Ice Around Our Lips – 10 Finland-Swedish Poets

David McDuff’s anthology has large selections of the ten most important poets in modern Finland-Swedish literature, from the fin de siècle figure of Bertel Gripenberg to “separatist” poet Gösta Ågren. Between them come modernists lilke Edith Södergran and Rabbe Enckell, the much celebrated contemporary poets Bo Carpelan and Solveig von Schoultz, and Gunnar Björling, Scandinavia’s only Dadaist.

Much of the literature of Finland is written not in Finnish but in Swedish, for Finland was a province of Sweden until the 19th century, and Swedish was its official language. Even after Finland passed into Russian hands in 1808, Finland-Swedes continued to dominate the country’s economic and public life, and while their poetry became a potent force for the assertion of Finland’s national identity, Swedish gradually gave way to Finnish as the dominant language of the national literature. Against this background it is easy to see how isolation became a central theme in Finland-Swedish poetry. Finnish writers are said to be obsessed by loneliness and melancholy, and to fill their books with descriptions of night and winter, frozen lakes and pine forests. Yet while Finland-Swedish poets pack quite enough snow and ice into their lines, their work is full of vitality, surprisingly different and sharply aware of the rest of European literature.