Nobel Prize-winner Tomas Tranströmer explores the personal and political, the ecological and existential, through poems that expand like the widening scope of a telephoto lens.
With slow strokes and subtle, rich lines, The Blue House: Collected Works of Tomas Tranströmer is evidence of a Nobel Prize-winning poet tracing the world with his pen. A stunning testament to an illustrious career, The Blue House gathers poems and writings from Tranströmer’s fourteen collections into a single book. Original Swedish sits alongside their English translations as Patty Crane translates his words into revelatory language acute in the understanding of human change and loss. Subtle in politics and exact in imagery, the poemsof The Blue House range from agile haiku to cinematic prose. Social phenomena are observed in rich detail—a “dictator’s bust” presiding over a train car of doomed passengers—and the collection is propelled by empathy and curiosity. Under Tranströmer’s watchful eye, no subject is overlooked: Milij Balakirev, the Russian composer; Nils Dacke, the Swedish peasant who led a rebellion against the king; and him, the stranger who forgets his name by the roadside. From the personal to the political to the existential, Tranströmer’s poems act as a telephoto lens, granting us reinvigorated access to the world we live in.
Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011. He was born in 1931 in Stockholm, where he grew up, but spent many long summers on the island of Runmaro in the nearby archipelago, evoking that landscape in his early work, which draws on the aesthetic tradition of Swedish nature poetry. His later poetry is more personal, open and relaxed, often reflecting his broad interests: travel, music, painting, archaeology and natural sciences. He is Scandinavia's best-known and most influential contemporary poet. His books sell thousands of copies in Sweden, and his work has been translated into over 50 languages, with substantial or complete editions of his work published in over 20 languages. Transtromer started writing poetry while at the oppressive Sodra Latin Grammar School (its atmosphere caught by Ingmar Bergman in Alf Sjoberg's Frenzy, which was filmed there, the young Tomas amongst the pupils). But he was devouring books on all subjects, especially geography, with daily visits to the local library, where he worked his way through most of the non-fiction shelves. However, this bookish adolescence was shadowed by the war, by his parents' divorce and the absence of his father, and at 15 he experienced a winter of psychological crisis. He published his first collection, 17 Poems, in 1954, at the age of 23. After studying psychology at the University of Stockholm, he worked at its Psychotechnological Institute, and in 1960 became a psychologist at Roxtuna, a young offenders institution. From the mid-1960s he divided his time between his writing and his work as a psychologist, and in 1965 moved with his family to Vasteras, where he spent the rest of his working life. In 1990, a year after the publication of his tenth book of poems, Transtromer suffered a stroke, which deprived him of most of his speech and partly inhibited movement on his right-hand side. Swedish composers have since written several left-hand piano pieces especially for him to play. Since his stroke, he has published a short book of 'autobiographical chapters', Memories Look at Me (1993) and a new collection, The Sad Gondola (1996), both included in Robin Fulton's translation of his Bloodaxe New Collected Poems (1997). In 2004 he published The Great Enigma, a slim volume containing five short poems and a group of 45 even smaller haiku-type poems. These were added to the New Collected Poems to form Transtromer's first collected edition to appear in the States, licensed by Bloodaxe Books to New Directions in 2006 under the title The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems. That edition was published by Bloodaxe Books in the UK as the latest revised and expanded edition of New Collected Poems in 2010. Transtromer has also translated other poets into Swedish, including Robert Bly and Hungary's Janos Pilinszky. Before winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011, he had won many other international awards for his poetry, including the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in the US, the Bonner Award for Poetry, Germany's Petrarch Prize, the Bellman Prize, the Swedish Academy's Nordic Prize, and the August Prize. In 1997 the city of Vasteras established a special Transtromer Prize. In 2007, he received a special Lifetime Recognition Award given by the trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, which also awards the annual Griffin Poetry Prize.
