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Gustaf Fröding (1860-1911)


Swedish poet, who was one of the pioneers liberating Swedish verse from traditional patterns. At his death, Fröding was celebrated as a national poet against his own will - his contemporary poet Verner von Heidenstam adopted the role more eagerly. Fröding undermined his public image by openly revealing his problems with alcohol and bohemian life style. Love, true or bought with money, was one of Fröding's themes, as in the poem 'En kärleksvisa' from Splashes of Grail (1898):

Jag köpte min kärlek för pengar,
för mig var ej annan att få,
sjung vackert, I skorrade strängar,
sjung vackert om kärlek åndå.

Gustaf Fröding was born in Alster, Värmland. His grandfather, Jan Fröding, had gathered a considerable property through business affairs, and invested it in land and Alster Mill. He married Gustava Branzell; her brother was a former priest, who suffered from alcoholism and mental illness. Fröding's father, lieutenant Ferdinand Fröding, married Emilia Agardh, the daughter of the bishop of Karlstad. Ferdinand was not able to look after the property and was soon in huge debts. The strong-willed Emilia took care of the family. After recovering from meningitis, Ferdinand became "en främmande man" (a strange man), who could not stand any voices in the house. At the time of Gustaf's birth, his mother had mental problems. She lost contact with reality, was hospitalized, and did not recognize her son any more. Fröding described her in 'Dolores di Colibrados' as an outsider who was ultimately destroyed by her alien, cold surroundings.

A daydreamer in his youth, Fröding did not take seriously his studies. He attended the University of Uppsala in the early 1880s, and wasted his inheritance in a couple of years. In 1883 he left Uppsala and returned to Värmland. There he fell in love with a local girl but due to his poor financial condition he could not marry her. From 1887 Fröding worked for ten years as a journalist in the radical newspaper Karlstads-Tidning. He also spent periods in sanatoriums for treatment of nervous disorders. Fröding's poems and prose pieces written in Värmlandish dialect for Karlstads-Tidning, were collected in Räggler å paschaser 1-2 (1895-97).

In 1889 Fröding was in Görlitz in Germany, where he read such writers as Goethe, Byron, Burns, and Poe. With two the essays, 'Naturalism and romantik' and 'Om humor', Fröding contributed to the literary debate about naturalism and creative imagination, defending fantasy and Swedish humor. Fröding's first collection of poems, Gitarr och dragharmonika (1891), was composed in Görliz's sanatorium and it came out when the poet was in a sanatorium in Lillehammer, Norway. The collection revealed Fröding's unique poetic blend of irony, melancholy, and humor. An immediate success, the book sold 5,000 copies in five years - more than any other collection in Sweden.

Fröding was awarded a stipend by the Swedish Academy in 1892, but he donated it to the movement for general voting rights. From Norway Fröding returned to Karlstad. He had an affair with a waitress, who inspired the poems 'Flickan i ögat' and 'Det borde varit stjärnor'. ("Var väsignad du, som ej gav tröst / som en nåd från ovan, / men som kärleksgåvan / från en syndig fatting flickas bröst.") Nya dikter (1894), which was received with enthusiasm, appeared when Fröding was in a hospital in Göteborg. He had visions of greatness, believing he was a superman - just like the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche did before he collapsed mentally and physically in January 1889 - his illness was most probable of syphilitic origin. Eveltually he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Like all Scandinavian writers at that time, Fröding knew Nietzsche's work and wrote a pastiche Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85), which was published in Nya dikter.

Nietzsche also inspited the poems 'Guderne dansa' and 'En flik av framtiden', included in the collection Stänk och flikar (1896, Splashes and Spray). It also contains a series of poems of the Holy Grail, and one of Fröding's most beloved pieces, 'Ett gammalt bergtroll', about an outsider, a lonely mountain troll, who eats people. 'En morgondröm', in which two Stone Age Aryans in the far Aryan homeland have sex, was called pornographic and led to a court case. Although Fröding was acquitted, he could not stop his self-accusations. He suffered a mental breakdown and managed to publish only two small books of poems before a final breakdown. Gralstänk (1898), born partly as a reaction to Nietzsche's Jenseits von Gut und Böse, contains a series of religious poems that express a faith in the divinity of all things. Whereas Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864-1931) drew on the old Lutheran heritage, which was a source of comfort to him, Fröding sought solace in legends and mystical tradition. Some of his confessional poems Fröding wrote in the third person. In later works his alter egos were Clown Clopopisky, who is mocked by his audience, and the poet Wennerbom, who drinks alone in a park.

Gralstänk was the last collection published before Fröding's final collapse. From 1898 to 1905 Fröding was a patient in Uppsala hospital for mental illness. Between 1906 and 1907 he was treated in Stockholm's Svenonii hospital. There he met Signe Trozig, his nurse for the rest of his life. In 1907 Fröding lived in Gröndal, Djurgården, then in Tullinge, and from 1909 again in Gröndal. In 1908 his condition improved in 1908 and he started to work with a new collections of poems, Reconvalescentia. Richard Bergh's portrait of Fröding from 1909 - both heroic and intimate at the same time - presents the poet as a patient, a bearded colossus like an ancient god, sitting on bed with his arms crossed. A book, as thick as the Bible, lies on a table. However, Fröding never finished his work, which was published posthumously in 1913. Fröding died in Stockholm on February 8, 1911. In Nordic countries, his poems have remained popular. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius has set to music five of Fröding's poems, among them 'Säf, säf, susa' (reeds, reeds, whisper). "Säf, säf, susa, / våg, våg, slå, / I sängen mig hvar Ingalill / den unga månde gå?"

