Palimpsest of the Soul

Tradition and Value in Johannes Edfelt’s Poetry



This doctor’s thesis is a study on connotation and value in the poetry of Swedish writer Johannes Edfelt (1904–97) during the period 1932–47. The research method has been mainly structural but draws on sociological and thematic criticism, as well. The starting-point for the dissertation is that a writer chooses strategy in order to maximize utility in a so-called social field, which is a hierarchical structure that gives literature its immaterial value.

At the same time, Edfelt’s discourse inherits a conflict between tradition and renewal. In order to bridge that division, the writer not only strives to be a part of history but also to change its foundations. This aesthetics seems to have come about under influence from modernists like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Other important precursors are hymn writers Johan Olof Wallin and Lina Sandell-Berg, Swedish poetry at the turn of the century, e.g., Gustaf Fröding and Erik Axel Karlfeldt, traditionalists like Vilhelm Ekelund, Bo Bergman and Bertil Malmberg, and modernists like Pär Lagerkvist and Birger Sjöberg. This plurality of voices creates a polyphonic discourse on a higher level than the traditional monological writing.

Finally, the dissertation analyzes Edfelt’s intertexts in the light of polyphonic, modernistic and psychoanalytical discourses, which he uses to differerantiate himself from his precursors. Important theorists in this area are Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. The conclusion is that a poet’s view of the future determinates his strategy in addition to contemporary psychological, economical and social structures and that a committed artist must not forget about this fact.



The dissertation Palimpsest of the Soul: Tradition and Renewal in Johannes Edfelt’s Poetry contains three sections: (1) «The Mind as a Medium,» (2) «The Dream of History» and (3) «The Utopia of Writing.» The main purpose has been to analyze Edfelt’s poetry 1932–47 in relation to the literary field.

Our perspective may be structural, but the research also draws on sociological and thematic criticism, methods that conceive biography as an alternative context. One premise is that a writer strives to maximize utility in a hierarchical structure that gives literature its immaterial value. In this field, tradition and modernism are two different ways to play the same game.
At the same time, tradition and renewal correspond to the Jungian archetypes the Old Wise Man and the Unknown Woman or Anima, who is a man’s repressed female side. Edfelt often connects the first archetype to the tradition and the latter to drives, intoxication and eroticism, i.e., the Dionysian in Friedrich Nietzsche’s dichotomy. This theme also draws from Charles Baudelaire, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and Birger Sjöberg.

The first section of the dissertation, »The Mind as a Medium,» prescribes the scope of the study. This section explains the intertextual method and gives an overview of earlier research. Academic books and papers on Edfelt mostly use a thematic or comparative method.

Denotation and connotation are two systems that make the text to a language game. According to Barthes, the value of a literary work is interrelated to its connotations. In this context, he defines something he calls lexias, which are »units of meaning» connected to the plurality of the text. Each lexia consists of one or more of five codes, which are woven into the narrative that makes a text. The five codes act together to give the text a polyphonic structure, but each one can dominate the whole text. One of the codes is the semantic code, which gives words additional meaning over the basic denotative meaning. In Edfelt’s poetry this structure expose a discrepancy between power and literature.

The study of intertexts also connects to what Barthes calls the symbolic code, which manifests itself in binary opposites. In this way, a text can combine Kierkegaard’s either/or with Hegel’s both/and. In Edfelts poetry, this structure creates a dialectics between tra­di­tion and renewal, day and night, fire and water, male and female, spirit and body, spiritual and temporal, dissonance and silence, ascension and des­cen­sion, communion and alienation, Jewish and Greek, Christian and pagan, nomadic and nationalistic, God’s Kingdom and this world. Besides, Edfelt’s description of two literary trends in his essay »Marginalia» (1943, 34) has a remote similarity with Nietzsche’s dichotomy «Apollonian» and «Dionysian». When the same symbol denotes opposite values in different contexts, it becomes reconciliation between antitheses. Landgren (1977, 98) demonstrates how Edfelt’s imagery during the ’30s and early ’40s follows a uniform pattern. However, the researcher overlooks that the poet’s form strives for a dialectical harmony.

