Tomas Tranströmer

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Tomas Tranströmer
Tranströmer in 2008
BornTomas Gösta Tranströmer
(1931-04-15)15 April 1931
Stockholm, Sweden
Died26 March 2015(2015-03-26) (aged 83)
Stockholm, Sweden
OccupationPoet, psychologist
Alma mater Stockholm University
Notable works
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Literature
SpouseMonika Bladh

Tomas Gösta Tranströmer (Swedish:  [ˈtʊmːas ²jœsːta ²trɑːnˌstrœmːɛr] ;[ citation needed ] 15 April 1931 – 26 March 2015) was a Swedish poet, psychologist and translator. [1] His poems captured the long Swedish winters, the rhythm of the seasons and the palpable, atmospheric beauty of nature. [2] Tranströmer's work is also characterized by a sense of mystery and wonder underlying the routine of everyday life, a quality which often gives his poems a religious dimension. [3] He has been described as a Christian poet. [4]


Tranströmer is acclaimed as one of the most important Scandinavian writers since the Second World War. Critics praised his poetry for its accessibility, even in translation. [2] His poetry has been translated into over 60 languages. [2] He was the recipient of the 1990 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. [5]

Neustadt International Prize for Literature

The Neustadt International Prize for Literature is a biennial award for literature sponsored by the University of Oklahoma and its international literary publication, World Literature Today. It is considered one of the more prestigious international literary prizes, often compared with the Nobel Prize in Literature. The New York Times called the prize “The Oklahoma Nobel” in 1982 and the prize is sometimes referred to as the “American Nobel”. Since it was founded in 1970, some 30 of its laureates, candidates, or jurors have also been awarded Nobel Prizes. Like the Nobel, it is awarded to individuals for their entire body of work, not for a single one.

Nobel Prize in Literature One of the five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Literature is a Swedish literature prize that is awarded annually, since 1901, to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". Though individual works are sometimes cited as being particularly noteworthy, the award is based on an author's body of work as a whole. The Swedish Academy decides who, if anyone, will receive the prize. The academy announces the name of the laureate in early October. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. On some occasions the award has been postponed to the following year. It was not awarded in 2018, but two names will be awarded in 2019.

Life and work

Early life

Tranströmer was born in Stockholm in 1931 and raised by his mother Helmy, a schoolteacher, following her divorce from his father, Gösta Tranströmer, an editor. [5] [6] He received his secondary education at the Södra Latin Gymnasium in Stockholm, where he began writing poetry. In addition to selected journal publications, his first collection of poems, 17 Poems , was published in 1954. He continued his education at Stockholm University, graduating as a psychologist in 1956 with additional studies in history, religion and literature. [7] Between 1960 and 1966, Tranströmer split his time between working as a psychologist at the Roxtuna center for juvenile offenders and writing poetry. [5]

Stockholm Capital city in Södermanland and Uppland, Sweden

Stockholm is the capital of Sweden and the most populous urban area in the Nordic countries; 965,232 people live in the municipality, approximately 1.6 million in the urban area, and 2.4 million in the metropolitan area. The city stretches across fourteen islands where Lake Mälaren flows into the Baltic Sea. Outside the city to the east, and along the coast, is the island chain of the Stockholm archipelago. The area has been settled since the Stone Age, in the 6th millennium BC, and was founded as a city in 1252 by Swedish statesman Birger Jarl. It is also the county seat of Stockholm County.

Södra Latin

Södra Latin, officially Södra Latins gymnasium, is an upper secondary school ("gymnasieskola"), situated in Södermalm, Stockholm. The current school building was inaugurated in 1891.

Gymnasium (school) type of school providing advanced secondary education in Europe

A gymnasium is a type of school with a strong emphasis on academic learning, and providing advanced secondary education in some parts of Europe comparable to British grammar schools, sixth form colleges and US preparatory high schools. In its current meaning, it usually refers to secondary schools focused on preparing students to enter a university for advanced academic study. Before the 20th century, the system of gymnasiums was a widespread feature of educational system throughout many countries of central, north, eastern and southern Europe.


Tranströmer is considered to be one of the "most influential Scandinavian poet[s] of recent decades". [5] Tranströmer published 15 collected works over his extensive career, which have been translated into over 60 languages. [5] An English translation by Robin Fulton of his entire body of work, New Collected Poems, was published in the UK in 1987 and expanded in 1997. Following the publication of The Great Enigma, Fulton's edition was further expanded into The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, published in the US in 2006 and as an updated edition of New Collected Poems [8] in the UK in 2011. He published a short autobiography, Minnena ser mig(The Memories see me), in 1993.

Robin Fulton, is a Scottish poet and translator.

