Monday, 21 December 2009

Edith Södergran: a biographical profile - 8


The fear of betrayal was insistent. Edith Södergran had circulated a letter among the literary world of Helsinki in which she demanded that her friends should stand up and be counted: Hagar Olsson, Ragnar Ekelund, and others 'should take back their hasty condemnation of my press insertion' (the one about Septemberlyran). She based her demand on the authority of Nietzsche and claimed: 'I am an individual of an entirely new species. When I speak of the unprecedented [det oerhörda] in my art I am not talking of the content, but of the species.' This new insertion was hopelessly misunderstood. Most of the literary world in Helsinki considered it in the worst possible taste, and Hagar Olsson herself was by her own confession irritated at being solicited so directly for a reply.

She wrote a cross letter. Edith Södergran's answer was violent:

You have publicly exposed me to disgrace. I asked you if you thought that this insertion could be of great benefit to the cause. Naturally on the assumption that you would reply and by no means in order to criticise you. No one has ever acted like this towards me.

The worst of it for me is that I have lost the sister who had begun to play a wonderful role in my poetry. My health does not permit me to come to you. If you can tear yourself away for days I am now ready to receive you at any moment you please. If you refuse to do refuse to do this, I wish to brew.: with you forever, for I am a person of irrevocable decision.

... Remember that this letter is a letter of destiny. I will believe no letter-I demand a proof of your fair-mindedness in that you come here. With one whom I distrust I do not want to have any dealings and do not want to wait for her for several months. That is my character-I can be no other.

I demand that you pay the price of our friendship through this journey - otherwise I shall understand that I am to be alone. Bow before my will, Hagar, you are approaching something that more beautiful than any love, and we could experience that which is most wonderful.
And so Hagar Olsson published a long article in Dagens Press on 8 February 1919. She defended Edith Södergran against the attacks of the critics, and associated her with the "new wave" of poets and writers that was beginning to appear in the other Scandinavian countries. Of this defence Hagar Olsson wrote later: `I wrote what my heart inspired me with at the time. I tried above all else to make people understand that an inspired poet like Edith Södergran spoke in the name of the spirit, of the god that lives in all our breasts, and not in the name of her private ego. And that all talk of self-assertion in connection with her was just as tasteless and stupid as it would be in connection with the great mystics who felt the presence of the Almighty in their own souls.'

At the same time, Hagar Olsson wrote to her friend saying she would accept the invitation to come to Raivola. Edith Södergran's reaction was one of joy:

Welcome to Raivola. Will be at the station, from where it is 2 kilometres to our home. My mother is very pleased you are coming. The cat Nonno and the dog Martti will also greet you cordially, as will our punikki [the 'Red' household help] Aino.The night before your malheur-letter I dreamt that a beautiful black horse had broken loose at me. The night before the press insertion I dreamt that a herd of cows was following me with ringing bells and I also dreamt that I was walking along the street wearing a red cap and that a pedant of my acquaintance was nodding to me from the church tower which you will see...

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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