Tomas Gösta Tranströmer (b. Stockholm, April 15, 1931 – d. Stockholm, March 26, 2015 ) was a Swedish poet and writer, whose poetry has been translated into over 70 languages. Tranströmer has been universally acclaimed as one of the most important European and Scandinavian writers since World War II. Critics have praised Tranströmer’s poems for their accessibility and the poems that capture the long Swedish winters, the rhythm of the seasons and the palpable, atmospheric beauty of nature. His poems have a luminous presence in a world both seen and unseen. He was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Tomas Tranströmer was born in a working-class part of Stockholm to Gösta Tranströmer, a journalist, and Helmy Westberg, a teacher. His parents divorced in 1934. He attended Södra Latin High School and then took degrees (BA Psychology, MS Psychology, Ph.D. Psychology) at Stockholm University, finishing his course work and final degree in 1956. While he attended university he also studied history, literature, poetry and the history of religion.
- Monica Bladh and Tomas Tranströmer marry, 1958. Foto: Gösta Wirén.
In 1958 he married Monica Bladh from Stockholm, who worked as a nurse. Tranströmer would then spend the majority of his professional life working in state institutions in small Swedish towns, including Linkoping and Vasteras. He also worked at an institution for juvenile offenders and later at a state-funded labor organization, where he helped disabled people choose careers and counseled parole offenders and those in drug rehabilitation.
Tranströmer surprised the Swedish literary community by publishing his first book of poetry, 17 Dikter (Seventeen Poems), in 1954 while still a student in his Ph.D. program at Stockholm University. 17 Dikter included only seventeen poems and yet the poems were surprisingly accomplished for a writer of just 23 years. For the next sixteen years, he would average four years between the publication of his first four books, as his process was slow and methodical. While each book was more accomplished, he remained a marvel of economy, both in the finished written product and the pace of publishing.
In response to the more conservative language and poetic forms of the poets of Sweden during his early years as a beginning writer, Tranströmer decided to adopt a simpler style and language that was more consistent with his personality and outlook. At the same time, Tranströmer’s poems were sophisticated in a way that the poetry of Sweden of the past had not been. Tranströmer wrote of the dualities of the inner and outer worlds we each carry with us in our journey through life, the small moments in a life when a window of perception magically opens. Throughout his writing career Tranströmer has possessed an uncanny depth of perception, wisdom, and understanding of the world. Perhaps his studies and work in the field of psychology combined with a native instinct provided a natural window for his writing.
Tranströmer first corresponded with the American writer Robert Bly in 1964. They later met and Bly would become the central figure in introducing his poetry from Swedish to English for readers worldwide. Although Tranströmer would have many translators of his poetry, it was Bly with whom Tranströmer no doubt found the most affinity as they both shared an interest in explorations of deep image poetry. Having met in the 1960s, Bly and Tranströmer’s relationship would carry them through the next five decades until Tranströmer’s death in March of 2015.
Bonnier: Tomas Tranströmer, right, with Robert Bly in Madison, Minn., in October 1971.
Bly’s first published book of translations of Tranströmer’s poetry was Twenty Poems, Seventies Press (Madison, MN), 1970. He soon followed with more book translations of Tranströmer: Night Vision, Lillabulero Press (Northwood Narrows, NH), 1971; Elegy: Some October Notes (limited edition), Sceptre Press (Rushden, Northamptonshire, England), 1973; Friends, You Drank Some Darkness: Three Swedish Poets – Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelof, and Tomas Transtromer, Beacon Press (Boston, MA ), 1975; Truth Barriers, Sierra Books (San Francisco, CA), 1980; The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer, Greywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2011; Airmail: The Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer (Minneapolis, MN), 2014.
Numerous collections of Tranströmer’s poetry by other translators include Windows and Stones, translated by May Swenson, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1972, an International Poetry Forum Selection and runner-up for the National Book Award for translation; Selected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton, Ardis (Ann Arbor, MI), 1981; Selected Poems 1954 – 1986, edited by Robert Hass, The Ecco Press (New York City), 1987; The Deleted World, versions by Robin Robertson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York City, NY), 2006; The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton, New Directions Books (New York City, NY), 2006; For The Living And The Dead, translated by John F. Deane, Tavern Books (Salt Lake City, UT) , 2012; Baltics, translated by Samuel Charters, Tavern Books (Salt Lake City, UT), 2012.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Tranströmer’s honors include the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, the Aftonbladets Literary Prize, the Bonnier Award for Poetry, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Oevralids Prize, the Petrarch Prize in Germany, the Swedish Award from International Poetry Forum, and the Swedish Academy’s Nordic Prize.
Tranströmer suffered a stroke in 1990, and after a six-year silence published his collection Sorgegondolen, translated into English as The Grief Gondola by Michael McGriff and Mikaela Grassl, Green Integer Books (Los Angeles, CA), 2010.
On March 26, 2015, Tomas Tranströmer passed away at home in Stockholm after a brief illness. He was 83 years old.