Like Pound, Edfelt advocates a new Renaissance, where literature can unite the True, the Good and the Beautiful. At the same time, his poetry opposes the power field, when he protests against politicians’ lack of commitment in international issues, e.g., Italy’s war against Abyssinia, the Spanish Civil War, and the Munich Agreement. In this context, the dissertation deviates both from a structuralist close reading, which looks at literary works as independent of a historical context, and from a sociological analysis, which looks at a literary work only in relation to economical and sociological conditions.

Literary critic Harold Bloom maintains that all influences are the results of unconscious misreading. There are, according to him, no interpretations, only misreadings. These are the result of two motives: A writer’s intention to imitate someone else, and his repression of that fact. When the imitator realizes that he cannot achieve immortality by imitating, he feels anxiety and tries to conceal all traces of his precursor. These feelings result in literary works and imply that present-day writers regularly lie about their precursors. Intertextual relations are, according to Bloom, a writer’s wish to deny a certain kind of influence. To conceal the truth, the author unconciously applies six types of misreadings, which Bloom gives the following names:

  1. Clinamen (19 ff); which means that Edfelt uses motives and imagery in new contexts when it comes to T. S. Eliot and Rainer Maria Rilke.
  2. Tessera (49 ff); which means that Edfelt attaches common motives to a different theme when it comes to Gustaf Fröding and Erik Axel Karlfeldt.
  3. Kenosis (77 ff); which means that Edfelt dissociates himself from the middle-class thematics when it comes to Johan Olof Wallin and Bo Bergman.
  4. Daemonization (99 ff); which means that Edfelt apprehends the precursor as part of a larger tradition when it comes to Bertil Malmberg.
  5. Askesis (115 ff); which means that Edfelt dissociates himself from certain similarities when it comes to Hjalmar Gullberg.
  6. Apophrades (139 ff); which means that the precursor’s themes actually is Edfelt’s when it comes to Birger Sjöberg.

Philosopher Michel Foucault maintains that hierarchical structures are based on clashes of social interests rather than on ideological conceptions and hypotheses. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu apprehends literature as a structure, where various actors take different positions. Among these specialized agents are readers, writers, publishers, critics and researchers but also magazines, cultural pages, universities, institutions and other organizations. In order to participate in the activity of a social field, an agent has to have symbolic capital, i.e., education and other things with a recognized value.

Bourdieu’s apprehension differs from T. S. Eliot’s theory of impersonal poetry because it refers to a writer’s social background. It also deviates from Jean-Paul Sartre’s projet originel {original plan}, which implies that a writer in his childhood takes a final decision, and from the French semiotics, who intend that the text lacks a superior subject. In contrast to Barthes, Sartre seems to understand the importance of the social environment for the writer’s career. However, Bourdieu considers that the French philosopher relapses to an essentialist worldview by interpreting a writer’s destiny as the result of an outspoken intention or predestination.

Bourdieu maintains that there are three forms of symbolic capital: economic, social and cultural. In order to give the capital a symbolic value, the social field has to recognize it as valuable. The process to acquire symbolic capital is rather slow and related to the agent’s disposition, so-called habitus, i.e., social class, upbringing and education. Decisive for the value of a literary work is the agent’s strategy to maximize utility, i.e., profit. Strategies are never unconscious or mechanical but adapted to habitus, which establishes a »feeling for the game», so-called praxis. Like a commodity in a market, literary works are valued in the field. Because of a conflict between commercial success and literary value, literature is, according to Bourdieu, an upside-down economical world. The field offers ready-made themes, references and benchmarking. Thus, the researcher needs to analyze a literary work both in relation to other works and to the writer’s position in the field. Isolating the text from the author and the market makes it impossible to understand connections that create literary value. According to Bourdieu, a text has value only in relation to other literary works. By relating literature to the writer’s possibilities and to the reader’s expectations, it is possible to understand how the field contributed to the presentation.

