Her Early Life Was Short,
But Her Words Live On
Scorned early in her career, lyrical poet Södergran is now widely acclaimed.
Edith Irene Södergran (1892–1923) was a Swedish-speaking Finnish poet and one of the first modernists within Swedish language literature. Born in cosmopolitan St. Petersburg to middle-class Swedish-speaking Finns and educated at the famous St. Petrischule, her first languages were Swedish and German. By age fourteen, she was also fluent in French, English, and Russian, and could speak some Finnish as well. Edith, the couple’s only child, was destined to have a future with words.
In 1916 Edith was diagnosed with tuberculosis, one year after her father had succumbed to the same disease. Having this dread disease influenced her poetry, but did not silence her. She approached the Finland Swedish publisher Schildts in 1916 with a collection of her poems, and her first book, Dikter (Poems) was published that year. The book with its free verse made no great impression on the critics. Undaunted, she published another collection, Septemberlyran (The September Lyre) in 1918. It met with harsh criticism—some critics even suggesting that Edith Södergran was insane. But her poems also garnered some praise, including kind words from the literary critic Hagar Olsson. The two women formed a close and complicated friendship.
More books followed. Rosenaltaret (The Rose Altar), 1919, was well received, as was her collection Framtidens skugga (Future’s Shadow), 1920, poems about the power of Eros and the fragility of life. Södergran died in 1923 in Raivola, Finland where she and her mother had lived in poverty after the Russian revolution, at the age of thirty-one. Her last poems were published posthumously in Landet som icke är (The Land That Is Not), 1925.
Her words, however, live on. Edith Södergran’s poems have been translated into some forty languages, delighting readers and inspiring poets world-wide. The newest English-language volume of Södergran’s poetry is Love, Solitude and the Face of Death
, translated by Stina Katchadourian. The collection includes poems from each of the five Södergran collections. These collections are represented in this translation in the order they were originally published.
About the translator. Stina Katchadourian grew up in Finland as part of its Swedish speaking minority and divides her time between Stanford, California and a Finnish island in the Baltic. She is the author of three nonfiction books, Efronia, An Armenian Love Story; Great Need Over the Water; and The Lapp King’s Daughter. Her translations have received the Pushcart Prize, the Södergran Prize, and the Leif and Inger Sjöberg Prize of the American Scandinavian Foundation.