He's a Swedish poet, and the Chinese know it

Updated: 2011-12-16 07:35

By Yang Guang (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Swedish poet Thomas Transtromer is arguably the best-known Nobel literature laureate in Chinese poetry circles.

Transtromer has visited the country twice since 1984 and established close friendships with some of his Chinese counterparts, including his first Chinese translator, "Misty School" poet Bei Dao, and his Chinese translator, poet Li Li.

Two days before the Dec 10 Nobel award ceremony at Stockholm Concert Hall, poets, translators and college students in Beijing gathered at Renmin University of China for a reading of Transtromer's poetry. More than 40 of his works were recited in Chinese, Swedish and English.

Transtromer was born in 1931 and published his first poetry collection in 1954.

He suffered a stroke in 1990, which left him partially paralyzed and hardly able to speak. He continued to write and publish poetry until 2004. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in October for creating "fresh access to reality" through his "condensed translucent images", the judges say.

Bei Dao remembers his interactions with the Swedish poet in his essay Blue House (which is the name of Transtromer's country home).

He says he first heard of the Nordic wordsmith in 1983, when a cultural attache at the Swedish embassy in Beijing handed him Goran Malmqvist's English translation of Transtromer's poetry collection The Wild Square. The attache also gave Bei Dao a letter from Malmqvist, a Swedish Sinologist, member of the Swedish Academy and a senior judge of the Nobel literature prize.

In the letter, Malmqvist asked Bei Dao if he could translate Transtromer into Chinese. Bei Dao tried, and published six pieces in World Literature magazine in 1984.

Transtromer first visited China in 1985 at the invitation of the Beijing Foreign Studies University. He attended a Swedish poetry seminar, visited the Great Wall and went to Shanghai.

He started composing Streets in Shanghai, after returning to his homeland.

Bei Dao remembers hearing him read fragments of the poem when he visited Sweden in 1985. The poem was anthologized into the 1989 collection For the Living and the Dead, after four years of revision.

Transtromer visited China for the second time in 2001 - this time in a wheelchair - when he attended his reading at Peking University. He also traveled to Yunnan province's capital Kunming, where a cultural gallery- cum-cafe is named after him.

Li, who has translated all of Transtromer's 200 odd poems, first read the Swedish poet's work when he was studying Swedish at Beijing Foreign Studies University in the early 1980s.

"There are but a few modern poets who can pen poems in a fashion as succinct and accurate as Transtromer," Li says.

Li says he received a phone call from Transtromer's wife, Monica, on his 50th birthday in January. Transtromer still managed to mumble congratulations on the phone.

Over the years, literary exchanges between China and Sweden have been expanding.

Earlier this month, a Swedish Writers' Union delegation visited Beijing. Five Swedish writers engaged in a series of cultural exchange events.

Eva Ekeroth, cultural counselor of the Swedish Embassy in China, says the Swedish Writers' Union and the Chinese Writers' Association have agreed to host a writers' forum next year.

This year, a Swedish literature translation contest was staged by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Swedish Embassy in China to discover talented Swedish-Chinese literary translators. More than 60 hopefuls participated.

China Daily

(China Daily 12/16/2011 page19)