Encyclopedia of Literary Modernism

By Paul Poplawski | Go to book overview
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Scandinavia

The breakthrough of modernism in the Scandinavian countries generally occurred later than in the Anglo-American world and was not without important links to Anglo-American and other modernist predecessors and movements on the international scene.

The first Swedish writer who consciously linked himself with international modernist movements was Pär Lagerkvist. In 1913 he formulated his aesthetic program in Ordkonst och bildkonst (Word Art and Pictorial Art) referring to cubism and expressionism. His most significant early work is the poetry collection Ångest (1916, Anguish), in which a new expressionist imagery breaks forth. But it was in the Swedish-speaking part of Finland that lyrical modernism had its stronghold and most prominent advocates in the twenties. Edith Södergran’s work had an enormous influence on poetic modernism in Swedish literature. Her poetry ranges from triumphant expressionism, first formulated in Septemberlyran (1918, September Lyre), to cosmic mysticism in a highly charged and intense imagery. Her five collections of verse now stand out as modernist cornerstones. Södergran’s Fenno-Swedish contemporary Elmer Diktonius also voiced expressionist views of life in his poetry, often in a concrete, dense and fragmented imagery. Diktonius’ aesthetics also connects with Anglo-American imagism. In 1924 he published eight poems by Ezra Pound in translation. Central figures in this pioneering Fenno-Swedish movement are also the modernist poets Gunnar Björling and Rabbe Enckell. The Swedish poet Birger Sjöberg must be considered one of the most original and important renewers of poetic language in this context. With Kriser och kransar (1926, Crises and Wreaths) he creates a new, concrete and complex metaphorical language of immense importance for the further development of lyrical modernism in Sweden. At the beginning of the 1930’s several new modernistic poets break through. First and foremost was Artur Lundkvist, a central figure in the group of poets, The Young Five, that emerged around 1930. From then on Lundkvist came to be a central force in Swedish modernism for almost half a century. In his own early poetry he related to international modernism, which he also introduced in several essay collections. Of chief importance for the later development of Swedish modernism is Ikarus’ flykt (1939, The Flight of Icarus) in which Lundkvist introduces, among others, Joyce,Eliot,Faulkner, as well as French surrealism. In 1932 Gunnar Ekelöf made his debut with the poetry collection sent jorden (Late Arrival on Earth), for its time a sensational modernist work with its shockingly bold imagery, now clearly one of the most important achievements in the history of Swedish modernism. The year 1932 also saw the

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