Saturday, October 28, 2006

Scandinavia's greatest living poet

"[Tomas] Tranströmer is not only Scandinavia's greatest living poet, but also widely regarded as one of our most important contemporary international writers." So says Robin Robertson, himself a poet of some considerable reputation.
Tranströmer's is a poetry of sharp contrast and duality - a double world of dark and light, inside and outside, dreaming and waking, man and machine, stillness and turmoil - and he is fascinated by the pressure between the world we know and the hidden world we cannot deny. He continually returns to symbolism that stands in opposition to the natural world: the bureaucratic, the technological and, most specifically, the car, the driver, the mass movement of traffic. The image of man as a diminished, vulnerable creature - distanced from nature, protected by his machine but open to sudden accident - is a recurring one, and this combination of a natural landscape and abrupt, violent meetings with the mechanical, the unnatural, is a hallmark of his work.

What happens at this moment of collision is vividly portrayed: the split-second of shock, of vertigo, where the nerves start to register panic and calamity, where the mind starts to fight against the body's accelerating fear. The eerie coolness and detachment of these poems, rooted as they are in quotidian reality, allows him to present the intrusion of irrational forces as primal threats; the poems can be seen as staged confrontations between the deracinated modern human sensibility and the unseen, unconscious forces - ancient, mysterious and implacable - that sleep beneath our waking minds.
Read the rest of Robertson's essay here.

Click here to read Tranströmer's poem, "A Few Moments"; here for "After a Death"; and here for "Outskirts."

There are three more Tranströmer poems here.

Click here to read Robin Robertson's "Ictus," which is dedicated to Tranströmer.

Scandinavia-related blog posts include:
Scandinavian children's literature
More Swedish Noir

--Marshal Zeringue