April 26, 2013

NPM 2013 - Tomas Tranströmer

For the five days left, I thought of a mini-theme. I'll be posting poems by poets who have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. So, look forward to 3-4 poems each by a Nobel Prize winning poet in the 5 remaining days of National Poetry Month, 2013.

Today, four poems by the Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011. 

I started reading his poetry only after his Nobel prize and have been completely taken in by whatever I have read so far. It is little wonder that his poetry has won him many fans, even though read by most in translation from Swedish. For example, Teju Cole writes about how Transtromer has been one of his "ports of refuge" for many years. And this article in The Millions says it better than anything I can say: "His poems return often to moments of quiet while the world is asleep. Sometimes it’s to meditate on the secret lives of barns and trees, and at others to pin down fleeting moments that slip away as soon they happen."


Morning Birds by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robin Fulton

I waken the car
whose windshield is coated with pollen.
I put on my sunglasses.
The birdsong darkens.

Meanwhile another man buys a paper
at the railway station
close to a large goods wagon,
which is all red with rust
and stands flickering in the sun.

No blank space anywhere here.

Straight through the spring warmth a cold corridor

where someone comes running
and tells how up at the head office
they slandered him.

Through a back door in the landscape
comes the magpie
black and white, Hell's bird.
And the blackbird darting to and fro
till everything becomes a charcoal drawing,
except the whit clothes on the washing-line:
a palestrina chorus.

No blank space anywhere here.

Fantastic to feel how my poem grows
while I myself shrink.
It grows, it takes my place.
It pushes me aside.
It throws me out of the nest.
The poem is ready. 


by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robin Fulton


I flinch from something that shuffles slantwise through sleet,
A fragment of what is to come.
A wall broken loose. Something without eyes. Hard.
A face of teeth!
A lone wall. Or is the house there
although I do not see it?
The Future:  an army of empty houses
that grope their way ahead through sleet.


Two truths approach each other. One comes from within,
one comes from without--and where they meet you have the chance
to catch a look at yourself.
Noticing what is about to happen, you shout desperately: "Stop!
Anything, anything, as long as I don't have to know myself."
And there is a boat that wants to put in--tries to, right here--
it will try again thousands of times.
Out of the forest's dark comes a long boat hook
that's pushed through the open window
among the party guests who have danced themselves warm.


The apartment I've lived in most of my life is to be evacuated. It's already
emptied of everything. The anchor has let go--but despite the mournful
air it's still the lightest apartment in the city. Truth needs no furniture.
I've gone one round on life's circle and come back to the starting point: a
bare room. Scenes from my early life take shape on the walls like Egyptian
paintings inside a burial chamber. But they are fading. The light is too
strong. The windows have enlarged. The empty apartment is a big tele-
scope pointed at the sky. It's as quiet here as a Quaker meeting. Nothing
heard b ut the pigeons of the backyards, their cooings.  


After A Death
by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly
Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to feel the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armour of black dragon scales.


The Couple
by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly

They turn the light off, and its white globe glows
an instant and then dissolves, like a tablet
in a glass of darkness. Then a rising.
The hotel walls shoot up into heaven’s darkness.
Their movements have grown softer, and they sleep,
but their most secret thoughts begin to meet
like two colors that meet and run together
on the wet paper in a schoolboy’s painting.
It is dark and silent. The city however has come nearer
tonight. With its windows turned off. Houses have come.
They stand packed and waiting very near,
a mob of people with blank faces.


There are many more poems at this page via the Nobel Prize website. In addition to reading them soon, I also hope to read his poems in Robert Bly's recent book of poems in translation from around the world - from Pablo Neruda and Antonio Machado to Rumi, Hafez, Kabir, and Ghalib, and of course, Tranströmer. I got this book from the public library recently but had to return it before I could read it.

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