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Gunnar Ekelöf

Gunnar Ekelöf
Born (1907-09-15)15 September 1907
Stockholm, Sweden
Died 16 March 1968(1968-03-16) (aged 60)
Sigtuna, Sweden
Occupation Poet
Nationality Sweden
Period 1932–1968
Literary movement Modernism
Notable works

Gunnar Ekelöf (Stockholm, 15 September 1907 – Sigtuna, 16 March 1968) was a Swedish poet and writer. He was a member of the Swedish Academy from 1958. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate in philosophy by Uppsala University in 1958. He won a number of prizes for his poetry.


  • Life and Works 1
  • Selected Bibliography 2
  • Sources 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Life and Works

Gunnar Ekelöf has been described as Sweden's first surrealist poet; he made his debut with the collection sent på jorden ("late on earth") in 1932, a work (written during an extended stay in Paris in 1929-30) that was too unconventional to become widely appreciated and which the author described as capturing a period of suicidal thoughts and apocalyptic moods.[1] It was, in a sense, an act of literary revolt akin to Edith Södergran's Septemberlyran a dozen years earlier. While not disavowing his debut, Ekelöf moved towards romanticism and received better reviews for his second poetry collection Dedikation (1934). Both of his first two volumes are strongly influenced by surrealism and show a violent, at times feverish torrent of images, deliberate breakdown of ordered syntax and traditional poetic language and a defiant spirit bordering on anarchism ("cut your belly cut your belly and don't think of any tomorrow" runs the black humorous refrain of a poem called "fanfare" in sent på jorden, which collection does away with the use of upper case letters). This defiant outsiderhood was grounded in his person; though he came from an upper-class background, Ekelöf had never felt committed to it - his father had been mentally ill and when his mother remarried, Ekelöf strongly disapproved of his stepfather and, by extension, of his mother who had let him in: he became a loner and a rebel already in his teens - and would never feel at ease with the mores of the established upper and middle classes or with their inhibitions and, as he perceived it, hypocrisy and back-scratching. Swedish critic Anders Olsson described Ekelöf's turn to poetry as a choice of "the only utterance that doesn't expurge the contradictions and empty spaces of language and of the mind"[2]

Färjesång (1941), a finely expressed blend of romanticism, surrealism, and the dark clouds of the ongoing Second World War spelled a mark of maturity and would influence later Swedish poets, as would his debut over time. From this point on, his transformations of style and imagery, his deep familiarity with a wide array of literary idioms, stretching far beyond modern writing, and an almost Bob Dylan-like propensity to make fresh departures in his writing and challenge critics' readings of his work in order to keep true to it, made him one of the most influential and, in time, widely read of Scandinavian modernist poets, a kind of father figure and challenging and inspiring model for many later writers not just in Sweden but also in Denmark and Norway. He has been translated into many languages and is a classic of 20th-century Swedish poetry.

Selected Bibliography

In Swedish:

  • sent på jorden "late on earth", poems (1932) (title in lower case lettering; this is retained in all reprints)
  • Fransk surrealism "French Surrealism", translations (1933)
  • Dedikation "Dedication", poems (1934)
  • Hundra år modern fransk dikt "100 Years of Modern French Poetry", translations (1934)
  • Sorgen och stjärnan "The Sorrow and the Star", poems (1936)
  • Köp den blindes sång "Buy the Blind Man's Song", poems (1938)
  • Färjesång "Ferry Song", poems (1941)
  • Promenader "Walks", essays (1941)
  • Non serviam "Non Serviam", poems (1945)
  • Utflykter "Excursions", essays (1947)
  • Om hösten "In Autumn", poems (1951)
  • Strountes "Nonsense", poems (1955)
  • Blandade kort "Shuffled Cards", essays (1957)
  • Opus incertum "Opus Incertum", poems (1959)
  • En Mölna-elegi "A Mölna-Elegy", poem (1960)
  • Valfrändskaper "Elective Affinities", translations (1960)
  • En natt i Otocac "A night in Otocac", poems (1961)
  • Diwan över fursten av Emgión "Diwan on the Prince of Emgion", poems (1965)
  • Sagan om Fatumeh "The Tale of Fatumeh", poems (1966)
  • Vägvisare till underjorden "Guide to the Underworld", trans. Rika Lesser; poems (1967)
  • Partitur "Score" (poems and drafts from his final year) (1969)
  • Lägga patience "Solitaire Game" essays (1969)
  • En självbiografi "An Autobiography", miscellaneous (1971)
  • En röst "A Voice", sketches, diary notes, poems (1973)

A collected volume of Ekelöf's poetry, Dikter, was published by Mån Pocket in 1987.

In English:

  • Selected Poems of Gunnar Ekelöf, translated by Muriel Rukeyser and Leif Sjöberg, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1967)
  • Late Arrival on Earth: Selected Poems, translated by Robert Bly and Christina Paulston,(London: Rapp & Carroll, 1967)
  • I Do Best Alone at Night, translated by Robert Bly and Christina Paulston, (Washington: The Charioteer Press, 1968)
  • Selected Poems, translated by W. H. Auden and Leif Sjoberg, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971)

Ekelöf made some substantial re-edits of the text and sequence of poems in later collected editions and anthologies of his work, especially relating to his 1930s books.



  1. ^ Lundkvist, Martinsson, Ekelöf, by Espmark & Olsson, in Delblanc, Lönnroth, Göransson, vol 3
  2. ^ Olsson A, Ekelöfs nej ("Ekelöf's No") in Mälden mellan stenarna, Stockholm 1981; the point is elaborated in his 1983 Ekelöf monograph of the same name.

External links

  • The Gunnar Ekelöf society homepage (in Swedish)
  • Petri Liukkonen. "Gunnar Ekelöf". Books and Writers ( Archived from the original on 4 July 2013.
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Bertil Malmberg
Swedish Academy,
Seat No.18

Succeeded by
Artur Lundkvist
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