By Yang Guang, May 1, 2021
Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer is arguably the best-known Nobel literature laureate in Chinese poetry circles.Tranströmer has visited the country twice since 1984 and established close friendships with some of his Chinese counterparts, including his first Chinese translator, “Misty School” poet Bei Dao, and his current Chinese translator, poet Li Li. Two days before the Dec 10, 2011 Nobel award ceremony at Stockholm Concert Hall, poets, translators and college students in Beijing gathered at Renmin University of China for a reading of Tranströmer ‘s poetry. More than 40 of his works were recited in Chinese, Swedish, and English.
Tranströmer was born in 1931 and published his first poetry collection in 1954.He suffered a stroke in 1990, which left him partially paralyzed and hardly able to speak. He continued to write and publish poetry until 2004. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in October for creating “fresh access to reality” through his “condensed translucent images”, the judges say.
Bei Dao remembers his interactions with the Swedish poet in his essay “Blue House” (which is the name of Tranströmer’s country home). He says he first heard of the Nordic wordsmith in 1983 when a cultural attache at the Swedish embassy in Beijing handed him Goran Malmqvist’s English translation of Tranströmer’s poetry collection The Wild Square. The attache also gave Bei Dao a letter from Malmqvist, a Swedish Sinologist, member of the Swedish Academy and, a senior judge of the Nobel literature prize. In the letter, Malmqvist asked Bei Dao if he could translate Tranströmer into Chinese. Bei Dao translated and published six pieces in World Literature magazine in 1984. Tranströmer first visited China in 1985 at the invitation of the Beijing Foreign Studies University. For the Chinese audience he attended a poetry seminar on Swedish writers, visited the Great Wall, and traveled to Shanghai. He started composing his poem “Streets in Shanghai “ after returning to Sweden. Bei Dao remembers hearing him read fragments of the poem when he visited Sweden in 1985. The poem was included in the 1989 Tranströmer collection For the Living and the Dead, after four years of revision.
Tranströmer visited China for the second time in 2001 -this time in a wheelchair after his stroke and medical illness – when he gave a reading at Peking University. He also traveled to Yunnan province’s capital Kunming, where a cultural gallery- cum-cafe is named after him .Li, who has translated all of Tranströmer’s 200 odd poems, first read the Swedish poet’s work when he was studying Swedish at Beijing Foreign Studies University in the early 1980s. Of Tranströmer’s poetry Li says, “there are but a few modern poets who can pen poems in a fashion as succinct and accurate as Tranströmer.” In a telephone call from Tranströmer’s wife, Monica, to Li on his 50th birthday in January, both Tranströmers congratulated him on the phone for his translation pf the poems. Over the years, literary exchanges between China and Sweden have been expanding.Earlier this month, a Swedish Writers’ Union delegation visited Beijing. Five Swedish writers engaged in a series of cultural exchange events. .Eva Ekeroth, Cultural Representative of the Swedish Embassy in China, says the Chinese Writers’ Association have agreed to host another Swedish writers’ forum in the future.