Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Tuesday Poem: Tomas Transtromer

Track

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 that he was there
when he returns again to his room.

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.

Tomas Transtromer (trans Robert Bly)


I've just found this poet - who is apparently one of Sweden's greatest and was a candidate for the Nobel laureateship. Why haven't I heard of him before?   Translations don't always work either  - but these do.  Robert Bly, his translator, was a personal friend and I think this closeness has made for really good translations - not just a transcription but the creation of a new poem.   Shelley is very good on this problem.  He wrote 'It were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour, as to seek to transfuse from one language into another the creations of a poet.  The plant must spring again from its seed, or it will bear no flower - and this is the burden of the curse of Babel'.

There are more poems on the BookeyWookey blog.
For more Tuesday Poems go to the Tuesday Poem blog.

5 comments:

  1. mmm yes - shelley is good on the problem of babel!

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  2. Poetry definitely requires a good author to have any meaning after translation.
    As you say it ends up as a new work. The skill of the translator is if there is any sense of the original left.
    I think prose is the same you get some very dismal translations of novels sometimes. A literal translation does not work more often than not.

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  3. Kathleen - I really enjoyed this poem. I have a vague feeling that I've come across this poet before - years ago? The stanza about sickness I felt was so deftly put. Lovely! Kathleen - offer of sending Marriage for Beginners stands - I believe there's a prob with emailing me through the blog, though I'm not sure at why. Anyway, it's cattybATcatherine-bateson.com. I have a small stash of the book that I've reserved for sending to poets, so don't hesitate if you'd like a copy.

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  4. Thanks for your comments - like you Al, a bad translation often spoils a novel for me.
    Catherine - I'd love a copy of marriage for beginners - would be happy to exchange a copy of my own Unwritten Lives for it. can you email me so that we can exchange addresses?

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  5. Lovely
    I think Ted Kooser mentions Transtromer in his book "The Poetry Home Repair Manual". I haven't really sought out his poems though, it is that translation problem you mention.

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