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Palimpsest of the Soul

Tradition and Modernism in Johannes Edfelt’s Poetry

 

Abstract

The central thesis the author advocates is that the discourse by the Swedish poet Johannes Edfelt (1904–97) during the years 1932–47 inherits a conflict between tradition and reality. In order to bridge that division, Edfelt strives not only to be a part of history but also to recapture and change its foundations. This literary method seems to have come about under influence from T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land (1922), where musical and psychological principles appear in a similar way.

The dissertation subordinates both thematic and linguistic microstructure to an intertextual view. These so called alludemes in Edfelt’s poetry often lead to an ancient origin, in several cases to the philosopher Plato, but also to literary works by Dante, William Shakespeare, Jean Racine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Erik Johan Stagnelius, Søren Kierkegaard, Charles Baudelaire, Fyodor Dosto­yevsky, Lina Sandell-Berg, Friedrich Nietzsche, August Strindberg, Ernst Josephson, Gustaf Fröding, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Vilhelm Ekelund, Pär Lagerkvist, Bo Bergman, Martin Buber, Birger Sjöberg, Bertil Malmberg, and Hjalmar Gullberg. Other important intertexts are theories by Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. This polyphonic murmur of voices from the past creates a dialectical unity, which occurs on a higher level than the traditional monological writing.

The final part summarizes Edfelt’s literary project in the light of his impressions of modernism, psychoanalysis and so called new criti­cism. Important sources for the poet’s method is Baudelaire, Eliot and Sjöberg, as well as philosophical and psychological theories by Nietzsche, Freud and Jung. The dissertation’s conclusion is that only our view of the future can determinate the present and that the artist must not forget about this.

 

Summary

The dissertation Palimpsest of the Soul: A Study in the Poetry by Johannes Edfelt consists of three major parts called “The Mind as a Medium,” “The Dream of History” and “The Utopia of Writing.” Although the starting-point is intertextual, my method draws heavily on thematic criticism. The word “writing” in the headline corresponds to Roland Barthes’ (1915–80) term l’écriture in his book Le Degré zéro de l’écriture {Writing Degree Zero} (1953).

The first part of my dissertation, “The Mind as a Medium”, sketches earlier research on Edfelt’s poetry. These essays and books were mostly thematic or comparative. After defining concepts like form and palimpsest, the dissertation launches a brand new term, referring to the smallest communicative component part in an allusion. The so-called alludemes fall into seven different subcategories connected to (1) word choice, (2) clause structure, (3) rhythm, (4) spelling, (5) imagery, (6) theme and (7) composition. In an allusion, a writer can negate one or several of the alludemes or reverse their internal order.

Edfelt’s split writing (écriture) aims both to identify himself with history and to change some of its foundations. Like Eliot, he emphasizes the role of the writer as a medium not only for the living past but also for a possible future. This resistance in the presence means to work as an artist. “A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest”, Eliot writes in his essay “Philip Massinger” (1920, ed. 1941, p 206), a remark that his Swedish colleague seems to have paid heed to. According to Edfelt’s essay “Marginalia” (1943), imagery holds a special place in his literary method. This manner not only links up with contemporary currents but also, in its details, with considerably older literature.

The second part, “The Dream of History,” maps out intertexts in Edfelt’s poetry from 1932–47. Regarding writing and style, his work during this period can be divided into two major phases. Characteristic for the poetry collections Aftonunderhållning {Evening Entertainment} (1932), Högmässa {High Mass} (1934), I denna natt {This Very Night} (1936), Järnålder {Iron Age} (1937), Vintern är lång {The Winter Is Long} (1939) and Sång for reskamrater {Song for Travel Companions} (1941) is how they apocalyptically look forward hoping for salvation through the guardian spirit of human kind or through a beloved one. Keywords are here polyphony, palimpsest and paradox. The some­what later collections, Elden och klyftan {The Fire and the Cleft} (1943) and Bråddjupt eko {Precipitous Echo} (1947), contain a renewal of intonation and imagery. The dissertation also analyses intertexts in the youthful collections Gryningsröster {Dawn Voices} (1923) and Unga dagar {Young Days} (1925), as well as in the mature Hemliga slagfält {Secret Battlefields} (1952), Under Saturnus {Beneath Saturn} (1956) and Insyn {Insight} (1962).

