Aniara (Swedish: Aniara : en revy om människan i tid och rum[1]) is a science fiction poem written by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson in 1956. It was published on 13 October 1956.[2]

by Harry Martinson
Andromeda Galaxy (with h-alpha).jpg
The Andromeda Galaxy was one of the sources that inspired the poem
Genre(s)science fiction
Publication date13 October 1956 (1956-10-13)

Harry Martinson began to write Aniara in 1953 following Soviet Unions nuclear weapon tests and inspired by a view of the Andromeda Galaxy he had seen.[3] The first 29 poems of the cycle was published as Sången om Doris och Mima ("The Song of Doris and Mima") in Martinson's 1953 book Cikada.[4]

Aniara was adapted into a Swedish feature film in 2018.


In a 1997 Swedish edition of Aniara literary scholar Johan Wrede writes that the word Aniara is Harry Martinson's own invention.[5] Martinson came up with the word years before writing the work while reading astronomer Arthur Eddington, then giving it the meaning as the "name for the space in which the atoms moves".[3] A preface to a 2005 Italian edition claims that the title comes from ancient Greek ἀνιαρός, "sad, despairing", plus special resonances that the sound "a" had for Martinson.[2]


According to Aadu Ott and Lars Broman at the International Planetarium Society, Aniara is an effort to "[mediate] between science and poetry, between the wish to understand and the difficulty to comprehend".[6] Martinson translates scientific imagery into the poem: for example, the "curved space" from Einstein's general theory of relativity is likely an inspiration for Martinson's description of the cosmos as "a bowl of glass", according to the Nobel Prize Foundation.[7][8] Martinson also said he was influenced by Paul Dirac.

Structure and contentEdit

The poem consists of 103 cantos and relates the tragedy of a large passenger spacecraft[9] originally bound for Mars with a cargo of colonists from the ravaged Earth. After an accident, the ship is ejected from the Solar System and into an existential struggle. The style is symbolic, sweeping and innovative for its time, with creative use of neologisms to suggest the science fictional setting:

We listen daily to the sonic coins
provided every one of us and played
through the Finger-singer worn on the left hand.
We trade coins of diverse denominations:
and all of them play all that they contain
and though a dyma 1 scarcely weighs one grain
it plays out like a cricket on each hand
blanching here in this distraction-land.

The first 29 cantos of Aniara had previously been published in Martinson's collection Cikada (1953), under the title Sången om Doris och Mima (The Song of Doris and Mima),[2] relating the departure from Earth, the accidental near-collision with an asteroid (incidentally named Hondo, another name for the main Japanese isle where Hiroshima is situated) and ejection from the solar system, the first few years of increasing despair and distractions of the passengers, until news is received of the destruction of their home port (and perhaps of Earth). According to Martinson, he dictated the initial cycle as in a fever after a troubling dream, affected by the Cold War and the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution; in another version, the first 29 cantos were said to be inspired by an astronomic observation of Andromeda Galaxy.[2]

One of the major themes explored is the nature and necessity of art, symbolised by the semi-mystical machinery of the Mima, who relieves the ennui of crew and passengers with scenes of far-off times and places, and whose operator is also the sometimes naïve main narrator. The rooms of Mima, according to Martinson, represent different kinds of life styles or forms of consciousness.[10] The accumulated destruction the Mima witnesses impels her to destroy herself in despair, to which she, the machine, is finally moved by the white tears of the granite melted by the phototurb which annihilates their home port, the great city of Dorisburg. Without the succour of the Mima, the erstwhile colonists seek distraction in sensual orgies, memories of their own and earlier lives, low comedy, religious cults, observations of strange astronomical phenomena, empty entertainments, science, routine tasks, brutal totalitarianism, and in all kinds of human endeavour, but ultimately cannot face the emptiness outside and inside.

In form, the poems are metrical and mostly rhymed, using both traditional and individual forms, several alluding to a wide range of Swedish and Nordic poetry, such as the Finnish Kalevala.


