November 5, 2011, 4:01 AM IST
Once in a sterile while, there happen those rare untethered moments when one is catapulted from the humdrum to a sublime plane. I had just invoked the name of Tomas Tranströmer vis-à-vis another piece of writing when my son rang to tell me that Tranströmer had just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and I hit the ceiling.
My mind immediately went back to The World Poetry Festival (Vagarth) held at Bharat Bhavan, in Bhopal in 1989, where I first met Tranströmer. I still remember his sonorous voice reading, inter-alia, from his oeuvre, the lines: “Each man is a half-open door leading to a room for all,” which set the key-note for the Festival. He had later inscribed these words in my souvenir copy.
Born in Stockholm in 1931, Tranströmer is a writer, poet and translator acclaimed as one of the most important Scandinavian writers since World War II. He has published 15 collections of poetry and has been translated into over 60 languages. He worked as a psychologist until 1990. He also plays the piano and there is a constant cross-flow and symbiosis between all three engagements.
Among Tranströmer’s many awards are the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, The Petrarca-Pries in Germany, The Golden Wreath of The Struga Poetry Evenings, and the Swedish Award from International Poetry Forum.In 2007, Tranströmer received a special Lifetime Recognition Award given by the trustees of The Griffin Trust For Excellence in Poetry. His crowning glory has been the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2011.
It is a measure of his humanism that he visited the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984 long before Vagarth. His empathy for the human condition comes across even in a casual encounter.
Tall, imposing, with an arresting personality, Tranströmer strides the international scene like a colossus. There is a heightened awareness in his poetry, a state of sharpened perception. The outstanding characteristic of all his writing is a keenly visualised sense of all his poems.
Sense of rhythm
“I love images,” he says. “I have abstract images also; my memory is very visual too.” This is clear from these lines: “The lake is a window into the earth.” “I put on my sun-glasses, The birdsong darkens.” “…their most secret thoughts meet and flow into each other/As when two colours meet and flow into each other on the wet paper of a school-boy’s painting.”
Tranströmer has an innate sense of rhythm and, in the original Swedish, his poems have an unmistakeable music of their own, which ties up with his love of music.
Though he is deprecating about being called a mystic or religious poet, he does “respond to reality in such a way that I look on existence as a great mystery, and at certain moments, this mystery carries a strong charge, and it is often in such a context that I write. So that these poems are all the time pointing to a greater context: one that is incomprehensible to our everyday reason. Although it begins in something very concrete.”