Olof von Dalin – an introduction

Olof von Dalin  (1708 – 1763)
An introduction by Maria Esther Vilar Alvarez 

María Esther Vilar Álvarez (Spanish-Peruvian). Born in Alicante, Spain in 2002. From 2012 to 2020 she lived in Ireland, a country where she completed primary and secondary education and obtained the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate. In 2016 she obtained a short story award in Listowel’s Writer’s Week Competition. She is currently studying her Bachelors in Physics at Lund University.

Dalin’s Life and Work

When speaking about Swedish literature of the 18th century, Olof von Dalin is without doubt, one of the most iconic and significant figures. Born in Halland in 1708, he is remembered for being an influential person in what became known as the Swedish Enlightenment, which was a period of flourishment for Swedish literature. Olof von Dalin began writing his first literary pieces in the 1730s, when he began his work as a playwright, writing plays for theatres, and like many of his own contemporaries, for this first step in the world of literature he obtained his inspiration from French dramas. Notoriously, it was French writer and moralist Jean de la Bruyere, that had the greatest impact upon von Dalin. 

It could be stated that he rose to fame with the Svenska Argus, a weekly moral newspaper, which he himself introduced with the aspiration of sharing with the Swedish public the ideas of the European Enlightenment and rising Swedish cultural level. The Svenska Argus embodied poems, short stories, plays and editorials. Through this periodical, he portrayed his versatility as a poet and began a way of writing which involved a light, conversational prose contrasting with the other writers of his time, making it stand out. 

Olof von Dalin also had an interest in politics, and used his poems as mild forms of political propaganda, with subtle political messages to be found in his poetry. From here arises what is perhaps considered to be his most famous work, Sagan om Hästen or “The Tale of the Horse” which is a satirical allegory to part of the history of the Swedish nation. The country is here represented as the horse and the owner is a metaphor to the various rulers who reigned over Sweden. In this story, parallel to what he politically advocated, he called for temperance in war policy. From outside sources, “The Tale of the Horse” is representative of a contrast between the realistic and the entertaining. 

To bring attention to the relation between Olof von Dalin and the Swedish language, one can speak of the analogies between the renowned Swedish literary figures could be said to be their wish of a purified Swedish language, and von Dalin was no different, also being against foreign influence in the language. Thus he can be considered one of the linguistic purists, similar to our other studied poet Georg Stiernheilm. This trend would continue for further centuries among Swedish writers. 

Mentioning once again the impact of foreign, or European writers on von Dalin, and upon further research, it has become known that he was a disciple of Irish writer Jonathan Swift, who it seems to be, with his novel “Gulliver’s Travels”, had a powerful effect upon other writers of his time. Olof von Dalin is no exception, and it is the influence of Gulliver’s Travels that form the basis for quite a few of his stories published on the Svenska Argus. 

Olof’s von Dalin’s life ends at the age of fifty five, when with a deteriorated health he died in 1763. And as Oscar Wilde wisely stated “all art is immortal” and his fame as a writer and poet was well and firmly established in Sweden. 

 Dalin’s Poems Urban Life and Song translated by Alan Crozier

 After having done a quick overview of Olof’s von Dalin’s life and main works, I will now begin to discuss the two poems of “Urban Life” and “Song”. 

Urban Life” is perhaps the most impactful of the two poems and shines with its beauty and delicate work involved in constructing the imagery and rhyme. With a rhyming scheme of ABCB, this poem doesn’t lack musicality and a flowing rhythm, which helps to emphasize the underlying joyfulness. He is depicting the urban life in its purest form, nature and man are living in the innermost peace side by side, and he underlines the pleasures and excitement drawn from living in such surroundings. It basically has everything the heart can wish for. Tranquility and vibrancy encompass this life as “all the sprightliness of nature/plays in every cheerful square”. There is something for everyone. From the lover of gambling and drink, to the lover of peace and floral scenery, anyone can find a niche. One of the things that really stands out to me in von Dalin’s poetry, both in this poem and in “Song” is perhaps what he employs the most; nature imagery. His poems are overflowing with various and diverse images of nature throughout all the stanzas. This use of images helps to intensify the impact the poem has on the reader, while also appealing to our senses and making us more aware of the descriptions he is making, we can hear “nightingales’ delightful voices”, we can breath the air, which is “pure” and exalt ourselves in the fragrance of flowers which is “sweet as balm” and lastly visualize the “pleasure gardens” of Stockholm. These are perhaps but a few of the poignant examples to be found. Unquestionably, we can argue that these images form a rather rose tinted conveyance of what the poet is referring to as “urban life”. It seems too perfect and marvelous to be actually true. So much so that it is almost a comparison to a paradise like place. I gain this impression, not only from what I mentioned above but also through the usage of mythological creatures, such as the nymphs or the character of Pan, who was, for the Greeks, considered to be the god of the wild, shepherds, rustic music and a companion of the nymphs. This leads us to appreciating the influence of classic literature so clearly visible in these verses. Together they form a mythical illustration of the life in the urban area. However unrealistic it may appear, it cannot be denied it forms a very stunning picture. Though in structure and classical references, this poem shares many characteristics with Roman and Greek literature, it is in direct contrast to the pastoral poems written by poets such as Virgil, where country life was idealized over urban life. In a way, von Dalin is doing the exact opposite in this poem while nevertheless employing that forceful nature imagery typical of pastoral poems. The poet does an incredible job in transcribing upon the page the energy of Stockholm’s life, and succeeds in getting across the idea that urban life is much better than just the “peace and calm of country life”

Comparably to “Urban Life”, the poem “Song” also includes the features of nature imagery and rhyme. As the title of the poem indicates and with the poetic techniques now mentioned, a lively and happy atmosphere is created. The musicality of the ABAB rhyme is representative of the rhythm associated to a dancing song, which are further indicated by the lighthearted and forceful verses in the poem, where one is induced to “let the dancing start” and “set the floorboards squealing”. It seems to me that for von Dalin, it is through nature that one can express the happiness of one’s feelings. A bird “singing” or “fruit trees spreading their flowers” are all associated with spring and the rebirth of new life and enthusiasm, which are, to a certain extent, the feelings this poem evokes in us. As is perhaps expected of Dalin, there’s also a tenuous irony in the poem as well, accompanied with contradictory images such as when he recommends to “sit down here upon the ice/ ‘Twill keep your head from freezing”. Overall, this poem could be characterized as pleasing. Reading it, or hearing it recited is an enjoyable endeavour, and the various verses, together with the theme of love; a carefree, relaxed, yet passionate kind of love , create an attractive literary piece, which is perfect for blissful occasions. Unfortunately, I was not able to find much more information about the background of this poem, as it would have been interesting to discuss and observe the circumstances under which it was written. Could one imagine it was written for someone? Or perhaps for some kind of event?