Harry Martinson

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Harry Martinson
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] At the age of 21, he was arrested for vagrancy in Lundagård park, Lund.[5]

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),[6] which introduced Swedish Modernism. His poetry combined an acute eye for, and love of nature, with a deeply felt humanism.[7][8] 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 noted 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.[9][10] The cycle has been described as "an epic story of man's fragility and folly".[citation needed]

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 in what has been described as a "hara-kiri-like manner".[11][12] The 100th anniversary of Martinson's birth was celebrated around Sweden in 2004.[13]


The joint selection of Eyvind Johnson and Martinson for the Nobel Prize in 1974,[2] 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.[11]


Titles in English where known.


  1. "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1974". Nobel Foundation.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "Harry Martinson" (in French). Retrieved 27 March 2012.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Holm, Ingvar. "Harry Martinson". Svenskt biografiskt lexikon. National Archives of Sweden.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Sjöberg, Leif. "Harry Martinson: From Vagabond to Space Explorer". Books Abroad. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma. 48 (3 (Summer, 1974)): 476–485.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Westerström, Jenny (6 January 2010). "Den hemlöse i svensk skönlitteratur efter 1900". Lund University. Retrieved 21 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Kumm, Björn (12 December 1991). "Obituary: Artur Lundkvist". The Independent. London. p. 13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Harry Martinson – Biographical". Nobel Media AB. 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Harry Martinson". Albert Bonniers Förlag.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Johansson, Stefan (31 May 2009). "50-åring ur kurs når ännu fram". www.svd.se. Svenska Dagbladet. Retrieved 14 February 2014. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Liukkonen, Petri. "Harry Martinson". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (help); Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |website= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hansson, Anita (31 August 2000). "Martinson begick harakiri". wwwc.aftonbladet.se. Aftonbladet. Retrieved 21 December 2015. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Gyllensten, Lars (2000). Minnen, bara minnen (in Swedish). Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag. ISBN 91-0-057140-7. LIBRIS 7150260. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Harry Martinson-sällskapets material". www.ediffah.org. Ediffah. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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

Succeeded by
Kerstin Ekman