Monday, January 9, 2012

Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer is a Swedish poet and recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. His poems have been translated into more than fifty languages.

Prior to his stroke in 1990, Tranströmer was also a talented pianist; since then – his friend Robert Bly tells us – Swedish composers have been sending him piano works, written to be played only using the left hand. This affinity with music manifests itself within his poetry.

Bill Coyle said in Contemporary Poetry Review, “Tranströmer is a Christian poet, though not a churchgoing one, and he answers that question [whether the world is intentional or not] in the affirmative. I suspect it’s one of the reasons – aside from temperament and sheer talent – for his facility with metaphor.”

Another important feature of his world-view is our imperfection, and the incompleteness of the created world. In “The Outpost” he says, “I am the place / where creation is working itself out”. This idea also comes through in the following poem; this is Robert Bly's translation, from the collection The Half-Finished Heaven.

Romanesque Arches

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 whose face I couldn't see 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.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca