Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer bigraphy, stories - Poet

Tomas Tranströmer : biography

15 April 1931 –

Tomas Gösta Tranströmer ( born 15 April 1931) is a Swedish poet, psychologist and translator. His poems capture the long Swedish winters, the rhythm of the seasons and the palpable, atmospheric beauty of nature. Tranströmer’s work is also characterized by a sense of mystery and wonder underlying the routine of everyday life, a quality which often gives his poems a religious dimension. Indeed, he has been described as a Christian poet.

Tranströmer is acclaimed as one of the most important Scandinavian writers since the Second World War. Critics have praised his poetry for its accessibility, even in translation. His poetry has been translated into over 60 languages. He is the recipient of the 1990 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Life and work

Early life

Tranströmer was born in Stockholm in 1931 and raised by his mother, a schoolteacher, following her divorce from his father. He received his secondary education at the Södra Latin School in Stockholm, where he began writing poetry. In addition to selected journal publications, his first collection of poems, 17 Poems was published in 1954. He continued his education at Stockholm University, graduating as a psychologist in 1956 with additional studies in history, religion, and literature. Between 1960 and 1966, Tranströmer split his time between working as a psychologist at the Roxtuna center for juvenile offenders and writing poetry.


Tranströmer is considered to be one of the "most influential Scandinavian poet[s] of recent decades". Tranströmer has published 15 collected works over his career, which have been translated into over 60 languages. An English translation by Robin Fulton of his entire body of work, New Collected Poems, was published in the UK in 1987 and expanded in 1997. Following the publication of The Great Enigma, Fulton’s edition was further expanded into The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, published in the US in 2006 and as an updated edition of New Collected Poems in the UK in 2011. He published a short autobiography, Minnena ser mig (The Memories see me), in 1993.

During the 1950s, Tranströmer became close friends with poet Robert Bly. The two corresponded frequently, and Bly would translate Tranströmer’s poems into English. Bonniers, Tranströmer’s publisher, released Air Mail, a work consisting of Tranströmer and Bly’s mail, in 2001. The Syrian poet Adunis helped spread Tranströmer’s fame in the Arab world, accompanying him on readings.

In the 1970s, other poets accused Tranströmer of being detached from his own age, since he did not deal overtly with social and political issues in his poems and novels. His work, though, lies within and further develops the Modernist and Expressionist/Surrealist language of 20th-century poetry; his clear, seemingly simple pictures from everyday life and nature in particular reveals a mystic insight to the universal aspects of the human mind. A poem of his was read at Anna Lindh’s memorial service in 2003.

Tranströmer went to Bhopal immediately after the gas tragedy in 1984, and alongside Indian poets such as K. Satchidanandan, took part in a poetry reading session outside.

Tranströmer suffered a stroke in 1990 that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak; however, he would continue to write and publish poetry through the early 2000s. His latest original work, The Great Enigma, was published in 2004.


Tranströmer has played the piano throughout his life; after his stroke, which paralysed the right side of his body, he taught himself to play only with his left hand. He often said that the playing was a way for him to continue living after the stroke.

Many composers and musicians have worked with his poems. The New European Ensemble commissioned the young Swedish composer Benjamin Staern for a song cycle based on poems from The Grief Gondola. The piece was premièred in 2010 in both the composer’s and the poet’s presence. Other composers who have worked with Tomas Tranströmer’s poems include Jan Garbarek and Sven-David Sandström. In 2011 he was elected honorary member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music for his contribution to music.