Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 2011

From The Sorrow Gondola – the great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer’s first collection of poems after his stroke in 1990. Translated by Michael McGriff.

April and Silence
Spring lies deserted.
The velvet-dark ditch
crawls by my side without reflections.
All that shines
are yellow flowers.
I’m carried in my shadow
like a violin in its black case.
The only thing I want to say
gleams out of reach
like the silver
in a pawnshop.

Landscape with Suns
The sun emerges from behind the house
stands in the middle of the street
and breathes on us
with its red wind.
Innsbruck I must leave you.
But tomorrow
there will be a glowing sun
in the gray, half-dead forest
where we must work and live.

Midwinter
A blue light
radiates from my clothing.
Midwinter.
Clattering tambourines of ice.
I close my eyes.
There is a silent world
there is a crack
where the dead
are smuggled across the border.

From The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer.  Translated 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.


Outskirts  
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."
 


Allegro
 


After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.
I shove my hands in my haydnpockets
and act like a man who is calm about it all.
I raise my haydnflag. The signal is:
“We do not surrender. But want peace.”
The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;
rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.
The rocks roll straight through the house
but every pane of glass is still whole.

From The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems.  Translated by Robin Fulton.

Allegro

I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.
The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
The resonance green, lively and calm.
The music says freedom exists
and someone doesn’t pay the emperor tax.
I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking on the world calmly.
I hoist the Haydnflag – it signifies:
“We don’t give in. But want peace.’

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

And the stones roll right through
but each pane stays whole.

Allegro

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.
Ur Den halvfärdiga himlen, Bonniers 1962
Copyright © Tomas Tranströmer 1962
Återgiven med vänligt tillstånd av Tomas Tranströmer och Bonniers
Dikten vald av Lars Rydquist, chefsbibliotekarie, Svenska Akademiens Nobelbibliotek

The Half-Finished Heaven

Despondency breaks off its course.
Anguish breaks off its course.
The vulture breaks off its flight.
The eager light streams out,
even the ghosts take a draught.
And our paintings see daylight,
our red beasts of the ice-age studios.
Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in hundreds.
Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.
The endless ground under us.
The water is shinig among the trees.
The lake is a window into the earth.

Den halvfärdiga himlen

Modlösheten avbryter sitt lopp.
Ångesten avbryter sitt lopp.
Gamen avbryter sin flykt.
Det ivriga ljuset rinner fram,
även spökena tar sig en klunk.
Och våra målningar kommer i dagen,
våra istidsateljéers röda djur.
Allting börjar se sig omkring.
Vi går i solen hundratals.
Var människa en halvöppen dörr
som leder till ett rum för alla.
Den oändliga marken under oss.
Vattnet lyser mellan träden.
Insjön är ett fönster mot jorden.
Ur Den halvfärdiga himlen, Bonniers 1962
Copyright © Tomas Tranströmer 1962
Återgiven med vänligt tillstånd av Tomas Tranströmer och Bonniers

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.
Societty’s dark hull drifts further and further away.

Under tryck

Den blå himlens motordån är starkt.
Vi är närvarande på en arbetsplats i darrning,
där havsdjupet plötsligt kan uppenbara sig –
snäckor och telefoner susar.
Det sköna hinner man bara se hastigt från sidan.
Den täta säden på åkern, många färger i en gul ström.
De oroliga skuggorna i mitt huvud dras dit.
De vill krypa in i säden och förvandlas till guld.
Mörkret faller. Vid midnatt går jag till sängs.
Den mindre båten sätts ut från den större båten.
Man är ensam på vattnet.
Samhällets mörka skrov driver allt längre bort.
Ur Klanger och spår, Bonniers 1966
Copyright © Tomas Tranströmer 1966
Återgiven med vänligt tillstånd av Tomas Tranströmer och Bonniers

Open and Closed Spaces

A man feels the world with his work like a glove.
He rests for a while at midday having laid aside the gloves on the shelf.
There they suddenly grow, spread
and black-out the whole house from inside.
The blacked-out house is away out among the winds of spring.
‘Amnesty,’ runs the whisper in the grass: ‘amnesty.’
A boy sprints with an invisible line slanting up in the sky
where his wild dream of the future flies lika a kite bigger than the
             suburb.
Further north you can see from a summit the blue endless carpet of
             pine forest
where the cloud shadows
are standing still.
No, are flying.

