Summery Prose with Harry Martinson’s Juninatten Posted by Chelsea B on Jul 23, 2021 in Culture, Literature, Living in Sweden, News, Swedish Language
It’s July, almost August in fact. And although we’re technically over the Midsommar hump, I feel like summer only just arrived. Long days still fade into mild evenings and the sun sparkles gently as it sets into any of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. This week, I want to share a poem that captures that feeling. Juninatten was written by Nobel Laureate Harry Martinson and voted the favorite summer poem by Dagens Nyheter readers in 2020. This week, we’ll meet Martinson, learn a bit about his truly fascinating life and work, and read the short, but oh-so-sweet poem, Juninatten.
A Rocky Start for Harry Martinson
Harry Martinson was born in 1904 in the southern Swedish province of Blekinge. When Martinson was 6, his father died of tuberculosis and his mother emigrated to the U.S. a year later. Martinson was orphaned with the rest of his siblings. With help from the local parish, he attended school and lived on various farms in the area. In his late teens, he ran away to work as a sailor traveling around the world, embracing a vagabond lifestyle. This most certainly inspired his first collection of poems Spökskepp (“Ghost Ship”) in 1929, and Nomad in 1931.
A Dreamer and a Stargazer
This week’s poem Juninatten was published in the 1953 work Cikada a dedicaion of his love to natural science. Shortly thereafter, he released the epic science fiction poem Aniara: en revy om människan i tid och rum, his international claim to fame. The work depicts the tragedy that occurs when a spaceship of Mars-bound colonists is set off course. This existentialist weaving of space and humanity was a key contributor in his earning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1974, “for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos.” Criticism for his selection as a Nobel Laureate eventually led to Martinson committing suicide in 1978. There’s much more to the story of Harry Martinson, that I won’t go into – read his biography via the Nobel Prize’s website.
In 2020 Dagens Nyheter took a poll of readers’ favorite summer poems. Juninatten won by a landslide. As you read the Swedish version of the poem below, notice first the sentence structure; every line is written in omvänd or flipped word order, or with the subject coming after the verb. For example, Nu går solen.. instead of Solen går nu… Paying close attention to parts of speech with help you decipher this poem. Is the word an adjective, like daggig or an adverb like knappast?
Read the poem a few times, then give it a listen with the link below. Next, look up words you don’t know, and finally, finish by reading the English version. Enjoy!
av Harry Martinson
Nu går solen knappast ner,
bländar bara av sitt sken.
Skymningsbård blir gryningstimme
varken tidig eller sen.
Insjön håller kvällens ljus
glidande på vattenspegeln
eller vacklande på vågor
som långt innan de ha mörknat
spegla morgonsolens lågor.
Juninatt blir aldrig av,
liknar mest en daggig dag.
Slöjlikt lyfter sig dess skymning
och bärs bort på ljusa hav.
Listen to Juninatten narrated in Swedish on Sveriges radio here: https://sverigesradio.se/avsnitt/1729047
The June Night
Now the sun barely goes down
Dimmed only by its own glow.
Twilight’s border becomes the hour of dawn
Neither early nor late.
The lake holds the evening’s light
Gliding on the water’s reflection
Or teetering on the waves which,
long before they have darkened,
Reflect the morning sun’s flames.
The June night never happens
It is more like a dewy day.
Veil-like the dawn lifts itself
and is carried away on the bright sea.
English translation: Jan Alm & Amy Elizabeth Wheeler
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