A Swedish master of mysticism leaves the reader spellbound

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New Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer – review

A Swedish master of mysticism leaves the reader spellbound

Illustration by Clifford Harper/agraphia.co.ukIllustration by Clifford Harper/agraphia.co.uk

New Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton, Bloodaxe Books, 2011

Mystical poetry: the phrase conjures fridge-magnet platitudes and joss sticks. But the mysticism of Tomas Tranströmer is grounded firmly in close observation of both the natural world and human psychology (he has worked as a psychologist all his life). He does not present his poems as nuggets of wisdom to be pondered: instead, they tend to chart a progression from concrete reality to a heightened state of awareness, as in “Winter’s Gaze”:

I lean like a ladder and with my face
reach into the second floor of the cherry tree.
I’m inside the bell of colours, it chimes with sunlight.
I polish off the swarthy red berries faster than four magpies.

At once, after this joyously sunny opening, the tone darkens:
A sudden chill, from a great distance, meets me.
The moment blackens
and remains like an axe-cut in a tree-trunk.

Nothing could be more traditionally “poetic” than to contemplate the changing of the seasons in terms of changing emotional states; but simply by manipulating the timeframe – by having winter arrive with surreal speed – Tranströmer allows us to apprehend both from a fresh perspective.

Tranströmer is that rare thing: a non-English-language poet who has been fully accepted into British and US poetry in his own lifetime. In the 60s he became associated with Robert Bly and the Deep Image school of US poetry, and in the early 90s (after the publication of the first edition of this book) many UK poets caught on. More recently, Robin Robertson translated a selection of his poems in The Deleted World, and hopefully this new volume of Robin Fulton’s translations (which includes Tranströmer’s most recent work as well as some previously uncollected haiku and a prose memoir) will confirm a third wave of interest in this poet’s work.

Read the full review at The Guardian.UK

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