Tore Lund, The Maker : some notes on Viktor Rydberg's poem Grubblaren
This paper deals with the poem Grubblaren ("The Brooder"), written in 1890 by Viktor Rydberg (1828–1895) at the end of a long period of poetic improductivity. Grubblaren has been called "the classic Swedish poem on the conflict between Faith and Science". To be more specific: between a religious world view ("a world with God and plan and meaning") and the "mechanical" one popular among proponents of "modern science" at the end of the 19th century. The poem made a great impression at the time of its publication and was generally seen as a powerful defence of the religious world view. 20th century scholars, on the other hand, have found Rydberg's argumentation lacking. The author has been seen as basically accepting the bleak and anguish-laden "mechanical" world view presented in the poem, and the "happy ending" (where the bells of Easter Sunday triumphantly ring in the resurrection of Faith in a scene openly referring to Goethe's Faust) has been seen as unconvinced and unconvincing.
The paper tries to modify this judgement and to present a new reading of the poem. The main lines of arguments are as follows:
(a) the Power of Poetry vs Scientific Discourse
Rydberg has traditionally been regarded as a "poet-philosopher" (idédiktare), which has led to a tendency among Swedish scholars to concentrate on the "ideological" content of his poems. Most previous studies of Grubblaren have fallen into this trap. But Rydberg does not attempt to refute the scientific world view by using its own rationalistic mode of discourse; instead he uses the medium of poetry in order to transcend it. He aims at the imagination and the emotions of the reader rather than at feeble "reason", and his exposition of the "mechanical" world view is designed to show that it is incompatible with fundamental human instincts.
(b) The third Visitor vs Dualistic Stalemate
Previous studies have stressed the dualistic structure of the poem, reflected in the visits to the Brooder's study chamber by the advocates of the two antagonistic world views – S:t Paul and Baco (Francis Bacon, "the father of modern science"). The existence of a third visitor – "the Spirit Girl" – has hardly been noted. The girl can – by reference to other texts by Rydberg – be shown to represent the Muse of Poetry. "Brooding" over Faith vs Science (or Freedom vs Determinism) can only end in a stalemate, and the existence of God cannot be proved by rational means. But the Muse points to a way leading over the Abyss – the road of Poetry. Her advice is (for obvious artistic reasons) initially ignored by the Brooder – but it is heeded by his creator, Viktor Rydberg, who by writing Grubblaren steps out of his chamber and uses his poetic gifts and personal authority to guide and comfort his contemporaries.
(c) From Brooder to Maker
The secret presence of the Muse splits the poem into two levels – one open and didactic, one personal and metapoetic. On the personal level the poem is about a "brooder" who transcends his brooding, who by a creative act of writing refutes mechanical and soulless determinism and thus re-establishes communication with God, the Source (or Name) of Creativity. The "happy ending" of the final stanzas ambiguously refer to both levels; the bells of the cathedral announce not only the resurrection of Faith but also the glorious resurrection of the Poet.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2003. Vol. 124, 61-95 p.