Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer: Madrigal

This is also a very good poem by Tranströmer. Although the more usual set-up of the poem isn't there; or rather, that this looks like a piece of prose, the text rings like a poem to me. The imagery, the rhythm, the silences between the words and the sentences; and of course the weight of each word. If you hear this poem recited, you probably wouldn't think of it as a prose poem. However the form, Tranströmer seems to shine through.

* * *


I inherited a dark forest where I seldom walk. But a day is coming when the living and the dead trade places. Then the forest will be set in motion. We are not without hope. The most serious crimes will remain unsolved despite the efforts of many policemen. In the same way there is somewhere in our lives a great unsolved love. I inherited a dark forest, but today I am walking in the other forest, the light one. And the living things that sing, wiggle, wave and crawl! It's spring and the air is very strong. I have an examination at the University of Oblivion and am as emptyhanded as the shirt on the clothesline.

* * *

I have always loved the closing line:
I have an examination at the University of Oblivion and am as emptyhanded as the shirt on the clothesline.

How wonderfully simple yet recognisable that image is! The cheerfully waving shirt hanging out to dry on a clothesline. No worries, just existing right there and then, with the sun shining through its cotton white and blue stripes.

I also like that the air is very strong (stark is the Swedish word, the emphasis on the rolling 'r'). The air can be strong. When life holds meaning and your stride is full. When the time of year is spring as well, I get his meaning clearly.

The dark and light forests he speaks about is hardly difficult to recognise. At least not to me. Again I guess the Northern or even Scandinavian landscape I share with this poet informs my reading and makes me feel right at home in the world he paints. But beyond that, the forest isn't exactly an unknown image to mental landscapes. Yet powerful, I find, a valid illustration.

Here the balance between the light and dark is quite visible. You just don't have one without the other. 

Squeezed in is the line about unsolved love. This I find in a way very hopeful. That somewhere in our lives there is a great unsolved love. That puts some light and warmth into areas one might often think of as dark and mysterious, just because one doesn't see what is there, what it is within you that feels unsolved, unilluminated. Why shouldn't it be a great unsolved love rather than a deeply forgotten dark something?

What shines through the clearest, I think though, is that although you inherit a dark forest or wood, you dont have to live in it. You don't have to reproduce the worldview you grow up in, the fights of your fathers. Through the University of Oblivion you wash free of static worlds and come out light and emptyhanded, translucent with sunlight and full of life.

In Swedish:

* * *


Jag ärvde en mörk skog dit jag sällan går. Men det kommer en dag när de döda och levande byter plats. Då sätter sig skogen i rörelse. Vi är inte utan hopp. De svåraste brotten förblir ouppklarade trots insats av många poliser. På samma sätt finns någonstans i våra liv en stor uoppklarad kärlek. Jag ärvde en mörk skog men idag går jag i en annan skog, den ljusa. Allt levande som sjunger slingrar viftar og kryper! Det är vår och luften är mycket stark. Jag har examen från glömskans universitet och är lika tomhänt som skjortan på tvättstrecket.

* * *

From För levande och döda, 1989 (For the living and the dead).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer: Romanesque Arches (English) / Romanska bågar (Swedish)

Another of Tranströmer's poems I hold dear is "Romanesque Arches" or "Romanska bågar". This poem is deeply human, hence international.

From our shared heritage, here exemplified by a Romanesque church (rumoured to be the San Marco Cathedral in Venice/Venezia, Italy), we enter our shared world of spirit, of humanity, our nearly endless human potential.

Romanesque Arches

Basilica di San Marco
Tourists have crowded into the half-dark of the enormous
       Romanesque church.
Vault opening behind vault and no perspective.
A few candle flames flickered.
An angel with no face embraced me
and his whisper went all through my body:
"Don't be ashamed to be a human being, be proud!
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
You'll never be complete, and that's as it should be."
Tears blinded me
as we were herded out into the fiercely sunlit piazza,
together with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Herr Tanaka and Signora Sabatini;
within each of them vault after vault opened endlessly.

(Translated by Robert Bly, tweaked a little by me)

* * *

Here is the original:

Romanska bågar

Inne i den väldiga romanska kyrkan trängdes turisterna i halvmörkret.
Valv gapande bakom valv och ingen överblick.
Några ljuslågor fladdrade.
En ängel utan ansikte omfamnade mig
och viskade genom hela kroppen:
"Skäms inte för att du är människa, var stolt!
Inne i dig öppnar sig valv bakom valv oändligt.
Du blir aldrig färdig, och det är som det skall."
Jag var blind av tårar
och föstes ut på den solsjudande piazzan
tillsammans med Mr och Mrs Jones, Herr Tanaka och Signora Sabatini
och inne i dem alla öppnade sig valv bakom valv oändligt.

* * *
Read in Swedish by the poet. I have always loved the music of Swedish. Does it translate?

The openings within us, vault behind vault opening endlessly as we understand how sacred the act of being human is.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer: Allegro (in English)

I wish to offer you a translation of the poem Allegro which I shared in Swedish in the previous post. This translation is provided by Lyle Daggett, and he has refined the translation of Robert Bly so that it sounds, at least to me, to be closer to the original Swedish. Some of you may have read it already in the comments to the previous post where I had just learned that Tranströmer had gotten the Nobel Prize of Literature.

Thank you very much for this, Lyle!

Here it is:


I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a little warmth in my hands.

The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is green, lively and still.

The sound says that freedom exists
and that someone does not pay tax to Caesar.

I shove my hands in my haydnpockets
and act like one who is calm about the world.

I raise the haydnflag -- it signals:
"We do not give up, but want peace."

The music is a glass house on a slope
where stones fly, stones roll.

And stones roll straight through
but every pane of glass is still whole.

* * *

There will be more Tranströmer in English on this blog. I can hardly wait to put it out!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Nobel Prize of Literature goes to Tomas Tranströmer!

How my heart is warming and glowing and sparkling -- Tomas Tranströmer, over 80 years of age, has finally gotten the Nobel Prize of Literature.

I am not exaggerating if I say that Tranströmer is my favourite poet. I don't usually deal with lists of favourites and "the best" of this or that. But Tranströmer hits a Nordic nerve that is so close to my bones, heart and hide and that it will be difficult to push him off the mossy throne I've put him on.

The poem I first read of him and which opened me to his world of blue and grey and green, musicality, his deep love and compassion for the human experience, and the depths underneath and behind everything is the one called "Allegro". It remains one of the poems closest to my heart.


Jag spelar Haydn efter en svart dag
och känner en enkel värme i händerna.

Tangenterna vill. Milda hammare slår.
Klangen är grön, livlig och stilla.

Klangen säger att friheten finns
och att någon inte ger kejsaren skatt.

Jag kör ner händerna i mina haydnfickor
och härmar en som ser lugnt på världen.

Jag hissar haydnflaggan - det betyder:
"Vi ger oss inte, men vill fred."

Musiken är ett glashus på sluttningen
där stenarna flyger, stenarna rullar.

Och stenarna rullar tvärs igenom
men varje ruta förblir hel.

Sadly I don't have the English translation where I'm at (travelling), but I'll look into it when coming home.

Anyway, it is pure beauty.

You can read about him at the page of Poets.org, here as well, an article from the British newspaper The Guardian, recently in The New York Times, at the Poetry Foundation or just generally do a search on Google about him. A few volumes of his poetry have been translated into English.

Needless to say I find his work worth looking into.