After defining concepts like form and palimpsest, the dissertation discusses the term allusion marker, which refers to the smallest communicative component part in an allusion or reminiscence. These allusive markers, so-called alludemes, fall into one of seven categories:

  1. Spelling,
  2. Word choice,
  3. Clause structure,
  4. Rhythm,
  5. Imagery,
  6. Theme, and
  7. Composition.

According to Michael Riffa­terre, an allusion consists of one or more allusive markers, which repeat structures in another context. The same marker can refer to one or more texts. In the latter case the structure is polygenetic. Like Julia Kristeva’s ideologeme, the marker connects both to the Other and to a historical and social context. The allusion thus aims at a multiple exposure in the readers mind. In this manner, the allusion is a sign, which consists of a signifier in a text A and a signified in a text B. According to Joseph Pucci (1998, 18), there are ten prerequisites for an allusion:

  1. The writer and the reader share the same language and cultural traditions.
  2. The markers extend the content of the hypertext.
  3. The markers have a non-alluding meaning, as well.
  4. The markers repeat structures in another text.
  5. The repetition is sufficient for the reader to perceive it.
  6. The writer’s intention is disclosure of the hypotext.
  7. It is possible for the reader to know the hypotext.
  8. Only identifying the hypotext as a referent for the marker is insufficient for understanding the intertext.
  9. The content of the hypertext prior to the repetition and the repeated structure interact to create a new meaning.
  10. The hypotext may link to further contexts and texts.

In Edfelt’s poetry, there are allusions to ancient history, the Bible and other religious or secular literature.

The second section of the dissertation, «The Dream of History,» studies connections between Edfelt’s intertexts and three cultural traditions:

  1. The ancient Greek and Roman world,
  2. The Bible and the Swedish hymn-book,
  3. The Western secular literature.

Among Edfelt’s Swedish precursors are hymn writers Johan Olof Wallin and Lina Sandell-Berg but also secular poets like Gustaf Fröding, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Ernst Joseph­son, Bo Bergman and Bertil Malm­berg. There are also well-known modernists like Bau­delaire, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Pär Lagerkvist and Birger Sjöberg. One of Edfelt’s strategies, when it comes to Rilke, Pound and Eliot, is adapting the hypotext to an updated context, i.e., a misreading that Bloom (19 ff) calls clinamen. In Edfelt’s poetry, there are several allusions to writers like Haquin Spegel, Esaias Tegnér, Erik Johan Stagnelius, Viktor Rydberg, August Strindberg, Vilhelm Eke­lund, Harriet Löwenhjelm and Hjalmar Gullberg.

There are also allusions to world literature by Homer, Gautama Buddha, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Sappho, Plato, Plutarch, Plotinus, Horace, Ovid, Dante, William Shakespeare, Jean Racine, Samuel Johnson, Johann Wolfgang von Goe­the, Friedrich Schiller, Søren Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Fyodor Dosto­yev­sky, Bertolt Brecht, Martin Buber and Eugene O’Neill.
Characteristic for Edfelt’s allusions are that:

  1. They refer to ancient history, the Bible and Swedish hymns or secular literature;
  2. They provide his poems with new content;
  3. They have a literal meaning, as well;
  4. They repeat words, syntax, rhythm, imagery or themes from a foreign text;
  5. The reader can apprehend them as repetitions;
  6. They are hard to disregard from when a reader has identified them;
  7. They refer to texts the reader can know about;
  8. They comment on extraneous contexts;
  9. The hypertext and hypotext work together to create a new meaning;
  10. The hypotext often links to further hypotexts and contexts.

In this way, the allusions cause a polyphonic effect of voices. Accordning to Michail Bachtin, a dialogue with other texts occurs on a higher level than ordinary monological writing. A good example is «Symposion» (1939, 46), which alludes to Plato, Nietz­sche, Kierkegaard, Tegnér and Fröding. Apart from the heading, the poem has themes like consuming of wine and tribute to a speaker in common with Plato’s dialogue Symposium. At the same time, the intertexts connect to the world’s silent reaction to the Germans’ demand for Lebensraum in the 1930s. Kierkegaard uses the same dialogue as hypotext for his short story «In vino veritas» (1845), and Tegnér combines, in his translation of Adam Oehlenschläger’s «Skaldens hem» {«The Poet’s Home»}, Plato’s World of Forms with a philosophical banquet, Christian and ancient symbolism, and literary allusions in a manner that reminds of Edfelt’s mythical method. This might be a reason why the younger poet frames «Fosterland» {«Native Country»} (1936, 41) as an intertextual reply.

