Vilhelm Ekelund Criticism - Essay

Lars Gustafsson (essay date 1936)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Vilhelm Ekelund," in Forays into Swedish Poetry, translated by Robert T. Rovinsky, University of Texas Press, 1978, pp. 65-71.

[In the following essay, Gustafsson analyzes Ekelund's poem "The First Spring Rain," noting the particular Swedishness of Ekelund's work.]

"Det första vårregnet"

Som ett nät av svarta spindelvävar
hänga trädens våta grenar.
I den tysta februarinatten
sjunger sakta, klingar, svävar
fram ur däldens snår och stenar
suset av en källas vatten.

I den tysta februarinatten
gråter himlen stilla.
-Syner, 1901

"The First Spring Rain"

Black, like webs from spinning spiders playing
branches, moisture-heavy, bend
In the silent February night
singing slowly, ringing, swaying
out of rock-strewn, brushy glen
sounds of wellspring, watery delight.

In the silent February night
cry the heavens softly.
-Visions, 1901

For the average Swede, Ekelund's poetry can occasionally take on an exotic quality, which comes about quite simply because his Scanian landscape truly is a foreign landscape. Our everyday experiences mean more to our relationship with a poem than we would normally imagine.

I remember how, while teaching Tomas Tranströmer to students at the University of Texas, I came to the wellknown line that reads: "like a sun-warm stone in my hand" ("som en solvarm sten i handen").

"That can't be," one of the students said immediately. "If somebody were to hold a 'sun-warm stone' in his hand, he'd get blisters. And he'd toss that stone away as fast as he possibly could."

Undoubtedly, this is how stones and men behave in the parched regions around Texas' Colorado River. Of course, that did not prevent the student from understanding what Tranströmer meant. I think the poem even became more interesting to him when he understood that this brief picture contained a wholly alien climatic experience.

For a reader from central or northern Sweden, February is a period of deep snow and dryness; arctic-clear days, when bullfinches and silktails come out from the deep woods in search of food; ice-cold nights, when contraction brought on by the chill causes a moaning and groaning in wooden houses, and shoes crunch on unplowed roads.

For Ekelund, "the silent February night" is the time when the landscape begins to shed silent tears. I think that a northern Swedish reader would more readily associate this experience with the beginning of April.

Differences which do not mean anything and, yet, most profoundly do mean something. They compel us to make an extra effort, and in this small exertion there is always a gain, a small electrical charge. I know of no more sterile an...

(The entire section is 1331 words.)

Leif Sjöberg and Niels Lyhne Jensen (essay date 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Early Scandinavian Symbolism by Leif Sjöberg (Stony Brook) and N. L. Jensen (Aarhus)," in The Symbolist Movement in the Literature of European Languages, edited by Anna Balakian, Akadémiai Kiadó, 1982, pp. 580-84.

[In the following essay, Sjöberg and Jensen discuss how Ekelund was influenced by early Swedish avant-garde poets.]

While avant garde Symbolist and Decadent coteries were forming in Paris after 1880, August Strindberg (1849-1912) and Ola Hansson (1860-1925) made great headway in developing an avant garde in Sweden, where by 1900 there were several counterparts to Parisian groups. Students at Uppsala University joined to form Les...

(The entire section is 1805 words.)