Presentation Speech by Per Hallström, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, at its regular meeting on December 14, 1939
The diploma of a Nobel Prize has just been given to you and you have heard the reasons which led the Swedish Academy to accord this distinction to your literary work. These reasons are very briefly stated on this parchment, but you have been deprived of the many homages which would have been paid you at the ceremony of the distribution of the Nobel Prizes.
These homages you will find equally in our company, in the simplicity characteristic of our gatherings, but with the same warmth as that which you would have received in the festival room on the day of the ceremony. None of us knows your Finnish language; we have been able to appreciate your works only in the translations, but no doubt exists about your mastery as a writer. This mastery is so great that it appears clearly even in a foreign attire. Simple, brief, objective, without the least affectation, your language flows with the clarity of a spring and reflects what your artist’s eye has seized. You have chosen your motifs with the greatest delicacy and, one could almost say, with a sort of timidity before what is immediately beautiful. You wish to create beauty from what exists in everyday nature, and the manner in which you can do it often remains your secret. It is not at the writer’s desk that one sees you work but before the easel of the watercolourist, and, over your shoulder, one often accustoms one’s eye to see in a new manner. Sometimes, when painting spaces and clouds in the light of a summer day, you forget the fear that you have of a too favourable motif and you then employ the musical art with the hand of a master. This characteristic trait, your fondness for the simple and the typical, you show also in your description of man. This description takes pleasure in rendering the everyday life of the peasants, strongly attached to the earth from which it draws its strength. When it is a question of deeds, you show an equal mastery, and the effect is produced only with the simplest means.
Concerning your most celebrated work, you have said some words which no one else could have found: «Everything that touches Silja is generally of a magnificent insignificance.» No artist can go farther in the desire to remain respectfully faithful to the reality of things. Thus you have represented your people, without the least finery.
At the present moment, even the name of your country is significant everywhere. As simple as you see them, your people find themselves a prey to fateful powers, heroically great in their indomitable courage, faithful to their duty to the very end, to the death which they confront without trembling. In our thanks for what you have given, our thoughts go still further; they go, with all our admiration and the emotion which grips us, to your people, to your nation.