Harry Martinson

by Harry Edmund Martinson

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Leif SjöBerg

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Hardly ever has a Swedish author led a life more fantastic than that of Harry Martinson; in Swedish literature no exoticism is more captivating than that in his autobiographical books and travelogues; and the tender devotion to Swedish nature expressed in his naturprosa is unsurpassed—which is apparent in such works as Svärmare och harkrank (1937), Midsommardalen (1938), and Det enkla och det svåra (1939)…. In later writings such as Utsikt från en grästuva (View from a Tussock, 1963), the author has still managed to retain the larger, even cosmic, perspectives. (p. 364)

After his autobiographical books Martinson broadened his view of people on earth and became a humanist (in the traditional old European sense) and a scholar. There were ups and downs (especially Verklighet till döds, about the war in Finland, "a subject that was too close") and Den förlorade jaguaren which satirized the hyper-efficiency of contemporary times, his first real novel ("written in too great haste"). But if there is a common denominator in his many-faceted work, it is his belief that everything is interrelated, which is "why one can feel secure in it."… (p. 365)

Martinson the humanist did not neglect the study of the natural sciences. In the essay "Tekniken och själen" ("Technology and the Soul," published in Daedalus, 1955), he admits that he enjoys keeping in touch with scientific developments through books on popular science. (pp. 365-66)

Martinson is aware of the fact that there is a great deal of "kindness" in technology and its servants, and much that is praiseworthy "if you stick to the bright side." Our duty now is to dare see even the darkness, and even to make ourselves familiar with the dark imagination's images of the clouds of destruction….

Martinson's vision of destruction developed over a period of years. The epic poem Aniara, which appeared in 1956, tells the story of a space ship hurtling toward its annihilation in time, a mirror of our space ship earth. Here, from lack of foresight, or as a result of plain greed, man has left behind him simple, traditional research, embarking instead on the utilization of a device that is fatally complex: nuclear power…. It is a modern apocalypse, a poetic revelation of the future: a Völuspá of the twentieth century. (p. 367)

Almost since the atom bomb was exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Martinson has warned us of man's capacity for destruction, in a way that is sometimes reminiscent of Lewis Mumford, whom he has read and still admires. (p. 368)

Martinson considers himself by temperament a romantic, a man of feeling, but with strong attraction for science…. (p. 369)

Leif Sjöberg, "Harry Martinson: Writer in Quest of Harmony," in The American Scandinavian Review (copyright 1972 by The American-Scandinavian Foundation), Vol. LX, No. 4, December, 1972, pp. 360-71.

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Leif SjöBerg