Harry Martinson

by Harry Edmund Martinson

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Leif SjöBerg

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490


It remains to be seen if even a very considerable author like Harry Martinson will be able to make an impression on the English-speaking literary world—and, if not, it is not at all his fault …, yet it is beyond any discussion that he has been of great importance to the Swedish (and Scandinavian) literary world. Indeed, he has helped form a specific consciousness for an entire generation of his compatriots at large and not just the literary gourmets. (p. 478)

The storyline of The Road is occasionally extremely thin, and miraculously, as in folk tales, sometimes it disappears and becomes entirely invisible. What made The Road such a great success in Scandinavia and such an average affair in the English-speaking world? Part of the answer, no doubt, is Martinson's poetic language. He is a stylistic innovator comparable to Strindberg and an imaginative coiner of words…. Martinson's assertion that translation is impossible (?) is not entirely an exaggeration. Dealing with facts and subtleties, proceeding with his stories and meditations, in a most leisurely way, Martinson's book cannot possibly be read in a hurry, like an ordinary novel. The Road is a book one must read slowly, with pauses, and to which one must return as to a book of maxims….

Why did Martinson select a tramp as the main character [of The Road]? Possibly because in his rather extensive rovings about the world he had acquired competence as a latterday itinerant and because in vagabond literature he would be allowed liberties with the real world and imagination similar to those enjoyed by so many of his predecessors, from Eichendorff to the later Kerouac.

An additional benefit of employing a "wandering lookout tower," such as Bolle the tramp as protagonist, is that the countryside, the full terrain of the Swedish realm, as it were, can be described through a unique point of view, yielding more intimate geographic information than any geography book. (p. 483)

In Martinson's epic poetic cycle Aniara (1956),… poet-technological man has rejected Earth after having made it uninhabitable. "The possibilities of imagination" had been neglected and rejected: Aniara deals with a journey into outer space, and it is thought to occur in a very distant future. However, as Martinson has pointed out,

this is essentially a pretext. What it offers is above all a vision of our own time, of the life journey through our own emptiness. Its perspectives are those of the expanded afterthought, with the narrator's instrument moved into a symbolic world where the poem's symbols connect with those of natural science….

Through lack of foresight and restraints, or as a result of plain greed, man has left behind him relatively simple, traditional values and delves instead into utilization of a device that turns out to be fatally complex—nuclear power…. (p. 484)

Leif Sjöberg, "Harry Martinson: From Vagabond to Space Explorer," in Books Abroad (copyright 1974 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 48, No. 3, Summer, 1974, pp. 476-85.

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Leif SjöBerg


Michael Meyer