Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, a hometown favorite with a mantel’s worth of Scandinavian literary prizes, had been on critics’ Nobel Prize short lists for almost two decades. In October he finally won.
Tranströmer’s beautiful, dream-like poems feel like Sweden: sparse and cold. They are brilliantly evocative of the sounds and feelings of Scandinavia’s rugged landscape. As a critic at Stockholm’s daily Svenska Dagbladet succinctly said upon announcement of the prize, Tranströmer “finds depth in simplicity.”
Last year there were grumbles in the Swedish dailies when Mario Vargas Llosa won the prize. His novels might be masterpieces, the argument went, but his libertarianism was unforgivable. The instinct to politicize art persists among the Swedish intelligentsia. But while the Tranströmer choice might have been nationalistic, it doesn’t appear to have been political. Tranströmer’s prize is a momentary defeat for ideology and a great victory for poetry. —Michael Moynihan