In Edfelt’s poetry there are plenty of allusions to Swedish writers like Samuel Columbus, Haquin Spegel, Georg Stiernhielm, Johan Olof Wallin, Esaias Tegnér, Erik Johan Stagnelius, Viktor Rydberg, Lina Sandell-Berg, August Strindberg, Ernst Josephson, Gustaf Fröding, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Vilhelm Ekelund, Pär Lagerkvist, Harriet Löwenhjelm, Birger Sjöberg, Bertil Malmberg, Erik Blomberg and Hjalmar Gullberg. There are also allusions to international names like Homer, Buddha, Aischyl, Sophocle, Sappho, Plato, Plutarch, Plotin, Horace, Ovid, Dante Alighieri, William Shakespeare, Jean Racine, Samuel Johnson, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Charles Baudelaire, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, T. S. Eliot, Bertolt Brecht, Martin Buber and Eugene O’Neill. In his mature poetry, Edfelt alludes to early models like Fröding and Lagerkvist thereby linking up with his own Gryningsröster {Dawn Voices} (1923) and Unga dagar {Young Days} (1925).

The dissertation shows how such youthful impressions have had significance for Edfelt’s mature poetry and that this development occurs in association with the psychoanalytic notion about the early living years’ importance for the grown-up personality. Moreover, we find many allusions to ancient mythology and to historical events. Irony arises when the poem expresses the opposite of its message but even through a mixture of styles and contrasts of intertexts. The poet also uses allusions to compress the texts, to convey irony and to focus on rebirth and unity themes.

Edfelt’s intertextuality creates a dialectical unity, which arises from a murmur of voices from the past. Speaking to Michail Bachtin, such a synthesis occurs de facto on a higher level than the traditional monological writing. One of these polyphonic poems is “Symposion” (1939, p 46), which alludes to Plato, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Tegnér and Fröding. Apart from the heading, Edfelt’s poem has consuming of wine and the tribute to a speaker in common with Plato’s dialogue Symposium, which thereby gives voice to the dilemma hiding in the world’s silent reaction to ovations at fascists’ mass meetings in the ’30s. Kierkegaard uses Plato’s dialogue as an intertext for his short story “In vino veritas” (1845), and Tegnér combines, in his translation of Adam Oehlenschläger’s “Skaldens hem” {The Poet’s Home}, Plato’s world of forms with a philosophical banquet, literary allusions, Christian and ancient symbolism in a manner that seems to anticipate Edfelt’s poetry and particularly the mentioned “Symposion,” which possibly is a contributory cause to the poet’s intertextual reply in “Fosterland” {Native Country} (1936, p 41). In the essay “Marginalia” (1943), Edfelt connects Nietzsche’s notions “Apollonic” and “Dionysic,” which originater from the book Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik {The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music} (1872), to literary currents of that time in a similar way as in “Symposion.”

Many themes and symbols (e.g., the love flame, the flood’s way into the sea, the lover’s wine, the musical instrument of the soul, the forest organ, the copper sky, the life as a stage, and the inner bars), in addition to a great number of more or less correct quotations, not only lead us back to an ancient origin but also to classical works by Dante, Shakespeare, Stiernhielm, Stagnelius, Kierkegaard, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Fröding and Karlfeldt. At the same time, Edfelt’s aesthetics show similarities both to Plato’s doctrine of forms and to Jung’s theory of archetypes. When the same symbol denotes opposite phenomena, it becomes a kind of reconciliation between these things. Bengt Landgren (1977, p 98), who has demonstrated how the poet’s complex of imagery follows a uniform pattern, overlooks that images and allusions are part of an extensive effort for inner harmony. According to Edfelt, we have to listen to our unconscious in order to reach some kind of wholeness. His love scenes depict the modern mind in touch with the past. This obliteration of the self belongs to the mysticism of poetry and an intertextual dialogue about renewal of the writing, which comes into existence with themes like destruction and resurrection.

