In “He Who Does Not Hope,” the simplicity of Gunnar Ekelöf’s diction belies a highly dense thought process. It is a brief poem—thirty-two lines of free verse, divided into four eight-line stanzas—which begins calmly and rationally with two statements, the first of which echoes the title. The first four lines state that the absence of hope also means freedom from the despair that comes from disappointed hope; correspondingly, believing in nothing frees one from the torment of doubt. In the second half of the stanza, however, this passive but untroubled view is contrasted with its opposite. As soon as one breaks out of unthinking passivity and tries to find a goal or a meaning in life, one is flung into conflict. One begins an unending struggle with the “dragons” of doubt and despair which breathe their poison into one’s consciousness.
Stanza 2 also shifts between opposites. It evokes the picture of a winter day, when snow is falling outdoors and a fire is burning in the hearth indoors. These seemingly contradictory elements, snow and fire, both suggest the brevity of life. The fifth line draws together the contradictory elements of snow and fire, heat and cold. The “play” of life—the double suggestion occurs of the theatrum mundi (“world theater”) and of aimless movement—is like the play of both the snow and the fire. A renewed paradox ends the second stanza, with the statement that the “meaning” of life derives...
(The entire section is 563 words.)