Review of New Collected Poems, Tomas Tranströmer
Who really reads poetry nowadays?
Many people read poetry in their youth when they are looking for an expression for all their intense emotions. In grief we return.
Many read the poems in obituaries, some of which may turn out mundane while others can capture the most intense feelings in the proximity of death.
One of last year's most popular Christmas gifts in Sweden was no doubt Tomas Tranströmer’s volume of collected poems, which had already been published for the author's 80th birthday in April 2011. In December the same year Tranströmer was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. It's not often that one can so readily acquire a Nobel Prize laureate’s collected works before the award is given. It has the appearance of an ordinary novel, but poetry may be difficult to read, despite the simple words. This is hardly a book that you read from cover to cover without taking a break to really process the words' true meaning.
You can read poetry and interpret it in many ways depending on who you are. When I was in high school and we read poetry we were given a sheet of paper were all the metaphors were translated and most of what was analyzed discouraged from further explorations.
But you can also read poems the way my mother taught me to visit new museums: First, you go around and get a general view, then you return to the things that you found most interesting.
Many of us carry around bits and pieces of Tomas Tranströmer’s work that are important to us, although we may not remember or understand the specific poem in question. For example:
"Don't be ashamed of being human, be proud!
Inside you vault opens behind vault endlessly.
You will never be complete, that's how it’s meant to be."
But who remembers the entire poem "Romanesque arches"?
I begin an ambitious quest to read all the poems from the beginning. I honestly have to admit that most poems do not affect me much, then suddenly I’m caught by ”Preludes II”:
Two truths approach each other
One comes from within, / one comes from without - and where they meet you have the chance / to catch a look at yourself.
These sentences will probably be undersood by anyone without "translation". But the poem is otherwise open to interpretation, just as dreams are. My dreams will evoke completely different associations in me than they would in you, much like how we each read this poem differently.
Since the late 1990’s Tranströmer suffers from aphasia. Despite his disease he published his latest collection, "The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems” in 2004 (the English version was published in 2006), much thanks to the help of is wife. Many of the poems here have already become classics. For example, ”Snow is Falling”, where these few lines stick:
The funerals keep coming
more and more of them
like the traffic signs
as we approach a city.
The last part of the book contains poems about the Tranströmer’s years as a child and a teen in Stockholm. In short, concentrated stories a portrait of the young Tranströmer is painted before us. The stories are easy to read and unforgettable.
All in all, this is a book that you'll never finish. You will always be able to return to it and find something new.
Submitted: 29 maj 2012