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Harry Martinson

Harry Martinson
File:20120807084529!Martinson, Harry i VJ 1943.jpg
Harry Martinson in the early 1940s.
Born (1904-05-06)6 May 1904
Jämshög, Sweden
Died 11 February 1978(1978-02-11) (aged 73)
Stockholm, Sweden
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Literature
1974 (shared with Eyvind Johnson)
Spouses Moa Martinson (1929–1940)
Ingrid Lindcrantz

Harry Martinson (6 May 1904 – 11 February 1978) was a Swedish author, poet and former sailor. In 1949 he was elected into the Swedish Academy. He was awarded a joint Nobel Prize in Literature in 1974 together with fellow Swede Eyvind Johnson "for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos".[1] The choice was controversial, as both Martinson and Johnson were members of the academy and had partaken in endorsing themselves as laureates.

He has been called "the great reformer of 20th century Swedish poetry, the most original of the writers called 'proletarian'."[2]


Martinson was born in Jämshög, Blekinge County in south-eastern Sweden.[3] At a young age he lost both his parents whereafter he was placed as a foster child (Kommunalbarn) in the Swedish countryside.[3] At the age of sixteen Martinson ran away and signed onto a ship to spend the next years sailing around the world visiting countries such as Brazil and India.[3]

The headstone on Martinson's grave in Silverdal, Sollentuna - north of Stockholm

A few years later lung problems forced him to set ashore in Sweden[4]where he travelled around without a steady employment, at times living as a vagabond on country roads.[3] In the city of Malmö, at the age of 21, he was arrested for vagrancy.

In 1929, he debuted as a poet. Together with Artur Lundkvist, Gustav Sandgren, Erik Asklund and Josef Kjellgren he authored the anthology Fem unga (Five Youths),[5] which introduced Swedish Modernism. His poetry combined an acute eye for, and love of nature, with a deeply felt humanism.[6][7] His popular success as a novelist came with the semi-autobiographical Nässlorna blomma (Flowering Nettles) in 1935, about hardships encountered by a young boy in the countryside. It has since been translated into more than thirty languages. From 1929 to 1940, he was married to Moa Martinson, whom he met through a Stockholm anarchist newspaper Brand.[2] He travelled to the Soviet Union in 1934.[2][3] He and Moa were divorced due to her criticism of his lack of political commitment.[2] Moa became a writer; Harry married Ingrid Lindcrantz (1916–1994) in 1942.[2][3]

One of his most famous works is the poetic cycle Aniara, which is a story of the space craft Aniara that during a journey through space loses its course and subsequently floats on without destination. The book was published in 1956 and became an opera in 1959 composed by Karl-Birger Blomdahl.[8][9] The cycle has been described as "an epic story of man's fragility and folly".

He took his life on 11 February 1978 at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm by cutting his stomach open with a pair of scissors.[10] The 100th anniversary of Martinson's birth was celebrated around Sweden in 2004.[11]


The joint selection of Eyvind Johnson and Martinson for the Nobel Prize in 1974 was very controversial as both were on the Nobel panel. Graham Greene, Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov were the favoured candidates that year.

The sensitive Martinson found it hard to cope with the criticism following his award, and committed suicide.[2]


Titles in English where known.


  1. ^ The Nobel Prize in Literature 1974
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Harry Martinson" (in French). Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Harry Martinson in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon
  4. ^ Harry Martinson: From Vagabond to Space Explorer by Leif Sjöberg. Books Abroad, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Summer, 1974), pp. 476-485. Published by: Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma.
  5. ^ Kumm, Bjorn (12 December 1991). "Obituary: Artur Lundkvist". The Independent (London). p. 13. 
  6. ^ "Harry Martinson - Biographical". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 4 March 2015.
  7. ^ Albert Bonniers Förlag
  8. ^ Stefan Johansson: 50-åring ur kurs når ännu fram, Svenska Dagbladet Kultur 14 February 2014
  9. ^ Petri Liukkonen: Harry Martinson (1904–1978) (Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto, 2008)
  10. ^ Lars Gyllensten: Minnen, bara minnen (Stockholm, Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2000), ISBN 9100571407
  11. ^ Harry Martinson-sällskapets material

External links

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Elin Wägner
Swedish Academy,
Seat No.15

Succeeded by
Kerstin Ekman

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