I was watching the news on a regional channel recently when the ticker below declared that Tomas ‘Transformer’ had won the Nobel Prize. This sudden transformation of Transtromer did bring on a smile, but it also reminded me of the kind of effect the poetry of this man had on me when I stumbled upon him some time in the mid nineties.
We got ready and showed our home.
The visitor thought: you live well.
The slum must be inside you.
Suddenly, it was the ideas. Not just the rhymes, the lilt or the alliteration. The idea that the slum is actually inside us, that a headache has many rooms and that light grows as gradually as hair, was, to say the least, new. To my ears, they brought a music and an imagery far removed from the poems I’d been reading- opening up a fresh way of percieving the world. Brought up on poetry essentially ‘English’ in tone, emotions and structure, the syntax and the ideas of Transtromer was challengingly different.
In fact, the translation of this unique tone of voice does create problems for translators. Robin Robertson, a translator, feels that if not careful, ” the elemental sparseness of his language can often be rendered as colourless and bland. The supple rhythms of the original poems are hard to replicate and, equally, the plosive musicality of Swedish words like “domkyrkoklocklang” lose all their aural resonance when they become a “peal of cathedral bells.”
Later, I came to know that a stroke had already left him almost speechless and had denied him the use of his right hand in the early nineties - just when I had began to discover his world. Today, looking at a video of him, quiet, frail, smiling, lost in playing a piano piece written for the left hand, it strikes me that the ticker beneath the channel was not altogether wrong. The man is indeed a ‘ transformer’. A transformer of perceptions.
For those who need a starter on Transtromer, here are a couple of links:
About this entry
You’re currently reading “Tomas Transformer?,” an entry on bad to verse
- 11.27.11 / 11pm