Friday, 15 January 2010

Edith Södergran: a biographical profile - 12

(continued)

Raivola was to remain, then, the place from which Edith Södergran looked at the rest of the world. Raivola was the garden land' in which she wrote and suffered and meditated She was regarded as a curiosity by the other inhabitants of the place. Residents have told of how she would sometimes be seen standing alone in the courtyard of the dacha, staring up at the sky to observe cloud formations. Sometimes the inquisitive­ness of the neighbours turned to pure spite. In December 1919 Edith Södergran's favourite cat Totti, which meant as much to her as a child, was shot by the Russian neighbours mentioned earlier. An attack of Spanish influenza in early 1920 left her weak and exhausted. All this time the civil war was raging. Food was scarce, and Raivola seemed more cut off than ever from the rest of the world. Desperately anxious to work, to be of some use, Edith Södergran conceived the idea of preparing a volume of German translations of Finland Swedish poetry. Unfortunately the arrangement with the publisher fell through, and the project came to nothing.

She did receive some visitors from the outside world during the last years of her life. Elmer Diktonius, a literary lion of the Helsinki avant-garde, came to Raivola and saw to it that she was able to write articles for Ultra, a literary journal of the new wave. But as a rule she was alone with her mother. More and more her thoughts began to centre on the person of Christ.

Steiner and Nietzsche were forgotten. She read the New Testament. In 1921 the Kronstadt revolt erupted, and again the Södergrans could hear the shooting and see the flashes of gunfire in the night sky. The end came in 1923. Edith Södergran died while Hagar Olsson was on holiday in the south of France, where she received the sad news.

This was contained in a letter from Edith's mother, and a part of it read as follows:
Do not think that Edith nurtured any bitterness towards Hagar because Hagar was not with her before her departure; she understood that Hagar was not travelling alone and perhaps had to comply with the wishes of her travelling companion Certainly she yearned to see Hagar and on her last day she said `I wish Hagar and Diktonius were here.' And she was full of gratitude for all the proof of friendship she had received she said the day before her departure: `We have had so much help and friendship that I should write a book of gratitude, if only I could manage it.' And she often, often remembered all that Hagar and Diktonius had done for her.
The last poem Edith Södergran wrote contains these lines, which were engraved on her tombstone, now situated in the Leningrad District of the Russian Federation, at Raivola-Roshchino:
See, here is eternity's shore, here the stream murmurs by,
and death plays in the bushes his same monotonous melody.
Her destiny was to grow as one with her destiny-from her limited personal fate she aspired towards the condition of pure fate. Misunderstood in her lifetime - Gunnar Ekelöf described her as "a Persian princess in Lapland" - she became after her death one of the most widely appreciated poets of Scandinavia. Today her poetry is read and written about in all the Scandinavian countries, and her reputation there is comparable to that of Emily Brontë or Emily Dickinson in English-speaking countries, or to that of Anna Akhmatova in Russia. She has little in common with these poets. Her poetry, though imagistic in expression, is primarily a poetry of ideas. As such, it may remain alien to the majority of English-speaking readers.

DAVID McDUFF


Biographical profile - 1
Biographical profile - 2
Biographical profile - 3
Biographical profile - 4
Biographical profile - 5
Biographical profile - 6
Biographical profile - 7
Biographical profile - 8
Biographical profile - 9
Biographical profile - 10
Biographical profile - 11

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