Marked up to be included in the Scandinavian-Canadian Journal
To be honest, I did not expect much from this collection of Swedish poetry, translated on commission by the poet’s family. I certainly did not expect one of the most enjoyable poetry reading experiences I have had in a long time. As the editor’s introduction tells us, Arthur Antonius Anderson was born in 1894 in Malmberget in the northernmost reaches of Sweden. Educated as a forester, he immigrated to Manitoba in 1924 to make a better life. Despite the disability of an amputated left hand, he made a career working for the Swedish American Line. And somewhere, somehow, Anderson also became a man of letters. Some of the memories of his family included in the volume allude to a large library, and I would dearly love to know which Swedish books were there. I think I can hazard a guess at a few of them.
An almost certain bet would be Esaias Tegnér’s
Vänliga vidilar viska visor om vaknad vår. Hör, hur i hult och i hagar gryningskoralen går! Stark som en storm det sjuder, livet som fängslat låg. Fri över fält och fjardar vällar sig vardets våg.
Friendly wind gusts whisper melodies of awakened spring. Hear, how in grove and pasture dawn´s choral sound! Strong as a storm it roils, the life that fettered lay. Free over field and coast, gushes the waters’ wave.
I had decided from the start that I would drop the poetical metre in favour of preserving the spirit of the words
Here is another sample of the Old Norse mimicry from
Stäm dina strängar i sprittande sånger, Gläd dig åt glädjen i glammande lag! Innan du slumrar Stum under stenen, Drick dig till dådkraft Och njut av din dag!
Tune up your strings in vibrating tunes, be happy for joy in noisy teams! Before you slumber mute under the rock, drink to your deeds and rejoice in your days.
Anderson’s descendants also recalled that he had a talent for languages, and this collection testifies that he had an extremely sensitive ear for the sound of language. Another poet who came to mind when reading some poems is Gustaf Fröding, who possessed the same gift and wrote some darkly ironic role poems as well as sketches of rural life with more than a measure of dark humour. Such a tone is seen in
När han smällar sin klubba i bordet: ”Nästa speaker ska’ fatta sig kort”, är det rent så att man tappar bort all sin visdom och sväljer ner ordet.
When he slams his gavel on the table: “The next speaker shall be brief”, It is like one loses all one’s wisdom and swallows the word.
Di clämer Mäster Shoholme var en utstuderad rackare, som inte brydde sig ett dyft on andras ve å väl, att han var mean och krokig som en korkskruv, å en stackare som för en vattenvälling kunde sälja bort sin själ.
They claim Mr. Shoholme was a clever scoundrel, who didn’t care an iota about other’s woe or well, that he was mean and crooked as a cork screw, and a wretch who could, for a watered down gruel, sell his soul.
Apparently, Anderson collected stories from Swedish immigrants in the area, but this material was never published. His poetry does tell stories of characters who might have populated the frontiers of Manitoba. A particlarly enjoyable poem is
då kanske ni förstår den tröst, son ligger i en sup, när stigen glider utför emot mörka avgrundsdjup, och tvivlets järnklo griper om ens sinne. -En gång var jag väl också ung och kände liksom ni, och tyckte vägen sträckte sig mot höjden, ljus och fri, och hjärtat klappade av fröjd därinne. But ...could I help that I grew weak, and felt a little blue, And, hell, when everything goes wrong, what can a feller do?
then you might understand the comfort of a drink, when the path glides downhill toward a dark, bottomless pit, and the iron grip of doubt grabs your mind. -Once I was young and felt like you, and thought the road reached for the heights, bright and free, and the heart beat of joy inside. But ...could I help that I grew weak, and felt a little blue, And, hell, when everything goes wrong, what can a feller do?
Another well told poetic tale is
One last poet that comes to mind when reading Arthur A. Anderson is Dan Andersson, who died tragically four years before Arthur A. Anderson immigrated to Canada, and is known as a proletarian poet with a background not wholly unlike our Anderson. A number of Dan Andersson’s poems have been set to music and enjoy popularity in Sweden even to this day. One of these is
In short, Arthur Antonius Anderson was a very gifted poet, and I have placed him in some rather exalted company. The local content of his well-crafted verses is what makes him an original. I think he deserves some serious scholarly attention. Regrettably, the translation only allows glimpses of Anderson’s talent. If you know any Swedish at all, you should thoroughly enjoy this entertaining and well-written poetry.