Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Tomas Tranströmer... Who?

Last month, when The Nobel Prize in Literature 2011 was awarded to Tomas Tranströmer, Swedish writer, poet and translator, many instantly questioned this obscure choice (some secretly reverting to a google search).

In reality, Tomas Tranströmer is not only Sweden's greatest living poet, but is internationally revered for his intense and unforgettable images that have the masterful ability to transcend cultures. Behind Neruda he is the 20th century's most translated poet. Taking inspiration from his experiences as a psychologist, he continually explores human vulnerability in the face of emotional extremes through encapsulating momentous and pivotal events. He possesses a unique narrative voice full of understanding for human bewilderment and wonder; life is a series of transient states of consciousness interspersed with moments of epiphany.
“The images leap out from the page, so the first-time reader or listener has the immediate feeling of being given something very tangible.”
Although his contemporaries have criticised Tranströmer's literature for being too insular and often detached from the social and political issues of his age, his work continues to resonate universally as "through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality". His work lies within the surrealist genre as the simple depictions of everyday life and nature reveal a captivating insight into the human mind.
"Each line is weightless and ethereal, yet paradoxically contain such extraordinary power in his ability to transform the human and material world in astonishing ways"

Notable elements of Tranströmer's poems include-

  • His work often suggests a photographic imagination, in which light and dark are hauntingly transposed, as in the beautiful opening image of this poem, 
They turn the light off, and its white globe glows
an instant and then dissolves, like a tablet
in a glass of darkness. Then a rising.
The hotel walls shoot up into heaven’s darkness.
Their movements have grown softer, and they sleep,
but their most secret thoughts begin to meet
like two colors that meet and run together
on the wet paper in a schoolboy’s painting.
It is dark and silent. The city however has come nearer
tonight. With its windows turned off. Houses have come.
They stand packed and waiting very near,
a mob of people with blank faces.
  • His poems have the ability to integrate the irrational with the mundane, forcing us to reexamine and reflect upon the aspects of life that we often overlook. "April and Silence" defamiliarises us by defying the stereotypical images of spring and gives it an underlying tone of eeriness and menace. The shorter lines, and enjambment, give the poem a sparse feeling—making the setting seem empty and lonely.

The velvet-dark ditch
crawls by my side
without reflections.

The only thing that shines
are yellow flowers.

I am cradled in my shadow
like a fiddle
in its black case.

The only thing I want to say
glimmers out of reach
like the silver
at the pawnbroker's.
  • His poetry is known for its haunting, emotional quality. He has been called a “buzzard poet” because he often writes from a detached viewpoint, as if hovering over a scene looking for targets. 
  • They often contain elements of surrealism, the expression of ideas through bizarre, unexpected images.

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