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Newsletter no 10
Sven Erik Täckmark
by Gunnar Lundin
Sven Erik died at
the age of ninety-one at the end of September after a brief illness. It was
as though he received a couple of years’ bonus at the residential home
Katarinagården; he regained his strength, despite in one sense having had his
fill of life, or possibly preparing for a new journey. I have seldom – never?
– met anyone with such spontaneous gratitude for being given the chance to
devote himself to literature and philosophy. His childhood as an ugly
duckling in a proletarian setting, coupled with benevolent genes, was his
Which is more important: to have a kind heart or to be able to convey a kind heart? For a writer indubitably the latter. Sven Erik’s articles in the periodical Metamorfos, in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon and in letters merged into a corpus which exuded the naive warmth familiar to us from meetings; and not only for those of us with the right »personal chemistry», for he was capable of selectively missionising.
Art and literature is the arena for candour. But candour can be everything from malicious to well-meaning revelation. Sven Erik’s was altogether devoid of malice, there was nothing insinuating about it. Meetings at Eva’s antiquarian bookshop in Ringvägen or at home in Åsögatan became a mixture of the Pickwick Club and an adult education seminar.
He grew up in surroundings where lack of education had coarsened into myopic conflict and where the value of education was never examined. It represented a well of rich mineral water which, as the map of his life appears to indicate, within a few moments, regained its rejuvenating freshness.
In 1930, an era
when working class children left school at the age of fourteen, his mother
realised that her son was gifted and approached prosperous private
individuals and begged, in vain, for help to further his studies. The boy’s
maternal grandmother’s great-grandmother had incidentally been a »witch» in the enlightened
time of the assassinated Gustaf III and his killer Anckarström, a heredity
which manifested itself in her descendent who in time became an atheist. His
height of only
By now he was
seventeen and spent two years at Fornby Folk High-School, after which he got a
job as apprentice journalist at Avesta Tidning. Here he came across Alf
Ahberg’s translation of John Cowper Powys’ The Meaning of Culture, for him an amazing event, the birth of a
philosophy of life and a fellow feeling which lasted for 70 years. All that
was needed was a recommendation for broadened horizons from his new friend
Rune Lindström, for Sven Erik to pack his bags for
It is, however, impossible to imagine this impractical man as a child-minder, cook, washer-upper or as a cleaner. No English family would ever have been the same again.
Then he was back
University in English, Political Science and History of Literature. He was admitted without having matriculated, after having been examined in Latin, which left traces of a collection of quotations often connected with fate, like prizes in a tombola in a Swedish amusement park; two favourites were »mirabile dictu» and, following a satirical interjection, »nomina sunt odiosa». In 1955 he gained his Bachelor’s degree.
He returned to
Fornby as a teacher, which was followed by other teaching appointments,
interrupted for a time by editorship of the Immigration Ministry’s newspaper,
biographical articles for Svenskt
biografiskt lexikon, and then in the 1980s opening an antiquarian
bookshop in Ringvägen together with his elder daughter. If any designation
were to be chosen for Sven Erik it would in the end have to be translator,
after forty books. He missed by only a few months the launch of his and
One could devise a number of different ways to handle a difficult childhood. One would be like Strindberg’s and Lars Norén’s, to challenge and subject it to forensic scrutiny. Another one is to concentrate on what it was that enabled the individual concerned to surmount it and find new relationships and contexts. Sven Erik, with his benevolent genes, chose the latter path.
The essence of his development was far from encyclopaedic or even literary; it was contained in a phial. It granted him a perspective on life which enabled him to endure its tragic incidents. It entailed seeing oneself, as Voltaire did, as a statistical number, but a number gifted with insight into the fluctuations of fate, whose credit account is ultimately always available. The fact that his very wide reading never became ponderous was undoubtedly
due to Powys’s practical attitude. Metaphysics never grew into a longing for the hereafter, but was always a philosopher’s stone located in the here and now. During his final period at Katarinagården, Melville’s Moby Dick lay on his bedside table. A visitor might find him slumbering on top of the bed, and as soon as he opened his eyes he was swiftly focused in an unhurried conversation, a pre-industrial conversation, predating TV and radio. He resembled a sailor who has been up in the mast on the lookout for whales, after which the luncheon-mackerel tasted better. It was the vista, it was language, it was psychology which activated his gratitude, despite pains in his left side after his stroke, gratitude to live another day.
Nils Leijer who was a student at the folk high school, spoke of how unwilling Monday-morning students, still with the taste of cocoa in their mouths and autumn chill in their hair, slumped in their seats, and how Sven Erik within ten minutes had transported them into Bellman’s world and fired them to see something desirable and full of possibilities in the mundanest of life. He belonged to those who can speak to us directly –and was less concerned to gain trophies for his own oeuvres or literary successes, but more concerned to arouse hearts and shining eyes. His own experience of Powys’s The Meaning of Culture had lit a spark which never died out; vexations and difficulties were perhaps the »dry» climate in which it flourished best.
Sven Erik Täckmark 1916-2007
This page updated 4 April 2012.