For further reading: Gustaf Frödings diktning by Frey Svensson (1916); Frödings mystik by Olle Holmberg (1921); Frödingsminnen by Cecilia Fröding (1925); Skapande fantasi och sjuka skalder by Bror Gadelius (1927); Frödings sociala diktning by Axel Munthe (1929); Fröding by Henry Olsson (1951); Fröding och Ida Bäckman by G. Michanek (1955); Gustaf Fröding by John Landquist (1956, rev. edition 1964); Gustaf Fröding by Erland Lindbäck (1957); Så minns vi Gustaf Fröding, ed. by G. Michanek (1960); En morgondröm by G. Michanek (1962); Vinlövsranka och hagtornkrans by Henry Olsson (1970); Bibliografi, 2 vols., published by Gustaf Fröding-sällskapet (1978-84); Gustaf Fröding (1860-1911): His Life and Poetry: a Short Biography by Paul Britten Austin (1986); Den Svenska Litteraturen, Vol. IV, ed. by Lars Lönnroth and Sven Delblanc (1997); Gustaf Fröding in Brunskog and Mangskog by Gustaf Froding and Mike McArthur (2006); Fröding och kvinnorna by Rolf Alsing (2011) - Suom: Suomeksi Frödingin runoja ovat kääntäneet Larin-Kyösti (Runoja ja murrejuttuja), Valter Juva (Valikoima runoja), Hannes Korpi-Anttila (Värmlannin lauluja), Otto Manninen (Värmnlannin lauluja, 1952) ja Ilpo Tiihonen (Runoilija Vennerbom ja muita runoja).

Selected works:

  • Gitarr och dragharmonika, 1891
    - Guitar and Concertina (translated by C. D. Locock, 1925) / Guitar and Concertina: Poems By Gustaf Fröding (translated by Mike McArthur, 1997)
    - Valittuja runoja (suom. Yrjö Weijola, kokoelmista Guitarr och Dragharmonika, Nya Dikter, ja Räggler å Paschaser, 1985)
  • Nya dikter, 1894
    - New Poems (translated by Mike McArthur, 1998)
    - Valittuja runoja (suom. Yrjö Weijola, kokoelmista Guitarr och Dragharmonika, Nya Dikter, ja Räggler å Paschaser, 1985)
  • En bok om Strinberg, 1894 (editor)
  • Räggler å paschaser 1-2, 1895-97
    - Poems of Youth & Tall Tales and Adventures (translated by Mike McArthur, 1999)
    - Valittuja runoja (suom. Yrjö Weijola, kokoelmista Guitarr och Dragharmonika, Nya Dikter, ja Räggler å Paschaser, 1985)
  • Stänk och flikar, 1896
    - Splashes and Patches: Poems by Gustaf Fröding (translated by Mike McArthur, 1998)
  • Nytt och gammalt, 1897
  • Gralstänk, 1898
    - New and Old Splashes from the Grail: Poems by Gustaf Fröding (tr. by Mike McArthur, 1998)
  • Poems, 1903 (translated by Albert Björck)
  • Efterskörd, 1910
    - Gleanings and Convalescence (translated by Mike McArthur, 1999)
  • Reconvalescentia, 1913
    - Gleanings and Convalescence (translated by Mike McArthur, 1999)
  • Selected Poems, 1916 (translated by Charles Wharton Stork)
  • Samlade skrifter 1-16, 1917-22 (edited by R.G. Berg)
  • Posthuma skrifter 1-3, 1918
  • Dikter från Värmland, 1936
    - Värmland Poems (translated by Mike McArthur, 2000)
  • Brev til en ung flicka, 1952
  • Äventyr i Norge, 1963 (edited by Germund Michanek)
  • Återkomsten och andra okända dikter, 1964 (edited by Germund Michanek)
  • Brev I-II, 1981-82 (edited by Germund Michanek and Ingvald Rosenblad)
  • Gustaf Fröding i Upsala nya tidning: dikter, kåserier, recensioner och insändare 1890-98, 1987 (edited by Germund Michanek)
  • Ur en tidningsmans anteckningar och andra kåserier, 1990 (edited by Lennart Bernesjö och Reidar Nordenberg)
  • Frödings hemlighetsfulla väninna: en brevbiografi, 1990 (edited by Ingrid Schöider)
  • Dikter: Brev, 1991 (edited by David Gedin)
  • Gustaf Frödings poesi, 1993 (edited by Germund Michanek; contains Gitarr och dragharmonika; Nya dikter; Stänk och flikar; Nytt och gammalt; Gralstänk; Dikterna i Räggler å paschaser; Efterskörd; Mattoidens sånger; Reconvalescentia ; Ungdomsdikter; Senare dikter; Översättningar)
  • The Selected Poems of Gustav Fröding, 1993 (translated by Henrik Aspán, in collaboration with Martin Allwood)
  • Klipp av hans sax : 30 kåserier, 1995 (edited by Germund Michanek)
  • The Complete Poems of Gustaf Fröding, 1997-1999 (translated by Mike McArthur)
  • Poems of Youth: and, Tall Tales and Adventures: Poems, 1999 (a new translation by Mike McArthur)
  • Other Poems: Poems by Gustaf Fröding, 1999 (translated by Mike McArthur)
  • Dikter från hospitalet, 2005 (edited by Eva Jonsson)
  • Dear Gustaf: Favourite Poems of Gustaf Fröding, 2007 (translated by Mike MacArthur)
  • Frödings landskap: ett urval av Gustaf Frödings dikter och texter, 2009 (edited by Anita Forsnäsgård)
  • De glömda texterna: journalistik av Gustaf Fröding i Karlstads-tidningen 1885-1894, 2010 (edited by Dag Nordmark)

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