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Gustaf Fröding (1860-1911)


Swedish poet, who was one of the pioneers liberating Swedish verse from traditional patterns. At his death, Gustaf Fröding was celebrated as a national poet against his own will - his contemporary poet Verner von Heidenstam adopted the role more eagerly. Fröding undermined his public image by openly revealing his problems with alcohol and bohemian life style. Love, true or bought with money, was one of Fröding's themes, as in the poem 'En kärleksvisa' from Gralstänk (1898, New and Old Splashes from the Grail):

Jag köpte min kärlek för pengar,
för mig var ej annan att få,
sjung vackert, I skorrade strängar,
sjung vackert om kärlek åndå.

Gustaf Fröding was born in Alsters Farm outside Karlstad in Värmland. His grandfather, Jan Fröding, had gathered a considerable property through business affairs, and invested it in land and Alster Mill. He married Gustava Branzell; her brother was a former priest, who suffered from alcoholism and mental illness. Fröding's father, lieutenant Ferdinand Fröding, married Emilia Agardh, the daughter of the bishop of Karlstad. Ferdinand was not able to look after the property and was soon in huge debts. The strong-willed Emilia took care of the family. After recovering from meningitis (he had chilled his head on a sleigh ride), Ferdinand became "en främmande man" (a strange man), who could not stand any voices in the house, and changed his stockings ten times in a single day.

At the time of Gustaf's birth, his mother had mental problems. She lost contact with reality, was hospitalized, and did not recognize her son any more. Fröding described her in 'Dolores di Colibrados' as an outsider who was ultimately destroyed by her alien, cold surroundings.

At high school, Karlstads Högre allmänna läroverk, Fröding developed a lifelong friendship with the future journalist and Liberal party politician Mauritz Hellberg (1859-1947). Fröding did not take seriously his studies, but was more interested in drinking and visiting brothels. Physically weak, and plagued with feelings of guilt and shame, he spent a lot of time recovering from the effects of alcohol.

Fröding attended the University of Uppsala in the early 1880s. After wasting his inheritance in a couple of years, he returned to Värmland. There he fell in love with a local girl but due to his poor financial condition he could not marry her. In 1885 Fröding left the university without taking a degree, and lived for a period with his mother, Emilia. Hellberg managed to get him a job in 1887 as a journalist in the radical newspaper Karlstads-Tidning, which he later edited. Fröding's poems and prose pieces written in Värmlandish dialect for the newspaper were collected in Räggler å paschaser 1-2 (1895-97).

From 1889 onwards Fröding was periodically hospitalized for treatment of nervous disorders. When not in hospital or asylum, Fröding was taken care of his sisters, Mathilda or Cecilia. In 1889 Fröding spent some time in Görlitz, Germany, where he read such writers as Goethe, Byron, Burns, and Poe. With two the essays, 'Naturalism and romantik' and 'Om humor', Fröding contributed to the literary debate about naturalism and creative imagination, defending fantasy and Swedish humor. 

Gitarr och dragharmonika (1891), Fröding's first collection of poems, was composed in Görlitz's sanatorium. It came out when the poet was in a sanatorium in Lillehammer, Norway. The collection revealed Fröding's unique poetic blend of irony, melancholy, and humor. An immediate success, the book sold 5,000 copies in five years - more than any other collection in Sweden.

Fröding was awarded a stipend by the Swedish Academy in 1892, but he donated it to the movement for general voting rights. From Norway Fröding returned to Karlstad. He had an affair with a waitress, who inspired the poems 'Flickan i ögat' and 'Det borde varit stjärnor'. ("Var väsignad du, som ej gav tröst / som en nåd från ovan, / men som kärleksgåvan / från en syndig fatting flickas bröst.") Nya dikter (1894), which was received with enthusiasm, appeared when Fröding was in a hospital in Göteborg. He had visions of greatness, believing he was a superman - just like the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche did before he collapsed mentally and physically in January 1889 - his illness was probably of syphilitic origin.

Like all Scandinavian writers at that time, Fröding knew Nietzsche's work and wrote a pastiche Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85), which was published in Nya dikter. Nietzsche also inspited the poems 'Guderne dansa' and 'En flik av framtiden', included in the collection Stänk och flikar (1896, Splashes and Spray). It also contains a series of poems of the Holy Grail, and one of Fröding's most beloved pieces, 'Ett gammalt bergtroll', about an outsider, a lonely mountain troll, who eats people. 'En morgondröm' (A Morning Dream), in which two Stone Age Aryans in the far Aryan homeland have sex, was called pornographic and led to a court case. Although Fröding was acquitted, he could not stop his self-accusations. The collection was half written in a psychotic state.

