Seven poems by Tomas Tranströmer
The Under Secretary leans forward and draws an X
and her ear-drops dangle like swords of Damocles.
As a mottled butterfly is invisible against the ground
so the demon merges with the opened newspaper.
A helmet worn by no one has taken power.
The mother-turtle flees flying under the water.
Translated by Robin Fulton from New and Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer by Robin Fulton, published by Bloodaxe Books (www.bloodaxebooks.com). Copyright © 1997 by Robin Fulton. Reprinted by permission . All rights reserved.
After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.
I shove my hands in my haydnpockets
and act like a man who is calm about it all.
I raise my haydnflag. The signal is:
“We do not surrender. But want peace.”
The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;
rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.
The rocks roll straight through the house
but every pane of glass is still whole.
They switch off the light and its white shade
glimmers for a moment before dissolving
like a tablet in a glass of darkness. Then up.
The hotel walls rise into the black sky.
The movements of love have settled, and they sleep
but their most secret thoughts meet as when
two colours meet and flow into each other
on the wet paper of a schoolboy’s painting.
It is dark and silent. But the town has pulled closer
tonight. With quenched windows. The houses have approached.
They stand close up in a throng, waiting,
a crowd whose faces have no expressions.
After a Death
Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.
One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.
It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.
2 A.M. moonlight. The train has stopped
out in a field. Far off sparks of light from a town,
flickering coldly on the horizon.
As when a man goes so deep into his dream
he will never remember he was there
when he returns again to his view.
Or when a person goes so deep into a sickness
that his days all become some flickering sparks, a swarm,
feeble and cold on the horizon
The train is entirely motionless.
2 o’clock: strong moonlight, few stars.
The blue sky’s engine-drone is deafening.
We’re living here on a shuddering work-site
where the ocean depths can suddenly open up
shells and telephones hiss.
You can see beauty only from the side, hastily.
The dense grain on the field, many colours in a yellow stream.
The restless shadows in my head are drawn there.
They want to creep into the grain and turn to gold.
Darkness falls. At midnight I go to bed.
The smaller boat puts out from the larger boat.
You are alone on the water.
Society’s dark hull drifts further and further away.
All translations are by Robert Bly from The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations by Robert Bly, published by Harper Collins. Copyright © 2004 by Robert Bly. Reprinted by permission . All rights reserved.
The Blue House
It is a night of radiant sun. I stand in the dense forest and look away toward my house with its hazy-blue walls. As if I had just dies and was seeing the house from a new angle. It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its wood is impregnated with four times joy and three times sorrow. When someone who lived in the house dies, it is repainted. The dead person himself is painting, without a brush, from inside.
Beyond the house, open ground. Once a garden, now grown over. Stationary breakers of weed, pagodas of weed, welling text, Upanishads of weed, a viking fleet of weed, dragons heads of weed, lances, a weed empire! Across the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang that is thrown and thrown again. It has something to do with a person who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse comes from him, a thought, a thought like an act of will: “make… draw….” To reach out of his fate.
The house is like a child’s drawing. A deputizing childishness that grew because someone—much too soon— gave up his mission to be a child. Open the door, step in! In here there’s unrest in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed hangs a painting of a ship with seventeen sails, hissing wave crests, and a wind that the gilt frame can’t contain.
It’s always so early in here, before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. Thank you for this life! Still I miss the alternatives. The sketches, all of them, want to become real. A ship’s engine far away on the water expands the summer-night horizon. Both joy and sorrow swell in the dew’s magnifying glass. Without really knowing, we diving; our life has a sister ship, following quietly another route. While the sun blazes behind the islands.
From The Blue House, translated by Göran Malmqvist, published by Thunder City Press. Copyright © 1987 by Goran Malmqvist. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.