In English

– The multifaceted Martinson
”The centennial commemoration of Harry Martinson – 2004”

The Poet

Harry Martinson is first and foremost a great poet, with the 1974 Nobel Prize in Literature as testimony to his calibre and standing. His lyric poetry is love d by the Swedish people. Furthermore, he created two works that fairly rapidly liberated themselves from their author, indeed from between the covers of the books in which he had written them. They became independent tales, living lives of their own, legends in their own right, myths people are familiar with without necessarily knowing who created them or having read the books in which they were first told. Not many authors have accomplished this, making a contribution to the world of mythology. But Martinson has done it on two occasions.

One of the works was ”Aniara”, an epic poem about the spaceship in which we flee the destruction of the earth, the spaceship that drifts off course into an endless universe. The other was with Martinson’s own autobiography, the story of the village boy farmed out to the lowest bidder, the lonely child’s meeting with harsh reality with out the protection of the father who die d or the mother who abandoned him. This is also a story many people know with out having read the books in which it is told – ”Flowering Nettle” and ”The Way Out”. That a story follows its own path in this way is a privilege granted only to truly great authors.

Explorer in micro- and macrocosmos

When the Swedish Academy awarded Martinson the Nobel Prize, it was for ”writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos”. His ability to portray life in miniature at eye level with the tufts of grass is unique in Swedish poetry. With an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, he also acquainted himself with advanced modern physics and its consequences for the rapidly changing world. Where science eventually grinds to a halt – because there are no tools for empirical research – Martinson feels at liberty to carry on the search for our innermost truth. Where the nuclear physicist can go no further, Martinson, with the help of his unconfined imagination, can journey on in intriguing investigations into modern scientific phenomena, and not least highlight the direction in which the whole scientifically-based perception of the world and society can force mankind.

Thus, he was able to warn us of the dangers that threatened, the scientific and technological developments that fascinated but alarmed him.

Critic of civilisation

Early in his career, Martinson became a voice warning of the course modern civilisation was taking. At that time there was no place for pessimism and scepticism towards the possibility of changing society to the best of all worlds. Martinson even suggested the world might possibly be heading to its doom.

However angry he may have been about the way in which technology was raping nature, he retained his conviction that nature, the source of life, would nevertheless win the duel in the end. Sometimes – as in ”The Car” – pessimism prevailed. But time and again his poems, which go right to the heart of the hopefulness in our souls, come back to the powers of nature that have shaped our lives through the centuries.


From just under the surface of the subtle issues and matter that science addresses, moral dimensions are plainly visible. Are these developments we humans want? Are the powers of modern science and the industriaI society in harmony with man’s deeper inner needs? Can natural science – or science in general – provide genuine answers to our questions about life? What view of life values, thus far regarded as inviolable, is waiting round the time-corner if science and technology are allowed to continue to domi­nate human thinking unchallenged? By asking himself this type of question, Martinson became – and remains today ­an eminent social philosopher.

This outline embraces questions that were part of Harry Martinson’s spiritual cosmos of wonder, fear and hope. When we are planning the many events in this great culturaI celebration to commemorate Harry Martinson, we would like to relate them to his genuine concern for Mot­her Earth. From a brilliant life’s work within contemporary Swedish cultural history materialises the awareness, resolve, and imagination that could mean a better future for mankind and for all cultures.

Harry Martinson Society, 1 March 80, 752004


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