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||Edith Södergran (1892-1923)|
Pioneer of poetry in the Swedish language in Finland, who died of lung disease. Edith Södergran's impact on the Nordic poetry, especially the Finnish modernism in the 1920s, was significant in liberating verse from the confines of rhyme, regular rhythm, and traditional imagery. As a modernizer of poetry only Katri Vala has been generally compared to Södergran, one of the most loved Nordic writers.
Jag längtar till landet som icke är,
Edith Södergran was born in St. Petersburg into a Swedish-speaking bourgeois family. Her father, Matts Södergran, worked for Alfred Nobel's company, and then was employed by a factory in Raivola (now Roshchino) on the Karelian Isthmus. Although in the official papers he was titled as "mechanic," his actual responsibilities were those of an engineer. In 1890 he married Helena Lovisa Holmroos, whose father had created a successful career in the foundry business.
In 1902 Södergran entered the German Petri-Schule in St. Petersburg.
Influenced by Heine and Goethe she wrote her first poems in German.
Later she switched to Swedish, but "Germanisms" remained a permanent
feature of her language. During the school years, Södergran criticized
in some writings amongst other things the tsarist system, but without
any clear political stand. Her father, who suffered from tuberculosis,
returned in 1907 from Nummela sanatorium to home. Death and feelings of
homelessness, drawing from her deepest questions of meaning in
life but also popular themes among the décadents, began to
appear in her poems. In one of
his early poems, Södergran apparently
discussed the possibility of two women having a marital-type
relationship: "Sie ist der Mann, ich bin die Frau. / Wir sind ein
At the age of sixteen, after catching cold, Södergran contracted the
same disease as her father, and in 1909 she was treated in Nummela.
There she met Hella Wuolijoki and Aino Kallas, who were also patients
in the same sanatorium. From 1911 to 1914 she lived mainly in
Switzerland in sanatoriums, where
she started to study Italy and read Dante. Most of the time she
spent in Davos-Dorf, where she was treated by doctor Ludwig von Muralt. He had worked as an assistant of Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist. From 1914 Södergran refused all hospital treatment.
In 1914 Södergran returned to Finland, with high hopes for the future. Next year Södergran met in Helsinki the writer Arvid Mörne (1876-1946), who encouraged her writing. A chance meeting with the philologist Hugo Bergroth (1866-1937) is thought to have persuaded her to abandon German for Swedish as a vehicle of lyric expression. Many of the poems in the so-called Oilcloth booklet (1907-09) were written in German with rhythm and metre. The pre-war expressionism interested Södergran as well as the Russian futurism of Vladimir Mayakovski, but Södergran never understood or shared his political sympathies. Södergran was a photographer too. Among her favorite subjects were cats and her own mother.
On the eve of World War I, Södergran settled with her mother permanently in the family's summer house at Raivola on the Karelian Isthmus. Södergran's family lost its property in the Russian Revolution of 1917; they had invested in Ukrainian oblgations. Her first book, Dikter (1916, Poems), full of romantic images, depicted the nature of her home village, but gave it a dream-like quality. In a love poem Södergran wrote: "You searched for a flower / and found a fruit. / Your searched for a spring / and found an ocean." This collection represented a new avant-garde voice in literature, but did not cause much debate. Reception varied from puzzled admiration to ridicule, which hurt her deeply and further contributed to her reclusive tendencies. Södergran ended her attempt to enter the Finland-Swedish literary circles of Helsinki in a flight to Raivola.
Södergran suffered from depression and extreme poverty, but in spite of the insecure, hard conditions, Septemberlyran (1918, The September lyre) reflected strong Nietzschean visions and Dionysian euphoria. Its appearance gave rise to a journalistic debate that cast doubts on her sanity. The reviews were so unfavorable, that later Thomas Warburton called it "a shameful spot in the history of Swedish journalism in Finland". (A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas, 1973, p. 518) In this collection Södergrand wanted to show that critics, the bloody Russian revolution, tuberculosis, and the Finnish Civil War did not manage to stop her from writing, and more: she has completely turned her back to the outer world, the sordid reality.
During a visit to Helsinki in autumn 1917, Södergran met such
writers as Hans Ruin, Jarl Hemmer, Runar Schildt, Juhani Aho, and Eino
Leino. The most important person in her life was the critic and writer Hagar Olsson, who reviewed enthusiastically Södergran's Septemberlyran.
Olsson visited her in Raivola, she met her five times in total.
The two women had an intense correspondence. Edith wrote more letters than Hagar did. Södergran's poems did not gain wide acceptance in her lifetime, but they nevertheless opened for her doors into the literary world. In addition to Olsson and Elmer Diktonius, her defenders included the Swedish-speaking writers Bertel Gripenberg, Erik Grotenfelt, Arvid Mörne, and Runar Schildt.
