Dag Hammarskjöld’s Spirituality Revisited. A Critique of W.H. Auden’s Understanding and Translation of Markings


  • Jan Nylund


After the tragic death of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961 his personal notes, Vägmärken, were translated into English and published in 1964 under the title Markings. The world was surprised that Hammarskjöld apparently had been a devout Christian. This article, seeking to present a spiritual portrait of Hammarskjöld on the basis of a fresh reading of the Swedish original and other material on and by Hammar-skjöld, argues that W.H. Auden’s introduction to and translation of Markings has presented to the world a skewed picture of Dag Hammarskjöld and his inner world. Auden’s foreword demonstrates a lack of under-standing both of Hammarskjöld as a person and the incarnational Christian spirituality of Hammarskjöld. Au-den’s flawed translational procedures as well as his habit of letting his personal life be reflected in his publica-tions resulted in a misrepresentation both of Hammarskjöld as a person and of Markings, which Hammarskjöld had intended as his spiritual portrait for the posterity. In 2014, it is now fifty years since the publication of Auden’s translation of Markings. The shortcomings of Auden’s translation and introduction signal the need for a new translation and a new, fuller and more insightful introduction that takes into account all the new evidence that has become available in the 50 years that have gone by since the publication of Markings.