Tomas Transtromer dies at 83; Swedish poet won Nobel Prize in 2011

Associated Press

Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2011, has died. He was 83.

The reclusive, mild-mannered wordsmith — considered a master of metaphor and one of the most important Scandinavian poets of the post-World War II era — died Thursday after a short illness, said a spokeswoman for his publisher, Bonniers.

In collections such as “Windows and Stones,” Transtromer used imaginative metaphors to describe the mysteries of the human mind. His work has been translated into more than 60 languages and influenced poets across Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.


Transtromer’s works were characterized by a succinct writing style and powerful imagery that explored the mysterious sides of everyday life with little embellishment. The focus on simplicity was also mirrored in the way he led his life.

Working as a psychologist in Swedish state institutions, Transtromer (TRAWN-stroh-mur) wrote his poetry during evenings and weekends and stood out for his unpretentious demeanor. He preferred to stay away from the public eye and largely avoided the political debates that engaged many of his contemporaries.

The poet stopped writing after suffering a stroke in 1990 that left him half-paralyzed and largely unable to speak. When he received the Nobel at age 80, he had been a favorite for the prize for so many years that even his countrymen had started to doubt whether he would ever win.

His most famous works include “Windows and Stones,” published in 1966, in which he depicts themes from his many travels, and 1974’s “Baltics,” about the democracies and dictatorships surrounding the Baltic Sea during the Cold War.

In 1996 he published “The Sorrow Gondola” with work that had been written before the stroke. “The Great Enigma” appeared in 2006.

Born April 15, 1931, in Stockholm, Transtromer grew up alone with his teacher mother in the city’s working-class district after she divorced his father, a journalist. He started writing poetry while studying at the Sodra Latin school in Stockholm, and his work appeared in several journals before he published his first book of poetry, “17 Poems,” in 1954, to much acclaim in Sweden.

He studied literature, history, poetics, psychology, and the history of religion at Stockholm University and worked briefly as an assistant at the university’s psychometric institution.

But he would spend the majority of his professional life in the much less glamorous settings of state institutions in the small Swedish towns of Linkoping and Vasteras, where he lived in a terraced house with his wife, Monika, a nurse, and their two daughters. He first worked at an institution for juvenile offenders and later at a state-funded labor organization, where he helped disabled people choose careers and counseled parole offenders and those in drug rehabilitation.

For decades, Transtromer also had a close friendship with American poet Robert Bly, who translated many of his works into English. In 2001, Bonniers published the correspondence between the two writers in the book “Air Mail.”

Transtromer’s poems became infused with his love of nature and were often built around his own experiences: commuting to work, watching the sun rise or waiting for nightfall. But underneath the ordinary there was also something secretive, where he explored existential questions, death and disease.

He wove in imagery of Sweden’s barren landscape, or returned to a childhood home on an island in the archipelago off the east coast, where his grandfather worked as a ship pilot.

“So much has happened. Reality has eaten away so much of us. But summer, at last,” Transtromer wrote in the poem “Summer Grass.”

“A great airport — the control tower leads down load after load with chilled people from space. Grass and flowers — we are landing. The grass has a green foreman. I go and check in.”

Transtromer is survived by his wife, Monika, and their daughters, Emma and Paula.