The Nobel Prize in Literature 2011 was awarded to Tomas Tranströmer “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”.
Tranströmer is the first poet to win the prize since Polish poet Wisława Szymborska who won the prize in 1996, and the first Swedish recipient since 1974.
The Times Literary Supplement points out that Tranströmer may be better know to English readers for a “squabble” over the process of translation versus writing a ‘version’ or ‘imitation’ of a poem.
Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books argues about the “essential silliness of the prize” arguing:
Eighteen (or sixteen) Swedish nationals will have a certain credibility when weighing up works of Swedish literature, but what group could ever really get its mind round the infinitely varied work of scores of different traditions. And why should we ask them to do that?
Below are two poems by Tomas Tranströmer translated by Robert Bly.
They turn the light off, and its white globe glows
an instant and then dissolves, like a tablet
in a glass of darkness. Then a rising.
The hotel walls shoot up into heaven’s darkness.
Their movements have grown softer, and they sleep,
but their most secret thoughts begin to meet
like two colors that meet and run together
on the wet paper in a schoolboy’s painting.
It is dark and silent. The city however has come nearer
tonight. With its windows turned off. Houses have come.
They stand packed and waiting very near,
a mob of people with blank faces.
After A Death
Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.
One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.
It is still beautiful to feel the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armour of black dragon scales.