Sunday, December 18, 2005

The silvery springs of Rökstubacken

If I would ever doubt the deep connection between Finland and Sweden, Dan Andersson would convince me otherwise. I have to confess that Tommy Tabermann's translations sound more authentic than the Swedish originals. These are the Finnish forests of Central Sweden, and the poems are full of Finnish longing for home, of Swedish longing. He has such a feeling for the landscape, for nature, such a touch: beauty and sadness become one. Much of that, I would argue, originates directly from the experience of the Finnish forests - losing your language, your home. A universal message from a very unique, very local perspective. The texts were of course originally written in Swedish but listening to the Finnish translations it is almost impossible to believe to be true: such familiar sound. Our common Nordic lack of home in the middle of these dark, beautiful, hostile forests...

8 comments:

helsinkian said...

Homelessness indeed. One thing I didn't know about Dan Andersson was his bizarre death in a Stockholm hotel room in 1920. According to the kirjasto.sci.fi Dan Andersson page he "died of cyanide poison, in a hotel, during a visit in Stockholm on September 16, 1920. The cyanide was used to kill fleas and other bed bugs, but the bedding was aired badly."

Now what poet's death combines more tragic and bizarre qualities than that? Nowadays, can one imagine anything cleaner and neater than a Stockholm hotel room? Still, next time I'll spend a night at a Stockholm hotel room I guess I'll spend a moment of silence reflecting on Dan Andersson's fate.

stockholm slender said...

I don't know much of his life, but somehow I have understood that is was quite a classic "romantic" tale of poverty and misfortune with this fitting end to it. Certainly the texts are amazingly beautiful - and sad beyond measure. To me he sounds earlier than his years. Such vivid images.

helsinkian said...

I saw on the net that Dan Andersson's only daughter, born six months after her father's death, appeared at the Örebro book fair as late as last year, still going strong and accompanied by a grandchild.

Svarta ballader is I think what made Dan Andersson famous, yet another important collection of poetry written at a time when Europe was burning. Dan Andersson, so sad and so beautiful poetry, isn't there something almost Irish in the Swedish melancholy ballad?

I think VEMOD is the word to describe this Swedish sentiment, having of course its exact equivalent in the German word Wehmut. There's probably no English word to describe this feeling and I wonder what the Irish call it. But I'd say a melancholy sentiment is how I would put it into words in English.

I think Finns often like sad stuff from Sweden because it feels so Finnish. It's funny how happy songs are often seen as typically Swedish, yet Swedish authors (if not schlager lyricists) are mostly very sad and studious and serious. I know that from very early on, Lucidor in the 17th Century and Bellman in the 18th Century created the stereotype of the Swedish poet as the happy-go-lucky party animal but mostly Swedish poetry is about sadness to me.

I'm not saying Andersson isn't funny and he isn't also a heir to the playful and cheerful Swedish tradition but Finnish poets can also be playful with the language yet morbid and depressive at the same time.

helsinkian said...

I said something almost Irish about Dan Andersson but maybe it's American, really - he was sent on his own to America by his father where he spent eight months at his Swedish relatives' place in Minnesota in 1902. In 1917 he wrote a short novel called Chi-mo-ka-ma about extreme individuals in the Swedish community in America which was published shortly after his death in 1920. Another thing on the topic of American influences on Dan Andersson, one of his famous black ballads is called "En strof till Huck Finns minne" and it ends like this:

"Det är natt kring gul Mississippi / där de blommande bökarna strö / sitt fröstoft på ström som svallar - / det är rosor på Jacksons ö."

stockholm slender said...

That is an interesting point: for me too the Swedish folk culture connotates happy, light songs and poems - and a poet like Dan Andersson sounds like a Finn writing in Swedish: haunting, sad, beautiful images.

For me the the essence of him is found in Omkring tiggarn av Luossa:

Det är något bortom bergen, bortom blommorna och sången,
det är något bakom stjärnor, bakom heta hjärtat mitt.
Hören - något går och viskar, går och lockar mig och beder:
Kom till oss, ty denna jorden den är icke riket ditt!

No true home on this earth...

From my childhood years one of the most beloved records of mine has been Hector's album (Ruusuportti) of Dan Andersson poems: Tommy Tabermann's darkly beautiful Finnish does not sound like a translation.

helsinkian said...

I think the happy and light part in Swedish culture emanates from drinking songs. My guess would be that both Swedish and Finnish folk cultures have been influenced by German drinking songs and some sort of common tradition can be found even there. The Irish can also be very happy when they are drinking.

But Swedish 20th Century is filled with sad poets. Aniara, the space epic of Nobel laureate Harry Martinson from the 1950s is indeed about people who have lost touch with Earth permanently. The emptiness of that slow dying in outer space described in Swedish melancholy lines of poetry is a vivid picture of the ultimate homelessness. Martinson's suicide after many critics said he didn't deserve his Nobel Prize makes his poetry an even sadder reading than it already is.

I'd say there is a balance between the euphoria and celebration of Swedish schlager and pop tunes and the dark contintent of Swedish poetry where haunting, depressive visions follow one another.

stockholm slender said...

This is actually quite instructive - and largely news to me as I can only read poetry in Finnish or English. I have some fluency in written Swedish, but not to the degree that I could enjoy artistic text. I see the Swedish language as the Latin of Finnish history and an integral part of our national culture and heritage (being a patriot and not a nationalist), but it seems that I nevertheless share at least a part of the typical Finnish speaking Finn's prejudices as regards the "riks-Swedish" culture...

Perhaps on the same lines I have automatically joined the "imperial" nations, England and Sweden together as opposed to the "colonial" Ireland and Finland. With the Irish and Finnish mentalities I can find many similarities and as far as the Swedish culture shares strongly emotional, fatalistic and often anti-rational impulses, I would say that it has something in common with Ireland and Finland... (I realize that to say this includes quite a bit of stereotyping and there are other and contrary strands as well, but I would argue that the description nevertheless also captures something essential.)

helsinkian said...

Martinson's Aniara has been translated into Finnish by Aila Meriluoto. I think it's a fascinating translation and as there is some Karelia-related stuff in that space epic, I would underline that very Swedish book as showing qualities that are common to the Finnish modernists of the same period.

I really think the parallells between Finland, Sweden and Ireland are very interesting. It is this thing about emotions and haunting poetic longing and the common experience of emigration to America that makes me think of similarities between these three nations.

Another thought that came to my mind is the suicides of some Swedish male novelists and poets that has always made me wonder what their relation to the Japanese notion of honor is.

The one thought that I thought in the Japan - Sweden suicide context is that whereas Yukio Mishima's and Yasunari Kawabata's suicides were well publicized in the 1970s, Martinson's harakiri at his hospital bed was so shocking that people generally wanted to keep quiet about it. Many Swedish authors had committed suicide before Martinson but I don't think in a Japanese way. Maybe the silence was about the guilt of the critics of the younger generation who had felt that the Nobel Prize had gone to another irrelevant old guy.