The goldonder Aniara shuts, the siren gives the call
for field emersion in the known routine:
the gyrospiner soft begins to tow
the goldonder up toward the zenith-light,
where the magnetrines suppressing strength of field
soon signal value null and field exchange occurs.
And like a giant pupa lacking weight
is Aniara gyred without vibration
or any least event away from Earth.
A pure routine start void of all adventure,
a common gyromatic field replacement.
Who could suspect that this specific trip
was doomed to be a journey all its own
to separate us all from sun and earth,
from Mars and Venus and the dale of Doris.
—Aniara, canto 2
Aniara, written from 1953 and published in full in 1956, is an epic poem by Harry Martinson, ostensibly about a wayward spaceship but actually about the nuclear fears of the Cold War and, generally, an old man's depressive pessimism about society. Unavoidably it is considered a classic of Swedish literature, leading the grotesquely nationalistic crabmen comprising the Swedish Academy to award him the Nobel Prize in Literature two decades later, once he was old enough that they thought he wouldn't enjoy it. »Aniara« is the name of the lost ship itself, and comes of the greek ἀνιαρός, »despairing«, thus warning you from the very title that this is a work for people who think scissor scars are beautiful. The poems are largely in blank verse, although Martinson keeps breaking the meter; the translation of Canto 2 above preserves, for instance, the intrusion of an extra iambus into the sixth line. Some of the poems just use different meters, or none.
The plot is this: the Earth, poisoned with radiation (implied to be from nuclear war), is quarantined for ten thousand years to heal, while mankind flees to the adjacent planets of the solar system in huge mass-transit ships. The goldonder Aniara, bound for Mars, is one of these, thrown out of course after emergency evasion of a hitherto undiscovered asteroid; it is damaged in the aftermath of the maneuver: its course set toward Vega, in the constellation Lyra, its controls are destroyed, and it finds itself adrift. No one can save the ship; no one can repair it. It will drift forever through the void; everyone aboard will die aboard. The passengers distract themselves from their despair with absurd cults and the Mima, an onboard computer (whose name is the Latin word for a comical or rude actress) which generates entertainment.
This is, of course, one gigantic allegory: Vega is the point toward which our own solar system is slowly drifting through the cosmos. The cults represent religion; the Mima, art (which, predictably, the poet considers the solace of life, and blah blah). Aniara, not to put too fucking fine a point on it, is Earth.
The thing is, although I defy you to find anyone but me to tell you this, that much of the poetry is just bad. It uses Star Trek-style technobabble to resolve the meter and pad the songs, but the obvious fudging is called »suggestive neologisms with a peculiar poetic glow«. And that's how your personal status makes the difference between your work being called classic and a piece of shit, children. Another problem to me personally is that the entire plot that I described above is polished off in the first seven or eight cantos; the rest is many, many needless pages of angsting. I need scarcely tell you how it ends.
All of this information is useless to you, because as far as I know there is no translation to English. There are actually no less than two translations, one from 1956 and one from 1999. Which I guess is more in line with what you'd expect of the works of a Nobel laureate, even the terrible ones.
SciFiQuest '11, by inexplicable request