Bellman, Carl Michael

   A Swedish lyric poet, Bellman was born into the family of a well-situated, mid-level civil servant and was provided with an education of very good quality. His study of literature included learning how to write poetry, and Bellman eventually wrote more than 1,500 poems. He was placed in several government jobs but did nothing to distinguish himself. In Bellman's day the drinking song was ever present in Swedish life. Many of these songs were written to popular melodies and often parodied other poems and songs. Bellman's achievement consists in taking this humble and unrecognized literary form and raising it to a genre that became impossible to ignore, while in the process creating songs and characters that have become an indispensable part of Sweden's literary and cultural heritage.
   Bellman had the personality of an entertainer, loved to perform, and accompanied himself with a simple string instrument. He was a welcome guest everywhere and even attracted the attention of the Swedish king, Gustav III, who provided him with a financial subsidy. Bellman created a gallery of characters who appeared in his songs, and with his sound background in classical literature and mythology, he structured this group of figures as a parody on classical themes and constantly wove mythological references into the texts of his songs. The appeal of his poems thus consisted not only in the characters and situations that are described in them, but also in the surprising and humorous similarities and contrasts that arise between his Stockholm characters and situations and their classical literary and mythological frame of reference. Some of Bellman's characters are the prostitute Ulla Winblad, a tavern musician, a wig maker, a corporal, and so on. The patron saint of the whole enterprise was a watchmaker named Fredman who had lost his social respectability and finally drunk himself to death.
   Two volumes of poems and songs were published during Bellman's lifetime. Fredmans epistlar (1790; Fredman's Epistles) was presented as epistles sent by Fredman to his fellow devotees of Bacchus, the ancient god of wine. Fredmans sangar (1791; Fredman's Songs) had little connection with Fredman himself; one should perhaps regard Fredman as a kind of trademark that Bellman had established for himself.
   King Gustav III had literary and cultural interests and collaborated with many of the men of letters of the age. His attempt to enlist Bellman in his royal cultural enterprise was largely unsuccessful, for Bellman's talent seemed limited to the mode of expression that he had chosen for himself. However, Bellman is remembered as the most brilliant among the Gustavian poets.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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