Combining poetry and a memoir of his childhood in Sweden in one volume, For the Living and the Dead once again demonstrates Tomas Tranströmer’s gift for capturing and grounding the elusive, luminous details of our modern world. A work that bridges the space between those real and unreal elements of life, it suggests that a surprising, redemptive cohesion can exist within a universe of opposing forces.
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