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Nobel Prize in Literature 2011

The 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. Mr. Tranströmer is the first poet to win this most prestigious of prizes since Poland’s Wislawa Szymborska in 1996.

Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, praised Tranströmer’s “exquisite” language and said, ”he is writing about the big questions – death, history, memory, nature. Human beings are sort of the prism where all these great entities meet and it makes us important. You can never feel small after reading the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer.”

Here is one poem. You can also listen to it being read by Chris Moran in a Guardian podcast here.



One evening in February I came near to dying here.
The car skidded sideways on the ice, out
on the wrong side of the road. The approaching cars –
their lights – closed in.

My name, my girls, my job
broke free and were left silently behind
further and further away. I was anonymous
like a boy in a playground surrounded by enemies.

The approaching traffic had huge lights.
They shone on me while I pulled at the wheel
in a transparent terror that floated like egg white.
The seconds grew – there was space in them
they grew as big as hospital buildings.

You could almost pause
and breathe out for a while
before being crushed.

Then something caught: a helping grain of sand
or a wonderful gust of wind. The car broke free
and scuttled smartly right over the road.
A post shot up and cracked – a sharp clang – it
flew away in the darkness.

Then – stillness. I sat back in my seat-belt
and saw someone coming through the whirling snow
to see what had become of me.


I have been walking for a long time
on the frozen Östergötland fields.
I have not seen a single person.

In other parts of the world
there are people who are born, live and die
in a perpetual crowd.

To be always visible – to live
in a swarm of eyes –
a special expression must develop.
Face coated with clay.

The murmuring rises and falls
while they divide up among themselves
the sky, the shadows, the sand grains.

I must be alone
ten minutes in the morning
and ten minutes in the evening.
– Without a programme.

Everyone is queuing at everyone’s door.



Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton who said,  “Some poets use their own language so densely they won’t translate at all. Tranströmer is not one of these. In many ways the language he uses is relatively unadventurous and simple [but] he gives people unusual images [which are] sometimes very surprising and give the reader a shock. That should be what poets do.”

Tomas Tranströmer suffered a stroke over 20 years ago which left his ability to speak severely affected. At a recent appearance in London, his words were read by others, while Tranströmer contributed by playing pieces specially composed for him to play on the piano with only his left hand.


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