After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.
I shove my hands in my haydnpockets
and act like a man who is calm about it all.
I raise my haydnflag. The signal is:
“We do not surrender. But want peace.”
The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;
rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.
The rocks roll straight through the house
but every pane of glass is still whole.
Tomas Transtromer, a Swedish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011 for a body of work known for shrewd metaphors couched in deceptively spare language, crystalline descriptions of natural beauty and explorations of the mysteries of identity and creativity, died on Thursday in Stockholm. He was 83.
The Swedish publisher Albert Bonniers announced the death without giving a cause. In 1990, at age 59, Mr. Transtromer had a stroke that severely curtailed his ability to speak; he also lost the use of his right arm.
With a pared-down style and brusque, forthright diction, Mr. Transtromer (pronounced TRAWN-stroh-mur) wrote in accessible language, though often in the service of ideas that were diaphanous and not easy to parse; he could be precisely observant one moment and veer toward surrealism the next.
Editor’s note: Tomas Tranströmer received the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature on October 6, 2011.
By Steven Ford Brown
I first met Monica and Tomas Tranströmer in 1983, in Texas. I had left my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, to attend a graduate writing program and nominated myself to pick them up at the airport. We immediately had a connection, since I had met Robert Bly in the 1970s and published a special feature on his poetry in Aura Literary Arts Review, a magazine I edited for the English Department of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The Tranströmers were delighted as their close relationship with Bly dated back to the 1960s.
The arrival of the Tranströmers on campus coincided that week with the arrival of Howard Moss, the poetry editor of The New Yorker. Ambition is very much an American trait, and most of the writing students chose to spend time with Moss on the chance he might choose their work for publication. That left the Tranströmers to me, so I gave them a guided tour of the city. We lunched at an Asian restaurant and visited a music store where Tomas could buy sheet music for piano to add to his growing library at home. Since childhood Tomas had played piano, and he was as talented with music as he was with poetry. The rest of the week Tomas conducted a poetry workshop and met individually with students. He concluded his residency with a reading before a large and enthusiastic audience.
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Tuesday, November 15
4-6 p.m. on
Woodberry Poetry Room, Lamont Library
Harvard’s Scandinavian Program congratulates Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer for winning the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature and invites the Harvard and surrounding communities to an evening celebrating his work. This event, “Celebrating this Year’s Nobel Prize in Literature: Tranströmer Across Languages,” will be held from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 15 in the Woodberry Poetry Room of Lamont Library. Scandinavian Preceptor Ursula Lindqvist will read Tranströmer’s poems in the original Swedish; visiting scholar and poet Vasilis Papageorgiou of Linneaus University in Växjö, Sweden, will read from his translations of the poet’s work into Greek; award-winning translator and poet Rika Lesser of New York will read from her translations of Tranströmer’s work into English; and Professor Judith Ryan, an expert on the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, will read published German translations by Hans Grössel. This event is hosted by the Mahindra Humanities Center’s Seminar on Modern Greek Literature and Culture and co-sponsored by the Center’s “Rethinking Translation” seminar, the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and the Scandinavian Program. (Tranströmer read and spoke about his poetry during a visit to Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room in 1981; click on link to listen.)