Monday, 9 November 2009

Karin Boye - a biographical profile - 8


Among the German-Jewish emigré friends she made during the summer of 1937 time were several men. To one of these she became very closely attached, and it seemed that some kind of decision was imminent. But at the last moment the poet went away to Stockholm to see Margot Hanel for a few days, and when she came back she asked the man to forget everything that had passed between them. Something seemed to have changed in her relationship with Margot, and from that time onwards she ceased to talk of it and her in condescending tones. The epigram 'To You', written in July 1937, put the seal on this. Yet the problems within the relationship were not resolved: indeed, they seemed to intensify. In 1938 Karin tried to send Margot to Paris to live with a family there, but Margot returned within a month. Karin spoke of 'events that have made my life into chaos', and in a letter to the handwriting expert, Dr Blum she wrote, in German:

Nur tun mir Ihre Schlussworte über die notwendige Resignation ein bisschen weh. Ich stehe eben in einer Situation, wo eine absolute Selbstaufopferung - von Arbeitsfreude, Kameradschaft, künstlerischem Schaffen, Ruhe, Harmonie - verlangt wird, und ich habe so schwer ein solches Opfer zu bringen, jedenfalls kann es nicht mit Freude geschehen. Glauben Sie wirklich, dass Resignation der Sinn meines Lebens sein kann? {Eine zu persönliche Frage... Die Antwort kann nie von einem Anderen kommen.)

Only your words at the end about necessary resignation hurt me a little. For I am in just such a situation where an absolute self-sacrifice - of joy in my work, of friendship, of artistic creation, of peace, of harm ony - is demanded of me, and I find it so hard to make such a sacrifice - at any rate, it cannot happen with joy. Do you really believe that resignation can be the meaning of my life? (A too personal question... The answer can never come from someone else.)

In February 1938, Karin Boye visited the cathedral town of Linköping in order to give a reading of her poems. While staying there, she visited the cathedral and had a deep spiritual experience while standing before the altar-painting of Christ by the modern Norwegian artist Anna Sørensen, and the tapestries by Märta Afzelius. The result of the experience forms the subject of the long poem 'Linköping Cathedral', in The Seven Deadly Sins.

During the summer of the same year, the poet visited Greece on a travel scholarship from the Swedish Academy. On the way she visited Vienna, Prague and Istanbul. In Greece she travelled from Athens to Delos, where she wrote: 'the Aegean sea is brilliant blue, and on the other side of the water lie other rocky islands in a thick heat haze. The light is wonderful. It overwhelms one, takes one's breath away. It is apt here. After all, Apollo was the one "whose eyes had never seen the darkness".'

In the autumn of 1938, at her own request, Karin Boye took up full-time teaching at Viggbyholm, but the workload proved to be too much for her, and she suffered from overstrain and exhaustion. Her consciousness of the cruel and terrible events that were taking place in Europe at this time, the German invasion of Czechoslovakia and the persecution of the Jews, also contributed to her sense of confusion and breakdown. She was unable to write or work on her poetry, a condition which for her was tantamount to a complete paralysis of spirit, and she developed a severe and acutely painful inflammation of the nerves in one of her arms, which nothing would cure. Eventually she left Viggbyholm, and returned to Stockholm.

4. 1939 - SUMMER 1941

It was at around this time that the poet began to correspond again more frequently with Anita Nathorst, whom she had now known for almost twenty years. Anita had contracted a disastrous form of skin cancer, which was eating its way inwards into her body. Karin, who was still in love with Anita, travelled to Alingsås, near Göteborg, in order to be with her and look after her. While she was there, she wrote letters to Margot Hanel assuring the latter of her continued loyalty. In many ways, the poet seemed split in two - something noticed by her mother, who wanted to encourage her daughter's move away from Margot Hanel, but was concerned by her psychological state. This may not have been made any easier by the fact that Anita was by now the assistant of the psychoanalyst Iwan Bratt, who lived in Alingsås and whose house she frequented. Karin came into contact with many seriously disturbed patients, and Bratt himself seems to have been a somewhat controversial figure, with an approach to psychoanalysis that some called crude and oversimplified.

Nonetheless, all this time Karin Boye continued to work at her writing with great application and an almost demonic intensity. Not only did she produce a large body of poetry - she also wrote and completed her prose masterpiece, the novel Kallocain, which bears an epigraph from T.S. Eliot:

The awful daring of a moment's surrender,
which an age of prudence could never retract,
by this, and this only, we have existed...

Biographical Profile - 1
Biographical Profile - 2
Biographical Profile - 3
Biographical Profile - 4
Biographical Profile - 5
Biographical Profile - 6
Biographical Profile - 7

(to be continued)

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