By Culturekiosque Staff
STOCKHOLM, 6 OCTOBER 2011 This year's Nobel Prize for
Literature has been awarded to the 80-year-old Swedish poet Tomas
Tranströmer. In announcing the $1.5-million-award, the Swedish
Academy praised the poet, saying, "because, through his condensed,
translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality".
Tomas Tranströmer was born in Stockholm on 15 April 1931. His mother
Helmy was a schoolteacher and his father Gösta Tranströmer a journalist.
After graduating in 1950 from Södra Latin grammar school he studied
literature, history and poetics, the history of religion, and psychology
at Stockholm University subjects he took for his Bachelor of Arts degree
in 1956. After completed academic studies, he was employed as an assistant
at the Institution for Psychometrics at Stockholm University in 1957. In
the following year, he married Monica Bladh. Between 1960 and 1966, he
worked as a psychologist at Roxtuna, a youth correctional facility near
Linköping. In 1980 he took a position at the Labour Market Institute
(Arbetsmarknadsinstitutet) in Västerås. In 1990 Tranströmer suffered a
stroke that left him largely unable to speak.
After publishing poems in a number of journals, Tranströmer published
in 1954 17 dikter (17 poems) one of the most acclaimed literary
debuts of the decade. Already apparent was the interest in nature and
music that has informed a major part of his production. With the following
collections Hemligheter på vägen (1958; Secrets along the way),
Den halvfärdiga himlen (1962; The Half-Finished Heaven,
2001) and Klanger och spår (1966; see Windows & Stones :
Selected Poems, 1972) he consolidated his standing among critics
and other readers as one of the leading poets of his generation.
A suite, Östersjöar (1974; Baltics, 1975), gathers
fragments of a family chronicle from Runmarö Island in the Stockholm
archipelago, where his maternal grandfather was a pilot and where
Tranströmer has spent many summers since boyhood. His reminiscences from
growing up in the 1930s and 40s are collected in a memoir, Minnena
ser mig (1993; see: Memories look at me in New Collected
Most of Tranströmers poetry collections are characterised by economy,
concreteness and poignant metaphors. In his latest collections,
Sorgegondolen (1996; The Sorrow Gondola, 1997) and
Den stora gåtan (2004; The Great Enigma, 2006),
Tranströmer has shifted towards an even smaller format and a higher degree
Tranströmer was introduced in the United States by author Robert Bly as
early as the 1960s. Since then, international interest in his poetry has
grown and he has now been translated into more than sixty languages.
Tranströmer has periodically published his own translations of poetry in
other languages. A collection, entitled Tolkningar
(Interpretations), was published in 1999.
Five Poems by Tomas
I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my
The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
The resonance green,
lively and calm.
The music says freedom exists
and someone doesn't pay the emperor
I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking
on the world calmly.
I hoist the Haydnflag - it signifies:
"We don't give in. But want
The music is a glass-house on the slope
where the stones
fly, the stones roll.
And the stones roll right through
but each pane stays
The Half-Finished Heaven
Despondency breaks off its course.
Anguish breaks off its
The vulture breaks off its flight.
The eager light streams out,
even the ghosts take a draught.
And our paintings see daylight,
our red beasts of the ice-age
Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in
Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.
The endless ground under us.
The water is shinig among the trees.
The lake is a window into the earth.
The blue sky's engine-drone is deafening.
We're living here on a
where the ocean depths can suddenly open up
shells and telephones hiss.
You can see beauty only from the side, hastily,
The dense grain on
the field, many colours in a yellow stream.
The restless shadows in my
head are drawn there.
They want to creep into the grain and turn to
Darkness falls. At midnight I go to bed.
The smaller boat puts out
from the larger boat.
You are alone on the water.
hull drifts further and further away.
Open and Closed Spaces
A man feels the world with his work like a glove.
He rests for a
while at midday having laid aside the gloves on the shelf.
suddenly grow, spread
and black-out the whole house from inside.
The blacked-out house is away out among the winds of
'Amnesty,' runs the whisper in the grass: 'amnesty.'
sprints with an invisible line slanting up in the sky
where his wild
dream of the future flies lika a kite bigger than
Further north you can see from a summit the blue endless carpet of
where the cloud shadows
are standing still.
The Nightingale in Badelunda
In the green midnight at the nightingale's northern limit. Heavy leaves
hang in trance, the deaf cars race towards the neon-line. The
nightingale's voice rises without wavering to the side, it is as
penetrating as a cock-crow, but beautiful and free of vanity. I was in
prison and it visited me. I was sick and it visited me. I didn't notice it
then, but I do now. Time streams down from the sun and the moon and into
all the tick-tock-thankful clocks. But right here there is no time. Only
the nightingale's voice, the raw resonant notes that whet the night sky's
From Tomas Tranströmer, New Collected
Poems, translated by Robin Fulton (Bloodaxe Books, 1997/2011)
Poem selected by Lars Rydquist, head librarian, Nobel
Library of the Swedish Academy
Headline image: Tomas Tranströmer
Photo © Ulla
Courtesy: Albert Bonniers Förlag
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