March 30, 2015

"I moved in the great mystery": Tomas Tranströmer 1931-2015




Tomas Tranströmer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature not quite four years ago, died last Friday, aged 83. When the announcement of the Prize was made, I had never read a poem by him. But what a name! Did we have a book of his poems? We did! A 30-year-old Selected Poems was squirrelled away in the good old Central City Library basement. Oh no, actually, not squirrelled away any longer: four quicker-on-the-draw readers had formed a queue within hours of the announcement.

So I turned to the newer publications which Auckland Libraries had quickly ordered au complet, and chose The great enigma: new collected poems from 2006. The fact that the diacritical marks weren't showing correctly on the catalogue, so that the name Tranströmer appeared as Transtr?mer is not the only reason I chose it, but it certainly cinched the deal. How could I resist someone described thus:

"Transtr?mer's dominant moods are almost warily inward-turning..."

As well as being a great poet (as I discovered for myself when the book arrived, and you will discover if you keep reading), Tomas Tranströmer was also a noted entomologist, a beetle collector. There is even a beetle named for him, in an 80th birthday tribute. The “Tranströmers tornbagge” was discovered on the island of Gotland, in the Baltic Sea, where Tranströmer spent his summers as a boy. You can't help getting a whiff of Nabokov. The image in my mind's eye, in fact, is a Nabokov who never left a St Petersburg which never stopped being St Petersburg, as Max von Sydow would interpret him in an Ingmar Bergman film.

Of the beetle, the Tomas Tranströmer website tells us "Its habits are still unknown". The Great Enigma. 


Mordellistena transtroemeriana photo: tomastranstomer.net


The Great Enigma includes a wonderful piece of autobiographical prose called Memories Look at Me, in which Tranströmer recalls (as well as his early visits to the library) his love of beetle-collecting:

"I moved in the great mystery. I learned that the ground was alive, that there was an infinite world of creeping and flying things living their own rich life without paying the least regard to us. I caught a fraction of a fraction of that world and pinned it down in my boxes... they're sitting there, those insects. As if biding their time."

And so, to

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter by Vermeer
(Image: npr.org)

Vermeer

by Tomas Tranströmer (translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton, from The Great Enigma)


No protected world... Just behind the wall the noise begins,
the inn
with laughter and bickering, rows of teeth, tears, the din of bells
and the insane brother-in-law, the death-bringer we all must tremble for.

The big explosion and the tramp of rescue arriving late,
the boats preening themselves on the straits, the money creeping down in the wrong man's pocket
demands stacked on demands
gaping red flowerheads sweating premonitions of war.

And through the wall into the clear studio
into the second that's allowed to live for centuries.
Pictures that call themselves The Music Lesson
or Woman in Blue Reading a Letter --
she's in her eighth month, two hearts kicking inside her.
On the wall behind is a wrinkled map of Terra Incognita.

Breathe calmly... An unknown blue material is nailed to the chairs.
The gold studs flew in with incredible speed
and stopped abruptly
as if they had never been other than stillness.

Ears sing from depth or height.
It's the pressure from the other side of the wall.
It makes each fact float
and steadies the brush.

It hurts to go through walls, it makes you ill
but is necessary.
The world is one. But walls...
And the wall is part of yourself --
we know or we don't know but it's true for us all
except for small children. No walls for them.

The clear sky has leaned against the wall.
It's like a prayer to the emptiness.
And the emptiness turns its face to us
and whispers,
"I am not empty, I am open."


 -- Karen

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 19:45
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