Engelska

Harriet Löwenhjelm: Swedish poet and artist

Harriet Löwenhjelm was born on the 18th February 1887 in Tågaborg, Helsingborg, Sweden and died on the 24th May 1918 in Romanäs Sanatorium in Småland, Sweden. She grew up in a well to do family and showed artistic talent from an early age. In the beginning, her poems were cleverly humorous though often with a melancholy undertone and they were intended as a complement to her drawings rather than the reverse.


In 1913 she was found to have tuberculosis of the lungs and spent the greater part of the life left to her in sanatoria. Her later poems were influenced by living in the shadow of death and have a deeper, more religious quality, though still retaining the stylish charm of her earlier works for example, Är jag intill döden trött (I am tired unto death).


Always in her writing she alternates and contrasts the bizarrely humorous with the serious e.g. Förhistorisk jakt (Prehistoric hunt), contrition with rebellion e.g. Nu har, till sist, jag blitt så sur och lessen (I’ve reached the point of sorrow and despairing), intellectual irony with farce e.g. Det bodde en furste i Urvädersgränd (There once lived a prince). Christianity and other religions are treated both with reverence and with satire e.g Världens religioner (The world’s religions).


Throughout, there is a delightful playing with words e.g. Ej Fahrenheit visa mot nittio mer (It’s no longer ninety degrees Fahrenheit) and often a retreat into a secret, exotic world where she can be happy e.g. Aftonstämning på Ceylon (Eventide in Ceylon). The longing for love in an exotic situation is expressed at fantasy level in the beautiful Ett safir-hav, blandat med Karbunkel (A sapphire-sea, bright with ice-gems blended).


As with most poets, some of her poems have become universally known favourites. There can be few people in Sweden who do not remember the haunting love poem “Beatrice-Aurore” and the painfully poignant “Tag mig. – Håll mig. – Smek mig sakta” (Take me—Gentle arms enfold me”), the latter written shortly before she died and is a cry for someone loved to comfort her in her final hours.


Despite the cold, clinical world of sanatorium life and a background of the First World War raging in Europe, Harriet filled her earlier poems with a love of life and language and her accompanying drawings show the same leaps of imagination as her words.


Mike McArthur


Some poems by Harriet Löwenhjelm


TAKE ME, HOLD ME

Take me. Hold me. Slowly caressing,

gently enfold me a little while.

Weep a tear for facts depressing,

watch me asleep and tender a smile.

 

O, do not leave, you do want to stay,

o, stay here till I myself must depart.

Lay your beloved hand on my forehead --

yet for a little while not apart.

 

Take me. Hold me. . . .

 

Tonight I shall die. There flickers a flame.

A friend by my side is holding my hand.

Tonight I shall die. But who knows the name

of where I am going -- unto what land?

 

Tr. Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey ©2013

 

BEATRICE-AURORE

On Kornhamnstorg, in Hallbeck’s Shop

for rare old books and musty reams

I bought an antique folio 

on how to figure dreams.

 

And then one night I had a dream

'bout Beatrice-Aurore,

a love of mine from long ago

now dead ten years or more.

 

She came quite near, she took my hand,

she spoke to me: ‘Come here!’

At once I saw she was  the only one

I'd e'er held dear.

 

We walked under the lindens 

on a mat of yellow leaf

and tears coursed down my cheeks

but they were tears of joy, not grief.

 

We walked and spoke like children do

a long time, hand in hand,

then suddenly before an ancient 

windmill we did stand.

 

I said, ‘O Beatrice-Aurore,

be mine forever more!’

'Then catch me if you can!' she cried

and skipped in through the door.

 

And I ran in and looked 

in every nook, on every floor,

and called and called but nowhere 

was my Beatrice-Aurore.

 

My tears then woke me up

and in my heart I felt a sting.

My dreambook when consulted

yielded — not a single thing.

 

Tr. Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey ©2013

 

 

NOW I'M SO SAD AND SOUR

Nu har till sist jag blitt så sur och lessen

 

Now I'm so sad and sour that at last I'm 

not sure I have any more to yield, nay,

every which way flew every single pastime

which once had had itself a real field day.

 

But die I will not given half the chance

to live on earth a life that's sweet and stable;

you can be sure I'll strive to keep my balance

as long as there's still food upon my table.

 

To live a pauper, that is just too dreary;

hot tears won’t make my aching bruised heart number

when life grinds on inexorably weary

for fifty more like this eternal summer.

 

But die I will not . . .

 

You ruled I had to lose my secret kingdom

when you set up yourself as judge above me.

Now to your apron like a babe I cling, numb,

and beg a single token that you love me.


But die I will not . . .

 

Tr. Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey @2013

 

AM I UNTO DEATH QUITE WORN

Am I unto death quite worn,

o so worn,

quite quite worn,

sick and worn and lonely.

Long’s the road I've trudged forlorn.

No undying love I've sworn.

I am worn,

o so worn,

sick and worn and lonely.

 

Say, where is my little friend,

special friend,

only friend

in the whole wide world?

Bruised my heart is slow to mend.

Are you coming back again,

little friend,

special friend

in the whole wide world?

 

Come and help me for God's sake,

for my sake,

for your sake,

you alone can do it!

Sorrow fills the world with ache,

glitt'ring gold is mostly fake.

For God's sake, for my sake,

help, you who can do it!

 

Tr. Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey ©2013

 

ONE TIME A KINGDOM   

En gång ett rike jag ägde dock, eja

 

One time a kingdom I ruled over, eja,

Honey and milk in that land overflowed.

Golden the harvests I reaped in it, eja,

precious the gems in its rich mother lode.

 

Milk and honey, eja, eja,

Am I not its king today? Are 

all these riches no more mine?

Are these riches no more mine?

 

//Milk and honey, eja, eja,

am I not its king today? Ah,

is the kingdom no more mine?

Is the kingdom no more mine?

 

Tr. Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey @2013

 

OUR LOVE

It was in the time of the red hot blood

when we met each other first,

your eyes slew the peace of my heart for good 

and your beauty awakened my thirst.

 

It was in the time of the yellow gall

when we met each other next,

and my soul smiled wide when we spoke of all 

that we read in our hearts’ rich text.

 

It was in the time of the blackest gall

when grey rain drops chilled the ground,

and shriveled we shrunk from the strife of it all

and our joy in tears was drowned.

 

It was in the time of the thickest phlegm

when outside was gloomy night

but we sat with our cosy cups, cradling them

by flickering fire light.

 

Tr. Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey @2013

 


Articles

Looking for Harriet Löwenhjelm by Eva Stenskär


French and German

Poems by Harriet Löwenhjelm in French


Poems by Harriet Löwenhjelm in German


The Harriet Löwenhjelm society

The Harriet Löwenhjelm Society was founded in 2010 and is the focal point for all those interested in Harriet Löwenhjelms life and works. The association aims to promote greater awareness of Harriet Löwenhjelms poetry and visual art. The Society should stimulate research and writings about Harriet Löwenhjelm.

 

If you want to join the Society, please send us an email message: info [@] harrietlowenhjelm.se