A Poem Without a Title
Updated: Apr 7, 2021
Sometimes profound events come in small measures at unexpected times. A few years ago, one of these came to me in the form of a short untitled poem. The words of the poem read as follows:
A drop fell into the water, Faded out slowly. And the place where it fell Surrounded from wave to wave. What was it that fell? And where did it come from? It was but a life, And but a death that came To win itself a track. Now the water rests once again.
The first time I read this obscure poem without a title, I was intrigued. There was a serene quality to it, a sense of sensitivity and inevitability that touched a nerve. Why didn’t the poem have a title? I wondered about the poet. What emotions led him, or her, to write these poignant words?
My questions prompted me to find out more about the poem and the poet who wrote it. Then, a little research revealed the circumstances that led to the poet’s short reflection on life and death, and they were rather sad.
The poem was written by Hedvig Jensen (1867-1889) a German-born woman who had lived in Denmark. She wrote the poem shortly before she died, scribbling the words in a mixture of Danish, Finnish, and German on a piece of paper. But it was the manner of her death that shocked me. Hedvig was shot by her lover, a Swedish nobleman named Sixten Sparre, as part of a joint suicide pact. Theirs was a case of ‘love on the run.’ He had fallen for Hedvig, but he was married, and he had perceived their situation as hopeless, so he had shot her first, and then took his own life.
Perhaps, her dire circumstance had something to do with the absence of a title. But if she could, I wonder what Hedvig might have called her poem.
Had I written it, I would have called it Eternal Peace.
Today, Hedvig Jensen is better known by her stage name, Elvira Madigan, a beautiful and talented tightrope dancer who performed in a circus. When she died at 22 at the hands of her lover, Elvira left a legacy as a tragic folk heroine, whose life was celebrated by the successful 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan. The film featured Mozart’s masterpiece, the beloved Andante, from his Piano Concerto Number 21. The piece, which has long been one of my favorites, is now widely known as Elvira Madigan’s Theme.
After learning about Hedvig’s life story, I began to admire her poem even more, and it has served as a lasting source of inspiration for me. Based on my own experience, I too can attest to the healing power of writing prose and verses in challenging times. We all experience those times — when the battle has been lost or we have crossed the ‘point of no return.’ When such times are upon us, we have but two choices: fight a losing battle and reach the end in misery, or accept the inevitable with grace, dignity, and honor. No doubt, by writing those soothing words, Hedvig chose the latter.
Here is a good rendition of Elvira Madigan's Theme.