Sven Arne Bergmann, "The Good Old Days": a poem about silence.
Fröding's "Den gamla goda tiden" (The Good Old Days) has long attracted critical attention as the most successful of his "political poems". Presented as an 18th-century story of a foundry proprietor's brutality towards his workers, it was hesitatingly received in 1894 as a subversive statement by a member of the ruling class. Later adopted as a Socialist classic, Dggt survives today mainly on the merits of its poetical craftsmanship.
In this paper, the author argues that the relevance of Dggt is less dependent on a sense of Socialist commitment than has been commonly accepted. If its theme is understood less in terms of collective solidarity than of individual conscience, an intrinsic structural polarity emerges revealing an ironic strategy of unsuspected subtlety. To make his reading persuasive the author enlists the support of critics and theorists like Burke, Lotman, and Riffaterre. By way of preparation, some formative principles are considered: allegory vs. realism, metaphor vs. metonymy. On the assumption that Fröding tends towards realism and metonymy in this poem, his use of nostalgic presuppositions and romantic metaphors acquires special interest as poetic strategies of irony.
Starting from a close study in Lotman's terms of how contrasting rhythms and onomatopoeia create a metonymic basis for imaginative participation in the drudgery of cruelly exploited foundry workers, the author goes on to an examination of the poem as "symbolic action" (Burke). This leads to the conclusion that the "scene" remains empty, since there is no "agent" present to accept responsibility. A Riffaterrian search for the poem's matrix is started from a "model" extracted from the introductory imagery of the silent, starry sky and the sleeping forest in the background. By way of a deconstruction of the alleged "silence" of the ill-treated workers, the search arrives at indifference as the key concept of the poem.
The title, long recognised as an ironic statement of nostalgia, was added as an afterthought. Yet, on closer inspection, both the initial and the final stanzas can be shown to contain ironic elements in the form of concealed references and an anonymous quotation voicing the views of a society totally lacking in compassion. By this means, the poet, far from openly distancing himself from his forefathers or his contemporaries in the manner of the political battle song, challenges the reader to enter the vacant position of "agent" in the "symbolic action" of the poem.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2000. Vol. 121, 96-113 p.