No earth tremor, but a skyquake. Turner could have painted it, secured by ropes. A single mitten whirled past right now, several miles from its hand. Facing the storm I am heading for that house on the other side of the field. I flutter in the hurricane. I am being x-rayed, my skeleton hands in its application for discharge. Panic grows while I tack about, I am wrecked, I am wrecked and drown on dry land! How heavy it is, all that I suddenly have to carry, how heavy it is for the butterfly to tow a barge! There at last. A final bout of wrestling with the door. And now inside. Behind the huge window-pane. What a strange and magnificent invention glass is—to be close without being stricken. . . Outside a horde of transparent splinters of gigantic shapes rush across the lava plain. But I flutter no more. I sit behind the glass, still, my own portrait.
“Icelandic Hurricane” by Tomas Tranströmer from The Blue House, translated from the Swedish by Göran Malmqvist, published by Thunder City Press. Copyright © 1987 by Göran Malmqvist. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Prison: Nine Haiku from Hällby Youth Prison (1959)
Translated from the Swedish by Malena Mörling. Postscript by Jonas Ellerström.
32 pages / hand-sewn pamphlet / $10.00
Tomas Tranströmer worked for several years as a psychologist for juvenile delinquents. In 1959 he visited his colleague Åke Nordin, who was also a poet, at the Hällby youth prison in the southern part of Sweden. Later that year he sent Nordin a sequence of nine haiku, giving his impressions of the prison milieu. These poems were rediscovered in 2001 and are presented here in a bilingual edition.
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.
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.
Credits: A film by Joanna Bartholomew, Blakeway Productions
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