Harry Martinson Michael Meyer - Essay

Harry Edmund Martinson

Michael Meyer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Martinson, now well over seventy, is (or was) a genuine proletarian poet who served for years as a merchant seaman and made his mark in the 1920s and 1930s with splendidly simple yet perceptive poems and prose memoirs, a sort of Swedish W. H. Davies. Sadly, there exists a deep-seated belief among Swedish critics that to achieve top rank a writer must prove himself djupsinnig (literally "deep-minded"), which in practice means writing [a kind of woolly pseudo-philosophy] …, and after the war Martinson turned to this depressing genre, producing novels such as The Road to Klockrike and poems like "Aniara", both of a pretentious emptiness. (But they paid off; had he stayed simple, I am sure he would never have won the Nobel Prize last year.) Fortunately, Mr. Bly [editor and translator of Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf and Tomas Tranströmer: Friends, You Drank Some Darkness] has avoided this side of Martinson's work and stuck to the simple poems, like "Out at Sea":

  At sea you know spring or summer just as a faint wind.
  Sometimes in summer the drifting Florida-weed puts out blossoms,
  Or one spring evening a spoon-billed stork flies in towards Holland.

Michael Meyer, "The Call of the Deep," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1975; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3842, October 31, 1975, p. 1287.∗