Jeanette Lee Atkinson on Karl Ragnar Gierow (1980) page 6
A sceptic´s way
Although Sweden was officially neutral during World War II, there was no certainty that that status would be honored. In fact, Sweden’s ability to remain at least theoretically neutral depended to a large extent on the concessions the government made to Germany. The country was mobilized without much conviction that it could successfully defend itself. Public opinion with regard to neutrality was divided. especially after the Soviet invasion of Finland. The literary response to Sweden’s precarious situation was largely traditional, patriotic and inspirational in form and tone. The emphasis of this production ranged from impassioned campaigns against the policy of neutrality to a general rallying around the notions of homeland and humanistic values,5 Gierow’s historical chronicles are one example of his contribution to the literature of mobilization, or beredskapslitteraturen. Ödletid tended in this direction, but Vid askens rötter (At the Roots of the Ash; 1940) openly reflects the spirit of mobilization.
This sentiment is highly ambivalent in Gierow’s poems, for it is qualified by abstraction, fatalism and a criticism of violence, even in self-defense. The first cycle in the volume ”Väktarsånger” (Watchman’s Songs), interprets the war on an abstract level. Both the title of the cycle and that of the volume are taken from Nordic mythology. The ash is Ygdrasil, the mighty tree whose roots and branches support and unite the parts of the universe, and the watchman is Heimdal, the guardian of the bridge leading to Asgard, the abode of the gods. It is Heimdal who will give the signal to begin Ragnarök, the final battle between good and evil in which all creation will be destroyed. The poems in ”Väktarsånger” are Heimdal’s observations of events leading up to the final destruction and the rejuvenation that will follow it. Apocalyptic imagery was common in Swedish poetry of the time, and although other writers alluded to Nordic myth, Gierow was the only poet to exploit it consistently.6