POSTED BY Sundeep Dougal ON Oct 06, 2011 AT 23:55 IST ,  Edited At: Oct 07, 2011 15:06 IST

"because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality"

So said the Swedish Academy's press-release, announcing Tomas Tranströmer as this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who, as the Telegraph's Ten things you never knew about the poet you never knew, informs us, besides his successful career as a respected psychologist, 

 is also known as a skilled literary translator, entomologist, and classical pianist. He hasn't let his paralysis stop him either. He continues to perform one handed piano recitals throughout Europe. Impressive stuff.

Not being familiar with his poetry at all, a simple search led me to to the twitter stream of Teju Cole, the author of Open City. There couldn't possibly be a better introduction:


Next to this, for more online there is Bill Coyle's review of The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton. New Directions Books, 2006 which said way back in 2006:

Tranströmer has hardly languished in obscurity. Since 1975, when Robert Bly included him, along with Gunar Ekelöf and the aforementioned Harry Martinsson in the anthology Friends, You Drank Some Darkness (the title is taken from Tranströmer’s poem “Elegy”), his reputation has been steadily on the rise. Today he is widely recognized as one of the best poets alive, largely on the strength of translations of his work into fifty languages. In addition to Bly, May Swenson, Rika Lesser, Don Coles, John F. Deane, Samuel Charters, and Robin Robertson have all produced English versions of Tranströmer’s quietly startling poems. While the quality of these efforts has varied considerably, the poet’s voice—subdued, austere, rueful, kind—has come through relatively intact.

Coyle also highlights Tranströmer's "almost preternatural knack for metaphor. This was obvious in his first book (1954) from the first lines of the first poem, “Prelude”:

Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams.
Free of the suffocating turbulence the traveler
sinks toward the green zone of morning.

to these from “Streets in Shanghai” (1989)

I’m surrounded by signs I can’t interpret, I’m totally illiterate.
But I’ve paid what I should and have receipts for everything.
I’ve accumulated so many illegible receipts.

I’m an old tree with withered leaves that hang on and can’t fall to the earth.

And a puff of air from the sea makes all those receipts rustle.

to the first strophe of Snow is Falling (2004):

The funerals keep coming
more and more of them
like the traffic signs
as we approach a city.

Thousands of people gazing
in the land of long shadows.

A bridge builds itself
straight out in space."

And here's -- for me -- an unforgettable image, in this short excerpt from Robert Bly’s book, The Half-Finished Heaven: the best poems of Tomas Tranströmer (Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press), 2001:

The Bookcase

All the old historians are there, they get their chance to stand up and see into our family life. You can’t hear a thing, but the lips are moving all the time behind the pane (“Passchendaele”…). It reminds me of that tale of an ancient office building (this is a pure ghost story), a building where portraits of the long dead gentlemen hung on the wall behind glass, and one morning the office workers found some mist on the inside of the glass. The dead had begun to breathe during the night.

The excerpt ends with what by now seems to be imagery typical of Tranströmer, from At Funchal (Island of Madeira):

 A drink that bubbles in an empty glass. An amplifier that magnifies silence. A path that grows over after every step. A book that can only be read in the dark.

Here are some more picked up from the web:

From the Nobel laureate's website

2 A.M. moonlight. The train has stopped
out in a field. Far off sparks of light from a town,
flickering coldly on the horizon.

As when a man goes so deep into his dream
he will never remember he was there
when he returns again to his view.

Or when a person goes so deep into a sickness
that his days all become some flickering sparks, a swarm,
feeble and cold on the horizon

The train is entirely motionless.
2 o’clock: strong moonlight, few stars.

Translated by Robin Fulton from New and Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer by Robin Fulton, published by Bloodaxe Books. Copyright © 1997 by Robin Fulton.


Under Pressure
The blue sky’s engine-drone is deafening.
We’re living here on a shuddering work-site
where the ocean depths can suddenly open up
shells and telephones hiss.
You can see beauty only from the side, hastily.
The dense grain on the field, many colours in a yellow stream.
The restless shadows in my head are drawn there.
They want to creep into the grain and turn to gold.
Darkness falls. At midnight I go to bed.
The smaller boat puts out from the larger boat.
You are alone on the water.
Society’s dark hull drifts further and further away.