Öppna och slutna rum

En man känner på världen med yrket som en handske.
Han vilar en stund mitt på dagen och har lagt ifrån sig
                         handskarna på hyllan.
Där växer de plötsligt, breder ut sig
och mörklägger hela huset inifrån.
Det mörklagda huset är mitt ute bland vårvindarna.
»Amnesti« går viskningen i gräset: »amnesti«.
En pojke springer med en osynlig lina som går snett
                         upp i himlen
där hans vilda dröm om framtiden flyger som en drake
                         större än förstaden.
Längre norrut ser man från en höjd den blå oändliga
                         barrskogsmattan
där molnskuggorna
står stilla.
Nej, flyger fram.
Ur Klanger och spår, Bonniers 1966
Copyright © Tomas Tranströmer 1966
Återgiven med vänligt tillstånd av Tomas Tranströmer och Bonniers

The Nightingale in Badelunda

In the green midnight at the nightingale’s northern limit. Heavy leaves hang in trance, the deaf cars race towards the neon-line. The nightingale’s voice rises without wavering to the side, it is as penetrating as a cock-crow, but beautiful and free of vanity. I was in prison and it visited me. I was sick and it visited me. I didn’t notice it then, but I do now. Time streams down from the sun and the moon and into all the tick-tock-thankful clocks. But right here there is no time. Only the nightingale’s voice, the raw resonant notes that whet the night sky’s gleaming scythe.

Näktergalen i Badelunda

I den gröna midnatten vid näktergalens nordgräns. Tunga löv hänger i trance, de döva bilarna rusar mot neonlinjen. Näktergalens röst stiger inte åt sidan, den är lika genomträngande som en tupps galande, men skön och utan fåfänga. Jag var i fängelse och den besökte mig. Jag var sjuk och den besökte mig. Jag märkte den inte då, men nu. Tiden strömmar ned från solen och månen och in i alla tick tack tick tacksamma klockor. Men just här finns ingen tid. Bara näktergalens röst, de råa klingande tonerna som slipar natthimlens ljusa lie.
Ur För levande och döda, Bonniers 1989
Copyright © Tomas Tranströmer 1989
Återgiven med vänligt tillstånd av Tomas Tranströmer och Bonniers

The Couple
 
They switch off the light and its white shade
glimmers for a moment before dissolving
like a tablet in a glass of darkness. Then up.
The hotel walls rise into the black sky.
The movements of love have settled, and they sleep
but their most secret thoughts meet as when
two colors meet and flow into each other
on the wet paper of a schoolboy’s painting.
It is dark and silent. But the town has pulled closer
tonight. With quenched windows. The houses have approached.
They stand close up in a throng, waiting,
a crowd whose faces have no expressions.

National Insecurity
 
The Under Secretary leans forward and draws an X
and her ear-drops dangle like swords of Damocles.
As a mottled butterfly is invisible against the ground
so the demon merges with the opened newspaper.
A helmet worn by no one has taken power.
The mother-turtle flees flying under the water.

November in the Former DDR

The almighty cyclop’s-eye clouded over
and the grass shook itself in the coal dust.

Beaten black and blue by the night’s dreams
we board the train
that stops at every station
and lays eggs.

Almost silent.
The clang of the church bells’ buckets
fetching water.
And someone’s inexorable cough
scolding everything and everyone.

A stone idol moves its lips:
it’s the city.
Ruled by iron-hard misunderstandings
among kiosk attendants butchers
metal-workers naval officers
iron-hard misunderstandings, academics!

How sore my eyes are!
They’ve been reading by the faint glimmer of the glow-worm   lamps.

November offers caramels of granite.
Unpredictable!
Like world history
laughing at the wrong place.

But we hear the clang
of the church bells’ buckets fetching water
every Wednesday
– is it Wednesday? –
so much for our Sundays!

The Indoors is Endless

It’s spring in 1827, Beethoven
hoists his death-mask and sails off.