An opera by Karl-Birger Blomdahl also called Aniara premiered in 1959 with a libretto by Erik Lindegren based on Martinson's poem; it was staged in Stockholm, Hamburg, Brussels and Darmstadt, and later in Gothenburg and Malmö.[11]

Swedish musician Kleerup released an album based on Aniara in 2012.

A melding of Aniara and Beethoven's opera Fidelio was staged by the Opéra de Lyon under the direction of American artist Gary Hill in 2013.[12]

The fourth album from the Swedish progressive metal band Seventh Wonder called The Great Escape is based on Aniara, the title track last 30:21 minutes and relates all the poem from beginning to end.

Aniara (1960), a Swedish TV film directed by Arne Arnbom, written by Erik Lindegren and Harry Martinson, and starring Margareta Hallin, Elisabeth Söderström, Erik Sædén and Arne Tyrén. The music was composed by Karl-Birger Blomdahl.

Aniara, a 2018 Swedish feature film by directors Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, starring Emelie Jonsson, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival that year.[13]

A choral theatre work with The Crossing, Helsinki’s Klockriketeatern, and composer Robert Maggio was performed in 2019.[14]


Aniara was translated into English as Aniara, A Review of Man in Time and Space by Hugh MacDiarmid and E. Harley Schubert[10] in 1956. It was translated again into English by Stephen Klass and Leif Sjöberg for a 1999 edition. The book is not currently in print.


Theodore Sturgeon, reviewing a 1964 American edition for a genre audience, declared that "Martinson's achievement here is an inexpressible, immeasurable sadness. [It] transcends panic and terror and even despair [and] leaves you in the quiet immensities, with the feeling that you have spent time, and have been permanently tinted, by and with an impersonal larger-than-God force."[15]


In December 2019 the extrasolar planet HD 102956 b was named after a character aboard the spacecraft, the pilot Isagel, as part of the IAU NameExoWorlds project. The exoplanet's star was named Aniara.[16][17]


  1. ^ "Harry Martinson – Bibliography". Martinson's bibliography at Nobel Foundation's website
  2. ^ a b c d Preface to Martinson, Harry; Maria Cristina Lombardi, ed. (2005). Aniara. Odissea nello spazio. Scheiwiller. ISBN 88-7644-481-5.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link), the Italian edition of Aniara.
  3. ^ a b TOMAS BANNERHED: Hur kunde det gå så snett? Expressen 22 November 2019 (in Swedish)
  4. ^ Harry Martinson Cikada, Albert Bonniers förlag 1953
  5. ^ Harry Martinson Aniara, Albert Bonniers förlag 1997
  6. ^ Ott, Aadu; Broman, Lars (1988). "Aniara: On a Space Epic and its Author". International Planetarium Society, Inc.
  7. ^ "Harry Martinson: Catching the Dewdrop, Reflecting the Cosmos". Nobel Foundation.
  8. ^ From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1993
  9. ^ Andersson, Karl-Olof (2003). Harry Martinson: naturens, havens och rymdens diktare [Harry Martinsson: poet of nature, sea and space] (in Swedish). Stockholm: Bilda i samarbete med Harry Martinson-sällsk. p. 123. ISBN 91-574-7688-8. LIBRIS 9199287.
  10. ^ a b Liukkonen, Petri. "Harry Martinson". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 9 April 2003.
  11. ^ Larsson, Ulf. "Harry Martinson: Catching the Dewdrop, Reflecting the Cosmos".
  12. ^ Ashley, Tim. "Fidelio – Edinburgh festival 2013 review". The Guardian.
  13. ^ "Aniara". 2018. Retrieved 2018-09-08.
  14. ^ "Aniara: fragments of time and space". Aniara. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  15. ^ Sturgeon, Theodore (August 1963). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 180–182.
  16. ^ "Name an exoplanet (press release)". 2019-06-06. Retrieved 2019-06-13.
  17. ^ (in Swedish)