Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer awarded Nobel Literature Prize

After weeks of speculation in literary circles, the Nobel Literature Prize has been awarded to Scandinavia's best-known living poet, Tomas Transtroemer, at age of 80.

books Updated: Oct 06, 2011 11:36 IST

Scandinavia's best-known living poet, Tomas Transtroemer, won the Nobel Prize for Literature at age 80, explores the relationship between our intimate inner selves and the world around us.

A trained psychologist, Transtroemer suggests that the poetic examination of nature offers insights into human identity and its spiritual dimension, which often enters metaphysical territory.

"A human being's existence does not end where the fingers end," one Swedish critic said of Transtroemer's poems, which have been described as "secular prayers".

Transtroemer's reputation in the English-speaking world owes much to his friendship with American poet Robert Bly, who has translated much of the Swede's work into English, one of 50 languages in which his poems have appeared.

His poems are rich in metaphores and imagery, painting simple pictures from everyday life and nature.

His introspective style, described by Publishers Weekly as "mystical, versatile and sad", is in contrast with Transtroemer's life, which shows a constant, active commitment to working for a better world -- and not just by writing poems.

Born on April 15, 1931 in Stockholm, Transtroemer was raised alone by his mother after his father left them. He graduated in psychology in 1956 and started working in an institution for juvenile offenders in 1960.

In his parallel careers as psychologist and poet, he also worked with the disabled, convicts and drug addicts while, at the same time, producing a large body of poetic work.

When he was 23 and still a psychology student, Transtroemer's first collection of poetry, "Seventeen poems" was published by Bonnier, northern Europe's most prestigious publishing house.

Bonnier has described Transtroemer's poetry as "a permanent analysis of the enigma of the individual identity faced with the labyrinthian diversity of the world".

In 1966, he received the Bellman prize, which was followed by a plethora of other awards, including the Bonner award for poetry, Germany's Petrarch prize and the Swedish Academy's Nordic prize.

In 1997, the working-class city of Vaesteraas, where the poet lived for three decades before moving back to the capital Stockholm in the 1990s, established a special Transtroemer prize.

After publishing 10 volumes of poetry, Transtroemer suffered a stroke in 1990 which affected his ability to talk.

After a break of six years, he came back with "Grief Gondola", a book that sold 30,000 copies in his native Sweden, a stunning figure by poetry standards.

Following this success, Transtroemer published nothing for eight years, except for his correspondence with Bly, before returning in 2004 with a collection of 45 haikus, Japanese-style poems invoking an aspect of nature or the seasons.

Since then, music has become more important to the accomplished amateur pianist than his writing, he told Swedish paper of reference Dagens Nyheter in an interview earlier this year through his wife Monica.

He plays the piano every day, using his left hand, the right damaged by the stroke, and spends his mornings listening to classical music.

Transtroemer, who had been tipped as a potential Nobel prize winner for years, lives with his wife. The couple have two daughers.

First Published: Oct 06, 2011 11:36 IST