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This review is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.

IN THE CARE OF THE EYE Vilhelm Ekelund, The Second Light, edited and translated by Lennart Bruce with an afterword by Eric O. Johannesson (North Point Press) £14.95
Tomas Tranströmer, Collected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton (Bloodaxe) £6.95 pb

Bo Carpelan, Room Without Walls: selected poems, translated by Anne Born (Forest) £6.95 pb

All the major figures in modern Swedish poetry have worked within the organic paradigm of growth (also a useful sword and shield in embattled circumstances) embodied in a famous precept of Strindberg's: 'envelop yourself in the silk of your own soul'. The perils and rewards of putting this principle into practice are perhaps clearest in the examples offered by the great experimenters: Edith Södergran, executrix of The Land That Is Not; Gunnar Ekelöf, lifelong apologist for 'the outsider's way' of saying Non Serviam; and Pär Lagerkvist, a 'guest of reality' even when exposed to the public glare of a Nobel Prize. Not until now, however, some forty years after his death, has the world at large been in any position to address what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and extreme instances of Scandinavian individualism: the case of Vilhelm Ekelund. As The Second Light conveys with admirable clarity, Ekelund consistently spun a silk strong enough to withstand the hostility of his contemporaries, thirteen years of distressed exile in Germany, and the penury and neglect attendant on pursuing an utterly unconventional path to its more or less appointed end.

Between 1900 and 1906 Ekelund published seven volumes of verse and was widely considered the foremost Swedish poet of his time. Sentenced to a month in prison for unwittingly assaulting a district superintendent of police, Ekelund absconded to Berlin, only returning in 1921 when the stipulated period of indemnity had expired. Shortly thereafter, and apparently in the misguided ...

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