Tomas Tranströmer: “The Music Says Freedom Exists”


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.

Music Video of “The Blue House” from Amsterdam, Netherlands


Louise Korthals & Tom Jönsthövel


“The Blue House,” a prose poem by Tomas Tranströmer

     It is night with glaring sunshine. I stand in the woods and look towards my house with its misty blue walls. As though I were recently dead and saw the house from a new angle.

    It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its timber has been impregnated, four times with joy and three times with sorrow. When someone who has lived in the house dies it is repainted. The dead person paints it himself, without a brush,  from the inside.

   On the other side is open terrain. Formerly a garden, now wilderness. A still surf of weed, pagodas of weed, an unfurling body of text, Upanishades of weed, a Viking fleet of weed, dragon heads, lances, an empire of weed.

   Above the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang, thrown again and again. It is related to someone who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse issues from him, a thought, a thought of will: “create. . .draw. ..”  In order to escape his destiny in time.

   The house resembles a child’s drawing.  A deputizing childishness which grew forth because someone prematurely renounced the charge of being a child. Open the doors, enter! Inside unrest dwells in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed there hangs an amateur painting representing a ship with seventeen sails, rough sea and a wind which the gilded frame cannot subdue.

   It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life!  And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.

   A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.


“The Blue House” from The Blue House, translated by Göran Malmqvist, published by Thunder City Press. Copyright © 1987 by Göran Malmqvist. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Poetry and performance infuse Tranströmer’s Nobel lecture

Published: 7 Dec 11 18:38 CET

The annual Nobel Lecture in Literature, honouring 80-year-old Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, opened in Stockholm on Wednesday with an introduction by Peter Englund, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy. 

Whereas many literature laureates prepare special lectures for the occasion, Tranströmer’s lecture featured readings of 13 poems from throughout his career coordinated with musical accompaniment.

 Tranströmer looked on as his work was set to music and sung by the Gustaf Sjöqvist’s Chamber Choir and Uppsala Chamber Soloists, among other performers. “Good poetry is a powerful thing. It can change our picture of the world, making it clearer, sharper, more comprehensible. And forever,” Englund said. 

“We should not be taken in by the understated tone of Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry. Several of the real wonders of our existence are constantly present: Memory, History, Death, Nature – nature not least. But each not as an overwhelming exterior presence, nor as something that assumes life under our gaze. In your work it is the very opposite: ego, the individual, is the prism into which everything is drawn. It gives us a feeling of context, even obligation,” he continued.

“Dear Tomas, it is impossible to feel insignificant after having read your poetry. Neither is it still possible to love the world for the wrong reasons.”

“But what makes great poetry great is not only that it clarifies or reveals something already present in our world, but also that it has the ability to actually widen the boundaries of that world. Therein lies its power,” Englund said.

The first poem recited was “Minnena ser mig” (Memories Look at Me), originally published in 1983:

A June morning, too soon to wake,
too late to fall asleep again.

I must go out – the greenery is dense
with memories, they follow me with their gaze.

They can’t be seen, they merge completely with
the background, true chameleons.

They are so close that I can hear them breathe
although the birdsong here is deafening.

Read full article at The Local

Even silent, musical instruments are lovely to behold



Classical Beat



The other day, a friend gave me a card from master woodcarver Robert Jones of Thomaston depicting a working French horn that he had made out of wood rather than brass. (Search for “58scallop” on YouTube to see it yourself.) The instrument is most certainly a tour de force, but I was wondering why anyone would go to all that trouble.

Then I looked at it from a little distance and found that the French horn is a work of art in itself, aside from the sounds it makes. The contrast of multiple curves, bell, circles and straight lines is somehow deeply satisfying.

Perhaps Jones’ next endeavor should be a tuba, which artist Rene Magritte turned into a collection of intestines in his painting “Le temps menacant.” Jones has already carved a working trumpet and trombone.

Perhaps aesthetics has as much to do with the design of an instrument as sound quality. There is really no acoustic reason why a violin, viola, cello or bass viol looks the way it does except for its resemblance to the female form. Near-perfect violin forms have been found from the Cycladic period of Greece (5,000-4,000 B.C.E.). They are thought to have been idols of a mother goddess.

Artists and musicians have always known this. Witness photographer Man Ray’s alteration of a postcard entitled “Violon d’Ingres,” by painting f-holes on the back of a female nude. Ingres has the first laugh, however, with his portrait of Paganini cradling his violin.

The harp is yet another ancient shape, reduced to its most basic form — a triangle with a curved hypotenuse, depicted in another Cycladic sculpture from 3,000 B.C.E. The modern harp has more florid decorations (the frame of the Cycladic version is a snake), but even the most primitive have bells and whistles that have nothing to do with the sound.

The woodwinds have their own beauty. I like to have a flute on the mantelpiece even though I can’t play a note on it, as an example of the aesthetic appeal of the machine. The bassoon, the oboe and the clarinet are also works of art that have evolved from simple origins, both musically and aesthetically.

Read full article at The Portland Press Herald

Documentary Captures Tranströmer’s Nobel Day


Fortunately, Bloodaxe Books, the major British and European publisher of Tranströmer books in English, commissioned a documentary that captured events as they unfolded on October 6, 2011, the day that Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The previous August, British documentary filmmaker Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Tranströmer in his apartment playing the piano. Robin Fulton’s translations appear as subtitles for the Swedish-language readings  Tranströmer recorded prior to a stroke in 1990 which rendered him speechless.  The poems in Swedish  include “The Nightingale in Badelunda,” “Allegro,” “From the Thaw on 1966,” “The Half-Finished Heaven,” “April and Silence,” “From March 1979,” and “Tracks.”

Wonderful Centipedes



Wonderful Centipedes: The Poetry of Tomas Tranströmer

Posted October 12, 2011
Franz Schubert’s handwritten sheet music

by Niklas Schiöler


The opening lines of Tomas Tranströmer’s poem ”Schubertiana” from 1978 are:

In the evening darkness at a place outside New York, an outlook where
you can perceive eight million people’s homes in
a single glance.
The giant city there is a long flickering drift, a spiral galaxy
from the side.

But soon, after the snapshots of the grim and chilly human conditions of the giant city, the first part of the poem ends with these relief-giving lines:

I know too – without statistics – that Schubert’s being played in
some room there and for someone the tones at this moment
are more real than anything else.

A radically different scene is depicted, and suddenly the attention is directed differently; a detail dashes in which makes everything else insignificant. The zooming-in catches a spark of life in the middle of the concrete urban landscape.

It is later on in the poem, that after having enumerated some of daily life’s inevitable worries, a stunning image appears. The music makes us, the poem whispers in our ears, believe in something different, something more urgent and important – and Schubert’s string music escorts us a part of the way there.

Like when the light goes out on the stairs and the hand follows –
with confidence – the blind banister that finds its way in the

Thus, the invisible becomes concrete and the hidden truths become discernible. It is a vision that interprets the world.

Perhaps it is this curious view of life, shaped with such visual exactness, and at the same time, with quiet matter-of-factness, that draws ever more readers to Tranströmer. His poetic investigation of the complex human identity, as well as his construction of bridges between nature, history and the dead never results in structured patterns or in loud-voiced confessions. His poetry is a tranquil affirmation of few words.

The lure of existential secrets, the sensibility to our inner sources of energy, is invoked by Tranströmer’s concreteness. No sweeping statements, no abstractions. By recording the particulars of the physical world, wider connections can be perceptible and the liberating insights can emerge.

Read full article