Authors: Harry Martinson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Swedish poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Spökskepp, 1929

Nomad, 1931

Natur, 1934

Passad, 1945

Cikada, 1953

Aniara: En revy om människan i tid och rum, 1956 (Aniara: A Review of Man in Time and Space, 1963, complete translation 1988)

Gaesen i Thule, 1958

Vagnen, 1960

Dikter om ljus och mörker, 1971

Tuvor, 1973

Wild Bouquet, 1985

Long Fiction:

Vägen till Klockrike, 1948 (The Road, 1955)

Drama:

Lotsen fran Moluckas, pb. 1938

Tre knivar från Wei, pb. 1964

Nonfiction:

Resor utan mål, 1932

Kap Farväl, 1933 (Cape Farewell, 1934)

Nässlorna blomma, 1935 (Flowering Nettle, 1936 autobiography)

Vägen ut, 1936

Svärmare och harkrank, 1937

Midsommardalen, 1938

Det enkla och det svåra, 1939

Verklighet til döds, 1941

Utsikt från en grästuva, 1963

Biography

Harry Edmund Martinson (MAHR-teen-sawn) was born on May 6, 1904, in Jämshög, Sweden, the son of Martin and Betty Olofsson. His father, a former seaman who was habitually drunk and often violent, died of tuberculosis when Harry was six. Harry’s mother then fled to the United States, leaving six of her seven children behind. Harry never saw her again. The children were sent to various farms as unpaid workers. After running away from one farm after another, Harry was assigned to an old-age home. The affection of the female superintendent there, along with a teacher’s encouragement, enabled Harry to survive until, at sixteen, he joined the crew of a seagoing schooner. His eight years at sea would provide the material for two of his prose works.{$I[A]Martinson, Harry}{$I[geo]SWEDEN;Martinson, Harry}{$I[tim]1904;Martinson, Harry}

After a bout with tuberculosis, Martinson returned to Sweden, where he led a hand-to-mouth existence, trying to peddle his poems to magazine editors. In 1929, his luck changed. His poems were included in a popular collection; his first book, Spökskepp, was published; and he married the novelist Moa Swartz. Their eleven-year relationship would be stormy but intellectually challenging.

Like his fellow primitivists, Martinson valued instinct, inspiration, energy, and freedom, but because of his class consciousness and his passion for social justice, he was classified as a proletarian writer. Martinson attended the All-Russia Congress of Writers in 1934 and left horrified by what he had seen: a society built on fear, injustice, and dehumanizing technology. He put his new convictions into practice by becoming a courier for the Finns after Russia invaded Finland in 1939.

In 1940, Martinson and his wife divorced. Two years later, he married Ingrid Lindcrantz. They would have two daughters. Although Martinson now had a happy home life, he suffered from tuberculosis that flared up periodically, and, from the time that the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945, he worried about what he feared was humanity’s rush toward self-destruction.

However, Martinson was not yet ready to give up hope. In 1948, he published The Road, the story of a much-persecuted man who was sustained by his love of nature, his faith in humanity, and his capacity for forgiveness. Martinson’s readers were enthusiastic. This book was responsible for Martinson’s being elected to the Swedish Academy in 1949.

Martinson’s last success was the epic poem Aniara, a science-fiction story about a spaceship full of survivors after Earth has been destroyed by radiation. Aniara was as much a celebration of life as a warning about the future, and both the poem and the opera later adapted from it were highly successful. After Aniara, however, Martinson rapidly lost his reading audience. The public resented his attacks on everything they thought of as progress; they did not want to hear that they were being enslaved by machines and especially by cars, which Martinson insisted were destroying the countryside. Moreover, Martinson could no longer depend on the support of the intellectual community, which did not approve of his attacks on Marxism. During the last two decades of his life, he became increasingly bitter, and though he continued to write, he seldom chose to publish. When Martinson was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1974, even in his own country many had never heard of him.

The late 1980’s and the 1990’s, however, saw a revival of interest in Harry Martinson. New translations of his works and new critical studies appeared, and once again he was being applauded for the very qualities that were mentioned when he won the Nobel Prize: his linguistic skill, his love of nature, his humanistic values, and his cosmic vision.

BibliographyBarnie, John. No Hiding Place: Essays on the New Nature and Poetry. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996. Martinson’s life and work are discussed at length in this thoughtful study. Includes bibliography.Graves, Peter, and Philip Holms. “Harry Martinson.” In Essays on Swedish Literature from 1880 to the Present Day, edited by Irene Scobbie. Aberdeen, Scotland: University of Aberdeen, 1978. A good introduction to Martinson, with a thorough analysis of Aniara.Hall, Tord. Introduction to Aniara: A Review of Man in Time and Space, by Harry Martinson. Adapted and translated by Hugh McDiarmid and Elspeth Harley Schubert. New York: Avon Books, 1976. Praises Aniara as a unique blend of science, science fiction, and poetic expression.Sandelin, Stefan. Harry Martinson, Nässlorna blomma. Hull, England: University of Hull, 1987. A critical assessment of Martinson’s autobiography.Smith, Scott Andrew. “The Role of the Emersonian ‘Poet’ in Harry Martinson’s Aniara: A Review of Man in Time and Space.” Extrapolation 39, no. 4 (Winter, 1998): 324-337. A close analysis of Aniara indicates that the work deserves far more critical attention than it has received.
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