Tomas Tranströmer

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Tomas Tranströmer
Tranströmer in 2012
Tranströmer in 2012
BornTomas Gösta Tranströmer
(1931-04-15)15 April 1931
Stockholm, Sweden
Died26 March 2015(2015-03-26) (aged 83)
Stockholm, Sweden
  • Poet
  • psychologist
Alma materStockholm University
Notable works
Notable awardsNobel Prize in Literature
SpouseMonika Bladh

Tomas Gösta Tranströmer (Swedish: [ˈtʊ̌mːas ˈjœ̂sːta ˈtrâːnˌstrœmːɛr]; 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, the 2004 International Nonino Prize, and the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.[5]

Life and work[edit]

Early life[edit]

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 centre for juvenile delinquents (sv) and writing poetry.[5] He also worked as a psychologist at the Labor Market Institute in Västerås from 1965 to 1990.[8]


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[9] in the UK in 2011. He published a short autobiography, Minnena ser mig (The Memories see me), in 1993.

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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12]

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, and 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][13][14][15]

Tranströmer's daughter Emma is a concert singer. In 2011 she released the album Dagsmeja, containing songs based on Tranströmer's poems.[16]

Many composers and musicians have worked with his poems. Among these are Jan Garbarek, Ulf Grahn, Madeleine Isaksson, Margareta Hallin, Lars Edlund, Sven-David Sandström, Jan Sandström and Anders Eliasson.[17]


Tranströmer died in Stockholm on 26 March 2015 at 83.[18]

List of works[edit]

Books of poetry
  • 17 Poems (17 dikter), Bonniers, 1954
  • Secrets on the Way (Hemligheter på vägen), Bonnier, 1958
  • The Half-Finished Heaven (Den halvfärdiga himlen), Bonnier, 1962
  • Bells and Tracks (Klanger och spår), Bonnier, 1966
  • Seeing in the Dark (Mörkerseende), Författarförlaget, 1970
  • Paths (Stigar), Författarförlaget, 1973, ISBN 978-91-7054-110-0
  • Baltics (Östersjöar), Bonnier, 1974
  • The Truthbarrier (Sanningsbarriären), Bonnier, 1978, ISBN 978-91-0-043684-1
  • The Wild Market Square (Det vilda torget) Bonnier, 1983, ISBN 978-91-0-046048-8
  • For the Living and the Dead (För levande och döda), Bonnier, 1989
  • The Sorrow Gondola (Sorgegondolen), Bonnier, 1996, ISBN 978-91-0-056232-8
  • Prison (Fängelse), Edition Edda, 2001 (from 1959), ISBN 978-91-89352-10-0
  • The Great Enigma (Den stora gåtan), Bonnier, 2004, ISBN 978-91-0-010310-1
  • Memories Look at Me (Minnena ser mig), Bonnier, 1993, prose memoir ISBN 978-91-0-055716-4
  • Air Mail: Brev 1964-1990, Bonnier, 2001, correspondence with Robert Bly ISBN 978-91-0-057384-3
  • Galleriet: Reflected in Vecka nr. II (2007), an artist book by Modhir Ahmed

Translations of his work[edit]

in English
in other languages

Awards and honours[edit]

Tranströmer and Barbro Lindgren at the 2014 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Other awards include the Övralid Prize and the Swedish Award from the International Poetry Forum.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tomas Tranströmer är död. SVT Nyheter, 27 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Bosman, Julie (6 October 2011). "Swedish Poet Wins Nobel Prize for Literature". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  3. ^ Salisbury, Stephan (1987). "Straight into the Invisible: A Swedish Poet's Explorations". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 20 October 2011.
  4. ^ Coyle, Bill (2009). "Anchor in the Shadows: Review of The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems". Contemporary Poetry Review. Retrieved 20 October 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2011 – Press Release". Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  6. ^ a b Lea, Richard; Flood, Alison (6 October 2011). "Nobel prize for literature goes to Tomas Tranströmer". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  7. ^ "Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer wins Nobel literature prize for 'condensed, translucent' works". Associated Press. 6 October 2011. Archived from the original on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  8. ^ "Tomas Tranströmer Biographical". Retrieved 1 March 2022.
  9. ^ Batchelor, Paul (17 June 2011). "New Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  10. ^ "Adonis: Transtromer is deeply rooted in the land of poetry". Al-Ahram. 6 October 2011. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  11. ^ "Swedish poet Transtroemer wins Nobel Literature Prize". BBC News. 6 October 2011. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  12. ^ "Nobel laureate has an India connection". The Times of India. 7 October 2011. Archived from the original on 14 July 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
  13. ^ Poetry Foundation "Tomas Tranströmer Plays Piano in New Short Doc on New Official Website" 1 November 2011
  14. ^ "Tomas Tranströmer « Tomas Tranströmer". Archived from the original on 18 January 2012.
  15. ^ Jean-Pierre Thiollet, 88 notes pour piano solo, Neva Editions, 2015, p.154-155. ISBN 978-2-3505-5192-0
  16. ^ "Tomas Tranströmer : från vaggan till priset". Dagens Nyheter. 7 October 2011. pp. 66–67.
  17. ^ Swedish Music Information Centre
  18. ^ Brown, Andrew (26 March 2015). "Swedish Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer dies aged 83". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  19. ^ "20 Poems by Tomas Transtromer " The Owls". 14 July 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  20. ^ Excerpts on Google Books
  21. ^ "1990 Neustadt International Prize for Literature Laureate Tomas Tranströmer". World Literature Today. Archived from the original on 27 November 2011.
  22. ^ "The Cabinet awards the title of professor to poet Tomas Tranströmer 7 april 2011(in Swedish)" (in Swedish). 7 April 2011. Archived from the original on 17 October 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  23. ^ "Minister for Culture congratulates Tomas Tranströmer on Nobel Prize in Literature". 7 October 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2011.

External links[edit]