Harry Martinson

Poetry

English
Swedish

Have you seen a tramp collier …

Have you seen a tramp collier come out of a hurricane—
with broken booms, gunwales shot to pieces,
crumpled, gasping, come to grief—
and her captain gone all hoarse?
Snorting, she puts in at the sunlit wharf,
exhausted, licking her wounds
while the steam thins in her boilers.

By Harry Martinson
From Spökskepp, 1929
Translated by Stephen Klass
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson

 

From Listener

I was small in the listening days.
/- – -/
At late harvests toothless mouths told
of leprous marsh-spot in the seed and
the bitter bloom of ergot on the rye.
I grew cold at my childhood hearth

By Harry Martinson
From Nomad, 1931
Translated by Stephen Klass
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson

 

The Visions

With fright in their eyes
the soldiers of salvation beheld
from the helmeted observatory tower: the heavenly harps;
the swaying, titanic nebulae
and their chaotic strings of gaseous gold.

Far off in the boundless crystal of places beyond time
where thought in fright
can plunge everlastingly through millennia
stirred the gaslike golden bowers of the harps
effervescing in Sagittarius.

By Harry Martinson
From Natur, 1934
Translated by Stephen Klass
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson

 

Visit to the observatory

We viewed a nebula inside a tube.
To us a golden herd of mist it seemed.
In larger tubes it might have gleamed
as suns in thousands in their boundless space.

Our dizziness of mind imagined
that it rose, high up from war on earth,
from time and space—our life’s naivety—
to new dimensions in their majesty.

There no law rules of this life’s type.
There laws rule for the world where worlds abound.
There the suns roll out till they are ripe
and deep in the hearth of every sun resound.

Suns in plenitude are present there.
And there, to cosmic law, each sun pulsates
in larger suns’ unfathomable blaze.
And there all is brightness and the daylight of all days.

By Harry Martinson
From Passad, 1945
Translated by Stephen Klass
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson

 

From Li Kan speaks beneath the tree

Waves from all upheavals turn swiftly old
and paths from all upheavals soon become highroads.
What is left is a longing for something not
the wheel of appetites or revenges.

Man is best when he wishes good he cannot do
and stops breeding evil he finds easier to do.
He will still have a direction. It will have no end in view.
It is free from unsparing endeavor.

By Harry Martinson
From Passad, 1945
Translated by Stephen Klass
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson

 

Li Ti’s Advice

If you own two coppers, said Li-Ti on a journey,
buy one loaf of bread and one blossom.
The bread is there to fill you
The blossom you buy is to tell you
that life is worth the living.

By Harry Martinson
From Gräsen i Thule, 1958
Translated by Stephen Klass
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson

 

The electrons

With their round dance the electrons spin
chrysalises of that which abides,
the inmost cocoons
which do not open of their own accord
but are of that which abides.

There it is not a matter of hatching out.
There it is a matter of tending and protecting
the metamorphoses of the inmost
deeper-down swaying,
the innermost playing of women in dance.

By Harry Martinson
From Dikter om ljus och mörker, 1971
Translated by Stephen Klass
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson

 

The inner light

In the inmost of the smallest of all spaces
runs a mute and constant play of color, inaccessible to eyes.
It is the light shut in that once in the moment of creation
was born inward and abode there, going on,
once it had broken up into the smallest of spectra
in keeping with prismatic law
at frequencies that by the sighted would be called colors
if they encountered eyes able to see.
It moved in periods
unimaginably small for time and space
but still with time and space enough for the least of the small.
In fact it found it had ample room and time.
It moved in cycles of nanoseconds and microspaces
from white light and the colors of the spectrum and back to white light.
A kind of breathing for light.

The photons breathed and pulsated with one another,
alternating signs and levels.
So the light kept going in spectral balance
from dense light to split
and back to dense light and split,
in spectral cycles infinitely repeated.

It was like a play of fans,
in keeping with the same law that holds for rainbows,
but with spread and folded fans
alternating with one another
in keeping with the law of light inscribed in them.
It was the light when it dances enclosed
when it is not traveling abroad and seen.
It belongs to the nature of light
that it can be shut in
and still not die out in its movement
that it preserves itself thus in the darkness
as thought, intent and aptitude,
that it remembers its changes
and performs its dance, its interplay.
With this art the light keeps together
the innumerable swarms of matter
and sings with light’s spectral wings
the endless song in honor of the fullness of the world.

By Harry Martinson
From Dikter om ljus och mörker, 1971
Translated by Stephen Klass
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson

 

The great trouble

Nature’s laws are already on the way
to stand us all against the wall.
That wall is law’s own nature.
It is missing an evangel.
That great trouble all of us must share.
Then it will be possible to bear.
The great trouble is to take great trouble.
That is what all of us must learn.

Amid all shoulds and should have beens
there is one must for all.
All must learn to take great trouble with the world.

Now that man has gotten power enough
to bring about the trouble of the world
the time is now
to heal the trouble of the world in time
before all nature has become
everybody’s troubled child.

This is called taking trouble in time.
True trouble
which sees in time to what it sees.

By Harry Martinson
From Dikter om ljus och mörker, 1971
Translated by Stephen Klass and Carolyn Skantz
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson

 

Along the paths of echo

Along the paths of echo backwards.
There the words lie in the chest of their old meanings.
But, sad, so foreign. What is it they are saying, those lips.
They speak of different connections and conditions.
As you listen to them speaking
they form a thing that is also changed by them
spell in a language even farther removed
in still another of the chests
inside the mount of the seven chests
thousands and thousands of years before Babylon.

By Harry Martinson
From the posthumous collection Längs ekots stigar, 1978
Translated by Stephen Klass and Carolyn Skantz
Published with the permission of Eva Martinson
Poems selected by Ulf Larsson, The Nobel Museum.

To cite this section
MLA style: Harry Martinson – Poetry. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2021. Fri. 25 Jun 2021. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1974/martinson/poetry/>

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