An image with heavy intertextual connotation is the bars of the soul, which we find in Edfelt’s debut volume under the heading “Fången” {The Prisoner} (Gryningsröster, 1923, p 11). This symbol seems to be taken over from Fröding’s poem “En ghasel” {A Ghasel} (1891 p 67) but originates from Plato’s dialogue Phaedo (ed. 1984, p 101). In the first part of his tragedy Faust, Goethe describes a similar scene, where the study is both a prison and a miniature universe. Edfelt’s intertextual dialogue with Fröding continues in “Avsked” {Parting} (1936, p 52), where we find alba mood och erotic mysticism, and in “Osynligt land” {Invisible Land} (1941, p 85), where the bars symbolize the limitations of life. This repetition of symbols becomes a kind of intertextual ghazál. Earlier research has mainly overlooked intertexts from Sandell-Berg, Josephson, Fröding and Karlfeldt. Concerning a mystic’s longing for unity, it is possible to connect Edfelt to Ekelund’s use of so called cryptologisms, i.e., frequent expressions which have a different meaning than otherwise. An example of such a key word both in Edfelt and Ekelund is “music.”

As in Christian mysticism, the night denotes both destruction and rebirth. This holds good for Edfelt’s water and fire symbols, as well. However, these kind of imagery also symbolizes the unconscious from psychoanalysis. In the same way, the poet associates a starry sky with archetypes, while the stars express human vulnerability, e.g., in “Gavott” (“Gavotte”; 1932, p 54), which says: “Föraktfullt glittra alla,/ och ingens blick är god […].” {All are glittering contemptuously/ And no one’s eye is nice.} This conception of the world not only covers the existential situation in general but also hard times during the Great Depression. Simultaneously, Edfelt gives a new, ominous meaning to St. Paul’s words in his Epistle to the Galatians (Gal 3:28), which says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek”. In “Purgatorium III” (1936, p 15), Edfelt not only alludes to Karlfeldt’s poem “Inför freden” {With Peace at Hand} (1927, p 9) but also to historical persecution of Greek and Jewish minorities: “Den som vet, hur Chios ödelades,/ den som sett galiziska pogromer […];/ borta är hans tro på goda gnomer.” {The one who knows how Chios was ravaged,/ The one who has seen Galizian pogroms […];/ Gone is his faith in good gnomes.}

Like Charles Baudelaire, Edfelt depicts the unpleasant sides of life, which he renders in the shape of drowning, as in Eliot’s The Waste Land, or in the shape of a room, where the world is a prison, a hotel, a school, a stage, or an asylum. This type of imagery follows patterns from Baroque as well as from Romanticism, from early symbolism as well as from expressionism. Comparing the world to a stage or an asylum, Edfelt uses a traditional imagery, whose foremost representative probably is Shakespeare. Another common theme is anxiety and fear in the big city, which resembles psychoanalysis’s description of trauma and Kierkegaard’s assumption of existential freedom.This concept also draws from an existentialist tradition that ranges from the Book of Hiob to Kierkegaard, from Baudelaire to Lagerkvist and Malmberg. Against the feeling of being shut in, Edfelt puts a higher form of existence that the subject reaches through physical love. Well-aware of the resonance of his imagery, Edfelt describes this kind of communion as a recovered native country.

Double exposures and allusions, e.g., to the Bible and Dante, in Edfelt’s “Förklaringsberg” {Mountain of Elucidation} (1934, p 75) contribute to the concept of crossing borders and to an ascension theme. The expressionistic poet Birger Sjöberg is another important intertext in “Förklaringsberg,” while the formulation “ditt underliga hjärtas slag” {the beats of your peculiar /strange/ heart} alludes to Malmberg’s poem “Förvandling” {Transformation} (1927, p 52), where the subject speaks of “ditt främmande, sällsamma hjärtas slag” {the beats of your strange, peculiar heart}. Consequently, Edfelt uses techniques from both expressionism and symbolism. We are confronted both with the cosmic enlarged subject, as an image for the pure feeling on the backdrop of a white screen, and with the double projection of landscape and mood.

