Thursday, October 21

Summer Prose with Juninatten by Harry Martinson

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

It is July, almost August in fact. And although technically we are on the Midsummer hump, I feel like summer has just come. Long days still fade into mild afternoons and the sun gently shines when it sets on 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 Favorite Summer Poem by Today news readers in 2020. This week, we’ll meet Martinson, learn a little about his truly fascinating life and work, and read the short, but so sweet poem, Juninatten.

A difficult start for Harry Martinson

Harry Martinson was born in 1904 in the southern Swedish province of Blekinge. When Martinson was 6 years old, his father died of tuberculosis and his mother immigrated to the United States a year later. Martinson was orphaned with the rest of his siblings. With the help of 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 the world, adopting a vagabond lifestyle. This certainly inspired his first collection of poems. Ghost ship (“Ghost Ship”) in 1929, and Nomadic in 1931.

A dreamer and a Stargazer

This week’s poem Juninatten was published in the 1953 work Cicada a dedication of your love to the natural sciences. Soon after, he released the sci-fi epic poem. Aniara: a magazine about man in time and space, his international claim to fame. The play describes the tragedy that occurs when a settler spacecraft bound for Mars veers off course. This existentialist fabric of space and humanity was a key factor in winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1974, “for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos. “Criticism of his selection as a Nobel Prize winner eventually led to Martinson committing suicide in 1978. There is much more to the Harry Martinson story that I will not go into. Read his bio through Nobel Prize website.


In 2020 Dagens Nyheter conducted a survey of readers’ favorite summer poems. Juninatten won by a landslide. As you read the Swedish version of the poem below, first look at the sentence structure; each line is written in counter or the order of the words reversed, or with the subject that comes after the verb. For instance, Now the sun is setting … instead of The sun is going now … Paying close attention to the parts of the speech will help you decipher this poem. Is the word an adjective, like daggig or an adverb like hardly?

Read the poem a few times and then listen to it with the link below. Next, look up words you don’t know, and finally finish reading the English version. Enjoy!


by Harry Martinson

Now the sun is barely setting
it simply dazzles with its brilliance.
The twilight frontier turns to dawn
neither early nor late.

The lake has the evening light
sliding on the water mirror
or swaying in the waves
so long before they got dark
reflects the flames of the morning sun.

June night never goes away
most resemble a wet day.
Slowly its twilight rises
and washed away by shining seas.

Listen to Juninatten narrated in Swedish on Sveriges radio here:

English version

June night

Now the sun is barely setting
Dimmed only by its own brightness.
The twilight frontier becomes the time of dawn
Neither early nor late.

The lake has the evening light
Gliding on the reflection of the water
Or reeling on the waves that,
long before they have darkened,
It reflects the flames of the morning sun.

June night never passes
It’s more like a wet day.
Like a veil, the dawn rises
and is carried away by the shining sea.

Translation in English: Jan Alm and Amy Elizabeth Wheeler

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