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Lotta Olsson, Den mörka stigen (The Dismal Path)

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2003. ISBN: 9100100587

Reviewed by Anne Born in SBR 2004:2

No pagination

This is a sonnet sequence based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which Lotta Olsson sheds light in a new way on the characters, speaking in the voice of Orpheus. As we know, Orpheus’s young wife, the beautiful Eurydice, is mortally bitten by a snake. She dies and must live forever in the Underworld as Hades’s wife. Orpheus descends to this hell to try to bring back his beloved. The sonnets speak and describe his grief and his sense that Eurydice is following him and wants to rejoin him. But his longing to be sure is so strong that in the end he breaks the condition of his presence below by looking back – once, but that is enough. Both are condemned to languish in the Underworld for eternity, never meeting.
A moving rendition, this sequence of 15 linked sonnets imposes strict control over narrative and form. It follows a scheme of “a sonnet of sonnets”, a sequence of 15 built on the opening sonnet, in which 14 of these each begin with a new line from the opening sonnet, with a theme line used to begin (or sometimes finish) each new poem. The fifteenth sonnet uses all the lines in the first sonnet, in the order in which they were originally written. The vocabulary is clear and plain, which makes it shine with additional purity.
The final sonnet is admirably handled, without ever dropping the emotional impact. Throughout, the rhyme is impeccable. This is a gem of a book, and I conclude with a translation of Sonnet 15:

The dismal path that never has an end:
Where every single step must be close-guarded.
The dismal path whereto my steps must bend,
To take the long road back again and upward.

What gives me then the right to sojourn here?
A live man with the dead – and his woman.
I listen to the sounds the darkness bears.
A sound of steps! To vanish with his loved one.

For surely it must be her steps I hear?
That is a question which no soul can answer.
I only know my passion is forever.

She is silent. But that cannot mean some danger?
She follows me. Only makes no rejoinder.
I know it: for I looked. Just once. Only once more.

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