By the mid-1960s, Tranströmer became close friends with poet Robert Bly. The two corresponded frequently, and Bly would translate Tranströmer's poems into English. In 2001 Bonniers, Tranströmer's publisher, released Air Mail, a work consisting of Tranströmer's and Bly's day-to-day correspondence on personal, contemporary and literary matters c. 1965–1991 – in a style that vividly conveyed how close friends the two had soon become. [5] Bly also helped arrange readings for his fellow poet in America. The Syrian poet Adunis helped spread Tranströmer's fame in the Arab world, accompanying him on reading tours. [9]

Robert Bly American poet, author and activist

Robert Bly is an American poet, essayist, activist and leader of the mythopoetic men's movement. His best-known prose book is Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), which spent 62 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, and is a key text of the mythopoetic men's movement. He won the 1968 National Book Award for Poetry for his book The Light Around the Body.

Bonnier Group company

Bonnier AB is a privately held Swedish media group of 175 companies operating in 15 countries. It is controlled by the Bonnier family.

Adunis Essayist, poet

Ali Ahmad Said Esber, also known by the pen name Adonis or Adunis, is a Syrian poet, essayist and translator who is considered one of the most influential and dominant Arab poets of the modern era. He led a modernist revolution in the second half of the 20th century, "exerting a seismic influence" on Arabic poetry comparable to T.S. Eliot's in the anglophone world.

Transtromer (right) with Iraqi-Swedish artist Modhir Ahmed, 2007 Tomas Transtromer and Modhir Ahmed.jpg
Tranströmer (right) with Iraqi-Swedish artist Modhir Ahmed, 2007

In the 1970s, other poets accused Tranströmer of being detached from his own age, since he did not deal overtly with social and political issues in his poems and novels. His work, though, lies within and further develops the Modernist and Expressionist/Surrealist language of 20th-century poetry; his clear, seemingly simple pictures from everyday life and nature in particular reveals a mystic insight to the universal aspects of the human mind. A poem of his was read at Anna Lindh's memorial service in 2003. [10]

Anna Lindh Swedish politician

Ylva Anna Maria Lindh was a Swedish Social Democratic politician who served as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1998 to 2003 and Minister for the Environment from 1994 to 1996. She served as a Member of the Riksdag (MP) for Södermanland County from 1982 to 1985 and 1998 to 2003.

Tranströmer went to Bhopal immediately after the gas tragedy in 1984, and alongside Indian poets such as K. Satchidanandan, took part in a poetry reading session outside the plant. [11]

Tranströmer suffered a stroke in 1990 that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak; however, he continued to write and publish poetry through the early 2000s. One of his final original volumes of poetry, Den stora gåtan, was published in 2004, translated into English in 2006 as The Great Enigma .


Tranströmer played the piano throughout his life; after his stroke, which paralyzed the right side of his body, he taught himself to play only with his left hand. He often said that the playing was a way for him to continue living after the stroke. [6] [12] [13]

Tranströmer's daughter is a concert singer. In 2011 she released the album Dagsmeja, containing songs based on Tranströmer's poems. [14]

Many composers and musicians have worked with his poems. Among these are Jan Garbarek, Torbjörn Nilsson, Maurice Karkoff, Lennart Hedwall, Håkan Parkman, Fredrik Jakobsson, Gustav Alexandrie, Ulf Grahn, Stig Gustav Schönberg, Madeleine Isaksson, Per Gunnar Petersson, Margareta Hallin, Lars Edlund, Sven-David Sandström, Johan-Magnus Sjöberg, Jan Sandström, Andrea Tarrodi, Maria Löfberg, Anders Eliasson and Bo Hansson. [15]


Tranströmer died in Stockholm on 26 March 2015 at 83, less than 3 weeks before his 84th birthday. [16]

List of works

Books of poetry

Translations of his work

in English
in other languages

Awards and honours

Transtromer and Barbro Lindgren at the 2014 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Barbro Lindgren & Tomas Transtromer ALMA 2014 001.jpg
Tranströmer and Barbro Lindgren at the 2014 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Other awards include the Övralid Prize, the Petrarca-Preis in Germany and the Swedish Award from International Poetry Forum.

Nobel Prize in Literature, 2011

Tranströmer was announced as the recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. [5] [6] He was the 108th winner of the award and the first Swede to win since 1974. [10] [22] [23] Tranströmer had been considered a perennial frontrunner for the award in years past, with reporters waiting near his residence on the day of the announcement in prior years. [24] The Swedish Academy revealed that he had been nominated every single year since 1993. [24]

Tranströmer's wife, Monica, said he had been notified by telephone four minutes before the announcement was made. [25] The Nobel Committee stated that Tranströmer's work received the prize “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality." [5]

Permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Peter Englund said, "He's been writing poetry since 1951 when he made his debut. And has quite a small production, really. He's writing about big questions. He's writing about death, he's writing about history and memory, and nature." [24] [26] Prime Minister of Sweden Fredrik Reinfeldt said he was ”happy and proud” at the news of Tranströmer's achievement. [27] Meanwhile, international response to the award has been mixed. [28] The prize announcement led to the immediate reissuing of at least two volumes of Tranströmer's poetry. [29] [30]

See also

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  15. Swedish Music Information Centre
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