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Swedish Poet Transtromer’s `Translucent Images’ Win Nobel

Poet Tomas Transtromer. Despite having been translated into more than 50 languages, the poet is little known outside of his native Sweden. Photographer: Jessica Gow/AP
Poet Tomas Transtromer. Despite having been translated into more than 50 languages, the poet is little known outside of his native Sweden. Photographer: Jessica Gow/AP

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Tomas Transtromer, a Swedish poet and translator known for his depiction of nature and his economy of form, won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.

He won the prize “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality,” the Swedish Academy said today in Stockholm.

Transtromer, 80, began writing poetry as a student at Soedra Latin School. He published his first collection of poems, “Seventeen Poems” (17 Dikter) in 1954, establishing himself as a leading voice of his generation by 1966’s “Windows & Stones: Selected Poems” (Klanger Och Spaar), the academy said.

“It’s very possible to read through Tomas Transtromer’s production in a single evening,” Peter Englund, permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy, told reporters in Stockholm today. “It will be a very special evening.”

Transtromer, who worked as a psychologist with juvenile offenders, continued to write after a stroke in 1990 left him with difficulty speaking.

The poet’s reaction was one of “complete disbelief,” his wife, Monica Transtromer, said in a telephone interview with national broadcaster SVT today. “It was a nice blend of terror, surprise and complete happiness.”

Comfortable Surprise

“It’s very bewildering, I’m standing in our apartment on Soeder, Tomas is sitting down and having a bit of a rest and we are surrounded by lots of photographers and journalists,” Monica Transtromer said. “The atmosphere is very comfortable, I must say. It’s warm and amicable and we don’t feel too stressed despite the fact that we were terribly surprised.”

Transtromer’s latest poetry collections, including “The Sorrow Gondola” (Sorgegondolen) in 1996 and 2004’s “The Great Enigma” (Den Stora Gaatan) have “shifted towards an even smaller format and a higher degree of concentration,” according to an official biography posted online by the Swedish academy.

The author has translated the works of poets including the American Robert Bly, who introduced him in the U.S. in the 1960s, and Hungary’s Janos Pilinszky into Swedish.

His lyrical, surreal works explore the natural world, “falling somewhere between dream and nightmare,” the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry said on awarding him a Lifetime Recognition Award in 2007.

“Many have hoped for this a long time,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said in a statement after the Nobel announcement. “This focuses additional attention on Swedish literature abroad, and I hope also that it will encourage more reading in Sweden.”

Dylan, Adonis

The poet climbed past Syrian poet Adonis and American songwriter Bob Dylan to top bookmaker Ladbrokes’s odds lists before the prize was disclosed, leading the list with 4/6 odds in the hours before the announcement. The bookmaker said it faces “a significant payout.”

“Transtromer is the toast of literary punters Europe-wide,” spokesman Alex Donohue said in a statement. “His supporters have definitely had the better of us this morning.”

Last year’s Nobel literature prize went to Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian writer and literary critic whose work has explored the political corruption and military dictatorships of South America. Winners in the last decade have included Romanian-born novelist Herta Mueller in 2009 and Turkish author Orhan Pamuk in 2006.

The 10 million-krona ($1.4 million) Nobel literature prize was created in the will of Alfred Nobel and first awarded in 1901. Nobel, a Swede who invented dynamite, also set up awards for achievements in medicine, physics, chemistry and peace.

Greatest Poets

“This is someone who has been in the running for a long time, he’s been nominated every year since 1993,” Englund said on live TV. “He’s one of the world’s greatest living poets.”

Bloodaxe Books has been publishing Transtromer for 25 years, including a revised edition of “New Collected Poems” brought out in April for his 80th birthday.

“His books sell thousands of copies in Sweden,” Bloodaxe said in an e-mailed news release today. “We still have stock of our latest edition, but have put through an immediate reprint, and an e-book will be available shortly.”


To contact the reporter on this story: Naomi Kresge in Berlin at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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