Tomas Tranströmer has become the first Swede since 1974 to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Now 80 years old, he is widely regarded as one of the most important poets of the modern age, having long been among the favorites for the prize.
Tomas Tranströmer's works have been translated into more than 60 languages. Photo: Paul Hansen/Scanpix
In awarding the prize of SEK 10 million, the Swedish Academy said it had chosen Tranströmer “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”
A cheer went up in the academy when the announcement was made on Thursday. Tranströmer follows in the footsteps of Swedes Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, who shared the award in 1974.
Peter Englund, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, said the academy members were particularly cautious about honoring Swedish writers, so as not to be perceived as biased.
The big questions
“And I think we’ve considered the matter carefully and haven’t been rash,” he said. “(Tranströmer) is writing about big questions. He’s writing about death, he’s writing about history and memory, and nature.”
Tranströmer’s poetry is distinguished by economy, concreteness and poignant metaphors. In 1990 he suffered a stroke that left him semi-paralyzed and largely unable to speak, and in his latest collections, The Sorrow Gondola (Sorgegondolen) and The Great Enigma (Den stora gåtan), Tranströmer has shifted towards an even smaller format and a higher degree of concentration.
Tranströmer was introduced to an international audience in the 1960s by his friend, American poet and activist Robert Bly. He has since become one of the most highly regarded and widely translated Swedish poets, translated into more than 60 languages.
Tomas Tranströmer is also a skilled pianist. He still plays despite his paralysis. Photo: Lasse Modin/Scanpix
Tranströmer has periodically published his own translations of poetry written in other languages. A collection, entitled Interpretations (Tolkningar), was published in 1999.
Tranströmer was born in Stockholm in 1931, and studied poetics and the history of literature, the history of religion, and psychology at Stockholm University. After writing poetry for several journals, Tranströmer published 17 poems (17 dikter) in 1954. He was already then showing an interest in nature and music, themes that have featured strongly in much of his production.
With the collections Secrets along the way (Hemligheter på vägen, 1958), The Half-Finished Heaven (Den halvfärdiga himlen, 1962), and Klanger och spår (1966, for English translations, see Windows & Stones: Selected Poems, 1972), he consolidated his standing among critics and the public as one of the leading poets of his generation.
A suite, Baltics (Östersjöar, 1974), gathers fragments of a family chronicle from Runmarö Island in the Stockholm archipelago, where his maternal grandfather was a pilot and where Tranströmer spent many summers since boyhood. His reminiscences from growing up in the 1930s and 1940s are collected in a memoir, The memories see me (Minnena ser mig, 1993).
Englund said that Tranströmer took the news of the Nobel Prize award in his stride. “I think he was surprised, astonished,” Englund told Swedish television. “He sat relaxing and listening to music. But he said it was very good.”
Paul Eade is a freelance writer based in Stockholm.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
Published by the Swedish Institute on www.sweden.se. All content is protected by Swedish copyright law. The text may be reproduced, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast in any media for non-commercial use with reference to www.sweden.se. However, no photographs or illustrations may be used. For more information on general copyright and permission click here. If you have any questions please contact webmaster.