Yusef Komunyakaa’s books of poetry include Dien Cai Dau, Neon Vernacular, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize, Talking Dirty to the Gods, Warhorses, Emperor of Water Clocks, and Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth (forthcoming from FSG in 2020). His honors include the William Faulkner Prize (Université Rennes, France), the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the 2011 Wallace Stevens Award. His plays, performance art and libretti have been performed internationally and include Saturnalia, Wakonda’s Dream, Testimony, and Gilgamesh. He teaches at New York University.
Rachel Bliss is a Philadelphia-based artist whose work depicts a visual innuendo that is as surreal as the environment she is a part of. Since 1991, Bliss has exhibited in galleries and museums including The Philadelphia Museum of Art, James A. Michener Museum, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Coombs Contemporary Gallery in London and the Alternative Museum in New York. Bliss’ art has been commissioned by and featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Village Voice, Penguin Books, and The New Yorker. She is the founder and curator of The Drawing Room in Philadelphia.
Praise for The Blue House
"A poem by Swedish Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer is one in which 'consciousness can take hold of the world/ like a hand clutching a sun-warmed stone.' Tranströmer’s grasp is gentle, but startling surprises surface from the depths in his hand. This book is the culmination of a years-long endeavor by Patty Crane to render all of Tranströmer’s work in an English as subtle and sensitive as the poet’s original Swedish, in which 'The shadows here are deep/ without a voice.' There are many versions of this titanic poet in English, but this one should become the standard—Crane’s translation is the Tranströmer to read."—Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR "Books We Love 2023"
“Incandescent. Crane’s translations feel as close to the original Swedish as one is likely to get. . . . This new gathering will draw readers into the poet's grounded realm of both the familiar and the magical. . . . The Blue House will long be considered the definitive tome of Tranströmer’s work in English and should be on every poetry shelf.”—Raúl Niño, Booklist, STARRED review
"At once avant-garde and traditional, his poetry straddles the worldly occasional and the metaphysical, the ordinary and the numinous, standing, as it does, in the space between waiting and revelation."—Poetry Foundation
“Known for compressed perceptions that capture numinous mysteries within the ranges of ordinary life . . . Tranströmer dismantled any Scandinavian stereotype of lugubrious alienation, finding the countervailing value within the despair (‘You drank the darkness / and became visible’) or celebrating ordinary pleasures like espresso: ‘the black droplets of deep insight / sometimes intercepted by the soul.’ Patty Crane’s beautifully judged translation fulfills the need for a version of Tranströmer in a current, American idiom. A must for the poetry lover’s library.”—David Woo, Lit Hub
"Skillfully rendered in Crane’s translations, these frequently restrained poems are studded with unforgettable phrases, weaving music, mythology, and the personal. . . . This is a revelatory gathering from one of 20th-century poetry’s most enduring presences."—Publishers Weekly
"With memorably crafted verse covering a wealth of subjects ranging from nature to death, grieve and loss, The Blue House is especially and unreservedly recommended as a seminal and core addition to personal, professional, community, and college/university library poetry collections."—Midwest Book Review
Praise for Patty Crane’s Translations of Tomas Tranströmer
“[In Bright Scythe, Crane] render[s] the poems, often with masterly care, into syllables sharper, more brittle, more urgent, than some prior translators chose. Her Tranströmer wants to be heard… Readers who know earlier versions, or who know Swedish, will want to contrast these versions with what they know; readers new to Tranströmer should bundle up and dive in.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
Praise for Tomas Tranströmer
“[Tranströmer’s] work is very much a poetry centered on specific moments: the short minute that brings sudden relief, the sense of turning the back to everyday life and opening the window for a brief flash just to listen to the birds and the wind.” —The New York Times
“Tranströmer's world is deeply northern, with scenes of snow, islands in chill waters, clouds and mists. But always, he is really speaking about innerscapes of the human soul.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“In its scope, Baltics remains calmly ambitious and unafraid.” —The Rumpus
“The Half-Finished Heaven provides a wonderful respite for world-weary readers.”—The Washington Post