The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Everyone Is a World” is a short poem in free verse, its twenty-four lines divided into three stanzas. The title is formed from the first line of the poem; the original poem has no title. In the original collection, it is grouped together with some other poems under the musical subheading “Etydes” (études). The first line captures the main theme of the poem: The mind of each human being is plural, formed by many voices, most of them hidden or silenced.

The poem is written in a collective plural voice, underlining the general tone of the poem, which describes what the poet believes is true of all human beings. Meditating on Sigmund Freud’s three-part description of the human unconscious as id, ego, and superego, the poet illuminates his sense of the inner world of the mind. His vision emphasizes both humankind’s ultimate power and an individual’s powerlessness over him or herself. First, the poet meditates on the suppressed “masses” of the mind, the trapped impulses of desire in constant rebellion against “the rulers” of the ego. Second, he describes the dilemma of the ego as that of a king or a prince who can rule the masses but who in turn is ruled by a higher power. The first stanza closes on a more intimate tone as it brings the reader back to his or her own feelings and to how those feelings change with the power struggle within.

The second stanza further illustrates the struggle between the oppressed and the rulers...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The striking force of Gunnar Ekelöf’s poetry often stems from the simplicity of the techniques and metaphors he uses to illustrate very complex issues. “Everyone Is a World” provides two clear examples of this in the overall design of the poem and in the central image of the steamship.

“Everyone Is a World” is divided into three stanzas, and the relationship between the three is an important key to the meaning of the poem. The first stanza looks much like a sonnet of fourteen lines; in Swedish, most of the lines scan like iambic pentameter. The lines do not rhyme; yet this tight-knit, sonnet-like stanza aptly illustrates the lack of freedom in the world that it describes, the inner lives of human beings as Ekelöf captures them. In contrast, the second and third stanzas grow increasingly shorter (stanza 2 is seven lines; stanza 3 is three lines) and more impressionistic. These stanzas break away from the need to evoke established poetic forms in free verse, and thus they emphasize the possible liberation of thoughts and feelings that they describe.

The poem moves from a general statement to an image and back to a general statement. In the third stanza, however, the poet’s voice has achieved a tone of intimacy and shared experience that the abstract depiction of stanza 1 lacks, and that may not convincingly come across in the English translation. The Swedish Ekelöf scholar Anders Olsson maintains that “this combination of...

(The entire section is 506 words.)