One of the most lauded and popular poets of our time was Swedish and wrote in Swedish, the great Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer. He was also an accomplished pianist and by profession, a psychologist, who helped many people, disabled or traumatized patients among them, during his career. His poetry was known for its unique quality of “deep image,” a term that is applied to a diverse group of poetry. Reading it is better than reading the commentary. But his work has been translated into some 70 languages. So don’t ever tell me you haven’t heard of him…
It is sad indeed that some of the greatest poets are unknown to the masses, whereas frivolous and rather clueless narcissists have achieved worldwide fame. Tranströmer’s unforgettable poetry, however, is a legacy that will be remembered long after the “vapor” of fame (I forgot who said that “fame is vapor”) evaporates. Two poems to whet your appetite (there are MANY of his poetry books now in English):
By Tomas Tranströmer
At times my life suddenly opens its eyes in the dark.
A feeling of masses of people pushing blindly
through the streets, excitedly, toward some miracle,
while I remain here and no one sees me.
It is like the child who falls asleep in terror
listening to the heavy thumps of his heart.
For a long, long time till morning puts his light in the locks
and the doors of darkness open.
from The Half-Finished Heaven, Swedish translation by Robert Bly, 2001
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota
Another poem I could not pass up for its haunting vision is this one also translates by Robert Bly, who was also a longtime friend of Tranströmer.
After the 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.
It is indeed sad to lose such a poetic genius. He died on March 23, 2015 at the age of 83.