The grindstones are turning in Europe’s windmills.
The wild geese are flying northwards.

Here is the north, here is Stockholm
swimming palaces and hovels.

The logs in the royal fireplace
collapse from Attention to At Ease.

Peace prevails, vaccine and potatoes,
but the city wells breathe heavily.

Privy barrels in sedan chairs like paschas
are carried by night over the North Bridge.

The cobblestones make them stagger
mamselles loafers gentlemen.

Implacably still, the sign-board
with the smoking blackamoor.

So many islands, so much rowing
with invisible oars against the current!

The channels open up, April May
and sweet honey dribbling June.

The heat reaches islands far out.
The village doors are open, except one.

The snake-clock’s pointer licks the silence.
The rock slopes glow with geology’s patience.

It happened like this, or almost.
It is an obscure family tale

about Erik, done down by a curse
disabled by a bullet through the soul.

He went to town, met an enemy
and sailed home sick and grey.

Keeps to his bed all that summer.
The tools on the wall are in mourning.

He lies awake, hears the woolly flutter
of night moths, his moonlight comrades.

His strength ebbs out, he pushes in vain
against the iron-bound tomorrow.

And the God of the depths cries out of the depths
‘Deliver me! Deliver yourself!’

All the surface action turns inwards.
He’s taken apart, put together.

The wind rises and the wild rose bushes
catch on the fleeing light.

The future opens, he looks into
the self-rotating kaleidoscope

sees indistinct fluttering faces
family faces not yet born.

By mistake his gaze strikes me
as I walk around here in Washington

among grandiose houses where only   
every second column bears weight.

White buildings in crematorium style
where the dream of the poor turns to ash.

The gentle downward slope gets steeper
and imperceptibly becomes an abyss.

Further In
On the main road into the city
when the sun is low.
The traffic thickens, crawls.
It is a sluggish dragon glittering.
I am one of the dragon’s scales.
Suddenly the red sun is
right in the middle of the windscreen
streaming in.
I am transparent
and writing becomes visible
inside me
words in invisible ink
which appear
when the paper is held to the fire!
I know I must get far away
straight through the city and then
further until it is time to go out
and walk far in the forest.
Walk in the footprints of the badger.
It gets dark, difficult to see.
In there on the moss lie stones.
One of the stones is precious.
It can change everything
it can make the darkness shine.
It is a switch for the whole country.
Everything depends on it.
Look at it, touch it…

The Tree and the Sky
There’s a tree walking around in the rain,
it rushes past us in the pouring grey.
It has an errand. It gathers life
out of the rain like a blackbird in an orchard.
When the rain stops so does the tree.
There it is, quiet on clear nights
waiting as we do for the moment
when the snowflakes blossom in space.


Winter’s Gaze
I lean like a ladder and with my face
reach into the second floor of the cherry tree.
I’m inside the bell of colours, it chimes with sunlight.
I polish off the swarthy red berries faster than four magpies.

At once, after this joyously sunny opening, the tone darkens:
A sudden chill, from a great distance, meets me.
The moment blackens
and remains like an axe-cut in a tree-trunk.

The Couple
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.

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 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.



Solitude (I)


translted by Robin Robertson

I was nearly killed here, one night in February.
My car shivered, and slewed sideways on the ice,
right across into the other lane. The slur of traffic
came at me with their lights.
My name, my girls, my job, all
slipped free and were left behind, smaller and smaller,
further and further away. I was a nobody:
a boy in a playground, suddenly surrounded.
The headlights of the oncoming cars
bore down on me as I wrestled the wheel through a slick
of terror, clear and slippery as egg-white.
The seconds grew and grew – making more room for me –
stretching huge as hospitals.
I almost felt that I could rest
and take a breath
before the crash.
Then something caught: some helpful sand
or a well-timed gust of wind. The car
snapped out of it, swinging back across the road.
A signpost shot up and cracked, with a sharp clang,
spinning away in the darkness.
And it was still. I sat back in my seat-belt
and watched someone tramp through the whirling snow
to see what was left of me.

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MLA style: “Tomas Tranströmer – Poetry”. Nobelprize.org. 22 Oct 2011 http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2011/transtromer-poetry.html