1974 : Harry Martinson

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1974 : Harry Martinson

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“for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos”



May 6, 1904

Place of birth


Jamshog, Sweden



February 11, 1978

Place of death


Stockholm, Sweden



Writer, Poet




Notable award(s)


Nobel Prize in Literature 1974

[1/2 of the prize]


He loses his young parents (his mother, widow, abandoned at the age of six years starting in the USA) and is placed by the municipality to farmers under a system of auction humiliating. He knows the misery and decides to commit to 16 years on a boat. He spent the next seven years traveling around the world, including Brazil and India. After health problems (tuberculosis), he settled permanently in Sweden (1927), where it sometimes leads a life of wandering, and began to publish poems in various newspapers. It is the world’s knowledge and dispossession that transcribes in his books. All his work is touring around the ideal of social justice. In 1929 he married at Moa Martinson, a Swedish writer, met with the Editor of anarchist Brand. They divorced in 1940 because of various personal and political particular vis-a-vis the USSR. He married Ingrid Lindcrantz in 1942. He participates in August 1934 at the congress of writers in Moscow – travel in fashion among writers of the time left – but does not support the imposition of socialist realism championed by Maxim Gorky he sees as anemia. He won his greatest popular success with the autobiographical account of his childhood in two volumes, Nasslorna BLOMMA (Even nettles flourish), 1935 and Vagen ut (you should), in 1936. This book was subsequently translated into over 30 languages. His poetry is the most famous Aniara, published in 1956, opera set in 1959 by Karl-Birger Blomdahl and whose main characters (Isagel, Chefone, Libidel) are known to all Swedish. The publication in 1960 of his book Vagnen (the car) harshly criticizing the car symbol of modern civilization is very coldly received by critics and the public. Martinson decided not to publish his texts. This does not receive in 1974, Eyvind Johnson with another proletarian writer, the Nobel Prize in literature. This price widely criticized by the Swedish intelligentsia of the day, the isolation even more and it made a suicide attempt which he released seriously injured. He died shortly after in 1978 in his home Gnesta. Martinson is one of the most famous Swedish writer of the twentieth century, always read in his country. He renewed the literature of the time through a inventive style and a watchful eye on the world (including ignored).


Works in Swedish:

  • Spokskepp – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1929

  • Nomad – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1931

  • Resor utan mal – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1932

  • Kap Farval! – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1933

  • Natur – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1934

  • Nasslorna blomma – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1935

  • Vagen ut – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1936

  • Svarmare och harkrank – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1937

  • Midsommardalen – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1938

  • Det enkla och det svara – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1939

  • Verklighet till dods – Stockholm : Norstedt, 1940

  • Den forlorade jaguaren – Stockholm : Norstedt, 1941

  • Passad – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1945

  • Vagen till Klockrike – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1948

  • Lotsen fran Moluckas : ett horspel om den portugisiske sjofararen Magellans varldsomsegling 1519-1522 – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1948

  • Elin Wagner : intradestal i Svenska akademien – Stockholm : Norstedt, 1949

  • Cikada – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1953

  • Aniara : en revy om manniskan i tid och rum – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1956

  • Grasen i Thule – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1958

  • Vagnen – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1960

  • Utsikt fran en grastuva – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1963

  • Bestiarium : omfattande djur och faglar fran alla jordens lander / Harry Martinsons och Bjorn von Rosens Bestiarium – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1964

  • Tre knivar fran Wei – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1964

  • Dikter om ljus och morker – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1971

  • Tuvor – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1973

  • Langs ekots stigar : ett urval efterlamnade dikter – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1978

  • Blekinge – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1978

  • Doriderna : efterlamnade dikter och prosastycken / i urval och med foretal av Tord Hall – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1980

  • Mellan pelarna. – Stockholm : Sallsk. Bokvannerna, 1983

  • Bollesagor : ur det efterlamnade materialet till Vagen till Klockrike / sammanst. och efterskrift av Ingalisa Munck – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1983

  • Kaserier pa allvar – Stockholm : Sallsk. bokvannerna, 1984

  • Gyro. – Stockholm : Jord-eco, 1986

  • Ur de tusen dikternas bok / urval, inledning och kommentarer av Stefan Sandelin – Lund : Ellerstrom, 1986

