About Harry Martinson

Harry Martinson (1904-1978), a prolific writer of nonfiction, fiction, plays, and poetry, was born in Jamshog, a village in southeastern Sweden. After his father’s death in 1910 and his mother’s subsequent abandonment of the family and emigration to America, Martinson grew up in—and ran away from—a series of foster homes on farms. At sixteen, he went to sea, working on and off ships in Europe, India, and the Americas for seven years, until he contracted tuberculosis and returned to Sweden. His illness cured, Martinson began to write, drawing on his childhood memories and seafaring and nomadic experience and his love and close observation of nature. 

Between 1929 and his death, Martinson published nine volumes of poetry, including a 103-canto epic poem Aniara in 1956, which made him famous. Martinson’s poetry, celebrated for its linguistic originality, innovative constructions, and striking metaphors, reveals a rich realm of ideas and a deeply felt humanism through the prism of nature.  Writer and poet Lars Gyllensten, a member of the Swedish Academy and past chairman of the Nobel Foundation, observed a similarity between Martinson and Swedish botanist Linnaeus in their “deeply original ingenuity” and “sensitive and unconventional alertness and attentiveness” as well as “humorous, unsentimental, and tender identification with the shape and form of every living thing.” Ulf Larsson, Senior Curator at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, notes that Martinson’s “poetry is often grounded in precise, concrete observations which emphasize details” and “his precise observations give a sense of being present at the event. His bold associations contribute to his poetry’s capacity to elicit strong moods. A melding of great visions and exact detail are typical for Martinson.”

[Poet Artur Lundkvist, one of the Fem Unga  (Five Young Ones), a Swedish modernist literary group active in the 1930s, which included Martinson, has pointed out that Martinson’s nature poetry “is singularly Swedish, to the point of being untranslatable.” Nonetheless, English translations of Martinson’s poetry have been published. W. H. Auden translated several that are included in William Jay Smith and Leif Sjoberg’s translations of poems from six of Martinson’s book in Wild Bouquet (1985), and Richard Bly translated selected poems in an anthology of three Swedish poets, Friends, you drank some darkness (1975). A translation of Aniara by Hugh McDiarmid and Elspeth Harley Schubert was published in 1963.] 

In 1949, Martinson became the first self-educated writer from a working-class background to be elected to the Swedish Academy.  He shared the 1974 Nobel Prize for Literature with Eyvind Johnson “for writings that catch the dewdrop and catch the cosmos.”   


Books and Writers. Harry Martinson (1904-1978). http://www..kirjasto.sci.fi/harrymar.html.

Larsson, Ulf, “Harry Martinson: Catching the Dewdrop, Reflecting the Cosmos.” June 4,

   2004. http://www.Nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/articles/larsson/index.html.

Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frangsmyr, Editor Sture Allen,

    World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1993.

Smith, William Jay and Leif Sjoberg, Introduction to Wild Bouquet: Nature Poems by Harry

   Martinson, translated by William Jay Smith and Leif Sjoberg.  Kansas City, MO: BkMk

   Press, 1985.


Translations of Harry Martinson's poems used for Martinson Songs composed by Jan Alm

Scored for voice, piano, harp & string quartet.

Performers: Amy Elizabeth Wheeler & The Martinson Project

Listen to songs

Peregrine Productions & Management