Concerning word choice and erotic imagery, Edfelt’s “Förklaringsberg” and “Meditation” {Meditation} (1936, p 35) borrow wording from Gullberg’s “Kärleksroman XIII” {Love Novel XIII} (1933, p 19), which seems inspired both from Racine’s (1639–99) tragedy Phèdre (1677; I:3, v 273 ff) and Baudelaire’s poem “Parfum exotique” (1857; ed. 1942, p 25). In the light of a review signed by Georg Svensson in Bonniers Litterära Magasin (No. 9, 1932), Edfelt’s paraphrase looks like a literary challenge. “Den sista cykeln i Gullbergs samling heter ’Soluppgång’ och där förklarar skalden i hänryckta strofer att han är på marsch mot ett nytt ljus, bra likt ljuset från förklaringens berg” {The last cycle in Gullberg’s collection is called “Sun Rise,” and here the poet explains in rapturous strophes that he is on the march towards a new light, very much like the light from the mountain of elucidation}, Svensson wrote (p 62) using the same metaphor as Edfelt later would place as heading above one of his poems in Högmässa {High Mass} (1934).

Edfelt archaizes modern society in a way that reminds of the Swedish poet Karlfeldt. For this purpose, Edfelt uses a traditionalistic imagery and literary allusions. From Karlfeldt’s poem “Dina ögon äro eldar” {Thy Eyes are Fires} (1901, p 50), he has borrowed intertexts for “Människa” {Human Being} (1941, p 93), where we find the woman’s burning eyes as well as the man’s urgent request for her to turn his soul on fire, but while there in Karlfeldt exists an outspoken hesita­tion (“Jag vill brinna, jag vill svalna” {I want to burn, I want to cool down}), a clear knowledge of the wasting properties of fire (“Som en höstkväll låt oss brinna” {Like an autumn night let us burn}), Edfelt’s stanzas are going more for a redeeming motive: “du av vars blodomlopp/ natten blir sommarklar” {You from whose blood circulation/ The night becomes bright as [in] summer}. According to earlier research, Karlfeldt’s use of the flame as a metaphor for love goes back to the Swedish translation of the Song of Songs (Song 6:4; cf King James, Song 6:5) in the Bible from 1703, where the bridegroom says to his beloved: “Wändt tin ögon ifrå migh, förty the giöra migh brinnande” {Turn away thine eyes from me, for they make me burn}. The unity between terrestrial and divine in Edfelt’s poem is emphasized by the heading “Human Being”.

Like Dante, Edfelt sees the woman as a shimmering saint, a soul’s companion in a horrible time, where firelight in his lady’s eyes, in reach for the pilgrim, symbolizes felicity. The author of La Commedia (3, XVIII, v 20f) presumably alludes to the same Bible passage as Karlfeldt though in Vulgate’s Latin version of Canticum canticorum (“averte oculos tuos a me quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt” {turn your eyes away from me for they make me fade away}): “Volgiti e ascolta;/ che’ non pur ne’ miei occhi è paradiso” {Look around you,/ Paradise is not only in my eyes}, Beatrice says confronted with the pilgrim’s admiration of her appearance, and Edfelt gives her an intertextual reply.

The poet often apostrophizes dead things and abstract concepts, sometimes as a religious invocation. This is similar to Pär Lagerkvist’s expressionistic poetry and creates an animated universe. The depicted human beings are sometimes reduced to a solitary characteristic or a part of the body, possibly an influence from Swedish hymn lyrics. As in Plato’s dialogue Laws, people in Edfelt’s poetry are exposed to higher powers’ cynical game. A hand or a tool could represent God’s presence. Together with the four classical elements, this style gives a decreased and reduced impression reminding both of Baroque and modernistic poetry. At the same time, the animated landscape shows affinity with ancient topoi, Shakespeare’s dramas, Romanticist poetry and Baudelaire’s “spleen.”

