Gunnar Ekelöf Biography


Bengt Gunnar Ekelöf was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on September 15, 1907. His father, Gerhard Ekelöf, was a wealthy stockbroker, and Ekelöf grew up in big, finely furnished houses. Ekelöf’s childhood, however, was not a happy one, despite his comfortable surroundings. Gerhard Ekelöf had contracted syphilis, and his health was deteriorating when Ekelöf was a young boy. Before Ekelöf turned nine, his father died, and Ekelöf was sent away to boarding schools. When his mother, Valborg von Hedenberg, remarried several years later, Ekelöf felt rejected and homeless. Bengt Landgren and Reidar Ekner, the critics most familiar with Ekelöf’s biography, point out that Ekelöf’s relationship with his parents cultivated and reinforced his role as an “outsider.” Ekelöf’s failed love relationships—a 1932 marriage to Gunnel Bergström was dissolved after a few months, and an affair during 1933 and 1934 was broken off—reinforced Ekelöf’s “outsider” perspective.

Ekelöf was particularly fascinated by two subjects as a student: music and Oriental mysticism. In 1926, he spent one semester at the London School of Oriental Studies, and in the next year he began studies in Persian at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. Ekelöf was often sick as a student, and he never earned a degree, but his studies inspired a lifelong interest in Oriental mysticism and led to his discovery of Ibn el-Arabi’s poetry, which moved Ekelöf to write his first...

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From 1927 to 1967, Gunnar Ekelöf (AY-kuh-luhf) was a major figure in Northern European literature. During this period, he wrote a series of important critical essays, translations, and sixteen volumes of verse. From his first book of verse, Sent på jorden, his work reflected his lifelong interests in linguistics and languages, including Chinese, Latin, Greek, German, English, and particularly French. Among his translations into Swedish were works by Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, W. H. Auden, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and especially T. S. Eliot, who is often regarded as Ekelöf’s most important literary influence. Ekelöf’s later work, notably his critically acclaimed final verse (the three volumes of the Diwan Trilogy), also reflected his studies of Middle Eastern languages and literature, notably his use of Persian, Indian, and Taoist sources. Critics have praised his cohesiveness and his ability to synthesize his varying influences, particularly his fusion of Eastern and Western philosophies that led to his emphasis on the importance of the subconscious.

Ekelöf’s verse was typically autobiographical, centered in his home city of Stockholm. His poems are often characterized by dark humor, themes on the effects of World War II, and his personal system of mysticism based on wide readings on religion. Although he influenced three generations of Swedish poets and earned many awards, including membership in the Swedish Academy in 1958 and the Grand Prize for the Danish Academy and an honorary doctorate from the University of Uppsala (both in 1960), he considered himself an outsider, keenly interested in new forms of line and musical structures in poetry, notably that of a...

(The entire section is 701 words.)