In Edfelt’s poetry, the night symbolizes both death and rebirth, while a starry sky signifies archetypes or vulnerability, as in «Gavott» («Gavotte»; 1932, 54): «Föraktfullt glittra alla,/ och ingens blick är god […].» {«All are glittering contemptuously/ And no one’s eye is nice.»} This kind of imagery could also describe the Great Depression. Besides, Edfelt gives a new, ominous meaning to St. Paul’s words in his Epistle to the Galatians (Gal 3:28), which says: «There is neither Jew nor Greek.» In «Purgatorium III» (1936, 15), Edfelt alludes both to Karlfeldt’s poem «Inför freden» {«With Peace at Hand»} (1927, 9) and to persecution of Greek and Jewish minorities in the past: «Den som vet, hur Chios ödelades,/ den som sett galiziska pogromer […];/ borta är hans tro på goda gnomer.» {«The one who knows how Chios was ravaged,/ The one who has seen Galizian pogroms […];/ Gone is his faith in good gnomes.»}

Like Baudelaire, Edfelt not only depicts pleasures but also the unpleasant sides of life, which he can mediate in the shape of a a prison, a hotel, a school, a stage, or an asylum. This kind of imagery has features in common with Baroque, Romanticism, early symbolism and expressionism. The stage as a symbol for the world reminds of Plato, Shakespeare and Bo Bergman. Other common themes are anxiety and fear, which reminds of Freud’s description of trauma. At the same time, this motive draws from an existentialist tradition that ranges from the Book of Hiob to Kierkegaard. In contrast to the feeling of being shut in, Edfelt depicts a higher form of existence, which the individual can reach through his senses. Aware of the connotations, the poet describes the meeting with a woman as a religious communion or a recovered native country. A polygenetic allusion is the prison bars of the soul in «Fången» {«The Prisoner»} (1923, 11). This symbol seems to be taken over both from Fröding’s poem «En ghasel» {«A Ghasel»} (1891, 67) and from Plato’s dialogue Phaedo. And in the first part of Faust, Goethe describes a study as both a prison and a miniature universe. Edfelt’s dialogue with Fröding continues in «Avsked» {«Parting»} (1936, 52), which depicts so-called alba mood and erotic mysticism at the same time, and in «Osynligt land» {«Invisible Land»} (1941, 85), where the prison bars symbolize limitations of life. In itself, this repetition becomes an intertextual ghazál.

Allusions to the Gospel and Dante in Edfelt’s «Förklaringsberg» {«Mountain of Elucidation»} (1934, 75) connects to themes of ascension and individuation. Other important intertexts are Fröding and Sjöberg, while the formulation «ditt underliga hjärtas slag» {«the beats of your peculiar /strange/ heart»} alludes to «ditt främmande, sällsamma hjärtas slag» {«the beats of your strange, peculiar heart»} in Malmberg’s poem «Förvandling» {«Transformation»} (1927, 52). Edfelt’s poem also has the same kind of double projection of land­scape and mood as the precursor. Besides, «För­klaringsberg» and »Meditation» {«Meditation»} (1936, 35) borrow wording from Gullberg’s poem «Kärleksroman XIII» {«Love Novel XIII»} (1933, 19), which alludes both to Racine’s tragedy Phèdre (1677; I:3, v. 273 ff) and to Baudelaire’s poem «Parfum exotique» (1857; ed. 1942, 25). In the light of a review by Georg Svensson in Bonniers Litterära Magasin (No. 9, 1932), Edfelt’s intertext seems like a literary challenge. Anticipating the imagery in Högmässa {High Mass} (1934), Svensson wrote (p. 62): «Den sista cykeln i Gullbergs samling heter ‘Soluppgång’ och där förklarar skalden i hänryckta strofer att han är på marsch mot ett nytt ljus, bra likt ljuset från förklaringens berg» {«The last cycle in Gullberg’s collection is called ‘Sun Rise,’ and here the poet explains in rapturous strophes that he is on the march towards a new light, very much like the light from the mountain of elucidation»}.

