Nobel Prize Laureate and beloved Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015) was born in Stockholm and worked as a psychologist. He wrote ten collections of poems that the Nobel Prize Committee praised for their “condensed, translucent images that give us fresh access to reality.” New Directions publishes his complete poems in one volume titled The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems. Tranströmer was first published by New Directions in 1966, in New Directions in Prose & Poetry #16. The best-known Scandinavian poet of the postwar period, and the most widely translated, his other books available in English include Selected Poems 1954–1986; The Half-Finished Heaven; For the Living and the Dead; Night Vision; and Windows and Stars. For many years after being seriously debilitated by a stroke, Tranströmer continued write. He was also an avid pianist and released a recording of classical piano pieces performed with his left hand. Tranströmer received numerous public recognitions for his poetry including the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bonnier Award for Poetry, Germany’s Petrarch Prize, the Bellman Prize, the Swedish Academy’s Nordic Prize, the August Prize, and a Lifetime Recognition Award in 2007 from The Griffin Trust. In 2011 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Published a few years after Transtromer suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak, Memories Look at Me is Tomas Tranströmer’s lyrical autobiography about growing up in Sweden. His story opens with a streak of light, a comet that becomes a brilliant metaphor for “my life” as he tries to penetrate the earliest, formative memories of his past. This childhood life unfolds itself slowly in eight glistening chapters that gradually reveal the most secret of treasures: how Tranströmer discovered poetry.
Translated into fifty languages, the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer has had a profound influence around the world, an influence that has steadily grown and has now attained a prominence comparable to that of Pablo Neruda’s during his lifetime. But if Neruda is blazing fire, Tranströmer is expanding ice. The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems gathers all the poems Tomas Tranströmer has published, from his distinctive first collection in 1954, 17 Poems, through his epic poem Baltics ("my most consistent attempt to write music"), and The Sad Gondola, published six years after he suffered a debilitating stroke in 1990 ("I am carried in my shadow / like a violin / in its black case."), to his most recent slim book, The Great Enigma, published in Sweden in 2004. Also included is his prose-memoir Memories Look at Me, containing keys into his intensely spiritual, metaphysical poetry (like the brief passage of insect collecting on Runmarö Island when he was a teenager). Firmly rooted in the natural world, his work falls between dream and dream; it probes "the great unsolved love" with the opening up, through subtle modulations, of "concrete words."