Monday, August 07, 2017

The water

Grisselören, on the E. Baltic coast near Nykarleby, Ostrobothnia (Österbotten), Finland

[Image source: . Photo by Marcus Soininen.]

June night

The motionless sea
is waiting for the rock to go.
This is not the answer
but the silence

28. If states existed there would be no need of borders.

(from Aphorisms)

Gösta Ågren, translated by David McDuff (In the 1992 Bloodaxe selection, A Valley in the Midst of Violence)

Leo, hans liv
Det var svårt att vara, inte
för människan i honom, men för
djuret, som inte orkade bära
medvetandets bly. Vetskapen om,
att han levde, hindrade honom
från att leva. Den utgjorde
ett sömnlöst ansikte, som såg
på hans känslor tills de smög
sig bort som skådespelare
från en dålig föreställning
och som tänkte, att han tänkte,
tills varje tanke djupnade till
intet i detta kalla ljus. Han
var själv fienden, och skrev
böcker för att besegra sig,
men i en sådan kamp är den enda
möjliga segern alltför stor.
Han segrade. I tystnaden
efteråt hördes några
sista, trevande ord.

Poem, from Jär (1988), about the novelist Leo Ågren, Gösta's elder brother, who died in 1984. (Source:


It was difficult to be, not
for the the human in him, but for
the animal, which had not the strength to carry
the leaden weight of consciousness. The knowledge
the he was alive prevented him
from living. It formed
a sleepless face that looked
at his emotions until they crept
away like actors
from a bad performance
and that thought that he thought,
until each thopught deepened to
nothing in this cold light. He
was himself the enemy, and wrote
books in order to defeat himself,
but in such a battle the only
possible victory is too great.
He won. In the silence
afterwards came a few
last fumbling words.

(Translation by David McDuff, from Standing Here, now available on Kindle.)


Gösta Ågren has been a supporter of "Ostrobothnian separatism". The small coastal county of Österbotten is (along with the Åland islands) the only part of Finland where Swedish remains the majority language, and it is linked to Sweden by a daily ferry across the Baltic between Vaasa and Umeå. Ostrobothnian separatism, however, is not about reunification with Sweden. The region's culture of independence from the state goes back much further than Finnish independence in 1917 and the rising status of the Finnish language during the 1920s. Already in the early eighteenth century, Pietist movements in Österbotten were seeking independence from Sweden and its "Grand Duchy" (i.e. modern Finland). As with other quiescent separatist movements in Scandinavia (Tornedalen, Jämtland, Åland), an outsider doesn't always know how seriously to take it. But Ågren's poetry is absolutely serious.

Background: (Cambridge History of Scandinavia, Vol 2: 1520-1870))
Background: (David Kirby, "Nationalism and National Identity in the New States of Europe: the examples of Austria, Finland and Ireland" in Peter M. R. Sirk, ed., European Unity in Context: The Interwar Period)

[As usual, I've labelled Finland-Swedish literature as both Finnish and Swedish (on the basis that its  readership straddles both sides of the Baltic).]

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