms. However, his true literary debut came in 1895 with the publication of his first collection of poems, Vildmarks-och kärleksvisor (songs of the wilderness and of love). A tribute to his native Dalarna and regional folk culture, many of the poems in this volume, like those in subsequent collections like Fridolins visor och andra dikter (Fridolin’s songs), Fridolins lustgård och Dalmålningar, utlagda på rim (Fridolin’s garden of delights), and Hösthorn (autumn horn), express nostalgia for a gradually disappearing traditional way of life threatened by rapid industrialization and modernization.

A few rather uneventful years followed, although the Fridolin poems had already established firmly Karlfeldt’s reputation as one of Sweden’s leading poets. Between 1894 and 1902, he worked as a teacher at three different public and private schools before he changed careers and obtained a position at the Royal Library in Stockholm and then, in 1903, at the Institute of Agriculture. The following year he was elected a member of the Swedish Academy, arguably due to the strategic support of its secretary Carl David af Wirsén. When Wirsén died in 1912, Karlfeldt assumed his...

(The entire section is 621 words.)