Eventually Fröding suffered a mental breakdown and managed to publish only two small books of poems before a final breakdown. Gralstänk (1898), born partly as a reaction to Nietzsche's Jenseits von Gut und Böse, presents a series of religious poems that express a faith in the divinity of all things. Mattoidens sånger (Madcap's Songs) was probably composed in 1900. 'Gråbergssång' (Gray Granite Song), an experiment about the o-sound (the letter "å" is pronounced like a long "o"), has been studied in schools in literary classes, generation after generation:

Så är gråbergs gråa sång

Whereas Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864-1931) drew on the old Lutheran heritage, which was a source of comfort to him, Fröding sought solace in legends and mystical tradition. In 'The Saga of Grail' Fröding wrote: "Grail is the solace and hope of all being; / Grail is the marvelous gem of renown, / Prophesied whilom by sibyl and soothsayer; / Grail is the philosophers' stone." (North! To the North!: Five Swedish Poets of the Nineteenth Century, edited and translated by Judith Moffett, 2001, p. 157) Some of his confessional poems Fröding wrote in the third person. In later works his alter egos were Clown Clopopisky, who is mocked by his audience, and the poet Wennerbom, who drinks alone in a park.

Gralstänk was the last collection published before Fröding's final collapse. From 1898 to 1905 Fröding was a patient in Uppsala hospital for mental illness. Between 1906 and 1907 he was treated in Svenonii hospital, Stockholm. There he met Signe Trozig, his nurse for the rest of his life. It has been assumed that Fröding was a schizophrenic, but according to the Danish psychiatrist Jørgen Ravn, (1903-1993), he "suffered from an atypical manic-depressive psychosis, complicated by strong psychopatic characteristics and by alcoholism." ('The Psychic Constitution of Selma Lagerlöf' by Jørgen Ravn, in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, September 1959) In 1907 Fröding lived in Gröndal, Stockholm's Djurgården, then in Tullinge, and from 1909 again in Gröndal. Along the years, he developed diabetes. When condition improved in 1908, he started to work with a new collections of poems, Reconvalescentia. His financial problems ended. The government voted to pay him an annual pension and the Academy gave him a stipend.

Richard Bergh's portrait of Fröding from 1909 - both heroic and intimate at the same time - presents the poet as a patient, a bearded like an ancient sage or a prophet from the Old Testament, sitting on bed with his arms crossed and looking up. A book, as thick as the Bible, lies on a table. Fröding never finished his final work, which was published posthumously in 1913. Fröding died of pneumonia in Stockholm on February 8, 1911. In Nordic countries, his poems have remained popular. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius has set to music five of Fröding's poems, among them 'Säf, säf, susa' (reeds, reeds, whisper). "Säf, säf, susa, / våg, våg, slå, / I sängen mig hvar Ingalill / den unga månde gå?"

For further reading: Gustaf Frödings diktning by Frey Svensson (1916); Frödings mystik by Olle Holmberg (1921); Frödingsminnen by Cecilia Fröding (1925); Skapande fantasi och sjuka skalder by Bror Gadelius (1927); Frödings sociala diktning by Axel Munthe (1929); Fröding by Henry Olsson (1951); Fröding och Ida Bäckman by G. Michanek (1955); Gustaf Fröding by John Landquist (1956, rev. edition 1964); Gustaf Fröding by Erland Lindbäck (1957); Så minns vi Gustaf Fröding, ed. by G. Michanek (1960); En morgondröm by G. Michanek (1962); Vinlövsranka och hagtornkrans by Henry Olsson (1970); 'Fröding, Gustaf' by S.A.B. [Sven Arne Bergmann] in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, edited by Jean-Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton (1980); Bibliografi, 2 vols., published by Gustaf Fröding-sällskapet (1978-84); Gustaf Fröding (1860-1911): His Life and Poetry: a Short Biography by Paul Britten Austin (1986); Den Svenska Litteraturen, Vol. IV, ed. by Lars Lönnroth and Sven Delblanc (1997); 'Gustaf Fröding, 1860-1911,' in North! To the North!: Five Swedish Poets of the Nineteenth Century, edited and translated by Judith Moffett (2001); Gustaf Fröding in Brunskog and Mangskog by Gustaf Froding and Mike McArthur (2006); Fröding och kvinnorna by Rolf Alsing (2011); Gustaf Fröding - och jag by Rolf Erik Solheim (2017); Gustaf: en roman om Gustaf Fröding by Arne Bergersen (2017) - Suom: Suomeksi Frödingin runoja ovat kääntäneet Larin-Kyösti (Runoja ja murrejuttuja), Valter Juva (Valikoima runoja), Hannes Korpi-Anttila (Värmlannin lauluja), Otto Manninen (Värmnlannin lauluja, 1952) ja Ilpo Tiihonen (Runoilija Vennerbom ja muita runoja).