Edfelt often archaizes modern society in a way that reminds of Karlfeldt. In «Människa» {«Human Being»} (1941, 93), the younger poet borrows the woman’s burning eyes as well as the man’s urgent request to turn his soul on fire from the precursor’s poem «Dina ögon äro eldar» {«Thine Eyes are Fires»} (1901, 50), but when there exists an outspoken hesita­tion in Karlfeldt («Jag vill brinna, jag vill svalna» {«I want to burn, I want to cool down»}), a knowledge of the consuming pro­perties of fire («Som en höstkväll låt oss brinna» {«Like an autumn night let us burn»}), Edfelt’s stanzas are going more for a redeeming motive: «du av vars blodomlopp/ natten blir sommar­klar» {«You from whose blood circulation/ The night becomes bright as summer»}. According to earlier academic research, Karlfeldt’s use of the flame as a metaphor goes back to a translation of the Song of Songs (Song 6:4; cf. King James, Song 6:5) in the Swedish Bible from 1703, where the bridegroom says to his beloved: «Wändt tin ögon ifrå migh, förty the giöra migh brinnande» {«Turn away thine eyes from me, for they make me burn»}. Edfelt’s heading «Människa» further emphasizes the unity between spiritual and physical.

Like Dante, Edfelt regards the woman as a shimmering saint, a soul’s companion in the darkest hour, where the firelight in her eyes symbolizes felicity. The author of La Commedia (3, XVIII, 20f) probably alludes to the same Bible passage as Karlfeldt but in Vulgate’s Latin version of Canticum canticorum: «averte oculos tuos a me quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt» {«turn your eyes away from me for they make me fade away»}, the pilgrim says. «Volgiti e ascolta;/ che’ non pur ne’ miei occhi è paradiso» {«Look around you,/ Paradise is not only in my eyes»}, Beatrice says in response to his admiration, and Edfelt gives her an intertextual reply.

There are also similarities between Sjöberg’s expressionistic poetry in Kriser och kransar {Crises and Wreaths} (1926) and Edfelt’s style, i.e., neologisms, genitive metaphors, dramatic dialogue and personi­fica­tion. At the same time, Edfelt’s mental landscapes reminds of Malmberg’s autumnal sceneries. In the latter’s poem «Aning» {«Presentiment»} (1927, 45), there are the same atmosphere filled with agony as in »Demaskering»: «Det kan komma en stund/ i din mörknande höst,/ då du väcks av orkanens och vanvettets röst» {«A moment may come/ In your darkening autumn/ When the voice of the hurricane and insanity wakes you up»}. However, Edfelt’s poem also alludes to Kierkegaard’s publication Enten-Eller {«Either-Or»} (1843; CW 2, 145), which describes how «der kommer en Midnatstime, hvor Enhver skal demaskere sig» {«a midnight hour will come when everyone has to unmask oneself»}. This particual situation, where man is confronted with God refers to Buber’s publication Ich und Du {I and Thou} (1923), while Edfelt’s metaphoric usage of religiously ringing expressions like «mercy» and «moment» is similar to Malmberg.

Edfelt’s use of the Hesperides from Greek mythology as a symbol for a cultural renaissance in his poem «I denna natt» {«This Very Night»} (1936, 5) gives further deep perspective when you compare these Nyx’s {the Night’s} daughters to a Stagnelius quote (CW 2, 54) with ancient origin: «sjung i bedröfvelsens mörker:/ Natten är dag­ens mor, Chaos är granne med Gud» {«sing in the darkness of despair:/ The night is mother of the day, Chaos is God’s neighbour»}. In «Tunnel» {«Tunnel»} (1941, 91), another wording alludes to the same theme: «Vilken lättnad, då kompakta/ skuggor veko i ens hjärna!» {«What a relief, when compact/ Shadows collapsed in one’s brain!»} The request «Kaos, föd en morgonstjärna!» {«Chaos, give birth to a morning star!»} in this stanza also alludes to Nietzsche’s publication Also sprach Zarathustra {Thus Spoke Zarathustra} (1883; ed. 1893, 15): «Ich sage euch: man muss noch Chaos in sich haben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können. Ich sage euch: ihr habt noch Chaos in euch.» {«I tell you: one must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.»} Edfelt expresses something similar in his essay «Poeten och samtiden» {«The Poet and His Time»} (1941, 62), which alludes to Buber’s imagery: «Aldrig var det mer angeläget att framhålla ordningens nödvändighet än i de tider, då kaos stod vid tröskeln. Sist och slutligen måste sången leva och andas under dubbelstjärnorna Frihet och Ordning.» {«It never was more urgent to point out the necessity of order than in periods when chaos was standing at the threshold. Finally, the song must live and breathe under the double stars of Freedom and Order.»}

