The Enigmatic Artistry of Swedish Poet Gunnar Ekelöf

Gunnar Ekelöf

The enigmatic artistry of the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf remains a captivating exploration in the world of literature. Born on this day September 15, 1907, Ekelöf emerged as a pioneering figure in the realm of Swedish modernist poetry. His artistry is encapsulated in a body of work that dives deep into existential and philosophical themes, transcending the conventional boundaries of poetry.

One cannot discuss Ekelöf’s artistry without acknowledging his seminal work, Non Serviam. Through this anthology, Ekelöf makes a bold statement of defiance against societal norms and expectations. The title itself, meaning “I will not serve” in Latin, resonates with his rebellious spirit and his refusal to conform to the status quo. In Non Serviam, Ekelöf explores the human condition, the search for meaning, and the struggle against despair, using abstract imagery and complex symbolism.

Another significant contribution to Ekelöf’s oeuvre is Diwan on the Prince of Emgion. This collection of poems reflects his deep fascination with Eastern culture and Sufism. The work is characterized by intricate layers of meaning and a rich tapestry of metaphors, reflecting the poet’s profound engagement with diverse cultures and philosophies. The ‘Prince of Emgion’ serves as an alter ego for Ekelöf, allowing him to explore his inner landscape from an objective perspective.

The enigmatic nature of Ekelöf’s poetry often leaves readers immersed in contemplation, provoking them to engage with the text at multiple levels. His work continues to influence contemporary Swedish literature, underscoring his enduring significance in the literary landscape. Ekelöf’s artistry lies not just in his mastery over language and imagery, but also in his ability to question, challenge and push the boundaries of conventional wisdom.


You sit in the garden alone with your notebook, a sandwich,

                                            flask, and pipe.

It is night but so calm that the candle burns without flickering,

spreads its glow over the table of rough planks

and gleams in bottle and glass.

You take a sip, a bite, and fill and light your pipe.

You write a line or two and give yourself pause and ponder

the thin streak of evening red slowly passing to the red of morning,

the sea of wild chervil, green-white foaming in the darkness

                                            of summer night,

not one moth around the candle but choirs of gnats in the oak,

leaves so stillagaint the sky … And the aspen rustles in the


All nature strong with love and death around you.

As if were the last evening before a long, long journey:

You have the ticket in your pocket and finally everything is packed.

And you can sit and sense the nearness of the distant land,

sense how all is in all, both its end and its beginning,

sense that here and mow is both your departure and return

sense how death and life are as strong as wine inside you!

Yes, to be one with the night, one with myself, with the candle’s flame

which looks me in the eye still, unfathomable and still,

one with the aspen that trembles and whispers,

one with the crowds of flowers leaning out of darkness to listen

to something I had on my tongue to say but never got said,

something I don’t want to reveal even if I could.

And that it murmurs inside me of purest happiness!

And the flame rises … It is as though the flowers crowded


nearer and nearer the light in a rainbow of shimmering points.

The aspen trembles and plays, the evening red passes

and all that was inexpressible and distant is inexpressible and near

I sing of the only thing that reconciles,

only of what is practical, for all alike.

-Gunnar Ekelöf

Curated by Jennifer

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