Stig Dagerman started and abandoned many book projects during his years plagued by writing
block. Just before he died, he worked on a novel loosely based on the life in exile of poet Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1793-1866), sometimes referred to as Sweden’s Shakespeare. Almqvist, who also was an educator, radical journalist and Swedenborgian thinker, fled Sweden under a cloud of charges ranging from fraud to attempted murder. For many years, he lived a disguised and impoverished life in the United States where he, among other things and using a pseudonym, reported from the bloody battle of Gettysburg. Rumors flourished around Almqvist’s final fate, one of which was that he had sought death by throwing himself into a volcano on Hawaii.
Dagerman did not intend to write a factual account about Almqvist in exile, but to use Almqvist’s
travels into the bowels of Civil War America, as a way to probe the human condition. Only the prologue of the novel was completed. “A Thousand Years with God” depicts a midnight meeting
between an isolated and tired Creator and the Father of Science (Isaac Newton), where God takes
on the challenge of meeting his creation in the shape of an ordinary human being.
Anita Björk, Stig Dagerman’s second wife, has described how he one early morning in the spring of
1954 wakes her with the typed manuscript in hand … Read BLOG “Anita on Stig”
Dagerman told his publisher that the Almqvist novel was too expansive a project to complete within the time span provided (a couple of months). It was , he said, too big an undertaking, and for him one too important, to rush. But Dagerman’s financial debts to the publishing house were mounting, and no alternative plan for the novel was ever made.
“Time ,” remarks Newton. “A terrible mistake, Sire. Six days, for one thing, was far too long. You should have spent only one day on creation and thereby rid yourself of a dreadful machine. But still time for you is far more terrible than it is for man. A man sees only his friend die. In that same instant he cannot see his friend’s grave transformed into a house, the house into a field and the field in turn to a bloodbath. On the great dial of time man can discern only one numeral. He doesn’t realize that everything has already happened. He is incapable of imagining the history of histories, the birth of the universe, its life and its death, all of it already completed and enclosed in eternity like a ship in a bottle.”
“In a voice that caresses God’s ear, Newton whispers: “I think I have a gift you might value, Sire.”
“What kind of gift?”
“A human life.”
“For what use?”
“To be born and then to die. For only as a mortal, Sire, can you experience time less as a horror than as a law. And only through
law can you touch the heart of the world.”
“Then I will accept your gift.”
– Stig Dagerman, excerpt from ”A Thousand Years with God” in translation by Steven Hartman
About “A Thousand Years with God”
“A mysterious tale about man and his God … If the novel about Almqvist had been completed and the power, that characterizes its first chapter, had been sustained, it would have become Stig Dagerman’s finest oeuvre. He was steadily on the ascent.”
-Olof Lagercrantz, postscript to Stig Dagerman, Norstedts 1985 edition
“An original scenic experiment opens in Stockholm, A Thousand Years with God – one second on earth. Choreographer /and Professor of Dance/ Margaretha Âsberg uses Stig Dagerman and science to raise questions about our existence in a dreamplay about outer and inner space.”
– Svenska Dagbladet, February 14, 2006.
“I was in my 20s – some 50 years ago – when a school friend one evening read parts of the dialogue between God and Newton aloud to me. My friend later became an actor which may explain why the text came to make such a dramatic impression on me. But I knew then and there that those lines would follow me, haunt me, through the rest of my life. And each time I have returned to the text, it has proven to follow my own development and therefore continued to move me.”
– Hans Blomqvist, Director, in email with Lo Dagerman about his adaptation and staging of “Tusen år hos Gud” by Stig Dagerman at Göteborgs Dramatiska Teater, spring 2023.
Translations and Editions
- Swedish: “Tusen år hos Gud”, published posthumously, Norstedts 1954, 1983, 2016.
- English: “A Thousand Years with God, God visits Newton, 1727” . Translation by Steven Hartman, 1998. Not yet published. “God Pays a Visit To Newton, 1727”. Translation by Ulla Nätterqvist-Sawa. Prism International, Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia, October 1986.
“A Thousand Years With the Lord”. Translation by Naomi Walford. Published in the short story collection The Games of Night, The Bodley Head, London; Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1959.
- French: Dieu rend visite à Newton/Les jeux de la nuit, Denoël 1976; “Dieu rend visite à Newton”, Chemin de fer 2009, artwork by Mélanie Delatte-Vogt.
“A THOUSAND YEARS WITH GOD”
PATRIK QVIST, 3 – 27 SEPTEMBER 2009
BELENIUS GALLERY, STOCKHOLM