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.
Tomas Transtromer, a Swedish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011 for a body of work known for shrewd metaphors couched in deceptively spare language, crystalline descriptions of natural beauty and explorations of the mysteries of identity and creativity, died on Thursday in Stockholm. He was 83.
The Swedish publisher Albert Bonniers announced the death without giving a cause. In 1990, at age 59, Mr. Transtromer had a stroke that severely curtailed his ability to speak; he also lost the use of his right arm.
With a pared-down style and brusque, forthright diction, Mr. Transtromer (pronounced TRAWN-stroh-mur) wrote in accessible language, though often in the service of ideas that were diaphanous and not easy to parse; he could be precisely observant one moment and veer toward surrealism the next.
Editor’s note: Tomas Tranströmer received the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature on October 6, 2011.
By Steven Ford Brown
I first met Monica and Tomas Tranströmer in 1983, in Texas. I had left my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, to attend a graduate writing program and nominated myself to pick them up at the airport. We immediately had a connection, since I had met Robert Bly in the 1970s and published a special feature on his poetry in Aura Literary Arts Review, a magazine I edited for the English Department of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The Tranströmers were delighted as their close relationship with Bly dated back to the 1960s.
The arrival of the Tranströmers on campus coincided that week with the arrival of Howard Moss, the poetry editor of The New Yorker. Ambition is very much an American trait, and most of the writing students chose to spend time with Moss on the chance he might choose their work for publication. That left the Tranströmers to me, so I gave them a guided tour of the city. We lunched at an Asian restaurant and visited a music store where Tomas could buy sheet music for piano to add to his growing library at home. Since childhood Tomas had played piano, and he was as talented with music as he was with poetry. The rest of the week Tomas conducted a poetry workshop and met individually with students. He concluded his residency with a reading before a large and enthusiastic audience.
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Harvard’s Scandinavian Program congratulates Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer for winning the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature and invites the Harvard and surrounding communities to an evening celebrating his work. This event, “Celebrating this Year’s Nobel Prize in Literature: Tranströmer Across Languages,” will be held from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 15 in the Woodberry Poetry Room of Lamont Library. Scandinavian Preceptor Ursula Lindqvist will read Tranströmer’s poems in the original Swedish; visiting scholar and poet Vasilis Papageorgiou of Linneaus University in Växjö, Sweden, will read from his translations of the poet’s work into Greek; award-winning translator and poet Rika Lesser of New York will read from her translations of Tranströmer’s work into English; and Professor Judith Ryan, an expert on the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, will read published German translations by Hans Grössel. This event is hosted by the Mahindra Humanities Center’s Seminar on Modern Greek Literature and Culture and co-sponsored by the Center’s “Rethinking Translation” seminar, the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and the Scandinavian Program. (Tranströmer read and spoke about his poetry during a visit to Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room in 1981; click on link to listen.)
Poets Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said), Syria, and Tomas Tranströmer, Sweden
By Simon Johnson
STOCKHOLM | Tue Oct 4, 2011 9:11pm EDT
(Reuters) – Two poets, one Swedish and the other Syrian, are leading the betting to win the 2011 Nobel Literature prize, a bookmaker said on Tuesday, though past prizes have often defied the predictions.
British betting firm Ladbrokes have the 81-year-old Syrian poet known as Adonis at odds of 4/1 and Swede Tomas Transtromer, 80, at 7/1 to win the 10 million crown ($1.5 million) prize, to be announced on October6. Japan’s Haruki Murakami was third at 8/1.
All three have been on the betting list of candidates before, but an award to Adonis, a champion of democracy and secular thought, would chime well with Arab Spring revolts in several Middle Eastern nations — though he has not been without his critics who view his support for the uprisings as too muted.
Apart from his political engagement, Khaled Mattawa, who has translated many of Adonis’ works into English, said the Syrian — named Ali Hamid Saeed at birth — deserved to be recognised for his artistry.
Illustration by Clifford Harper/agraphia.co.uk
New Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton, Bloodaxe Books, 2011
Mystical poetry: the phrase conjures fridge-magnet platitudes and joss sticks. But the mysticism of Tomas Tranströmer is grounded firmly in close observation of both the natural world and human psychology (he has worked as a psychologist all his life). He does not present his poems as nuggets of wisdom to be pondered: instead, they tend to chart a progression from concrete reality to a heightened state of awareness, as in “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.
Nothing could be more traditionally “poetic” than to contemplate the changing of the seasons in terms of changing emotional states; but simply by manipulating the timeframe – by having winter arrive with surreal speed – Tranströmer allows us to apprehend both from a fresh perspective.
Tranströmer is that rare thing: a non-English-language poet who has been fully accepted into British and US poetry in his own lifetime. In the 60s he became associated with Robert Bly and the Deep Image school of US poetry, and in the early 90s (after the publication of the first edition of this book) many UK poets caught on. More recently, Robin Robertson translated a selection of his poems in The Deleted World, and hopefully this new volume of Robin Fulton’s translations (which includes Tranströmer’s most recent work as well as some previously uncollected haiku and a prose memoir) will confirm a third wave of interest in this poet’s work.