  • Kring Aniara / sammanstalld och kommenterad av Stefan Sandelin – Sodra Sandby : Vekerum, 1989

  • Hav och resor : lyrik och prosa ur tidningar och tidskrifter / urval, inledning och kommentar av Stefan Sandelin. – Sodra Sandby : Vekerum, 1992

  • Skillingtrycket och Vildgasresan / sammanstalld av Stefan Sandelin – Sodra Sandby : Vekerum, 1994

  • Gringo ; Salvation : tva radiopjaser – Sodra Sandby : Vekerum, 1995

  • Jordenruntresan – Sodra Sandby : Vekerum, 2003

  • Poetiska tornbuskar i mangd : brev 1929-1949 – Stockholm : Bonnier, 2004

Translations into English:

  • Cape Farewell / translated by Naomi Walford – London : Cresset, 1934

  • Flowering Nettle / translated by Naomi Walford – London : Cresset, 1936

  • The Road / translated by M. A. Michael – London : Cape, 1955

  • Aniara : a Review of Man in Time and Space / translated by Hugh MacDiarmid and Elspeth Harley Schubert – New York : Knopf, 1963

  • Wild Bouquet : Nature Poems / translated, and with an introduction, by William Jay Smith and Leif Sjoberg – Kansas City, Mo. : BkMk Press, cop. 1985

  • Views From a Tuft of Grass / translated from the Swedish by Lars Nordstrom and Erland Anderson – Kobenhavn : Green Integer, 2005


1974: Nobel Prize in Literature (shared with Eyvind Johnson).


Have you seen a tramp collier …

Have you seen a tramp collier come out of a hurricane—

with broken booms, gunwales shot to pieces,

crumpled, gasping, come to grief—

and her captain gone all hoarse?

Snorting, she puts in at the sunlit wharf,

exhausted, licking her wounds

while the steam thins in her boilers.

From Listener

I was small in the listening days.

At late harvests toothless mouths told

of leprous marsh-spot in the seed and

the bitter bloom of ergot on the rye.

I grew cold at my childhood hearth

The Visions

With fright in their eyes

the soldiers of salvation beheld

from the helmeted observatory tower: the heavenly harps;

the swaying, titanic nebulae

and their chaotic strings of gaseous gold.

Far off in the boundless crystal of places beyond time

where thought in fright

can plunge everlastingly through millennia

stirred the gaslike golden bowers of the harps

effervescing in Sagittarius.

Visit to the observatory

We viewed a nebula inside a tube.

To us a golden herd of mist it seemed.

In larger tubes it might have gleamed

as suns in thousands in their boundless space.

Our dizziness of mind imagined

that it rose, high up from war on earth,

from time and space—our life’s naivety—

to new dimensions in their majesty.

There no law rules of this life’s type.

There laws rule for the world where worlds abound.

There the suns roll out till they are ripe

and deep in the hearth of every sun resound.

Suns in plenitude are present there.

And there, to cosmic law, each sun pulsates

in larger suns’ unfathomable blaze.

And there all is brightness and the daylight of all days.

From Li Kan speaks beneath the tree

Waves from all upheavals turn swiftly old

and paths from all upheavals soon become highroads.

What is left is a longing for something not

the wheel of appetites or revenges.

Man is best when he wishes good he cannot do

and stops breeding evil he finds easier to do.

He will still have a direction. It will have no end in view.

It is free from unsparing endeavor.

Li Ti’s Advice

If you own two coppers, said Li-Ti on a journey,

buy one loaf of bread and one blossom.

The bread is there to fill you

The blossom you buy is to tell you

that life is worth the living.

The electrons

With their round dance the electrons spin

chrysalises of that which abides,

the inmost cocoons

which do not open of their own accord

but are of that which abides.

There it is not a matter of hatching out.

There it is a matter of tending and protecting

the metamorphoses of the inmost

deeper-down swaying,

the innermost playing of women in dance.

The inner light

In the inmost of the smallest of all spaces

runs a mute and constant play of color, inaccessible to eyes.

