Swedish poet wins Nobel Prize in literature

The 2011 Nobel Prize in literature was awarded on Thursday to Tomas Transtromer of Sweden, whose sur

STOCKHOLM — The 2011 Nobel Prize in literature was awarded today to Tomas Transtromer of Sweden, whose surrealistic works about the mysteries of the human mind won him wide recognition as the most influential Scandinavian poet of recent decades.

Characterized by powerful imagery, Transtromer’s poems are often built around his own experiences and infused with his love of music and nature. His later poems are darker, probing existential questions of life, death and disease.

Transtomer is considered a master of metaphor, weaving powerful images into his poems without much embellishment. The award citation noted that his collections “are characterized by economy.”

“Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams. Free of the suffocating turbulence the traveler sinks toward the green zone of morning,” reads the prelude to “The Great Enigma,” his last collection, released in Swedish in 2004 and two years later in English.

“Things flare up. From the viewpoint of the quivering lark he is aware of the huge root systems of the trees, their swaying underground lamps,” Transtromer wrote. “But aboveground there’s greenery — a tropical flood of it — with lifted arms, listening to the beat of an invisible pump.”

A psychologist and avid amateur pianist, Transtromer , 80, suffered a stroke in 1990 that left him half-paralyzed and largely unable to speak, but he continued to write, publishing “The Sorrow Gondola” in 1996 and the “The Great Enigma.” He has since retired from writing.

Transtromer has been a perennial favorite for the Nobel and in recent years Swedish journalists have waited outside Transtromer’s apartment in Stockholm on the day the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award is announced.

“He is overjoyed,” Anna Tillgren, spokeswoman for Transtromer’s publisher Bonniers, told reporters at the apartment Thursday. She said Transtromer had managed to utter two words after learning about the Nobel: “very good.”

“He’s writing about big questions. He’s writing about death, he’s writing about history and memory, and nature,” said Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize.

Transtromer is the first Swede to receive the literature prize since Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson shared it in 1974. Englund has said that the academy is especially cautious about awarding Swedish writers out of fear of being seen as biased.

“I think we’ve been quite thoughtful and haven’t been rash,” Englund said after the award was announced.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said the award made him “happy and proud,” and he hoped it would draw global attention to Swedish literature.

The Swedish Academy has also been criticized for being too Euro-centric, ignoring writers from other parts of the world. Seven of the last 10 winners have been Europeans.

While critics are impressed by the beauty of his writing, some have criticized it for a lack of social commentary, so often found in the works of other Nobel winners, including last year’s laureate Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru.

Humble and unpretentious, Transtromer has always avoided political debates and has stayed away from the public eye as much as possible.

“I think dad above all thinks this is great for his readers,” his daughter, Paula Transtromer, said about the prize. “That’s most important to him.”

Born in Stockholm in 1931, Transtromer was raised by his mother, a teacher, after she divorced his father — a journalist. He started writing poetry while studying at the Sodra Latin school in Stockholm.

His work was published in several journals before he published his first book of poetry, “17 poems,” in 1954, winning much acclaim in Sweden.

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