Sometimes Edfelt builds on metric structures from older poetry. Taken over rhythm often influences other mood making structures in verse. This holds good for «Förklaringsberg,» which borrows not only meter, caesura and rhyme structure but also word choice, metaphors, and syntax from Sjöberg’s «I Ditt allvars famn» {«In Your Arms of Seriousness»} (1926, 22) and Fröding’s «Atlantis» (1894, 142). The rhyme scheme AbAbOb is probably taken over from the latter poem, which has the corresponding structure AbAbOOb.

The third section of the dissertation, «The Utopia of Writing,» studies intertexts in the light of modernism, polyphony and psychoanalysis. Like Eliot, Edfelt emphasizes the poet’s role not only as a medium for the living past but also for a possible future, a utopia of writing.

Many poems by Edfelt deviate from the Aristotelian unity of action, time and room. This method reminds of Eliot’s modernistic aesthetics in The Waste Land (1922), where musical and psychological principles structure a text. There are also thematic similarities to Eliot and Pound, e.g., criticism of the modern society. When Edfelt in his essay »Lyric Style» (1941c, 311) writes that the poet »to a high degree is instrument and barometer for time pressure», he paraphrases Eliot and Hans Ruin. Freud’s (GS 2, 438) description of dream censure as ein Widerstand {a resistance} seems to have contributed to Edfelt’s half a decade later modified characteristics of the poet as »medium and resistance» for time pressure (1947b, 95). In the same year that the magazine Spektrum published Karin Boye’s and Erik Mesterton’s Swedish translation of The Waste Land (vol. 2, No. 2, 25–44) and Mesterton’s introduction to Eliot’s authorship (No. 3, 41–53), Edfelt wrote »Getsemane­gränd» {»Gesemane Alley»} (HM, 53), »Protokoll» {»Protocol»} (HM, 55) and »Efter­skrift» {»Afterword»} (HM, 59), which has a similar polyphonic structure. Edfelt mainly composed Högmässa {High Mass} in Bertil Malmberg’s home in Mariefred, which could explain common features like alba mood, dark autumnal sceneries, Maya’s veil and a sense of doom, which could refer to Provençal poetry, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Spengler. Bloom (1997, 99 ff) names this kind of intertext, which aims at diminishing the independence of the precursor, daemonization.

The opening lines of Edfelt’s «Drömspel» {«Dream Play»} (1956, 17), where the heading alludes to Strindberg’s pre-expres­sionistic drama Ett drömspel {A Dream Play} from 1901, demonstrate the intertextual situation regarding polyphony and repetition. The latter theme theme connects to a fundamental idea in Ett drömspel, where the Lawyer, in an allusion to Kierkegaard, describes one of the trials in life (287): «Gentagelsen… Omtag­ningar!… Gå tillbaks! Få bakläxa!…» {«Repetition… Repeats!… Going back! Doing it all over again!…»} Later on, the Daughter says to the Poet (311): «Mig tycks att vi stått någon annanstans och sagt dessa ord förr.» {«It seems to me that we’ve been standing somewhere else saying these words before.»} Even the drama genre in itself involves repetition and returns. While the allusions actualizes themes like rebirth and descension, «Drömspel» also contains echoes from Bergman’s poem «Venetianskt skuggspel» {«Venetian Shadow Play»} (1919, 207). In addition to the Italian motif combined with a similar title, which suggests that our senses are not to be trusted and the imagery of a world in decay, Edfelt seems to have taken over Bergman’s manner to let the voyage upon the glassy surface in distinct verse bindings get an escaping, undulation-like nature. Many poems by Edfelt resemble Bergman’s poetry, even though he belongs to another literary school. Bloom (1997, 77 ff) calls this kind of misreading, which is emphasizing differences, kenosis.

