Mats Ekman

Mats Ekman (12 III 1865 – 13 III 1934) was an Estonian-Swedish poet.

Ekman was born on Ätsve farm in Noarootsi parish in Läänemaa County. According to the name of his birth farm, he was known by the nickname Ätsve Mats. At the age of three, he caught poliomyelitis, after which his right hand remained paralysed for the whole life. Therefore, he was not able to do usual farm work. In his young days, he herded cattle and horses, later worked as a postman. Ekman’s education was limited to three winters at Höbring school in Noarootsi parish. As an adult, he educated himself somewhat by reading books. He never left his home area and spent the end of his life at Riguldi home for the elderly.

Forty-five Mats Ekman’s poems have preserved. They are written in the archaic Noarootsi dialect of the Swedish language. Along with Swedish dialect words, a few Estonian words occur here and there. Ekman’s poems are written in rhymed quatrains. They describe the village life of Swedes residing on the western coast of Estonia. The author’s treatment is humorous, sometimes satirical. Several poems are dedicated to the beautiful scenery of his homeplace, also to his childhood, e.g., Ekman’s best-known poem Båndomstien eller Ungdomsminne (‘Childhood Time or Memory of Youth’).

Ekman’s poetry is not likely to have any outside literary influences. In his own words, he received the initial boost for writing poetry when he heard young men conscripted to the Tsarist army singing when they left their home village.

In Ekman’s lifetime, only a few Swedish intellectuals could see lasting value in his poems. Twelve of his poems were published in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1924. In Swedish, the term bygdeskald (rural poet) is used about Mats Ekman. His poems contribute to better understanding of the life of Estonian-Swedish peasantry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Thanks to their simple rhythm and sonority, several Ekman’s poems have been set to music. In 2005, a collection of Mats Ekman’s poems and songs, Prästn e vargskall (‘Pastor Hunting for Wolves’), was published in Stockholm. The texts are provided in both literary Swedish and the Estonian-Swedish dialect. Songs are published with musical notation. In February 2011, a CD was recorded in the studio of Radio Sweden with 11 Mats Ekman’s songs and two poems.

L. P. (Translated by I. A.)

Books in Swedish

Prästn e vargskall: dikter. Torshälla: Recreo förlag, 2005, 181 pp.