Synopses & Reviews
Tomas Tranströ mer
Tomas Tranströ mer comes from a long line of ship pilots who worked in and around the Stockholm Archipelago. He is at home on islands. His face is thin and angular, and the swift, spare face reminds one of Hans Christian Andersen's or the younger Kierkegaard's. He has a strange genius for the image -- images come up almost effortlessly. The images flow upward like water rising in some lonely place, in the swamps, or deep fir woods.
Swedish poetry tends to be very rational, and therefore open to fads. Tranströ mer, simply by publishing his books, leads a movement of poetry in the opposite direction, toward a poetry of silence and depths.
One of the most beautiful qualities in his poems is the space we feel in them. I think one reason for that is that the four or five main images that appear in each of his poems come from widely separated sources in the psyche. His poems are a sort of railway station where trains that have come enormous distances stand briefly in the same building. One train may have some Russian snow still lying on the undercarriage, and another may have Mediterranean flowers still fresh in the compartments, and Ruhr soot on the roofs.
The poems are mysterious because of the distance the images have come to get there. Mallarmé believed there should be mystery in poetry, and urged poets to get it by removing the links that tie the poem to its occasion in the real world. Tranströ mer keeps the link to the worldly occasion, and yet the poems have a mystery and surprise that never fade, even on many readings.
Rilke taught that poets should be "bees of the invisible." Making honey for the invisible suggests that thepoet remain close to earthly history, but move as well toward the spiritual and the invisible. Tranströ mer suspects that as an artist he is merely a way for "the Memory" to get out into the world. Even at seventeen he was aware that the dead "wanted to have their portrait painted." Somehow that cannot be done without making peace with rhetoric. He wants to tell of spiritual matters, but he doesn't want to be a preacher. If rhetoric could kill Christianity in Sweden, maybe it could kill poetry as well. In "From an African Diary," he describes climbing on a canoe hollowed from a log: The canoe is incredibly wobbly, even when you sit on your heels. A balancing act. If you have the heart on the left side you have to lean a bit to the right, nothing in the pockets, no big arm movements, please, all rhetoric has to be left behind. Precisely: rhetoric is impossible here. The canoe glides out over the water.
In "The Scattered Congregation," Tranströ mer remarks: Nicodemus the sleepwalker is on his way to the Address. Who's got the Address? Don't know. But that's where we're going.
Tomas Tranströ mer was born in Stockholm on April 15, 1931. His father and mother divorced when he was three; he and his mother lived after that in an apartment in the working-class district of Stockholm. He describes the apartment in the poem called "The Bookcase."
The early fifties were a rather formal time, both here and in Sweden, and Tranströ mer began by writing concentrated, highly formal poems, some in iambs and some in the Alcaic meter. His first book, "17 Poems, published in 1954, glowed with strange baroque elements, and contained only a few poems, but people noticed the powerof the book immediately.
For several years, he worked as a psychologist in a boys' prison in Linkõ ping, and then in 1965, he moved with his wife, Monica, and his two daughters Paula and Emma to Vä steras, a town about forty miles west of Stockholm. He continued to work as a psychologist, this time for a labor organization funded by the State. He helped juvenile delinquents to reenter society and persons with physical disabilities to choose a career, and he counseled parole offenders and those in drug rehabilitation.
Tomas Tranströ mer's poems are so luminous that genuine poetry can travel to another language and thrive. His poems have been translated into dozens of European and Asian languages; at this moment, something like thirty-eight.
The praise for his poems has steadily grown both in Europe and in the United States. He has received most of the important poetry prizes in Europe, including the Petrarch Prize in Germany, the Bonnier Award for Poetry, the Pilot Prize in 1988, the Nordic Council Prize in 1990, the Swedish Academy's Nordic Prize in 1991, and the Horst Bieneck Prize in 1992.
The town of Vä steras recently had a formal farewell celebration in the old castle for Tomas and Monica, who were moving to Stockholm. A choir sang to him, and presents were piled up five feet high around his chair.
Today, the couple live in an apartment in Stockholm overlooking the harbor, near the old neighborhood where Tomas lived as a boy. Track
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 that he was therewhen he returns again to his room.
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.
The first collection of the translations Robert Bly has been producing for more than forty years, introducing world poets to American readers for the first time.
Robert Bly has always been amazingly prescient in his choice of poets to translate. The poetry he selected supplied qualities that seemed lacking from the literary culture of this country. For the first time, Robert Bly's brilliant translations, from several languages, have been gathered in one book. Here, in The Winged Energy of Delight, the poems of twenty-two poets, some renowned, others lesser known, are brought together.At a time when editors and readers knew only Eliot and Pound, Robert Bly introduced the earthy wildness of Pablo Neruda and Cesar Vallejo and the sober grief of Trakl, as well as the elegance of Jiménez and Tranströmer. He also published high-spirited versions of Kabir, Rumi, and Mirabai, which had considerable influence on the wider culture of the 1970s and 1980s. Bly's clear translations of Rilke attracted many new readers to the poet, and his versions of Machado have become models of silenceand depth. He continues to bring fresh and amazing poets into English, most recently Rolf Jacobsen, Miguel Hernandez, Francis Ponge, and the nineteenth-century Indian poet Ghalib. As Kenneth Rexroth has said, RobertBly "is one of the leaders of a poetic revival that hasreturned American literature to the world community."
About the Author
Robert Bly is the author of the bestseller Iron John, as well as The Maiden King and The Sibling Society. He is the editor of The Fifties, The Sixties, The Seventies, and The Thousands, and the author of many books of poems, most recently The Night Abraham Called to the Stars. His awards include two Guggenheims and the National Book Award. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.