Triumph of Existing
I stumbled upon the poetry of Edith Södergran in a second-hand bookstore many years ago. She lived a short life full of hardship, yet her poetry is full and ripe with a joyful celebration of life. It is not a shallow brightness, but a strong, clear beacon shining through great storms.
Edith was a Swedish-speaking Finn, born in St. Petersburg in 1892. Her early life was relatively priviledged, wintering in the city and summering in the family's village, Raivola. In 1907, she lost a grandmother, her adopted sister, and then her beloved father to tuberculosis. Two years later, she discovered she had the same disease. She was only 16 years old.
Struggling until her death with this illness, she and her family also were caught in the political strife of the day: the First World War, the Russian Revolution, a Finnish civil war, and then the Finnish declaration of independence in 1917. These events forced Edith and her family to leave St. Petersburg permanently, and brought fighting and starvation to the countryside they sought solace in.
In the face of all this, Edith wrote, bringing her fearless new form of modernism to Swedish literature. She published several volumes of poetry which were met with almost universal scorn. This surprised her and wounded her, yet she persisted. She had a few champions in her lifetime, and today she is recognized as one of the great poets of Scandinavian literature. She died aged 31 in 1923, of tuberculosis and starvation, long before that recognition would come to fruition.
I rediscovered this poem recently, and it stays with me.
Triumph of Existing
What do I fear? I am a part of infinity.
I am a portion of a cosmic force,
a separate world within a million worlds,
a star of the first magnitude, the last to die.
The triumph of the living, the triumph of the breathing,
the triumph of the existing!
The triumph of feeling time flow, glacial, through my veins,
and hear the silent stream of night
and stand atop a mountain in the sun.
I walk on sun, I stand on sun,
I know nothing but the sun.
Time — transformer, time — destroyer,
time — enchanter,
do you come with new intrigues, a thousand
schemes, to offer me a life
as a little seed, as a coiled serpent, as a rock
out in the sea?
Time — you murderer — begone from me!
The sun fills up my breast with lovely honey to
and she says: some day, all stars are bound to die,
yet they always shine without dread.
From Love & Solitude, translated by Stina Katchadourian