Thursday, 17 December 2009

Edith Södergran: a biographical profile - 7


She told the story of how the publisher had mutilated her work and how her publicity in Dagens Press had only been intended to forestall an attack which she knew already to be inevitable. Even so, one cannot help but feel that even had the book appeared exactly according to her wishes, the critical reception would hardly have been any the more favourable. The letter included some new poems which their author invited the critic to consider, and ended with a remarkable appeal:
Nietzsche says: Ich ging zu allen, aber kam zu niemand. Is it now to be that I am to come to someone? Could we reach a hand to one another? I am now launching my offensive against you, I want you to see me as I really am and I want you to show me who you are. Could there be a godlike relationship between us, so that all barriers between us would fall? I speak to you in a tentative, degrading language. Nietzsche is the only human being in whose presence I would be afraid to open my mouth. Are you the sea of fire I wí11 plunge into? If you laugh, you are my own If you do not laugh, you ought still to be worthy of the highest form of friendship, which Nietzsche advised his followers against on grounds of prudence
.Hagar Olsson's reply overwhelmed Edith Södergran. She believed that at last she had a found a companion with whom she could share the secrets of her experience. Hagar Olsson was her `sister', to whom she could confide the most intimate secrets of her life. Edith Södergran's side of the correspondence between the two women was eventually published in book form, with a linking commentary by Hagar Olsson.* It makes painful reading. Involved in the hectic early stages of a career as a publicist and socialist literary critic, Hagar Olsson had little time to spare for her 'sister'. While the published letters give a valu;ıhle insight into the development of Edith Södergran's nature mysticism and her gradual movement towards the Sufism of Goethe and Rudolf Steiner, they also reveal how far the 'godlike relationship' fell short of the poet's hopes. Raivola was far from the Finnish capital, and in reply to Hagar Olsson's invitation to visit her there, Edith Södergran wrote:
My charming young girl! Cannot come. Insomnia, tuberculosis, purse is empty (we live on the sale of our household effects and our furniture). What we have in Russian and Ukrainian securities could only be redeemed in the event of the f1ılI of Bolshevism. If the insomnia gets better I will try to come in a few months, but no certainty of this. Now I have found what l need: your objective view, and you have brains enough for us both.

May one ask; do you work for the cause in gencrıl, or will you meet certain individuals? Give a list of them, 1 want to capture certain souls. Hemmer to sing for the cause and Grotenfelt to sing or scrawl. Ragnar Ekelund does not conic into my plans. I share Severyanin's view that if a talent is a little boring it is not full enough of genius. Igor Severyanin is at present Russia's greatest poet. Saw him at a poetry reading, never spoke to him. But he is the one in whom I have a similar trust to the trust 1 have in you.

He is a very great power and should be ready for our ideas. But we must

first educate him, he has, to be sure, certain café-concert mannerisms and does not know how to discipline himself. He will be the bridge to Russia, with him we will certainly be able to get the best of Russia on its feet again. What do you think of Sweden? Will it go there? One fine day we will certainly seize hold of Europe. Do you talk directly to certain Iıecıple and have you the intention of doing this? You must read the best poems of Severyanin, they would quicken and enliven you, even though he is submerged in the boudoir and you will not find our heights in him.

I was reborn in September, whence The September Lyre. I knew suddenly with unmistakable certainty that a stronger hand had grasped my brush.

How old are you? Health? Nerves? I want you to be well and in full strength. Give a short biography! Mrs or Miss? Degree of education? Myself: residence: Raivola, Petrischülerin, tuber­culosis from age 16, Nummela, Davos, pneumothorax, waiting for someone to invent a cure for TB.

We must be ruthless with one another and sharp as diamonds...

I have a sister and have not heard her wonderful voice. I want to see your inner being, what is holiest in you.

The style and tone of this letter, its peremptory demands for concrete action at an absolute level, demands it would be impossible to fulfil in "real life" - all this is typical of the letters sent to Hagar Olsson with great frequency by Edith Södergran, even though she often obtained no reply. Hagar Olsson found the memory of this unequal friendship so painful after Edith Södergran's death that it took her twenty-five years to bring herself to look the letters out and publish them. For those twenty-five years she tried to forget about Edith Sodergran and her own failure to meet the demands of a soul that had in many respects already crossed over into another world.

The 'Sister' poems of Edith Södergran's third book, Rosenaltaret [The Rose Altar], grouped under the heading 'Fantastique', illustrate the poet's violent attachment to Hagar Olsson, and her fear that her 'sister' would betray her:

My sister...
Has she betrayed me?
Does she bear a dagger at her breast - the light-footed one? Answer me - laughing eyes.

('I Believe in My Sister')

(to be continued)

Biographical profile - 1
Biographical profile - 2
Biographical profile - 3
Biographical profile - 4
Biographical profile - 5
Biographical profile - 6

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