Examining Edfelt’s symbolistic landscapes, we find similar patterns in Sjöberg’s collection Kriser och kransar {Crises and Wreaths} (1926). Other correspondences are stylistical features as neologisms, genitive metaphors, dialogue and personification. At the same time, Edfelt’s inner landscape seems related to Malmberg’s autumnal sceneries. In his poem “Aning” {Presentiment} (1927, p 45), there are the same chilly situation filled with agony: “Det kan komma en stund/ i din mörknande höst,/ då du väcks av orkanens och vanvettets röst” {There may be a moment/ In your darkening autumn/ When the voice of the hurricane and insanity wakes you up}. However, Edfelt’s poem also contains references to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s publication Enten-Eller {Either-Or} (1843; SV 2 s 145), which describes how “der kommer en Midnatstime, hvor Enhver skal demaskere sig” {a midnight hour will come when everyone has to unmask oneself}. Concerning word choice and imagery, this situation, where man are confronted with God, seems to be taken over from the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s publication Ich und Du {I and Thou} (1923). A negative alludeme is the blessing that the subject in “Demaskering” misses, a notion that is essential in Christian faith. Edfelt’s metaphoric usage of religiously ringing words like “mercy” and “moment” is similar to Malmberg.

Concerning writing (écriture), i.e., intonation, norms, and nature of word choice, Edfelt resembles Bo Bergman, even though he belongs to another literary school. The opening lines of his ’50s poem “Drömspel” {Dream Play} (1956, p 17), where the heading alludes to Strindberg’s pre-expressionistic drama Ett drömspel {A Dream Play} from 1901, could be viewed as a description of the intertextual situation — both regarding the sudden feeling of a repetitive occasion (which Barthes calls déjà lu) and regarding polyphony in the dialogue. Besides, this theme connects to a fundamental idea in Ett drömspel by Strindberg, where the Lawyer, in an allusion to Kierkegaard, describes one of the trials in life thus (p 287): “Gentagelsen… Omtagningar!… Gå tillbaks! Få bakläxa!…” {Repetition… Repeats!… Going back! Doing it all over again!…} Later on, the Daughter says to the Poet (p 311): “Mig tycks att vi stått någon annanstans och sagt dessa ord förr.” {It seems to me as if we’ve been standing somewhere else saying these words before.} Even the drama genre in itself involves repetition and returns.

At the same time as the allusion on the heavenly sent god’s daughter actualizes themes like rebirth and descension from Edfelt’s earlier poetry, “Drömspel” contains echoes from Bergman’s poem “Venetianskt skuggspel” {Venetian Shadow Play} (1919, p 207), to which the younger poet’s discourse seems to be in a complex relationship. In addition to the Italian motive combined with a verbally similar title, which suggests that our senses should not be trusted, and the imagery of a world in decay, Edfelt seems to have taken over Bergman’s manner to let the voyage upon the glassy surface, in distinct verse bindings, get an escaping, undulation-like nature. The poem “Drömspel” also alludes to Russian writer Anton Chekhov’s (1860–1904) short story “The Lady with the Dog” (1899), German novelist Thomas Mann’s (1875–1955) novella Der Tod in Venedig {Death in Venice} (1912) and the Swedish troubadour Evert Taube’s (1890–1976) song “Damen i svart med violer” {The Lady in Black with Violets} (1955, p 123).

In 1932, Karin Boye and Erik Mesterton published a Swedish translation of T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” in the magazine Spektrum (vol. 2, No. 2, pp 25–44) together with an introduction to his poetry (No. 3, pp 41–53). In the same year, Edfelt wrote “Getsemanegränd” {Getsemane Alley} (HM s 53), which contains several references to older literature. Apart from a similar atmosphere in the opening stanza of Fröding’s poem “Smeden” {The Blacksmith} (1910, p 37), both texts have the same clause structure (topic and comment) and a corresponding rhyme pair “hvalf” — “skalf” {vault — quaked}. The phrase “från hjässan till fotabjället” {from the top of the head to the feet} in Edfelt’s poem, originates from a passage in Deuteronomy (Deut 28:15, 35). Many poems by Edfelt do not correspond to the so-called Aristotelian unity of action, time and room. This method seems to have come about under influence from Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), which uses musical and psychological principles in a similar way. Like Edfelt’s discourse, this poem is polyphonic through dialogue but also through allusions. The Swedish poet amplifies this echo-effect through assonances and rhymes. There are also thematic correspondences to Eliot, for example, in the criticism of the industrial society.