Pain rules over all, she smoothes the thinker's brow,
Södergran's later collections include Rosenaltaret (1919, Rose altar) and Framtidens skugga (1920,
Shadow of the future); the latter is generally considered her best.
With these works Södergran left behind her the Nietzschean will for
life, and accepted comfort from Christian faith, not
unconditionally. He religion was a kind of union of outcasts, who live
together with a mission: "From our silent garden we shall give the
world a new life." Eros is a central concept, not as a symbol of
romantic love, but rather referring to secret knowledge and
Following the victory of the
Whites in the Civil War, a wave of terror began in the Karelian Isthmus
against suspected Bolsheviks. In Terijoki, about 15 air kilometers
southeast from Raivola, Major Georg Elfengren's men killed some people
60 in the villa community. Södergran told Olsson in May 1919, that she
had an erotic dream about General Mannerheim:
"Säkert kommer något ondt att hända mig: drömde i natt att Mannerheim
omfattada mig och hand smekning var så berusande och bedårande som
ingen annan i världen." (Ediths brev: Brev från Edith Södergran till Hagar Olsson med kommentar av Hagar Olsson, 1973, p. 54) Olof
Enckell wrote in a letter to Södergran's biographer Gunnar Tideström
that while staying in Helsinki in 1916 she had taken off her clothes in
Gunnar Finne's atelier and revealed her deformed back with a long scar.
In the early 1920s Södergran became member of Anthroposophical
Society. Abandoning poetry for some time, she read widely Rudolf
Steiner's works. Her last book, Landet som icke är (The land
that is not), was Södergran's preparation for death; it was published
posthumously in 1925. "Who is my beloved? The night is dark / and the
stars tremble in reply." The resigned poems, which searched "the land
that is not," were assembled and issued by the poet Elmer Diktonius.
Beginning from the title of the collection, the symbolism of negation
is a recurrent theme. Södergran died in Raivola on June 24, 1923. Her
death was partially a result of a long period of malnutrition. She
refused to drink any of the milk her mother got from their neighbour
because she believed that they cast an evil eye on her cat. Södergran's
mother Helena died during the Winter War in Finland in January 1940.
1930s Raivola was the target of pilgrimages for Södergran's fans and aspiring
lyricists. Her influence on succeeding generations of poets have been
For further reading: Edith Södergran by Gunnar Tideström (1949); Edith Södergran by L. de Fages (1970); 'Les structures de l'imaginaire chez Edith Södergran' by R. Boyer, in Études Germaniques, 26 (1971); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); 'Edith Södergran: A Pioneer of Finland-Swedish Modernism' by G. Hird, in Books from Finland, 12 (1978); 'I'll Bake Cathedrals: An Introduction to the Poetry of Edith Södergran' by C.L. Mossberg in Folio, 11 (1978); 'Södergran, Edith' by G.C.S. [George C. Schoolfield], in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, edited by Jean-Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton (1980); Edith Södergran: Modernist Poet in Finland by G.C. Schoolfied (1984); Edith Södergran by Gunnar Tideström (1991, appeared originally 1949); Edith by Ernst Brunner (1992); Edith Södergran: A Changing Image, ed. by Petra Broomans, Adrian van der Hoeven and Jytte Keoning (1993); Edith Södergran by Eva Stöm (1994); 'Edith södergran and the Sexual Discourse of the Fin-de-siècle' by Birgitta Holm, in NORA - Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, Volume 1, Issue 1 (1993); A History of Finland's Literature, edited by Geroge C. Schoolfield (1998); Ediths jag by Ebba Witt-Brattström (1997); Vägen till landet som icke är: En essä om Edith Södergran och Rudolf Steiner by Jan Häll (2006); "Heimatlos in dieser Welt": The Isolated Modern Woman in Edith Södergran's Vaxdukshäft Poetry by Kajsa M. Spjut (2010); Kampen om Edith: biografi och myt om Edith Södergran by Agneta Rahikainen (2014); Edith: runoilijan elämä ja myytti by Agneta Rahikainen, translated by Jaana Nikula (2014); Edith Södergran: själarnas möte by Nelly Jurvélius (2018); Poeten och hennes apostlar by Agneta Rahikainen (2014); Det ockulta sekelskiftet: esoteriska strömningar i Hilma af Klints tid by Per Faxneld (2020); Edith Södergran: elämä by Agneta Rahikainen, translated by Jaana Nikula (2023); En annan Edith by Nina Ulmaja (2023) - Note: Edith Södergran monument is situated in the town Hyvinkää.