Poetry and performance infuse Tranströmer’s Nobel lecture

Published: 7 Dec 11 18:38 CET

The annual Nobel Lecture in Literature, honouring 80-year-old Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, opened in Stockholm on Wednesday with an introduction by Peter Englund, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy. 

Whereas many literature laureates prepare special lectures for the occasion, Tranströmer’s lecture featured readings of 13 poems from throughout his career coordinated with musical accompaniment.

 Tranströmer looked on as his work was set to music and sung by the Gustaf Sjöqvist’s Chamber Choir and Uppsala Chamber Soloists, among other performers. “Good poetry is a powerful thing. It can change our picture of the world, making it clearer, sharper, more comprehensible. And forever,” Englund said. 

“We should not be taken in by the understated tone of Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry. Several of the real wonders of our existence are constantly present: Memory, History, Death, Nature – nature not least. But each not as an overwhelming exterior presence, nor as something that assumes life under our gaze. In your work it is the very opposite: ego, the individual, is the prism into which everything is drawn. It gives us a feeling of context, even obligation,” he continued.

“Dear Tomas, it is impossible to feel insignificant after having read your poetry. Neither is it still possible to love the world for the wrong reasons.”

“But what makes great poetry great is not only that it clarifies or reveals something already present in our world, but also that it has the ability to actually widen the boundaries of that world. Therein lies its power,” Englund said.

The first poem recited was “Minnena ser mig” (Memories Look at Me), originally published in 1983:

A June morning, too soon to wake,
too late to fall asleep again.

I must go out – the greenery is dense
with memories, they follow me with their gaze.

They can’t be seen, they merge completely with
the background, true chameleons.

They are so close that I can hear them breathe
although the birdsong here is deafening.

Read full article at The Local

Remembering Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer’s time in Provincetown


The Word On The Street

By Jan Gardner |   December 04, 2011

March is a month of awakenings. Sap flows; birds return from their wintering grounds; and mating seasons begin. It’s the month with which Vermont naturalist and wildlife photographer Mary Holland begins her book, “Naturally Curious: A Photographic Field Guide and Month-by-Month Journey through the Fields, Woods, and Marshes of New England’’ (Trafalgar Square).

“Naturally Curious’’ is a fine guide, providing about 900 photographs and dozens of annotated lists of animals, plants, and fungi you might expect to see or hear at various times throughout the year. Holland writes about creatures big and small, from the habits of the bull moose in rut to the migration of the snow flea. Her book is this year’s winner in the nature guidebook category of the National Outdoor Book Awards.

Fond memories

When the Nobel Prize in Literature is conferred on Tomas Tranströmer on Saturday, a handful of poets who got to know him decades ago on Cape Cod will take notice. They fondly remember the Swedish poet from his two teaching residencies 30 years ago at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

Read full article at Boston Globe

Chinese writers cheer Swedish poet’s Nobel win


  • Culture

  • Lee Yi-yun and Staff Reporter
  • 2011-10-08
  • 10:19 (GMT+8)

The Nobel literature laureate Tomas Gosta Transtromer counts Mo Yan, Yu Hua, Yan Lianke

and Bei Dao among his Chinese admirers. (Photo courtesy of Nobel Prize website)


The announcement of Swedish poet Tomas Gosta Transtromer as the recipient of this year’s Nobel prize for literature has been celebrated in China, with many publicly commending the writer who has many fans in the country.

Although the general view may be that Transtromer won because of his nationality after being nominated several times in past years, the reactions in China was largely positive. Transtromer had visited Beijing in March 2001.

In addition to counting leading Chinese writers such as Mo Yan, Yu Hua and Yan Lianke among his fans, exiled Chinese poet Bei Dao, who was nominated for the same prize in the past, is also friends with Transtromer and says he has influenced his own work.

Bei wrote about Transtromer in his 2005 book The Time of Rose, which included the Chinese writer’s observations about the Swede and other fellow poets.

The symbolism and surrealism displayed in Transtromer’s poems, often based on daily life and the natural world, have also influenced to some degree another Chinese poet, Li Li, who translates the new Nobel laureate’s works into Chinese.

Several Chinese writers shared their thoughts on the news on their microblogs. Poet Yu Xinqiao wrote, “Today, he is finally awarded the Nobel prize in literature, which is a right decision worth cheering for.”


Bei Dao 北島

The Time of Rose 時間的玫瑰

Li Li 李笠

Want China Times

In Praise of Tranströmer the Transformer—and His Translator, Robert Bly


  • Christopher Benfey

  • October 7, 2011 | 12:00 am

“Tranströmer!” Of course, I knew immediately what the email message meant. After years of waiting among the also-rans, and amid speculation that this was the year for an Arab poet to win the Nobel Prize in Literature to honor the Arab Spring, or maybe, a late-breaking rumor, that Bob Dylan was the bettors’ choice, a Swede was named to win the Swedish prize.

Tomas Tranströmer: The name always makes me think of some kind of giant transformer, sending out signals from his redoubt in the snowy fields west of Stockholm. He is said to be a respected psychologist there—someone who has worked in a juvenile prison and cares for convicts and drug addicts—and an amateur pianist. Until a recent stroke, he also wrote poems. Those poems are well known to American readers in the poetry world, if such a world can be said to exist. He still plays the piano, with one hand.

