By Petra Andersson
A week with Fröding
I’ve always liked reading; one of the best things I know is to dive into stories about other people’s thoughts and lives. I read like to read almost everything from textbooks to classics. However, there’s one genre I’ve always struggled with: poetry.
Even as a child I hated all of the bedtime stories written in rhyme. It felt claustrophobic and annoyingly predictable. Later on, I decided to study literature for a semester as an exchange student in England. One of the modules was only about poetry, and in English and unfamiliar accents to make matters worse. I don’t think I ever felt more vulnerable. I spent most of my time in the library stressing every single syllable while trying to decipher the rhyme schemes of the stanzas, and if the words within them were iambic or not. I learnt much more about poetry, but I still struggle with the couplets.
Poetry has also always felt out of reach: almost like it’s way beyond my abilities and cultural awareness. It always made me feel aware that I’m from a quite simple background and don’t have the keys to unlock sophisticated works of art. So this Christmas I decided to give it a go, and read a biography of one of Sweden’s most famous poets: Gustaf Fröding.
Slowly but surely, the author Staffan Bergsten have guided me through some of Fröding’s work. I learned that he’s most famous poems were written between 1891 – 1897, that he suffered from hypochondria, that later developed into OCD and schizophrenia. He had to changes his socks at least 10 times a day, and that he died in a mental institution, only 50 years old when his liver finally gave up after a lifelong alcoholism.
I also learned how he played with language and accents, and how the rhythm of his poems changed completely if you tried to read it with the Wermlandian accent. I also learned that the structure he often used – one iambic followed by two dactyls – made his poems sound very melodious and less tense, but also gave them a specific rhythm. And that’s why many of his poems are more sung than they’re read. I even learned that sometimes, just sometimes, even couplets could tolerable.
Besides that, I gained a wider understanding of the time itself, like the stigma of mental illnesses. Fröding’s schizophrenia was first announced and recognised by the public in 1957, 46 years after his death. And also how much we should appreciate the medical treatments we have at hand today. Another cause of Fröding’s early death was that his drinking turned him diabetic. It was an incurable death sentence at the time. I could also see (with Staffan’s help) how Fröding’s work developed over time.
Will I buy a volume of Fröding’s completed work next time I go back to Sweden? Probably not, but it was interesting to learn more about the man behind the work. And thanks to Staffan’s explanations of similes that flew way above my radar I could also understand and enjoy some of Fröding’s work, making poetry as a genre a little bit less daunting.