Winner of 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature
Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation
Tomas Tranströmer is Sweden’s most important poet. This book includes all the poems he has written during the past forty years, including those from the Bloodaxe Collected Poems of 1987, as well as three later collections, For Living and Dead (1989), The Sad Gondola (1996) and The Great Enigma (2004), and a prose memoir.
In Sweden he has been called a 'buzzard poet' because his haunting, visionary poetry shows the world from a height, in a mystic dimension, but brings every detail of the natural world into sharp focus. His poems are often explorations of the borderland between sleep and waking, between the conscious and unconscious states.
Tranströmer was born in 1931 in Stockholm, where he grew up, but spent many long summers on the island of Runmarö in the nearby archipelago, evoking that landscape in his early work, which draws on the aesthetic tradition of Swedish nature poetry. His later poetry is more personal, open and relaxed, often reflecting his broad interests: travel, music, painting, archaeology and natural sciences. Many of his poems use compressed description and concentrate on a single distinct image as a catalyst for psychological insight and metaphysical interpretation. This acts as a meeting-point or threshold between conflicting elements or forces: sea and land, man and nature, freedom and control.
Robin Fulton has worked with Tomas Tranströmer on each of his collections as they have been published over many years, which has involved detailed exchanges between translator and poet on the meaning and music of numerous poems. There have been several translations as well as some books of so-called "versions" of Tranströmer's poetry published in English, but Fulton's prize-winning translation is the most authoritative and comprehensive edition of his poetry published anywhere.
'Fulton’s translation from the Swedish is excellent: a poet of exceptional achievement has with this volume been born into English’ – Guardian
'In its delicate hovering between the responsibilities of the social world and the invitations of a world of possibly numinous reality, Tomas Tranströmer's poetry permits us to be happily certain of our own uncertainties… Like the animals in Rilke's first sonnet to Orpheus, they are alive to the god's music which 'makes a temple deep inside their hearing' – Seamus Heaney
‘One of the most outstanding poets of our time…Tranströmer has succeeded in achieving a synthesis between the modern and the traditional, between art and life. He has been able to breathe life into some of the most uninspiring realities of modern existence…He has worked for more than thirty years as a practising psychologist, helping people, giving them something of his remarkable integrity and strength, and achieving a depth of vision into our human condition that he is able to express in his poems’ – Jaan Kaplinski
'Tranströmer is a vivid evoker of both landscapes and cityscapes… The writer, he says, is 'at the same time eagle and mole', looking down or looking up from the vantage point best suited to catching life before it disappears. Tranströmer is especially good at memorable moments of panic, uncertainty, displacement, from which the speaker can recover but which remind him of darknesses and worlds no one would want to inhabit for long’ – Edwin Morgan,Northwords
'Precisely observed, haunting, sometimes mysterious poems. They have a quality of intense concentration on the moment, the scene, the details… Darkness, with all its connotations, is a recurring motif’ – Fleur Adcock, Poetry Book Society Bulletin
Tomas Tranströmer suffered a stroke in 1990, which deprived him of most of his speech and left him unable to use his right arm. But he is also an accomplished classical pianist. Unable to speak more than a few words, he can still express himself through music, despite only being able to play left-hand piano pieces. Swedish composers have written several left-hand piano pieces especially for him to play. This film by Pamela Robertson-Pearce and Neil Astley combines contemporary footage of Tranströmer, including his piano playing, with archive film and recordings of earlier readings.