Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864)
It was on this date, July 20, 1864, that Nobel-winning Swedish poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt was born in Folkärna, in the rural province of Dalarna, central Sweden. His father was a lawyer, his mother a devout Lutheran. While supporting himself as a teacher, Karlfeldt completed his University of Uppsala studies and graduated in 1902.
As a poet, Karlfeldt debuted in 1895 with a collection called Songs of Wilderness and of Love. This he followed with Fridolin’s Songs (1898), Fridolin’s Pleasure Garden (1901), Flora and Pomona (1906) and Flora and Bellona (1918) – for all of which, even as an old-fashioned voice in a modern age, he was greatly esteemed. In 1917, Karlfeldt’s alma mater, Uppsala University, awarded him the title of Doctor honoris causae. When offered the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1918, Karlfeldt protested that he had no right to the prize because he was little known outside his own country. Four years before his death, he published The Horn of Autumn (1927). The University of Minnesota published his selected poems, translated by Charles Warton Stork, in Arcadia Borealis (1938).
Karlfeldt had been seriously ill in 1913, which made him study his personal beliefs more closely. In a poem called “A Vagrant” we read this couplet:
What’s your religion? What is your creed?
I know only this: I know naught.
Karlfeldt was an Agnostic with mystic tendencies. He died in Stockholm on 8 April 1931 at age 66. Erik Axel Karlfeldt was finally awarded his Nobel Prize, posthumously, that same year.
Originally published July 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.