- Published 02:48 11.10.11
- Latest update 02:48 11.10.11
The decision to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer is a declaration of faith in poetry’s power to transcend borders.
By Eli Eliahu
“And I take the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature, when it is given to a poet, to be primarily an assertion of the supra-national value of poetry. To make that affirmation, it is necessary from time to time to designate a poet: and I stand before you, not on my own merits, but as a symbol, for a time, of the significance of poetry.”
It has been over 60 years since T.S. Eliot said the above in his speech at the Nobel Prize banquet. Since then, a few other poets have won the prize, including Wislawa Szymborska and Seamus Heaney, and now once again a poet has been awarded the prize, this time the Swedish poet, Tomas Transtromer. It seems that Eliot’s remarks are more relevant than ever, and the decision to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to a poet indeed is not just an award to the poet himself, but also an award to the significance of poetry and a renewed declaration of faith in its power to transcend borders and have an impact even in times when the value of things is measured solely by the number of people interested in them.
The name of Transtromer, who was born in 1931, has been mentioned as a candidate for several years now, but his win is still seen as a surprise. He is not exactly apolitical, but his poetry does not represent clear-cut non-conformism the way the works of other Nobel laureates did, such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Joseph Brodsky. Nor is the selection perceived as representing the people’s voice, the way works of Seamus Heaney or Derek Walcott are. Not everyone therefore deems Transtromer as a worthy choice. The Telegraph‘s Philip Hensher noted, for example, “that time has shown every single Swedish winner of the prize to be ‘a little phenomenon of no interest’ outside their own country.”