Tomas Transtromer, a Swedish poet whose sometimes bleak but graceful work explores themes of isolation, emotion and identity while remaining rooted in the commonplace, won the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.
Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy praised Transtromer, saying that “through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”
The assembled journalists cheered upon hearing that Transtromer, who was born in Stockholm, had won the prize.
Transtromer, 80, has written more than 15 collections of poetry, many of which have been translated into English and 60 other languages.
Critics have praised Transtromer’s poems for their accessibility, even in translation, noting his elegant descriptions of long Swedish winters, the rhythm of the seasons and the palpable, atmospheric beauty of nature.
“So much poetry, not only in this country but everywhere, is small and personal and it doesn’t look outward, it looks inward,” said Daniel Halpern, the president and publisher of Ecco, the imprint of HarperCollins that has published English translations of Transtromer’s work. “But there are some poets who write true international poetry. It’s the sensibility that runs though his poems that is so seductive. He is such a curious and open and intelligent writer.”
Neil Astley, the editor of Bloodaxe Books in Britain, called Transtromer “a metaphysical visionary poet.”
“He’s worked for much of his life as a psychologist, and the work is characterized by very strong psychological insight into humanity,” Astley said.
Transtromer was born in Stockholm in 1931. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father a journalist. He studied literature, history, religion and psychology at Stockholm University, graduating in 1956, and worked as a psychologist at a youth correctional facility.
In 1990, Transtromer suffered a stroke that left him mostly unable to speak, but he eventually began to write again.
On Thursday afternoon, the stairwell in Transtromer’s apartment building filled with journalists from all over the world seeking reaction, the Swedish media reported.
Visibly overwhelmed, Transtromer finally appeared, accompanied by his wife, Monica. Speaking on his behalf, she said her husband was most happy that the prize was awarded for poetry.
“That you happened to receive it is a great joy and happy surprise, but the fact the prize went to poetry felt very good,” she said, addressing him at a gathering that quickly moved into the vestibule of their home in Stockholm.