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This review is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

A PERSIAN PRINCESS IN LAPLAND Edith Södergran, Complete Poetry, introduced and translated by David McDuff (Bloodaxe Books) £4.50 pb.

'Contemporary life', wrote Boris Pasternak in a letter of 1929, 'does not offer the lyric poet a common language or anything else: it merely tolerates him, in a kind of extraterritoriality'. It was in quest of 'a common language' that Pasternak, averse to being deemed 'extraterritorial' and sustained by strong native traditions, turned in the 1920s from predominantly lyric to more epic modes of utterance, in the full confidence that life and poetry could not forever remain at loggerheads. But there were figures contemporary with Pasternak who lacked the wherewithal to fashion alternative destinies, none of whom were perhaps quite so isolated as Edith Södergran, here introduced to an English public sixty years after her death. Out of conditions more severely 'extraterritorial' than those experienced by any of the Russian poets of her time, Edith Södergran conjured a body of lyric poetry which - derided in her lifetime and generally neglected since - can now at least be seen, in spite of all that might be said to the contrary, as arising out of, and promoting the creation of, 'a common language'.

It is by way of Russia, at least initially, that one comes closest to participating in the predicament which confronted Edith Södergran herself, the merest fraction of which surfaces in the 'Finno-Swedish' or 'Swedo-Finnish' poetess of the reference books. Unlike Akhmatova and Mandelstam, both often mistakenly thought to have been born there, she was born in Russia's 'Northern capital', St Petersburg, in 1892, shortly after ...


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