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Axel Englund

PhD Södertörns University Humanities Year of admission: 2013

What role does music play in modernist poetry?
Music had an important role as a metaphor in the poetry of the modernist movement. Axel Englund will explore how modernist contemporaries conceived of music as a phenomenon and how three of modernism’s most significant poets used music in their work.

The cultural movement known as modernism developed in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Literature grew more experimental, verse more free and structures more advanced. In addition, the interplay between various kinds of artistic expression increased. For modernist poetry, music became an important source of inspiration. As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Axel Englund, a lecturer at Södertörn University, will investigate the role music played within modernist poetry by scrutinizing three central authors: the Frenchman Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898); the German Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926); and the anglophone T. S. Eliot (1888–1965).  Englund will conduct his research at Stockholm University.

In the 19th century, music was typically regarded as the sounding expression of emotions, spirituality or absoluteness. Around the turn of the century, however, it came to be increasingly thought of as pure form, while the human soundscape was marked by an escalating noisiness and the interest in silence as a phenomenon increased. Englund will investigate how this shift is expressed in poetry and how this might impact our understanding of modernist poetry. Englund himself is a trained composer. 

Photo: Olcay Yalcin