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Tomas Transtromer Tastes Triumph
with Nobel Prize
|by P. G. R. Nair|
The poet Tomas Transtromer has finally tasted triumph by winning the Nobel Prize for literature for 2011. The Swedish Academy praised Mr. Tranströmer, saying that “through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.” This is absolutely true of his serene poetry.
Tomas Tranströmer comes from a long line of ship pilots who worked in and around the Stockholm Archipelago. He was born in Stockholm on April 15, 1931. His father and mother divorced when he was three; he and his mother lived after that in an apartment in the working-class district of Stockholm. He describes that apartment and the shifting of a bookcase into his room and filling of books that he had inherited in his poem titled “The Bookcase.”
One of the most beautiful qualities in his poems is the space we feel in them. One reason for that is that the four or five main images that appear in each of his poems come from widely separated sources in the psyche. His poems are a sort of railway station where trains that have come enormous distances stand briefly in the same building. One train may have some Russian snow still lying on the undercarriage, and another may have Mediterranean flowers still fresh in the compartments.
His powerful imageries are often concerned with issues of fragmentation and isolation. Forest is a recurring image in many of his poems. Being in the forest seems to connote a sort of existential abandonment — perhaps a necessary precondition to authentic discovery or salvation. The poem “The Clearing” begins:
The exotic provenance of images in his poems is balanced by the stones, forests, villages and cities of his native Sweden, the chief metaphors of his meditations on existence. One obsessively recurring image complex : the car, the driver, the mass migration of traffic. The motif of driving somewhere, anywhere, becomes an effective symbol for contemporary man, encased in his technology, separated from the earth, prone to sudden accident, moving in the blind flow of traffic like 'a sluggish dragon' over asphalt where 'seeds try to grow.' His marvelous poem "Alone" is an example of it. May be his life as a psychologist explains his fascination with things that might have arisen only from dreams, from the archetypal forms that lie deep, deep within us all. Consider the following passage:
Swedish poetry tends to be very rational, and therefore open to fads. Tranströmer, simply by publishing his books, led a movement of poetry in the opposite direction, toward a poetry of silence and depths. Read the poem "April and Silence" and note the striking third stanza.
Tranströmer was able to tackle the ‘big’ subjects without seeming in the least bit pretentious or foolish. I was bit shocked to read his description of how grief displaces our everyday sense of reality in ‘After Someone’s Death’. It is a poem of three stanzas of four lines each. As in many of Tomas Tranströmer’s poems, this one begins with the appearance of a story, but by the end, the series of disconnected images do not seem to add up to a coherent narrative. It is the speaker’s visual (rather than organic) ordering of things that holds the poem’s various images together. The title suggests the discontinuity between life and death; it is the time after someone’s death that the poem considers.
Transtromer has traveled extensively, and much of the pleasure of his art is in the wit and accuracy of his imagination as it expands our awareness and renews the familiar. In a smoky hut in Madeira, two fish are frying with 'tiny garlic explosions.' New York City seen at night from a distant prospect is like 'a spiral galaxy seen from the side,' the dozing bodies in its subway cars becoming 'catacombs in motion.' Sometimes these deft formulations go beyond pungent perception to express an aesthetic credo, a moral stance, as in a prose-poem titled 'Upright,' which captures the condition of living 'free but wary' in the memory of a visit to the Sara tribe in Africa. In 'From an African Diary', he describes climbing on a canoe hallowed from a log:
Penetrating insights about the mystery of existence are abundant in his poems and it has led to Tranströmer being described as a visionary poet, and certainly a sense of the numinous, of moments of spiritual epiphany, embalms his poetry. They are full of stolen moments when he seems to have caught himself off-guard:
Finally, I have presented below two poems of Transtromer to illustrate how beautifully Transtromer gives extraordinary vision on ordinary things with ordinary words.
One cannot agree more on that mix of 'YES and NO' in the above poem. The imageries of a dot of back and colourful plastic chairs as gaudy insects are also striking .
The above poem is a sombre one . You may pause, think about it and move on like 'the visit forgotten'
By bestowing Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy has finally recognized the world's most translated poet, a poet who truly grapples with the agony of modern man and daringly defines our inner world. The turbulent silence of Transtromer has triumphed finally.
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