Elmer Diktonius—Swedish/Finnish radical on the road

Was it poetry I wrote?

I thought I exploded

and hurled my iron-splinter

into the world.

Truly, I even wanted:

to sow discord

to beget discontent

to bite reluctantly into tremendous leaps—

but most of this was perhaps a “must.”

My sacredness:

that I was burnable.

I’m not pretentious enough to call this poetry.

Songs, hard songs—if you don ’t have the voice to sing them

then swear them

(I swear with beauty, I say

in my old artist habit).

From the dawning shapelessness

arises meaning.

If you search for a flower in me you’ll be lost—

I am only a seed.

From “Big and Little Me” (1922), translated by Benjamin Mier-Cruz

Read more in Little Star Weekly

Born in Helsinki in 1896 to a Swedish-speaking, working-class family, Elmer Diktonius dropped out of high school to devote himself to reading and music. He embarked on a period of travel on behalf of leftist causes in the 1920s, living in near-destitution but eventually finding company among Scandinavia’s emerging modernists. In 1922 he and some friends began the Nordic countries’ first modernist review, the bilingual Finnish/Swedish Ultra. Working both in Swedish and Finnish, his influence was decisive in turning Scandinavian literature away from its traditional past and in giving literary voice to the newly industrialized and autonomous Finns.

Benjamin Mier-Cruz won the Susan Sontag translation prize for his work on Diktonius. He has also translated Stig Dagerman’s novel, A Burnt Child.

This week we feature Elmer Diktonius in Little Star Weekly alongside fellow Scandinavian agitator and pioneer, Stig Dagerman, whose work will be considered at a screening and panel discussion at Scandinavia House on October 22.


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