tomas tranströmer | april and silence

3 04 2008


Poetry Dispatch No. 225 | April 3, 2008


Poets, writers, friends, readers…if you do not have at least one book by the Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer on your shelves, your library is incomplete. Norbert Blei


April and Silence by Tomas Tranströmer

Spring lies deserted.
The dark velvet ditch
creeps by my side
not reflecting anything.

All that shines
are yellow flowers.

I am carried in my shadow
like a violin
in its black case.

All I want to say
gleams out of reach
like the silver
in a pawnshop

[translated by Malena Mörling]


Tomas Tranströmer (born April 15, 1931) is a Swedish writer, poet and translator, whose poetry has been deeply influential in Sweden, as well as around the world.

Tranströmer received his secondary education at the Södra Latin School in Stockholm and graduated as a psychologist from Stockholm University in 1956. He began writing at thirteen, and published his first collection of poems, 17 dikter (Seventeen Poems) in 1954. His latest collection, Den stora gåtan (The Great Enigma), was published in 2004, and an English translation of his entire body of work, The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, was published in 2006. He published a short autobiography, Minnena ser mig (The memories are watching me), in 1993.

Other poets – especially in the “political” 70’s – accused him for being apart from his tradition and not including 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.

Tranströmer and the American poet Robert Bly are close friends and their correspondence has been published in the book Air Mail.

In 1990, he suffered a stroke that affects his speech, but he continues to write. He has often been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and many consider him one of Sweden’s foremost poets. Tranströmer’s awards include the Bonnier Award for Poetry, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Oevralids Prize, the Petrach Prize in Germany, and the Swedish Award from International Poetry Forum. His poetry has been translated into fifty languages; Bly, Robin Fulton, and the prominent American blues writer Samuel Charters have translated his work into English.

In 2007, Tranströmer received a special Lifetime Recognition Award given by the trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, which also awards the annual Griffin Poetry Prize.

In addition to his work as a writer, Tranströmer was also a respected psychologist before he had his stroke. He worked in juvenile prisons, and with disabled, convicts, and drug addicts. He is also a good piano player, something he has been able to continue after his stroke, albeit with one hand.

Collected poems

  • * 17 dikter (1954) – Seventeen Poems
  • * Hemligheter på vägen (1958)
  • * Den halvfärdiga himlen (1962) – The Half-Finished Heaven
  • * Klanger och spår (1966) – Windows and Stones
  • * Mörkerseende (1970) – Night Vision
  • * Stigar (1973) – Paths
  • * Östersjöar (1974) – Baltics
  • * Sanningsbarriären (1978)
  • * Det vilda torget (1983)
  • * För levande och döda (1989) – For the Living and the Dead
  • * Sorgegondolen (1996)
  • * Den stora gåtan (2004)
  • * The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems (2006) – Translated by Robin Fulton