09 October 2011

Tomas Transtromer

This week Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. I had been meaning for quite a while to buy one of his collections; now, of course, I will look like a prize-winner camp-follower. The moral is clear: do not hesitate to spend all your money immediately on poetry collections!

I thought at first that I had not read any of his poems, outside of bits in the occasional article, but then I realized I had read several of his poems in the excellent anthology edited by Czeslaw Milosz, A Book of Luminous Things. So here are a couple of his poems. If you find these satisfying, he has several collections currently available (well, there might be a delay in shipping while the publishers slap on stickers reading "Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature").


Men in overalls the same color as earth rise from a ditch.
It's a transitional place, in stalemate, neither country nor city.
Construction cranes on the horizon want to take the big leap, but the clocks are against it.
Concrete piping scattered around laps at the light with cold tongues.
Auto-body shops occupy old barns.
Stones throw shadows as sharp as objects of the moon surface.
And these sites keep on getting bigger
like the land bought with Judas' silver: "a potter's field for buying strangers."



Night, two o'clock: moonlight. The train has stopped
in the middle of the plain. Distant bright points of a town
twinkle cold on the horizon.

As when someone has gone into a dream so far
that he'll never remember he was there
when he comes back to his room.

And as when someone goes into a sickness so deep
that all his former days become twinkling points, a swarm,
cold and feeble on the horizon.

The train stands perfectly still.
Two o'clock: full moonlight, few stars.

(both poems were translated from the Swedish by Robert Bly)


Ms. Baker said...

Both those poems strike me as very American. I heard someone on the radio saying that Transtromer is very different from other Swedish poets. Now I think I see why. Thanks for posting them.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

I hadn't thought of them as American, but I think I see what you mean now that you mention it. Maybe it's the sense of vast open spaces and an unfixed world? (Also, though I believe Transtromer approved the translations, they were translated by an American, so some of that may come in.)

Bill Song said...

Could you possibly explain this line"Concrete piping scattered around laps at the light with cold tongues."

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Doesn't it conjure up an image or emotion in you? Maybe of animals lapping at a pool, only instead of living natural things they're grey dead concrete?