This site uses cookies...
Cookies are small text files that help us make your web experience better. By using any part of the site you consent to the use of cookies. More information about our cookies policy can be found on the Terms of Use.

Radiant light  in the darkness of the Nordic winter

· Nobel Prize in Literature to Tomas Tranströmer ·

The annual Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm has made the 10th of December a very special day in Sweden. Together with the Peace Prize Award Ceremony in the Norwegian capital Oslo on the very same day it returns every year as a moment of splendor and festivitas in the the midst of the dark Nordic winter. It provides a welcome opportuinty to share in the joy of celebrating some outstanding achievements of human culture and research. Each Nobel Prize is regarded as the most prestigious award in its field, but among the Laureates in Stockholm one of them usually tends to receive especially much attention, i.e. the one in the field of Literature. The Nobel Laureate in Literature in 2011, the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who celebrated his 80th birthday in April this year, will hardly be an exception to that rule.

Tranströmer was born and raised in Stockholm, where he is also living today together with his wife, Monica. For more than 30 years, however, they were living in the city of Västerås, where their two daughters grew up and where Tomas Tranströmer was working as a psychologist. His first book, 17 dikter , had been published already in 1954, and during his years in Västerås he published some ten more books. In the last 15 years he has published two more books, despite a stroke he suffered in 1990, which caused a severe impairment of his abilities to speak and communicate.

Although he writes in a small language, Tranströmer is highly appreciated also far beyond the borders of his native country. His poems have been translated into more than 50 languages, among them Chinese, Vietnamese and Hebrew. And many of his poems have also been set to music by different composers. Besides poetry, music plays an important role in the life of Tranströmer himself, as he is a skilled piano player and composer as well. Music and the rural landscape of Sweden are among the chief sources of inspiration for his poetry.

The language of Tranströmer at first may seem to be very simple and ordinary, but a closer look uncovers a very exact and careful choice of expressions. His metaphors are typically open to a broad range of interpretations, although they are themselves formulated in a very precise manner. The Nobel Prize Committe declared as their motive for choosing Tranströmer for the award that “ because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality ”.

One might, then, ask about what kind of reality that Tranströmer is hinting at, in his poems. On the surface, his texts seem to deal with very ordinary experiences of the reality of everyday life. And since Swedish contemporary culture is mostly cast in a distinctly non-religious mould, one could perhaps feel reluctance towards searching for religious sentiments in his texts. In the case of Tomas Tranströmer, however, such a reluctance would clearly be misplaced.

True enough, Tranströmer refrains from telling much about himself in his texts, and he has always been discreet about telling publicly about his own personal convictions. He wants his poems to speak for themselves, leaving them open for differerent interpretations. But his texts are permeated with a sense of mystery and opennes to the infiniteness of another world, shining through his metaphors taken from everyday life. At times he explicitly refers to Biblical texts, as in his poem The nighingale in Badelunda . Not to speak of his poem Romanesque arches , where the encounter with an angel in a church paves the way for expressing the openness towards the infinite that is dwelling within the human person.

In the beginning of October, after having been elected for the Nobel Prize award, Tranströmer was visited by many journalists in his home in Stigbergsgatan in Stockholm. Among them was also his old Catholic friend Ola Björlin, who writes for the Swedish Catholic journal, Katolskt magasin . When Tranströmer was still living in Västerås, the two of them used to play Bach together in a small orchestra – Tomas the piano and Ola the flute. Even though his ability to speak is nowadays severely limited after the stroke, Tranströmer manages to communicate to his old friend Ola Björlin that he is obviously happy to have been elected for the Nobel Prize award. He also thinks that it is not a bad thing to have reached the age of 80 when receiving such a prestigious award. One can take it a bit more relaxed, not becoming too much over-excited by it. Surely, he is looking forward to take part in the festivitas surrounding the prize award. But even more, Tranströmer explains, he is looking forward to the tranquillity afterwards, when everyday life is returning again. Because it is in everyday life, he thinks, that the path to reality is to be found.




St. Peter’s Square

April 24, 2019