Sometimes Edfelt builds on metric structure from older poetry. With the poet’s experience of tempo in mind, the taken over rhythm probably have influenced other mood making factors in his discourse. This holds good for “Förklaringsberg”, which concerning not only metre and rhyme construction but also word choice, imagery, and syntax shows obvious similarities to both Sjöberg’s “I Ditt allvars famn” {In Your Arms of Seriousness} (1926, p 22) and Fröding’s “Atlantis” (1894, p 142). The rhyme structure AbAbOb in Edfelt seems borrowed from the latter, which in corresponding positions has the order AbAbOOb. Several similar expressions can be found in “Förklaringsberg”, even line endings. Its structure also seems to draw from Sjöberg’s combination of imagery, trochées, and caesura, while “I Ditt allvars famn” associates hearing in a similar way with water and imagery of doom and destruction.
The final part, “The Utopia of Writing,” summarizes Edfelt’s literary project in the light of his impressions of modernism, psychoanalysis and so called new criticism. Important sources for his poetical method are obviously Baudelaire, Eliot and Sjöberg, as well as philosophical and psychological theories by Nietzsche, Freud and Jung. Similar to Eliot’s theoretical writings, Edfelt emphasizes the poet’s role as a medium not only for his immediate surroundings and its living past but also for a possible future, a utopia of the language. Like Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), Edfelt’s poetry during the 1930s and 1940s is polyphonic both through inner dialogue and through allusions. Assonances and rhymes emphasize this echo effect. Many of his poems have come about from influences from Eliot’s musical and psychological composition principles.

In the poem “Vad ska en fattig flicka göra?” {What Shall a Poor Girl Do?} (1934, p 21), Edfelt describes a dualistic world: “So ist das Leben: det är Någons votum,/ att en och annan som en slinka dör.” {That’s life: it’s someone’s decision that one or two die as a slut.} The German words in the beginning of the sentence, which means that someone has bad luck is also the name of a play with the complete title König Nicolo oder So ist das Leben (1902) by Frank Wedekind (1864–1918). In his poem, Edfelt depicts the Great Depression, which led to mass unemployment in USA and Europe. Blending high and low, colloquial language and words in different languages like German (“So ist das Leben”) and Latin (“votum”), the poet conveys the feeling of dissonance. While he ironically alludes to the popular Swedish song “Va sjutton ska en fattig flicka göra?” {What on Earth Shall a Poor Girl Do?} by Fritz Gustaf [Sundelöf] (1895–1974) and Fred Winter [Sten Njurling] (1892–1945), there is an earnest tone of voice in connection to big city dilemmas like unemployment and prostitution. The treatment of the theme partly corresponds to the transmitted fairytale about Cinderella, but the ending is different.

According to the manuscript, Edfelt wrote “Vad ska en fattig flicka göra?” January 8, 1933. This very day, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter published a story on top of the front page with the headline: “Nätt över svältgränsen, svårast för kvinnorna.” {Hardly Over the Border of Starvation, Worst for the Women.} On the editorial page, Fernqvist’s clothing store in Stockholm had published an illustrated ad for evening dresses. Towards the end of the same daily, there was a full page with advertisement for restaurants and dances. After that came advertising for motion pictures and an installment from American author W. R. Burnett’s (1899–1982) novel The Silver Eagle (1931), which also was about dancing. Likewise, the second stanza of Edfelt’s poem depicts a girl among wealthy men. The poet has probably borrowed the German phrase “Das gibt’s nur einmal” from a hit song in the musical movie Der Kongreß tanzt {The Congress Dances} (1931). Whether Edfelt in “Vad ska en fattig flicka göra?” was influenced by news reporting is hard do say but wordings like “fattig flicka […] klä sig fin och gå på bal” {poor girl […] dress herself up and go to the ball} corresponds both to the Cinderella fairytale and to the Swedish daily’s stories and advertisment the present Sunday. Thus, the poet intends to render the newpapers’ and the radio’s way of piling different kinds of contexts.

In ”Söndagsfrid” {Sunday Peace}, Edfelt depicts how echoes from the original state of human kind could culminate in a social revolution or a central war. The poem not only depicts the day of rest but also the fragile world peace. Alluding both to the Fall of Man and to the Last Judgment, the poet projects the modern cityscape against the past, which he combines with several religious and literary allusions. When Edfelt makes feelings of despair bleed onto the urban environment, he is de facto using Eliot’s objective correlative. The sky above the Paris suburb is pale like the skin of a factory worker, the sidewalks sweat bad liquor and gall, the cafés is reeking with shame.

