October 6, 2011 8:01 pm

Sweden’s ‘buzzard’ poet wins Nobel Prize

Tomas Tranströmer, Sweden’s most celebrated living poet, was on Thursday announced as the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Swedish Academy said that it chose Mr Tranströmer “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”.

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Sometimes described as “the buzzard poet”, the 80-year-old is the author of 15 stark, metaphysical collections marked by an intense engagement with nature.

“This is a happy end to a long wait: joy with a wash of relief,” said Robin Robertson, author of The Deleted World: New Versions in English of Poems by Tomas Tranströmer (Enitharmon).

“Tranströmer is not only Scandinavia’s most important poet, he is a writer of world stature – and that has finally been publicly acknowledged.”

Mr Tranströmer is the ninth Swede to take the award and the eighth European to win in the past 10 years. But Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Nobel committee, rejected any charges of parochialism.

If anything, argued Mr Englund, a national self-consciousness had worked against Mr Tranströmer, a poet nominated on numerous occasions whose work has been translated into 60 languages. It is more than 30 years since a Swedish writer last won the prize.

Before Thursday’s announcement, there had also been much speculation that the committee would choose to honour the Syrian poet Adonis in a gesture towards the Arab spring. But Mr England dismissed the notion that there was a political dimension to the prize; such an approach, he said, was “literature for dummies”.

Mr Tranströmer was born in 1931, the son of a schoolteacher and a journalist. His first collection, 17 dicter (17 poems), published in 1954 while he was still a student, was one of the most acclaimed literary debuts of the decade.

After gaining his degree in literature, psychology and theology, he worked for a short time as an assistant at the Institute for Psychometrics in Stockholm University before taking a job at a facility for young offenders. He went on to combine his poetry with a long career as a psychologist. “A man feels the world with his work like a glove,” he once wrote.

In the decades that followed, collections such as Den halvfärdiga himlen (The Half-Finished Heaven, 1962) and Klanger och spår (Windows and Stones, 1966) established him as one of the leading poets of his generation.

Mr Tranströmer suffered a stroke in 1990, which left him partly paralysed and affected his speech. Though unable to read in public, he continued to work. His most recent original collection is Den stora gåtan (The Big Riddle, 2004).

Neil Astley, the editor of Bloodaxe Books, which publishes Mr Tranströmer in the UK, believed the Nobel committee’s choice would be good for poetry in general. “It is not often that a poet wins,” he said, “but when it happens it is usually a major figure in world literature.”

Mr Tranströmer is the 104th winner of the 10m-krona ($1.4m) prize, which was created in the will of the scientist Alfred Nobel and first awarded in 1901.

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