Authors: Erik Axel Karlfeldt

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Swedish poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Vildmarks-och kärleksvisor, 1895

Fridolins visor och andra dikter, 1898

Fridolins lustgård och Dalmålningar, utlagda på rim, 1901

Flora ochPomona, 1906

Flora och Bellona, 1918

Hösthorn, 1927

Karlfeldts ungdomsdiktning, 1934

Arcadia Borealis: Selected Poems of Erik Axel Karlfeldt, 1938 (Charles Wharton Stork, editor)

Nonfiction:

Minne af Lars Johansson (Lucidor), wr. 1909-1910, pb. 1912

Minnesteckning över Carl Fredrik Dahlgren, 1923

Miscellaneous:

Samlade skrifter, 1931 (5 volumes; collected works)

Tankar och tal, 1932 (thoughts and speeches)

Biography

Erik Axel Karlfeldt (KARL-fehlt), born Erik Axel Eriksson, was the youngest among a group of four prominent Swedish writers, including also Verner von Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlöf, and Gustaf Fröding, who represent a period in Swedish literature frequently called “the golden age.” He was born and raised on a farm in the province of Dalarna, and his ancestors, both maternal and paternal, earned their living through either mining or agriculture. When Erik was ten, the railroad, and the modern, industrialized world it embodied, reached the southern parts of Dalarna. A few years later, right before he took his maturation exams, his father was arrested for embezzlement, and his family lost their farm. This had a profound effect of Erik’s personal and artistic development. A longing for the land and an idealized memory of the simple but joyous life in the country, colored by folk traditions and superstitions, would become a recurrent theme in his poetry. In 1889, he took the name Karlfeldt.{$I[A]Karlfeldt, Erik Axel}{$S[A]Eriksson, Erik Axel;Karlfeldt, Erik Axel}{$I[geo]SWEDEN;Karlfeldt, Erik Axel}{$I[tim]1864;Karlfeldt, Erik Axel}

Erik Axel Karlfeldt

(© The Nobel Foundation)

Although the family’s financial difficulties proved a serious impediment in Karlfeldt’s pursuit of higher education, he nevertheless attended the University of Uppsala, where he studied Germanic languages, literary history, and English, earning a doctorate in each of the latter two, in 1892 and 1898, respectively. While at Uppsala, Karlfeldt published poems in different newspapers, signed by various pseudonyms. However, his true literary debut came in 1895 with the publication of his first collection of poems, Vildmarks-och kärleksvisor (songs of the wilderness and of love). A tribute to his native Dalarna and regional folk culture, many of the poems in this volume, like those in subsequent collections like Fridolins visor och andra dikter (Fridolin’s songs), Fridolins lustgård och Dalmålningar, utlagda på rim (Fridolin’s garden of delights), and Hösthorn (autumn horn), express nostalgia for a gradually disappearing traditional way of life threatened by rapid industrialization and modernization.

A few rather uneventful years followed, although the Fridolin poems had already established firmly Karlfeldt’s reputation as one of Sweden’s leading poets. Between 1894 and 1902, he worked as a teacher at three different public and private schools before he changed careers and obtained a position at the Royal Library in Stockholm and then, in 1903, at the Institute of Agriculture. The following year he was elected a member of the Swedish Academy, arguably due to the strategic support of its secretary Carl David af Wirsén. When Wirsén died in 1912, Karlfeldt assumed his position.

Karlfeldt participated actively in the proceedings of the Swedish Academy, his investment in which was demonstrated by, among other things, his publication in 1912 of the biography of the Swedish baroque poet Lucidor, followed a decade later by the biography of Carl Fredrik Dahlgren. Apart from his official duties and responsibilities, Karlfeldt remained an extremely private person, often called by his contemporaries “a man of many masks.” Although his poetry continued to emphasize the organic connection between humankind and nature and to communicate a fascination with his peasant forefathers’ way of life and vivid imagination, a duality entered his aesthetic position, clearly triggered by World War I. This is especially visible in the postwar collections Flora och Bellona (Flora and Bellona) and Hösthorn, which reveal the modern split between natural beauty and the horrors and despair brought by violence.

Karlfeldt is the only writer to be awarded posthumously the Nobel Prize in Literature (1931). The impact of his poetic idealism and artistic talent on Swedish language and literature was so profound, even after the pessimism influenced by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, that Victor Svanberg warned the Swedish public of what he called the “Karlfeldt danger,” suggesting the need for new aesthetics to reflect the changing times.

BibliographyBrantly, Susan. “Into the Twentieth Century: 1890-1950.” In A History of Swedish Literature, edited by Lars G. Warme. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996. Karfeldt’s work is examined in the contexts of the literary group Parnassus and the “aesthetic revolt” characterizing Swedish literature at the turn of the twentieth century. Includes bibliography.Callmander, Ulla. “Nittitalister (Writers of the 1890’s).” In Aspects of Modern Swedish Literature, edited by Irene Scobbie. Chester Springs, Pa.: Dufour Editions, 1988. Examines Karlfeldt’s literary achievements in the context of three other Swedish regional authors: Verner von Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlöf, and Gustaf Fröding. Contains useful bibliography of primary materials and critical works, most in Swedish.Gustafson, Alrik. “The Life and Works of Erik Axel Karlfeldt.” In Nobel Prize Library. Vol. 10. New York: Helvetica Press, 1971. Provides a brief outline of Karlfeldt’s biography, with emphasis on formative influences; a good introduction to the major recurring themes in his poetry.Scott, Lars Emil. “Karlfeldt, Erik Axel.” In Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature, edited by Virpi Zuck. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1990. The two-page entry gives an account of Karlfeldt’s major contributions to Swedish literary regionalism, focusing on themes, motifs, and stylistic features of his major collections. Contains an extensive list of references both in English and in Swedish.
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