‘non serviam’


The statue is entitled ‘non serviam’, after a poem by the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf. The girl is reading the opening lines of the poem, which is now covered by snow. Eager as I am (of course!) to inspire my non-Swedish readers to read Swedish poetry, I have found an English translation of this poem:

I am a stranger in this land
but this land is no stranger in me!
I am not at home in this land
but this land behaves as if it were at home in me!

My blood can never be diluted
a tumbler-full in my veins!
And always the Jew, the Lapp, the artist in me
will seek his blood-brother: search the scriptures
make a detour around the desert’s sacred stones
in silent respect for something forgotten
sing in the wind: Savage! Nigger! –
butt against and cry to the stones: Jew! Nigger! –
beyond the law and under the law:
trapped in theirs, the whites, and still
– praise be my law – in mine!

So I have become a stranger in this very land
but this land has make itself cozy in me!
I cannot live in this land
but this very land lives like venom in me!

Once, in the short mild
the poor hours’ wild Sweden
there was my land! It was everywhere!
Here, in the long, well-fed hours’
over-furnished Sweden
where everything is closed for draughts… it is cold to me.

Ekelöf used to be, and still is, one of my favourite poets. I suppose he’s unknown to most non-Swedish readers, but if you ever come across any translated collection of his work, I recommend it highly (provided the translations are any good). The poem came from this website, and originally from this collection. There are some decent articles in English, for example this and this. Or this one, which claims that the ‘ greatest of the Swedish modernists, the most secular of mystics, Gunnar Ekelöf is one of the very finest of modern European poets.’

The statue, by Ernst Nordin, is located on Malmskillnadsgatan in central Stockholm; it’s a street known for prostitution. The brutal architecture and the winds that easily rage through these streets make it a rather hostile place. Its central location in the city means it shouldn’t be and feel so eerily desolate but it is and does. And, as a side-note, before the wonderful old Stockholm was torn down and destroyed — to be replaced by this cold, unloveable modern architecture during the 50s and 60s — the first waldorf school was housed in one of the rather shabby old buildings on Malmskillnadsgatan. (It later relocated, eventually ending up in a suburb a few years before I started to attend it.)

(Photo, large versions on flickr.)

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