A similar cityscape is present in Eliot’s The Waste Land (v 266 f; ed. 1971, p 142), where music from a dwelling-house is transformed into the Thames Daughthers’ song about the river, which “sweats/ Oil and Tar.” These inflammable substances could symbolize either a forthcoming revolution or a war. According to Eliot’s explanatory notes in the first book edition of The Waste Land (1922; ed. 1971, p 148), the song “Weialala leia/ wallala leialala” (p 142) alludes to die Rheintöchter {Rhine Daughters} in Richard Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung {Twilight of the Gods} (1874; III, 1) in his trilogy Der Ring des Nibelungen [The Ring of the Nibelung}.

Indirectly, Edfelt’s “Söndagsfrid” describes poor people in European cities and the Nazis’ persecution of minorities. The poem also alludes to the Passion of the Christ in the Bible. In The Waste Land (v 259 ff; p 142), Eliot in the same way combines urban environment, music, workers’ talk from inside a public bar, religious allusions and fire symbology, while the subject is near the Anglican church St Magnus-the-Martyr, which resides on Lower Thames Street at London Bridge. This episode bears the title “III. The Fire Sermon” (ed. 1971, p 139), which alludes to Gautama Buddha, when he describes life as a fire. Likewise, Edfelt’s poem refers to the five senses and to infatua­tion. Through allusions to classical texts about Jerusalem and Troy, the French capital in “Söndagsfrid” becomes a modern counterpart to the ancient cities, which foreign armies destroyed.

Edfelt’s intertextuality includes his critics, as well. Paraphrasing negative reviewers’ word choice and literary theories of Eliot and Swedish philosopher Hans Ruin, Edfelt in his essay “Lyrisk stil” {Lyric Style} (1941, p 311) says that a poet “i hög grad är instrument och barometer för tidstrycket” {to a high degree is instrument and barometer for the time pressure}. Freud’s description (GS 2, p 438) of dream censorship as a Widerstand {resistance}, which creates symbols, is possibly a contributory cause to Edfelt’s later modification of this text, which in 1947 (p 95) was published in a version saying that “en diktare är medium och motstånd, aldrig enbart en seismograf för världens tillstånd” {a poet is medium and resistance, never solely a seismograph for the state of the world}.

The choice of the Hesperides from ancient myth as a symbol for a coming cultural and moral renaissance, in Edfelt’s poem “I denna natt” {This Very Night} (1936, p 5), shows further deep perspective if we look at these Nyx’s {the Night’s} daughters in the light of a well-known Stagnelius quote (CW 2, p 54) with ancient heritage: “sjung i bedröfvelsens mörker:/ Natten är dagens mor, Chaos är granne med Gud” {sing in the darkness of despair:/ The night is mother of the day, Chaos is God’s neighbour}. In “Tunnel” {Tunnel} (1941, p 91), a couple of lines allude to the Swedish Romanticist’s imagery: “Vilken lättnad, då kompakta/ skuggor veko i ens hjärna!” {What a relief, when compact/ Shadows collapsed in one’s brain!} Besides, the formulation “Kaos, föd en morgonstjärna!” {Chaos, give birth to a morning star!} in the same stanza alludes to Nietzsche’s publication Also sprach Zarathustra {Thus Spoke Zarathustra} (1883; ed. 1893, p 15): “Ich sage euch: man muss noch Chaos in sich haben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können. Ich sage euch: ihr habt noch Chaos in euch.” {I tell you: one must have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.}

Edfelt expresses something similar in his essay “Poeten och samtiden” {The Poet and His Time} (1941, p 62), where he alludes to Martin Buber’s (1878–1965) metaphoric language: “Aldrig var det mer angeläget att framhålla ordningens nödvändighet än i de tider, då kaos stod vid tröskeln. Sist och slutligen måste sången leva och andas under dubbelstjärnorna Frihet och Ordning.” {It never was more urgent to point out the necessity of order than in periods when chaos was standing at the threshold. Finally, the song must live and breathe under the double stars of Freedom and Order.}

 


© Torgny Lilja (2012) Palimpsest of the Soul pdf