Maria Wine was an author and one of Sweden’s most prolific poets of the modern era. Her distinctive poet’s voice stands out from the modernist throng.
Maria Wine was born in Copenhagen in 1912. There is not much about her childhood and youth to indicated that she would adopt the route of becoming a published poet. One episode in her autobiographical book, Minnena vakar, published in 1944, describes a visit to her biological father’s office in Copenhagen. She had only met her father a few times throughout her life. This occasion was in 1946 and Maria Wine was proudly delivering a parcel to her father, which was a box of Havana cigars. She was then confronted with the message that her father, director Karl Kiefer, had died just the night before. Upon reading the death announcement in the daily paper that day she noticed that her name was not included amongst the bereaved. Although his family knew of her existence they did not personally interact with her.
This non-meeting clearly reflects Maria Wine’s childhood and youth. When she was four years old she had been abandoned at the Jægerspris castle orphanage where she remained for six years. When she was 10 years old she was adopted by her maternal uncle, J P Jensen, and his wife who were childless and she went to live with them in Copenhagen. Jensen was a waiter and a disorganised individual and she refused to address him as father, albeit she both loved and was loved by her adoptive mother.
Maria Wine’s work entitled Man har skjutit ett lejon, published in 1951, depicts her time at the Jægerspris orphanage as well as some of her life with her adoptive parents. It includes the portentous moment at the orphanage when she becomes aware that she has a mother and is about to receive a visit from her. The meeting is a disappointment, however. Her mother is enchantingly beautiful but their meeting is only brief and her mother leaves the orphanage in the company of a man who, as Maria Wine later comes to know, is her biological father, Karl Kiefer.
Needless to say, these events had a major impact on Maria Wine and she returns to these moments frequently in several poems. Childhood in general is a frequent motif in her work but she also refers specifically to her own tragic situation, for example in the poem “En fråga till min far” which is part of the Lövsus i moll poetry collection published in 1979. The opening line of the poem contains the simple question of: “Varför förnekade du mig?” (“Why did you deny me?”). Her last poetry collection, Att gå på mossa, published in 2000, which expresses both dread as the end of her life draws near as well as an acceptance of the finality of life, also contains elements of closure. That her biological parents get their deserved portion of bitterness is only reasonable for such an overview. The poem called “En fråga till mina föräldrar” does not actually contain a concrete question but rather an icy statement: “Ni ville inte ha mig - / ändå pressades jag ut / genom livmoderns / trånga tunnel - / hann knappt öppna mina / ljuskänsliga ögon / innan jag sändes bort / som ett levande paket” (“You didn’t want me - / but nevertheless I was forced out / through the narrow tunnel / of the uterus - / barely given the time to open / my so light-sensitive eyes / before I was sent away / like some kind of living parcel”). Her writing does not require the application of in-depth psychoanalysis to see that her experience must have given rise to a fundamental distrust of the permanence of existence and, line by line, we can follow Maria Wine’s relationship to the fragile nature of her life.
Maria Wine’s career as a writer took off during the 1940s. She made her debut by releasing a number of poems in Horisont. Litterär kalender, published in 1942. At that point she already had what later became her first poetry collection ready. She had written it in Danish and sent it to Gyldendal in 1938, just before she headed off to Paris, but it was rejected. From then on her poetry was produced in Swedish. The reason for this must be down to the life-changing meeting she experienced on the train to Rørvig in northern Zealand in the summer of 1936. Maria Wine was just 23 years old at the time and was working as an office clerk at Sygekassernes Opptik when she had decided to travel to the Danish coastal town of Rørvig for her holidays. On the train she bumped into Artur Lundkvist who, as it turned out, was staying at the same hotel. After their holidays they began to correspond and on 12 December 1936 they married in a civil ceremony at Copenhagen town hall.
As Maria Wine put it in Skuggan av molnet, published in 1984: “It was you who awoke the dormant poet within me”. She returns to Lundkvist’s significance with regard to this awakening in Minnena vakar and in later poetry collections. Her debut collection, entitled Vinden ur mörkret, was published in 1943, and two years later she released Naken som ljuset. She very soon developed a particular approach and specific use of themes which chiselled out the vulnerability of life – as a child, as a woman, and finally, as a human being. The final line of the first poem in her debut collection sets the tone: “jag räcker tveksamt handen åt livet” (“I mistrustingly reach out my hand towards life”). The level of intensity only increases in her second collection of poems and the fragility of existence becomes even more tangible.
A number of motifs to which Maria Wine stays loyal throughout her writing become apparent at an early point: the child, childhood, the woman, longing, dreaming, and love. The motif of love is clearly addressed to another, a “you”, albeit this “you” is not always the beloved but can just as easily be the narrator’s voice which is engaged in a dialogue with itself.
By displaying the power to act, revealing dreams or longing, Maria Wine’s poems often point towards a future in which “reality” is coerced. However, the motif of childhood also turns the poems towards the past. It is similarly clear that the moment is of tangible importance in her work. The use of these three timeframes reveal an existential complex of issues in which the different timeframes often merge into each other and generate uncertainty in the face of life.
As was common to many modernists the essence of poetry is a recurring theme of Maria Wine’s writing. To her poetry appears to have served as a homebase without which life seemed impossible. Poetry calls to her, draws her in, serving as a protective blanket against the fragility of existence. Her 1975 collection called Nattlandia describes poetry as “our third life-giving lung”. Poetry is sometimes presented as life itself, whilst reality appears as a faltering dream which – just like life – is always unprepared. Where many modernists’ poems are forceful and clawing, biting and tearing, Maria Wine’s poetry is softer, lacking in thorns, as she herself says in Utan längan – inget liv, published in 1997.
Maria Wine remained faithful to certain motifs but her style became more nuanced over time. It adopted a clearer severity in its fight against life. With the passage of time new motifs emerged as well, not least those of death and aging, and in her last poetry collection Maria Wine writes “ännu har jag / inte slutat att / kämpa för / Livet, / kämpa för / dikterna” (I still / have not ceased / fighting for / Life, / fighting for / the poems), an expression of closure which places life on a par with writing poetry.
Although Maria Wine was at home within the poetic world she also produced pieces of prose based on autobiographical material, such as the aforenoted Man har skjutit ett lejon and Minnena vakar, travelogues such as the 1956 Munspel under molnen and the 1976 Resor i glädje och fruktan, a short-story collection called En bortkastad ros published in 1958, her 1963 prose self-portrait Jag i andra, and shorter prose pieces in Svarta serenader, published in 1967.
Maria Wine’s poems often begin from a position of loneliness. This brave position of vulnerability forces her to pose the simple questions revealing the narrator as human. These questions are rarely answered; they usually stop at focusing on the implied frailty of human existence.
Maria Wine passed away on 22 April 2003 in Solna. She is buried at Solna Cemetery.