Every poet has a distinctive music. Here is the closing stanza of Tranströmer’s poem on Vermeer:

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

I told my emailing friend, himself a Scandinavian “by background,” as we say, that I’d always suspected he had invented Tranströmer. Not at all, he responded, “Tranströmer invented us.” A typical Northern sally of wit, I thought, as I walked the dog on a sunny and crisp fall morning in New England, crossing the stubble fields into the dark woods. But then I thought, hey, what if he’s right?

For me, a Nobel for Tranströmer, well deserved, is also a Nobel for his close friend, translator, and collaborator Robert Bly. Bly! I can’t even begin to calculate how much I owe, in all things literary and spiritual, to Robert Bly. I don’t mean the Bly of later years, the prophet of Iron John and the Men’s Movement, though I can’t say I’m unmoved by his lament for the fathers, now that I’m one myself. I don’t mean the ecstatic Bly who performs Kabir with some mysterious rhythm instrument in hand, chanting and dancing and making his serape flap like wings. But I can’t say I mind that either. The truth is, I love Robert Bly.

Read full article at New Republic

Tomas Tranströmer: Ten things you never knew about the poet you never knew



Our guide to the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature.

 By Marie-Claire Chappet
4:34PM BST 06 Oct 2011
Whilst we would all like to claim awareness of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature recipient, a poll currently underway at Nobelprize.org reveals that eighty-eight percent of those who logged on to discover this year’s winner had never read his poetry. Should you find yourself within this statistic, here is our handy guide to Tomas Tranströmer.

1. Born in 1931 in Stokholm to a schoolteacher mother and journalist father, Tranströmer spent much of his childhood in an Enid Blyton style blurr of jolly seaside holidays on Runmarö Island (in the Stockholm archipelago.) This became fodder for his nostalgic poems Östersjöar (1974; Baltics, 1975) and his 1993 memoir Minnena ser mig (The Memories See Me).

2. Tranströmer studied literary history, history of religion and psychology at Stockholm University. After graduating he was employed at the Institution for Psychometrics at Stockholm University in 1957 and, between 1960 and 1966, worked as a psychologist at Roxtuna, a youth correctional facility.

3. Despite a previous smattering of poems published in journals, Tranströmer’s literary debut was in 1954 with 17 dikter (17 Poems.) It has been consided one of the most acclaimed literary debuts of that decade.

4. In Sweden he is known as a ‘buzzard poet’ because his poetry views the world from a great height…like a buzzard, apparently.

Read full article

Where Should I Start with Tomas Tranströmer?




By Colin Cheney| Posted Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, at 3:20 PM ET

A picture taken on March 31, 2011 shows Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer at his home in Stockholm, Sweden.

Photo by JESSICA GOW/AFP/Getty Images


Not to be confused with the Michael Bay franchise, the 80-year-old Swedish psychologist and poet Tomas Tranströmer, just awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, writes surreal, imagistic poems that explore his fascinations with the music of memory and nature. If you want to get to know his work, here are a few good entry points:

1. Tomas Tranströmer: Selected Poems, 1954 – 1986. Edited by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, this selection of over 100 poems provides perhaps the best introduction to Tranströmer. Here, the poems are Englished by twelve different translators, including Hass; it’s a good way to figure out whose translations make you feel closest to the ‘real’ Tranströmer. 

2. The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems. This 2006 collection of Robin Fulton’s clear-eyed and spare translations will give you the most complete picture of the arc of Tranströmer’s career. It’s also one of the only readily available books that shows how the poems were originally collected in Swedish. The Great Enigma includes everything from the astonishing teenage lyrics published in 1952 (17 Poems), to the haunting Baltics, to the late poems of The Sad Gondola.

Read full article

Documentary Captures Tranströmer’s Nobel Day


Fortunately, Bloodaxe Books, the major British and European publisher of Tranströmer books in English, commissioned a documentary that captured events as they unfolded on October 6, 2011, the day that Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The previous August, British documentary filmmaker Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Tranströmer in his apartment playing the piano. Robin Fulton’s translations appear as subtitles for the Swedish-language readings  Tranströmer recorded prior to a stroke in 1990 which rendered him speechless.  The poems in Swedish  include “The Nightingale in Badelunda,” “Allegro,” “From the Thaw on 1966,” “The Half-Finished Heaven,” “April and Silence,” “From March 1979,” and “Tracks.”


Harvard Celebrates Tranströmer November 15


Tuesday, November 15

4-6 p.m. on

Woodberry Poetry Room, Lamont Library

Harvard University


Harvard’s Scandinavian Program congratulates Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer for winning the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature and invites the Harvard and surrounding communities to an evening celebrating his work. This event, “Celebrating this Year’s Nobel Prize in Literature: Tranströmer Across Languages,” will be held from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 15 in the Woodberry Poetry Room of Lamont Library. Scandinavian Preceptor Ursula Lindqvist will read Tranströmer’s poems in the original Swedish; visiting scholar and poet Vasilis Papageorgiou of Linneaus University in Växjö, Sweden, will read from his translations of the poet’s work into Greek; award-winning translator and poet Rika Lesser of New York will read from her translations of Tranströmer’s work into English; and Professor Judith Ryan, an expert on the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, will read published German translations by Hans Grössel. This event is hosted by the Mahindra Humanities Center’s Seminar on Modern Greek Literature and Culture and co-sponsored by the Center’s “Rethinking Translation” seminar, the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and the Scandinavian Program. (Tranströmer read and spoke about his poetry during a visit to Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room in 1981; click on link to listen.)



Listen to Tranströmer read in 1981 at Harvard 

Go to Harvard University Scandinavian Studies Department