It is the light shut in that once in the moment of creation

was born inward and abode there, going on,

once it had broken up into the smallest of spectra

in keeping with prismatic law

at frequencies that by the sighted would be called colors

if they encountered eyes able to see.

It moved in periods

unimaginably small for time and space

but still with time and space enough for the least of the small.

In fact it found it had ample room and time.

It moved in cycles of nanoseconds and microspaces

from white light and the colors of the spectrum and back to white light.

A kind of breathing for light.

The photons breathed and pulsated with one another,

alternating signs and levels.

So the light kept going in spectral balance

from dense light to split

and back to dense light and split,

in spectral cycles infinitely repeated.

It was like a play of fans,

in keeping with the same law that holds for rainbows,

but with spread and folded fans

alternating with one another

in keeping with the law of light inscribed in them.

It was the light when it dances enclosed

when it is not traveling abroad and seen.

It belongs to the nature of light

that it can be shut in

and still not die out in its movement

that it preserves itself thus in the darkness

as thought, intent and aptitude,

that it remembers its changes

and performs its dance, its interplay.

With this art the light keeps together

the innumerable swarms of matter

and sings with light’s spectral wings

the endless song in honor of the fullness of the world.

The great trouble

Nature’s laws are already on the way

to stand us all against the wall.

That wall is law’s own nature.

It is missing an evangel.

That great trouble all of us must share.

Then it will be possible to bear.

The great trouble is to take great trouble.

That is what all of us must learn.

Amid all shoulds and should have beens

there is one must for all.

All must learn to take great trouble with the world.

Now that man has gotten power enough

to bring about the trouble of the world

the time is now

to heal the trouble of the world in time

before all nature has become

everybody’s troubled child.

This is called taking trouble in time.

True trouble

which sees in time to what it sees.

Along the paths of echo

Along the paths of echo backwards.

There the words lie in the chest of their old meanings.

But, sad, so foreign. What is it they are saying, those lips.

They speak of different connections and conditions.

As you listen to them speaking

they form a thing that is also changed by them

spell in a language even farther removed

in still another of the chests

inside the mount of the seven chests

thousands and thousands of years before Babylon.

Presentation Speech:

Presentation Speech by Karl Ragnar Gierow, of the Swedish Academy.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Eyvind Johnson’s education – that is, the education provided by society at that time – ended when he was thirteen and was imparted to him at a little village school north of the Arctic Circle. The future awaiting the young Harry Martinson opened up to him when, at the age of six, as a so-called child of the parish, he was sold by auction to the lowest bidder – that is, to the person who took charge of the forsaken boy for the smallest payment out of parochial funds. The fact that, with such a start in life, both of them have their places on this platform today, is the visible testimony to a transformation of society, which, step by step, is still going on all over the world. With us it came unusually early; it is perhaps our country’s biggest blessing, perhaps, also, its most remarkable achievement during the last thousand years.

Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson did not come alone, nor first. They are representative of the many proletarian writers or working-class poets who, on a wide front, broke into our literature, not to ravage and plunder, but to enrich it with their fortunes. Their arrival meant an influx of experience and creative energy, the value of which can hardly be exaggerated. To that extent they are representative also of the similar breakthrough that has later occurred in the whole of our cultural world. A new class has conquered Parnassus. But if, by a conqueror, we mean the one who gained most from the outcome, then Parnassus has conquered a new class.

To determine an author and his work against the background of his social origin and political environment is, at present, good form. And what is good form is seldom particularly to the point. “Eyvind Johnson’s literary achievement is one of the most significant and characteristic of a very fruitful period in the whole of Europe.” This last sentence is not mine; it was written thirty years ago by Lucien Maury. Even then, the boy from a primary school in a remote village in the far north of Sweden was an experienced and self-assured European, never forgetful of his origin (of which his autobiographical stories provide a lasting document), but still less bound and inhibited by the environment where he took his first steps. International perspective distinguished Eyvind Johnson’s further writings, and it is matched by an equally wide outlook in time, over the destinies and ages of the human race. The renewal of the historical novel which he has carried out on his own, and perhaps exemplified most clearly in great works like Days of His Grace and Steps Towards Silence, is based not only on extensive research but also on a clear-sightedness which, expressed briefly, sets out to show that everything that happens to us has happened before, and everything that took place once in the world is still taking place, recognizable under changed signs, a constant simultaneity of epochs which may be the only wisdom the past can teach us in our attempts to survey the present and divine an era which we have not yet seen.

