Poetry. Translated from the Swedish by John F. Deane. John F. Deane's translation of Tomas Tranströmer's 1989 collection FOR THE LIVING AND THE DEAD (För levande och döda) originally appeared with The Dedalus Press (Ireland) in 1994. Published in the United States for the first time, this new edition contains a revised translation as well as a new introduction and translator's note. FOR THE LIVING AND THE DEAD contains some of Tranströmer's most widely anthologized poems, including "Vermeer" and "Romanesque Arches." At long last, this important work from one of the world's most celebrated poets is back in print in a single volume.
"Tranströmer's power with imagery is unsurpassed; a poem of his gathers disparate images from several sources and offers a poetry that is immensely rich, deep and wide-ranging. The imagery remains true to the actual world and yet discovers mysteries that touch on a universal human memory. His power emanates from such conjunctions, going beyond what he calls the 'truth barrier.' His work honors his native Sweden and yet ranges the world.... His is a deeply human and resonating voice, capacious, exciting, and immensely readable."—John F. Deane, from the introduction
The first volume by Tomas Transtromer in almost a decade, For the Living and the Dead
includes an unusual bonus: a prose memoir about the poet's childhood, which goes some distance to explain why he became an adolescent psychologist. In other respects, however, the collection is of a piece with Transtromer's earlier work. Why, he seems to ask, are words so sadly inadequate to convey our meaning to others? His solution in the face of this inadequacy is to merge the intimate lyric--as familiar in its tone as a personal letter--with the most stringent economies of language.
It has been said that Transtromer's work comes across well in translation because of its striking imagery. This is partly true, but he has no less firm a grasp on musical structure, cadence, and pacing. All these qualities are present in "Grief Gondola No. 2," translated by Robert Bly. An homage to Liszt, the poem resembles a musical composition, complete with theme, variations, and coda: "The heavily loaded gondola carries their lives, two return tickets and a one-way.... The heavily loaded gondola carries life, it is simple and black."
Transtromer is not a poet of the everyday, but one who needs a rupture of routine to steal his glimpse into another world. The poems are urgent encounters in which Transtromer seems to be in constant transit. Most often he depicts himself as a passenger, and an invisible one: "The carp in the pond are always moving, they swim while they sleep, / they are an example for the faithful: always in motion." But when the poet can enter into a communion with his subject--including, ultimately, the fellow-traveling carp in "Streets in Shanghai"--he persuades the reader that along with seeing, he has been seen as well. --Mark Rudman