Translated by Robert Bly from The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations by Robert Bly, published by Harper Collins. Copyright © 2004 by Robert Bly.



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 on the moon surface.
And these sites keep on getting bigger
like the land bought with Judas' silver: "a potter's field for
   burying strangers."

Translated by Robert Bly from The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations by Robert Bly, published by Harper Collins. Copyright © 2004 by Robert Bly.


After a Death

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 hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.

Translated by Robert Bly from The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations by Robert Bly, published by Harper Collins. Copyright © 2004 by Robert Bly.


Post Script:
Teju Cole now has a wonderful essay on the New Yorker site: Miracle Speech: The Poetry of Tomas Tranströmer:

Two truths approach each other. One comes from inside, the other from outside, and where they meet we have a chance to catch sight of ourselves. (From “Preludes”)


POSTED BY Sundeep Dougal ON Oct 06, 2011 AT 23:55 IST ,  Edited At: Oct 07, 2011 15:06 IST
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Daily Mail
Oct 07, 2011
11:45 PM

Having spent a good part of my life in Calcutta, I can fully relate to Manish's experience. I had to endure this yearly summer ordeal all throgh my childhood till late teens. However, I find Tagore Shrot stories and essays exceptionally good, completely devoid of sentamentality or obscurity. The form, content and conext completely different, but somehow I get a whiff of that kind of clarity in reasoning and analysis only in Milan Kundera. 

Mumbai, India
Oct 07, 2011
07:20 PM

Having settled down here in Calcutta for the last few years , one cannot escape culture. Cruelest all of the Bengalee variants of culture is Tagore culture. Much as you try to  let go Tagore,  Tagore & his devotees will not let you go. People do business in IT sector, automobile sector, FMCG sector etc. The Belgalee speciality is Tagore sector. Not being  particularly literary or cultured man, I could not get in to this business & therefore remained somewhat of an outcast in one's own home.

Above  little introductory note was avoidable , had it not that I too accidenatlly stumbled upon a little Tagore story in which a of rich senile old man would collect old manuscripts. Being rich he would also have hangers on.

I am told those days when Tagore wrote whatever he wrote, you did not walk in to Bata store to buy a pair of shoes. You had to go to a chinese shoe-maker, give measurements, place an order for pair of shoes & collect it later after made to tailor. Naturally you did put in an advance with your Ching , Chang or Chiang who in turn had to write it down in  Mandarin or Manchurian or some such exotic script to  keep an acount for & of his customers & several of such books of account would accumulate over the years, some turnig in to of no account.

Back to Tagore's old man & his chamcha ( pardon me Tagore, sir ; I have already told you I am not a cultured man). The chamcha needed money, collected one obsolete account book from Ching , Chang or may be from Chiang, showed to the old man who agreed that it was an invaluable 4000 year old Hierogliphic manuscrpt & promptly put 1000 rupees ( equivalent to apprx. a million now ) cash down.

Lest the moderator is already fingering his DEL button for 'comment removed for violatin of website policy' I must rush to add please hang on for sec. , I am really commenting on this years literary Nobel prize. Here it is

I’m surrounded by signs I can’t interpret, I’m totally illiterate.
But I’ve paid what I should and have receipts for everything.
I’ve accumulated so many illegible receipts

The great lauriet cannot read the signs, pays but cannot read the receipt, continue to horde  his receipts for puchases made which are not legible. Why ? Not because he is in China & the bloody Chinks would insist on writing signs or charge slips in Chinese. Then what ? That is a mystry haging in the air like the smile of the proverbial Cheshire cat. Did you get that ? As Tagore said Jana gana mana adhinayaka jaya he. If you still do not see the point , the point is a common thread which is China & Chinese & Tagore.

Hope I did  a descent job putting in critique of the works of this years Nobel Prize winner like a true blue blood Bengalee must. Remember some fool somewhere said great literature is something which everybody praised but nobody read let alone understood.

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