I. Iniesta Neurosciences and History 2016;4(2):51-60
Type of article: ORIGINAL
I. Iniesta Medical Head of Neurology & Prevocational Educational Supervisor. Department of Neurology, MidCentral District Health Board, New Zealand.
Introduction. Tomas Tranströmer (Stockholm, 1931-2015) is one of the most widely read poets in the world. Following a stroke in November 1990 he lost his ability to speak and the use of his right hand, but continued writing poems and playing the piano with his left hand.
Development. A comparison of Tranströmer’s poetry from before and after his stroke reveals a radical reduction in fluency with a loss of what Russian linguist Jakobson calls the syntagmatic axis or ‘contiguity’; these features are often altered in Broca’s aphasia. We witness a dissolution (a Jacksonian antonym for evolution) into more primitive fundamental stages of language. Articles, prepositions and narrative, disappeared from his discourse, but he preserved other functions related to creating images and finding similarities: Jakobson’s ‘metaphoric axis’, which is typically altered in fluent or Wernicke’s aphasia. His already distilled language underwent further reductions poststroke as he turned to an agrammatical, telegraphic form of poetry, the haiku. Following the stroke, he was able to communicate with the help of his wife Monica and his piano.
Conclusions. In 2011, Tranströmer was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature “because, through his translucent, condensed images, he gives us fresh access to reality”. He created some of these images thanks to the stroke itself, despite displaying severe aphasia and agraphia. This article is dedicated to the memory of the Scandinavian poet for having contributed to medical humanities and neurology by opening new avenues of communication for the aphasic patient through music and poetry.