Nov 18, 2016

Writer Crush: The Poetry of Edith Södergran

Edith Södergran (1892-1923) was a Finnish poet who wrote her poems in Swedish. She died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-one and never gained much recognition in her lifetime, but is now seen as one of Finland's finest poets. Born in Russia, where she attended a German school for girls, Södergran's influences included French symbolism, German expressionism, and Russian futurism. She used free verse and strong imagery, which was not well received by the Finnish tastemakers of the time, causing her to be ridiculed and misunderstood. Her works include  Dikter (Poems, 1916),  Rosenaltaret (The Rose Altar, 1919), and Landet som icke är (The land that is not, 1925).

I only discovered Södergran a few years ago and fell in love immediately. There is a melancholy feel to many of her poems, and they also feel darkly romantic. I've only read them in Finnish, but I'm looking for a bilingual edition with the original Swedish text. There is an English translation  by Stina Katchadourian Love and Solitude. Selected Poems 1916-1923, and you can also read some of her poems on the Poetry Foundation website and at

Here's one:

On Foot I Had to Cross the Solar System 

On foot 
I had to cross the solar system 
before I found the first thread of my red dress. 
I sense myself already. 
Somewhere in space hangs my heart,  
shaking in the void, from it stream sparks 
into other intemperate hearts. 
         --Edith Södergran,

I have many favourites that weren't included in the translations (and I didn't like a few of the translations available), so here's my attempt at translating a few of her poems. I'm no poet and I'm translating these from the Finnish translation, so at best this is the whisper of an echo of the original, but maybe these will give you an idea of how powerful Södergran's work is.

In the Autumn
It is autumn, and the golden fowl
all fly home over blue waters;
I sit on the shore and gaze at autumn's jewels;
and farewells whisper in the trees.
A great farewell, a parting ahead,
but our reunion is certain.
That is why my slumber is light, when I doze, hand under head.
Feel a mother's breath on my lids
and a mother's lips on my heart:
sleep and dream, my child, for the sun is gone.
Dangerous Dreams 
Venture not too close to your dreams:
they are smoke and may fade away --
they are dangerous and may endure. 
Have you looked your dreams in the eye:
They are diseased and understand nothing --
they hold only their own thoughts.
Venture not too close to your dreams:
they are a lie, they should leave --
they are madness, they long to stay.
          --Edith Södergran/ Restless Dreams


No comments:

Post a Comment

Hello, stranger. What's on your mind?