In »Vad ska en fattig flicka göra?» {«What Shall a Poor Girl Do?»} (1934, 21), Edfelt describes a dualistic world: »So ist das Leben: det är Någons votum,/ att en och annan som en slinka dör.» {«That’s life: it’s someone’s decision that one or two die as a slut.»} The German expression, which means that someone has bad luck, is also the name of a play with the title König Nicolo oder So ist das Leben (1902) by Frank Wedekind. Edfelt’s poem depicts the Great Depression, which led to mass unemployment both in the U.S. and in Europe. Blending high and low, colloquial language and words from languages like German (»So ist das Leben») and Latin (»votum»), the poet conveys a feeling of dissonance. Ironically alluding to the popular song »Va sjutton ska en fattig flicka göra?» {«What on Earth Shall a Poor Girl Do?»} by Fritz Gustaf [Sundelöf] and Fred Winter [Sten Njurling], the poem at the same time refers to big city dilemmas like unemployment and prostitution. The treatment of the motive almost corresponds to the fairytale about Cinderella, but the ending is different.

According to the manuscript, Edfelt wrote »Vad ska en fattig flicka göra?» on January 8, 1933. This day, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter published a story on top of the front page with the headline: »Nätt över svältgränsen, svårast för kvinnorna.» {«Hardly Over the Border of Starvation, Worst for the Women.»} On the editorial page, Fernqvist’s clothing store in Stockholm had an illustrated ad for evening dresses. Towards the end of the paper, there was a full page with advertisement for restaurants and dances. Further on, there are advertising for motion pictures and an episode from W. R. Burnett’s (1899–1982) novel The Silver Eagle (1931), which has a chapter about dancing, as well. Likewise, the second stanza of Edfelt’s poem depicts a young woman among wealthy men. He probably has borrowed the German phrase »Das gibt’s nur einmal» from a hit song in the musical movie Der Kongreß tanzt {The Congress Dances} (1931). Whether news reporting really has influenced Edfelt’s poem is hard to say, but wordings like »fattig flicka […] klä sig fin och gå på bal» {«poor girl […] dress herself up and go to the ball»} correspond both to Cinderella and to the daily’s stories and advertisment the same Sunday.

»Söndagsfrid» {«Sunday Peace»} describes how echoes from an original state of the human condition will culminate in a social revolution or war. The poem not only depicts the day of rest but also the fragile world peace. Alluding to the Fall of Man and the Last Judgment, the poet combines a modern cityscape with occurences in the past. When feelings of despair bleed onto the urban environment, Edfelt de facto is using Eliot’s objective correlative. The suburban sky near Paris is pale like the skin of a factory worker, sidewalks sweat bad liquor and gall, and cafés are reeking with shame. In The Waste Land (1922, v. 266f; ed. 1971, 142), Eliot describes a cityscape where music from a dwelling-house transforms into the Thames Daughters’ song about the river, which »sweats/ Oil and Tar.» The title »III. The Fire Sermon» (ed. 1971, 139) alludes to Gautama Buddha, who in a lecture compares life to a burning fire. According to Eliot’s explanatory notes in the first book edition (148), the song »Weialala leia/ wallala leialala» (142) alludes to the Rhine Daughters in Richard Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung {Twilight of the Gods} (1874; III, 1) in the trilogy Der Ring des Nibelungen [The Ring of the Nibelung}. Allusions to Jerusalem and Troy make the French capital in »Söndagsfrid» a modern counterpart to these cities, which foreign armies destroyed. Edfelt also alludes to the Passion of the Christ, the prophets and the Apocalypse. In the same manner, the seer Teiresias in Greek mythology, the Revelation of St. John the Divine and the big fire in London 1666 contribute to an apocalyptic theme in The Waste Land (1922).

In this context, archetypes and the four classical elements constitute a particular type of thematic structure in Edfelt’s poetry. As early as 1926, he mentions Freud och Alfred Adler in a letter to Hjalmar Bergman (2014, 235). Essays and reviews that Edfelt published the ’30s also show that he was familiar with Carl Jung. Like dream symbolism, the poet’s allu­sions contain many layers. Travel, death, rebirth and initiation rites are here manifest symbols for individuation. Descending to the Underworld or the Earth, salvation from the dead and the resurrection of Christ also belong to this process, which makes it possible to behold reality. Like Jung (1928; GW 7, 241), Edfelt describes individuation as a junction of opposites.

© Torgny Lilja (2017) Palimpsest of the Soul pdf