Poetry as music : The significance of musicalized poetry in the aftermath of Swedish modernism

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In the 1940s, Swedish poetry saw the breakthrough of modernism. With the modernist style came a new kind of poetic aspiration towards the condition of music: semantic imitations of musical genres and attempts to create, with the help of the words' associations, an aesthetic effect similar to a musical effect. This type of intermediality, which I call semantic musicality, was inherited as a norm of poetic style by the next generation of poets, who made their debuts in the early 1950s. These poets dealt with semantic musicality in different ways, but its impact on their poetry was paramount. Their ambivalent approaches show the difficulties of inheriting a modernist norm of poetry. In my chief example, Paul Andersson's poem Berattarna. Kantat i fyra partier for kor och soli [The Storytellers. Cantala in four parts for choir and soli], the impersonal, vague, and abstract style of semantic musicality was used in an attempt to write a highly personal poem, putting forth direct social and political arguments. Here, a paradox between rhetoric and content is evident which illustrates how the semantic aspiration towards the abstract, non-verbal condition of music had been developed into a norm which limited the range of poetry, and prevented it from the social and political spheres of society. From being radical and democratic, modernism and semantic musicality had made poetry an isolated and politically harmless cultural phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-161
JournalInternationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature


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