The Washington Post

Tomas Tranströmer wins Nobel Prize in Literature


This post has been updated.

Beating out the betting favorite Bob Dylan, and the much-speculated-about Syrian poet Adonis, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The 80-year-old poet is well known in Sweden for his sparse, introspective writing that culls from his life’s work as a psychologist.

The announcement of the prize on Thursday was greeted by cheers at the Swedish Academy, as Tranströmer has been a perennial favorite in his home country. The Associated Press reports that in recent years Swedish journalists have waited outside Tranströmer’s Stockholm apartment on the day the literature prize is announced. He suffered from a stroke a few years ago and can no longer speak or walk.

The Swedish Academy recognized Tranströmer “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”

Here’s some of his poetry translated into English:

The Half-Finished Heaven

Cowardice breaks off on its path.
Anguish breaks off on its path.
The vulture breaks off in its flight.

The eager light runs into the open,
even the ghosts take a drink.
And our paintings see the air,
red beasts of the ice-age studios.

Everything starts to look around.
We go out in the sun by hundreds.
Every person is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

The endless field under us.
Water glitters between the trees.
The lake is a window into the earth.

The Tree and the Sky

There’s a tree walking around in the rain,
it rushes past us in the pouring grey.
It has an errand. It gathers life
out of the rain like a blackbird in an orchard.

When the rain stops so does the tree.
There it is, quiet on clear nights
waiting as we do for the moment.

The Couple

They turn the light off, and its white globe glows
an instant and then dissolves, like a tablet
in a glass of darkness. Then a rising.
The hotel walls shoot up into heaven’s darkness.

Their movements have grown softer, and they sleep,
but their most secret thoughts begin to meet
like two colors that meet and run together
on the wet paper in a schoolboy’s painting.

It is dark and silent. The city however has come nearer
tonight. With its windows turned off. Houses have come.
They stand packed and waiting very near,
a mob of people with blank faces.

For more of Tranströmer’s work, Blackbird, the online journal of Virginia Commonwealth University and New Virginia Review, has his entire 1996 book of poems “Sorgegondolen” in its current issue. See here for more of the work.

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