If, nevertheless, we are to point to a special phase and one particular mental environment whose traces are ineffaceable in Eyvind Johnson’s work with his pen, it is that very period when Lucien Maury discovered that in this Nordic writer, Europe had one of its important intellectuals. The French time analyst described this epoch as very fruitful. What was it that made it so productive? Not favourable conditions, but the indomitable resistance to the conditions that prevailed. D-day had not yet dawned; Nazism still had a stranglehold on Europe. It was in that predicament that Eyvind Johnson spoke out. His attitude was so passionate that its fervour has never since vanished from what he wrote. He retained his European perspective, but, naturally, it was Scandinavia’s liberty that was dearest to him just then. He endorsed his conviction with a handshake across the border. Together with a co-editor on the Norwegian side he was responsible during the occupation years for a mouthpiece of the new Scandinavianism, called – “A Handshake”. As from today the two publishers of that little paper are both Nobel Prizewinners. The name of Eyvind Johnson’s co-editor on the Norwegian side of the frontier was Willy Brandt.

Both Eyvind Johnson and, still more, Harry Martinson have a lot in common with the oldest, and perhaps, greatest of all proletarian writers, the subtly wise and charming author of ingenious fables, Aesop. Like him, they spin webs, capturing you with beguiling words that always contain other, and more, than what they literally say. But the differences between this year’s two literary prizewinners are greater than the similarities. Beside Eyvind Johnson, whose writing is based so very much on his fiercely defended citizenship in a free society, Harry Martinson may appear to be almost a purely asocial individual, the incorrigible vagrant in our literature. No one has succeeded in putting him under lock and key. The philosophic tramp, Bolle, in The Road is, in many ways, the author’s spokesman, and he is not homeless at the gate. He is homeless only when he gets inside four walls. He is the bearer of asocialism as a wish and a principle that brings good luck; he is a vagabond of his own free will, in agreement with life’s sound instincts and in spontaneous revolt against what is trying to stifle them – that which is governed by calculation and established by force. He already has his home; it is beyond and outside, and he is always on the way towards it. From this starting point, though in a different key, we can also conceive the tragically beautiful vision of Aniara, of the spaceship which heads away from an increasingly hostile existence on a frozen earth and itself loses its rudder, cut off from its home port and with its destination lost.

“I don’t want to have real that most people want to have real”, Bolle remarks. In saying this he has also said quite a lot about Harry Martinson’s writing. Realism is to be found there to the extent that it can be called elemental: it is based on the closest familiarity with the four elements. Harry Martinson got to know earth and air as a tramp on the roads, fire and water as a stoker at sea. Yet the world of imagination is more important and more real to him than that of reality. Where realism plods methodically along, his imagination races with the swallow-winged glide of the skater. However, it is not a flight from truth; on the contrary. “We must learn the essential difference between what is factual and what is truth”, he has said. “We have facts everywhere. They whirl in our eyes like sand.” But it is truth we are concerned with, and that is something else. It is a state in nature and in the receptive human being; it is

the good will with presence and peace of mind

to keep watch and to be.

For Harry Martinson fact and fiction are one, and, without any aphoristic hair-splitting, an entire outlook on life is summed up in these pregnant words. The last two, most emphasized, form the simple verb of mere existence: to be. But existence is only fit for human beings if it gives them pleasure, and for that, good will and vigilance are needed. So, in the end, the truth to which this wanderer’s path has led him is a gratitude, round-eyed as a child’s, for the generous life that has constantly given him trials, riddles and joy in good measure.

After this quickly cut-out silhouette of two remarkable literary profiles, it is my very pleasant duty to express the heartfelt congratulations of the Swedish Academy to Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson and to ask them to receive the emblems of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Literature from the hands of His Majesty, the King.

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