The 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer because, in the words of the judges, “through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”.
Tranströmer studied psychology at the University of Stockholm and, after graduating in 1956, worked at its Psychotechnological Institute. In 1960 he became the psychologist at an institution for young offenders and for many years after that divided his time between his writing and work as an applied psychologist.
Asked by an interviewer in 1990 whether psychology had replaced religion for him, he replied:
“Well, it’s a very complicated question. Psychology is sometimes close to religion but it depends on the psychologist, on how he looks at things. Psychologists of the 20th century are rather suspicious of religion and try to explain it away. But some are not. I mean the Jungian way of handling psychology is much more open to religion.”
In a 2001 interview in Budapest here the nexus suggested in his case between Psychology and Poetry.
It is no accident that Rilke and Eliot are seen as his poetic sources. But Tomas Tranströmer is also a psychologist by vocation, and his images seem to touch unconscious layers. As for their form, they are mostly written in free verse. How are form and content related in his poetry?
In his first volume, entitled 17 Poems, he wrote in stricter forms. Later on he expanded his vision of form, so his later poems are a mixture of surrealism, imagism and symbolism, devoid of rhetorical devices. Seeing that his images indeed aim at the subconscious level, the influence of psychology may after all be considered an occupational hazard for him. Yet perhaps this is precisely why this is not national, Swedish poetry, but universal poetry with a meaning for everyone.
In a comment made in the Booxdale Blog last July 2011 (before the Nobel Award) the blogger emphasized that many of his poems use compressed description and concentrate on a single distinct image as a catalyst for psychological insight and metaphysical interpretation.