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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Genius of the North
By Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom (1790–1855)
IT is true that our Northern nature is lofty and strong. Its characteristics may well awaken deep meditation and emotion. When the Goddess of Song has grown up in these surroundings, her view of life is like that mirrored in our lakes, where, between the dark shadows of mountain and trees on the shore, a light-blue sky looks down. Over this mirror the Northern morning and the Northern day, the Northern evening and the Northern night, rise in a glorious beauty. Our Muse kindles a lofty hero’s flame, a lofty seer’s flame, and always the flame of a lofty immortality. In this sombre North we experience an immense joyousness and an immense melancholy, moods of earth-coveting and of earth-renunciation. With equal mind we behold the fleet, charming dream of her summers, her early harvest with its quickly falling splendor, and the darkness and silence of the long winter’s sleep. For if the gem-like green of the verdure proclaims its short life, it proclaims at the same time its richness,—and in winter the very darkness seems made to let the starry vault shine through with a glory of Valhalla and Gimle. Indeed, in our North, the winter possesses an impressiveness, a freshness, which only we Norsemen understand. Add to these strong effects of nature the loneliness of life in a wide tract of land, sparingly populated by a still sparingly educated people, and then think of the poet’s soul which must beat against these barriers of circumstance and barriers of spirit! Yet the barriers that hold him in as often help as hinder his striving. These conditions explain what our literature amply proves; that so far, the only poetical form which has reached perfection in Sweden is the lyrical. This will be otherwise only as the northern mind, through a growing familiarity with contemporaneous Europe, will consent to be drawn from its forest solitude into the whirl of the motley World’s Fair outside its boundaries. It is probable that the lyrical gift will always be the true possession of the Swedish poet. His genius is such that it needs only a beautiful moment’s exaltation (blissful, whether the experience be called joy or sorrow) to rise on full, free wings, suddenly singing out his very inmost being. Whether the poet makes this inmost being his subject, or quite forgets himself in a richer and higher theme, is of little consequence.  1
  If, again, no true lyric can express a narrow egoism, least of all could the Swedish, in spite of the indivisible relation between nature and man. The entire Sämunds-Edda shows us that Scandinavian poetry was originally lyrical-didactic, as much religious as heroic. Not only in lyrical impression, but also in lyrical contemplation and lyrical expression, will the Swedish heroic poem still follow its earliest trend. Yes, let us believe that this impulse will some day lead Swedish poetry into the only path of true progress, to the point where dramatic expression will attain perfection of artistic form. This development is foreshadowed already in the high tragic drama, in the view of the world taken by the old Swedish didactic poem; and in some of the songs of the Edda, as well as in many an old folk-song and folk-play.  2

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