Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015)

I awakened late to the work of the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer. I wasn’t aware of his impressive body of work until 2011, when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I didn’t buy a book of his work until recently, when Ted Kooser told me to.

I have been reading him greedily ever since. His poems strike me with the force of Expressionist paintings. They are often about whatever the poem seems to have laid his eyes upon. The globe of a light bulb “glows / an instant and then dissolves, like a tablet  / in a glass of darkness” (“The Couple”). “…in the evening I lie like a ship / with the lights out” (“Crests”). There is often a synesthetic quality to his images: colors “flow”; three o’clock “tramps.” Images surprise: a tree remembers, a man “is a half-open door / leading to a room for everyone” (“The Half-Finished Heaven”).

So here is a poem that I think I am brave enough to use as a model.


The building is closed. The sun crowds in through the windowpanes
and warms up the surfaces of desks
that are strong enough to take the load of human fare.

We are outside today, on the long wide slope.
Many have dark clothes. You can stand in the sun with your eyes shut
and feel yourself blown slowly forward.

I come too seldom down to the water. But I am here now,
among large stones with peaceful backs.
Stones which slowly migrated backwards up out of the waves.

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