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Tomas Tranströmer obituary

Swedish poet lauded for his ‘translucent images’ and unforgettable metaphors who won the Nobel prize for literature in 2011

Though the dozen or so collections by the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who has died aged 83, occupy very little space on a bookshelf, the response that they received was enormous. His poems were translated into 60 languages, with at least two dozen translations of his complete work, captivating readers not just throughout Europe but in the Americas, Australasia, the Arab world, India, China and Japan, to the extent that in 2011 he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature.

It is hard to see any simple or conclusive explanation for this wide appeal. Some readers have said that his poems are accessible, and so they are – but only up to a point: there are dark currents beneath the surface, and some of his later works are enigmatic. Others admire the way in which they surprise us even after repeated readings, as if they don’t get “used up”. Others are entranced by his metaphors, which often make us see ordinary things not necessarily in a new light, but in a light that we had not noticed before, as in December Evening 1972, from the collection Stigar (Paths, 1973), included in the New Collected Poems (1997 and 2011) that I translated for Bloodaxe Books:

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