Jag vill vara ogenerad -

därför struntar jag i ädla stilar,

ärmarna kavlar jag upp.

Diktens deg jäser...

O en sorg -

att ej kunna baka katedraler...

Formernas höghet -

trägna längtans mål.

Nutidens barn -

har din ande ej sitt rätta skal?

Innan jag dör

bakar jag en katedral.


(September 1918)


Translated by David McDuff


I want to be unconstrained -

therefore I care not a fig for noble styles.

I roll up my sleeves.

The poem's dough is rising ...

Oh what a pity

that I cannot bake cathedrals ...

Highness of forms -

goal of persistent longing.

Child of the present -

does your spirit not have a proper shell?

Before I die

I shall bake a cathedral.


[September 1918]


Translated by Klaus-Jürgen Liedtke

read by / gelesen von: Meriam Abbas


Ich will unbefangen sein -

drum pfeife ich auf edle Stile,

die Ärmel kremple ich hoch.

Der Teig des Gedichtes gärt ...

O welch Kummer -

nicht Kathedralen backen zu können ...

Hoheit der Formen -

inständiges Sehnsuchtsziel.

Kind der Gegenwart -

fehlt deinem Geist seine richtige Schale?

Ehe ich sterbe

backe ich eine Kathedrale.


(September 1918)

more audiofiles: http://www.kleinheinrich.de/tonkunst/index.html

  • Impact
    Förhoppning ("Hope") is a poem by Edith Södergran from her collection "Septemberlyran" (The September Lyre; 1918). It is a readers´ favourite and it is easy to understand why. The imagery is bold. Sleeves are rolled up to knead the poem's rising dough into something huge. "Before I die / I shall bake a cathedral." Among other things, it is the bold tension between hope and assurance that does it. Cathedral it shall be. Here is a poem's self that has discovered its dimensions.
    But how did she hit upon this image in the first place? Cathedral baking is something unheard of. Or maybe no, after all. Södergran may have availed herself of her German. She frequently did that, in her choice of words, in syntax and grammar. Sometimes it does not do much good. Other times it renders things more drastic, as in a poem where the self lies not on her stomach but on her abdomen. This is how you do it in German.
  • Balticness
    Not least thanks to the Hanseatic League's expansive economy that lasted for centuries, the Baltic Sea coast flaunts a string of opulent red-tile churches built in the Middle Ages. Today they present themselves variously. One is the rich church of the merchants and the council (St. Nikolai in Stralsund), one is the proud testimony of a world heritage (St. Nikolai in Wismar), one is, in a nutshell, the pearl itself (Doberan Minster). And then we have St. Mary's in Lubeck, the very mother of these Gothic brick basilicas. They take a common pride in being what they are.
    They also have their brick walls in common, made of "Backstein", baked stone of burnt clay. Södergran – this is my conjecture – has made use of something the German language knows about bricks in order to resuscitate a dead metaphor. Most languages are middens of dead metaphors, of life gone stiff. Stolsben is one of these stiffs, gripa tillfället another. "Hope" provides a basic course in metaphor revival. Bricks are heated, burned, i.e. baked; a baker employs dough; the dough will rise. All of this constitutes a craft: a German Gothic basilica was hand-made the way Södergran's poem was.
    The southern Baltic Sea Route is known as "Route der Backsteingotik" (cf. www.eurob.org), but in fact it is only a section of Europe’s long stretches of brick Gothic. As a space, the Baltic Sea is one and indivisible. Among other things, Turku Cathedral, one of Mary´s many churches, is quite recognizably part of this context.
    If you can turn away from Gothic and focus instead on baked stone in sacred use, you can get much closer to Edith Södergran and the world she knew. In 1907, the very year she wrote her first poems, the Church on Spilled Blood was inaugurated in St. Petersburg on the spot where Alexander II was murdered, almost next door to her school. It does not aspire to heaven the way Gothic architecture does, but it was baked in dark red brick. Its baker was the Russian architect Alfred Parland, whose fraternal grandson Henry Parland was later, much like Edith Södergran, to enrich Finnish-Swedish modernism with a hotchpotch of linguistic origins.
    Clas Zilliacus
  • Bibliographic information
    Edith Södergran, Septemberlyran, Helsingfors 1918
  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    Danish 1979 Peer Sibast
    English 1984 / 1989 David McDuff
    Estonian 1986 Debora Vaarandi
    German 1960 Edward Jaime
    German 1965 Nelly Sachs
    German 1977 Karl R. Kern
    German 1986 / 2002 / 2014 Klaus-Jürgen Liedtke
    Russian 1980 Mikhail Dudin
    Russian 2001 Natalya Tolstaya
  • Year of first publication
  • Place of first publication