STOCKHOLM – The Nobel Prize in literature was awarded Thursday to a psychologist who used his spare time to craft sparsely written poems about the mysteries of everyday life — commuting to work, watching the sun rise or waiting for nightfall.

Tomas Transtromer, Sweden’s most famous poet, had been a favorite for the prize for so many years that even his countrymen had started to doubt whether he would ever win.

Now 80 and retired from writing, he finally got the call as he sat down to watch the prize announcement on TV.

Asked how it felt to be the first Swede in four decades to win the literature prize, he told reporters: “Very good.”

He gave mostly one-syllable answers to questions, the result of a stroke more than two decades ago that left him partially paralyzed and largely unable to speak. His wife, Monica, filled in the details.

“It was a very big surprise,” she said. “Tomas, I know you were surprised. Despite the speculation for so many years, you haven’t really taken it seriously.”

Most of all, she said, Transtromer was pleased to see the prize go to poetry for the first time since Wislawa Szymborska of Poland won in 1996.

Transtromer’s surrealistic works are characterized by powerful imagery that explores the mysteries of the human mind. His poems are often built around his own experiences and infused with his love of music and nature. He also writes about history, existential questions and death.

“His poems have a kind of stark, piercing inwardness that’s very striking,” said Robert Hass, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who edited Transtromer’s “Selected Poems.”

“There are lots of poems written about driving back and forth to work, poems about dawn, poems about dusk. He gets those moments in life, those ordinary periods of change.”

Transtromer has long been recognized as the most influential Scandinavian poet of the post-World War II era. His work has been translated into more than 50 languages.

But many thought his nationality stood in the way of receiving the prestigious, $1.5 million Nobel from the Swedish Academy, which has often been accused of bias in favor of literature from mainland Europe. Seven of the last 10 winners have been mainland Europeans.

“The Swedish modesty, or the Swedish fear of being Swedish, has postponed Transtromer’s award by at least 10 years,” Swedish poet Bob Hansson wrote on his blog after the announcement.