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Keeping watch in the dark between the paw of constellations

· Tranströmer and the poetics of a Nobel ·

“One night in May I stepped ashore/through a cool moonlight/where the grass and flowers were gray/but smelled green./I drifted the slope/in the colorblind night/while white stones/signaled to the moon./In a period/a few minutes long/and fifty-eight years wide./And behind me/beyond the lead-shimmering water/lay the other shore/and those who ruled./People with a future/instead of faces.”

It may not be easy, but it is not impossible to connect this one poem to the critical analysis of the work of Tomas Tranströmer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2011; works which find their place between expressionism, modernism and surrealism. First, for the mystical-cosmic inspiration and elegiac pathos that was part of the German artistic-literary current of the early 20th century; second for those elements of color, metrics and musicality of the Hispanic -American movement; and finally for those dream-like images and plumbing the depths of the self which the eighty-year-old poet knew how to transform from the French movement of the 1920s – 1940s.

Born in Stockholm in 1931, writer and poet as well as esteemed translator, Tranströmer has published some twenty collections, since the debut of his first book of 17 poems in 1954, that have inspired young generations and made him a true cult poet. For his part, Tranströmer does not hide his explicit and un-explicit “debt” to the esthetics of Baudelaire in Correspondences (decoding the harmonious secrets of the universe), to the Imagist program (classics, geometric art, clear and precise figuration), to concepts of history and tradition and final things through objective observations which can be traced to Eliot.

From 1958 onwards, his works, Twenty Poems , 1970, Night Vision , 1972, Windows and Stones , 1972, For the Living and The Dead 1989, The Sorrow Gondola , 1996 through to The Great Enigma, 2004, give credence to the Nobel Committee’s words, “Through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”

Tranströmer’s poetry is penetrated by personal experience, but is often constructed with a psychological eye and metaphysical interpretation.

Since the 60’s, he has divided his time between writing and his work as a psychologist and in 1990 he suffered a stroke, which compromised his speech but not his writing.

In Sweden,  “new” poetry has followed modernity but is firmly anchored in tradition, which is to say, with humanistic voices that are much more existential than ideological.




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 5, 2019