Tomas Tranströmer, a Swedish poet who received the Nobel Prize in literature in 2011 for a body of work that made him known as a “master of metaphor,” died March 26. He was 83.
His death was announced on the Nobel Prize’s Web site. The announcement did not report where or how he died. Mr. Tranströmer suffered a stroke in 1990 that left him unable to walk or easily speak, although not unable to write.
Trained as a psychologist, he spent much of his working life in Sweden counseling juvenile delinquents, criminals and drug addicts. Poetry was a parallel occupation — an outlet for what his Nobel citation described as his “condensed, translucent images” that give “us fresh access to reality.”
The prize, bestowed by the Swedish king, came nearly six decades after the publication of Mr. Tranströmer’s first volume of verses, “17 Poems” (1954). The debut identified Mr. Tranströmer, not yet 24, as one of his country’s most promising poets.
He followed that book with more than a dozen others, including collections published in English as “Windows and Stones” (1972), “Baltics” (1975), “The Sorrow Gondola” (1997), “The Half-Finished Heaven” (2001) and “The Great Enigma” (2006).
Lauded and promoted in the English-speaking world by the American poet Robert Bly, Mr. Tranströmer’s works were published in 60 languages. The Nobel Web site notes that “since the Swedish language can not be read by more than about one thousandth of the world’s population, the skillfulness of his translators has been especially vital.”
“He is to Sweden what Robert Frost was to America,” John Freeman, then the editor of Granta literary magazine, told the New York Times upon the announcement of Mr. Tranströmer’s Nobel Prize. “The national character, if you can say one exists, and the landscape of Sweden are very much reflected in his work. It’s easy because of that to overlook the abiding strangeness and mysteriousness of his poems.”
In Mr. Tranströmer’s pen, waking up became a “parachute jump from dreams,” moths landing on a windowpane became “small pale telegrams from the world” and pianists performing a duet were “two coachmen on the same carriage.”
His style, a combination of the concrete and the elusive, was epitomized in his poem “Preludes”:
Two truths draw nearer each other. One moves from inside, one moves from outside
and where they meet we have a chance to see ourselves.
He who notices what is happening cries despairingly: “Stop!
Whatever you like, if only I avoid knowing myself.”
And there is a boat that wants to put in — it tries just here —
thousands of times it comes and tries.
Out of the forest gloom comes a long boat hook, it is pushed in through the open window,
in among the party guests who danced themselves warm.
Unlike many other poets of his era, Mr. Tranströmer did not frequently venture into politics in his writings. He said that he achieved his social engagement through his professional life, which included employment for a time at a boys prison.
He regarded his work and poetry as interconnected and thought it strange, he once remarked, that while readers sometimes asked how psychology affected his poetry, no one ever inquired the opposite.
Among juvenile delinquents, he noticed a tendency to describe their transgressions in the passive voice, as if their crimes had happened to them rather than because of them. “The way you express yourself,” he told The Washington Post in a 1986 interview, “is the way you experience things.”
Tomas Gösta Tranströmer was born in Stockholm on April 15, 1931. His mother was a teacher, and his father was a journalist. He was drawn both by the sciences and by the arts, with early fascinations including insects and the piano. His first poems appeared in student publications in the 1940s, according to his Nobel Prize biography.
He received a bachelor’s degree in 1956 from Stockholm University, where he studied literature, religion, history and psychology. After spending his early career at a youth correctional facility, he worked with a state labor organization.
Beyond his poetry collections, his writings appeared in the book “Airmail: The Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer” (2013), a compilation of their decades-long epistolary exchanges.
Mr. Tranströmer’s survivors include his wife of more than 50 years, the former Monica Bladh; and two daughters.
After his stroke, he continued to write, although more slowly than he had before. On the piano, he played works composed for the left hand.
“In the evening darkness in a place outside New York, a viewpoint where one single glance will encompass the homes of eight million people,” began his poem “Schubertiana.” “I know too — without statistics — that right now Schubert is being played in a room over there and that for someone the notes are more real than anything else.”