Selected works:

  • Gitarr och dragharmonika, 1891
    - Guitar and Concertina (translated by C. D. Locock, 1925) / Guitar and Concertina: Poems By Gustaf Fröding (translated by Mike McArthur, 1997)
    - Valittuja runoja (suom. Yrjö Weijola, kokoelmista Guitarr och Dragharmonika, Nya Dikter, ja Räggler å Paschaser, 1985)
  • Nya dikter, 1894
    - New Poems (translated by Mike McArthur, 1998)
    - Valittuja runoja (suom. Yrjö Weijola, kokoelmista Guitarr och Dragharmonika, Nya Dikter, ja Räggler å Paschaser, 1985)
  • En bok om Strinberg, 1894 (editor)
  • Räggler å paschaser 1-2, 1895-97
    - Poems of Youth & Tall Tales and Adventures (translated by Mike McArthur, 1999)
    - Valittuja runoja (suom. Yrjö Weijola, kokoelmista Guitarr och Dragharmonika, Nya Dikter, ja Räggler å Paschaser, 1985)
  • Stänk och flikar, 1896 [Drops and Fragments]
    - Splashes and Patches: Poems by Gustaf Fröding (translated by Mike McArthur, 1998)
  • Nytt och gammalt, 1897 [New and Old]
  • Gralstänk, 1898
    - New and Old Splashes from the Grail: Poems by Gustaf Fröding (translated by Mike McArthur, 1998)
  • Poems, 1903 (translated by Albert Björck)
  • Efterskörd, 1910
    - Gleanings and Convalescence (translated by Mike McArthur, 1999)
  • Reconvalescentia, 1913
    - Gleanings and Convalescence (translated by Mike McArthur, 1999)
  • Efterlämnade skrifter, 1914 (2 vols.)
  • Mattoidens sånger, 1914 (in Efterlämnade skrifter) [Madcap's Songs]
  • Selected Poems, 1916 (translated by Charles Wharton Stork)
  • Samlade skrifter 1-16, 1917-22 (edited by R.G. Berg)
  • Posthuma skrifter 1-3, 1918
  • Dikter från Värmland, 1936
    - Värmland Poems (translated by Mike McArthur, 2000)
  • Brev til en ung flicka, 1952
  • Äventyr i Norge, 1963 (edited by Germund Michanek)
  • Återkomsten och andra okända dikter, 1964 (edited by Germund Michanek)
  • Brev I-II, 1981-82 (edited by Germund Michanek and Ingvald Rosenblad)
  • Gustaf Fröding i Upsala nya tidning: dikter, kåserier, recensioner och insändare 1890-98, 1987 (edited by Germund Michanek)
  • Ur en tidningsmans anteckningar och andra kåserier, 1990 (edited by Lennart Bernesjö och Reidar Nordenberg)
  • Frödings hemlighetsfulla väninna: en brevbiografi, 1990 (edited by Ingrid Schöider)
  • Dikter: Brev, 1991 (edited by David Gedin)
  • Gustaf Frödings poesi, 1993 (edited by Germund Michanek; contains Gitarr och dragharmonika; Nya dikter; Stänk och flikar; Nytt och gammalt; Gralstänk; Dikterna i Räggler å paschaser; Efterskörd; Mattoidens sånger; Reconvalescentia ; Ungdomsdikter; Senare dikter; Översättningar)
  • The Selected Poems of Gustav Fröding, 1993 (translated by Henrik Aspán, in collaboration with Martin Allwood)
  • Klipp av hans sax : 30 kåserier, 1995 (edited by Germund Michanek)
  • The Complete Poems of Gustaf Fröding, 1997-1999 (translated by Mike McArthur)
  • Poems of Youth: and, Tall Tales and Adventures: Poems, 1999 (a new translation by Mike McArthur)
  • Other Poems: Poems by Gustaf Fröding, 1999 (translated by Mike McArthur)
  • Dikter från hospitalet, 2005 (edited by Eva Jonsson)
  • Dear Gustaf: Favourite Poems of Gustaf Fröding, 2007 (translated by Mike MacArthur)
  • Frödings landskap: ett urval av Gustaf Frödings dikter och texter, 2009 (edited by Anita Forsnäsgård)
  • De glömda texterna: journalistik av Gustaf Fröding i Karlstads-tidningen 1885-1894, 2010 (edited by Dag Nordmark)
  • Gustaf Fröding: den tidlöse, 2013 (redaktion: Maj-Lis Falck, Anders Hjertén och Barbro Järliden)
  • Poems, 2016 (translated by: Mike McArthur)
  • Fröding: önskedikter, 2017 (redaktion: Anita Stjernlöf-Lund, Anita Forsnäsgård)

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