Monday, November 24, 2014

Edith Södergran

Edith Södergran (1892—1923) is one of the first modernist poets to have written in Swedish. She was born in St. Petersburg, but lived most of her life just across the border in Finland. After her first book, Dikter (Poems) appeared in 1916 she attempted to connect with the literary community in Helsinki, but found the reaction to her work ranged from "puzzled admiration to ridicule." Her early poems reflect an interest in Nietzschean philosophy, which later gave way to a deep Christian faith. She published five poetry collections, the most critically-acclaimed being Shadow of the Future (1920).

She suffered from tuberculosis, which in combination with her poverty eventually took her life. She received little attention for her work in her lifetime, but is now considered Finland's greatest modern poet. The following poems are from David McDuff's translation of her Complete Poems published by Bloodaxe Books.

Two Ways

You must give up your old way,
your way is dirty:
there men go with greedy glances
and the word “happiness” you hear from every lip
and further along the way lies the body of a woman
and the vultures are tearing it to pieces.

You have found your new way,
your way is pure:
there motherless children go playing with poppies,
there women in black go talking of sorrow
and further along the way stands a pale saint
with his foot on a dead dragon’s neck.

Christian Confession

Happiness is not what we dream of,
happiness is not the night we remember,
happiness is not in our yearning’s song.

Happiness is something we never wanted,
happiness is something we find it hard to understand,
happiness is the cross that was raised for everyone.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.