Ten poems by Tomas Tranströmer



National Insecurity


The Under Secretary leans forward and draws an X

and her ear-drops dangle like swords of Damocles.

As a mottled butterfly is invisible against the ground

so the demon merges with the opened newspaper.

A helmet worn by no one has taken power.

The mother-turtle flees flying under the water.


Translated by Robin Fulton from New and Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer by Robin Fulton, published by Bloodaxe Books (www.bloodaxebooks.com). Copyright © 1997 by Robin Fulton. Reprinted by permission . All rights reserved.




After a black day, I play Haydn,

and feel a little warmth in my hands.

The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.

The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.

The sound says that freedom exists

and someone pays no tax to Caesar.

I shove my hands in my haydnpockets

and act like a man who is calm about it all.

I raise my haydnflag. The signal is:

We do not surrender. But want peace.”

The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;

rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.

The rocks roll straight through the house

but every pane of glass is still whole.


The Couple


They switch off the light and its white shade

glimmers for a moment before dissolving

like a tablet in a glass of darkness. Then up.

The hotel walls rise into the black sky.

The movements of love have settled, and they sleep

but their most secret thoughts meet as when

two colours meet and flow into each other

on the wet paper of a schoolboy’s painting.

It is dark and silent. But the town has pulled closer

tonight. With quenched windows. The houses have approached.

They stand close up in a throng, waiting,

a crowd whose faces have no expressions.


After a Death


Once there was a shock

that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.

It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.

It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun

through brush where a few leaves hang on.

They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.

Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat

but often the shadow seems more real than the body.

The samurai looks insignificant

beside his armor of black dragon scales.




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 he was there

when he returns again to his view.

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.


Under Pressure


The blue sky’s engine-drone is deafening.

We’re living here on a shuddering work-site

where the ocean depths can suddenly open up

shells and telephones hiss.

You can see beauty only from the side, hastily.

The dense grain on the field, many colours in a yellow stream.

The restless shadows in my head are drawn there.

They want to creep into the grain and turn to gold.

Darkness falls. At midnight I go to bed.

The smaller boat puts out from the larger boat.

You are alone on the water.

Society’s dark hull drifts further and further away.


All translations are by Robert Bly from The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations by Robert Bly, published by Harper Collins. Copyright © 2004 by Robert Bly. Reprinted by permission . All rights reserved.


 Blue House3


Below Zero


We are at a feast which doesn’t love us. At last the feast sheds its mask and shows itself for what it really is: a switchyard, cold colossi sit on rails in the mist. A piece of chalk has scribbled on the freight car doors.

It musn’t be said, but there is much suppressed violence here. That’s why the features are so heavy. And why it’s so hard to see that other thing which also exists: a mirrored glare of sun which moves across the house wall and glides through the unknowing forest of flickering faces, a Bible text never written down: “Come to me, for I am laden with contradictions like you yourself.”

Tomorrow I’m working in another city. I whizz there through the morning hour which is a blue—black cylinder. Orion hovers above the frozen ground. Children stand in a silent crowd, waiting for the school bus, children for whom no one prays. The light grows slowly like our hair.


Reply to a Letter


In the bottom drawer I find a letter which arrived for the first time twenty- six years ago. A letter written in panic, which continues to breathe when it arrives for the second time.

A house has five windows; through four of them daylight shines clear and still. The fifth window faces a dark sky, thunder and storm. I stand by the fifth window. The letter.

Sometimes a wide abyss separates Tuesday from Wednesday, but twenty-six years may pass in a moment. Time is no straight line. but rather a labyrinth. and if you press yourself against the wall, at the right spot, you can hear the hurrying steps and the voices, you can hear yourself walking past on the other side.

Was that letter ever answered? l don`t remember, it was a long time ago. The innumberable thresholds of the sea continued to wander. The heart continued to leap from second to second, like the toad in the wet grass of a night in August.

The unanswered letters gather up above, like cirrostratus clouds foreboding a storm. They dim the rays of the sun. One day l shall reply. One day when l am dead and at last free to collect my thoughts. Or at least so far away from here that l can rediscover myself. When recently arrived I walk in the great city. On 25th Street, on the windy streets of dancing garbage. I who love to stroll and merge with the crowd,

a capital letter T in the infinite body of text.


Icelandic Hurricane


No earth tremor, but a skyquake. Turner could have painted it, secured by ropes. A single mitten whirled past right now, several miles from its hand. Facing the storm I am heading for that house on the other side of the field. I flutter in the hurricane. I am being x-rayed, my skeleton hands in its application for discharge. Panic grows while I tack about, I am wrecked, I am wrecked and drown on dry land! How heavy it is, all that I suddenly have to carry, how heavy it is for the butterfly to tow a barge! There at last. A final bout of wrestling with the door. And now inside. Behind the huge window-pane. What a strange and magnificent invention glass is—to be close without being stricken. . . Outside a horde of transparent splinters of gigantic shapes rush across the lava plain. But I flutter no more. I sit behind the glass, still, my own portrait.


The Blue House


It is night with glaring sunshine. I stand in the woods and look towards my house with its misty blue walls. As though I were recently dead and saw the house from a new angle.

It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its timber has been impregnated, four times with joy and three times with sorrow. When someone who has lived in the house dies it is repainted. The dead person paints it himself, without a brush,  from the inside.

On the other side is open terrain. Formerly a garden, now wilderness. A still surf of weed, pagodas of weed, an unfurling body of text, Upanishades of weed, a Viking fleet of weed, dragon heads, lances, an empire of weed.

Above the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang, thrown again and again. It is related to someone who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse issues from him, a thought, a thought of will: “create. . .draw. ..” In order to escape his destiny in time.

The house resembles a child’s drawing. A deputizing childishness which grew forth because someone prematurely renounced the charge of being a child. Open the doors, enter! Inside unrest dwells in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed there hangs an amateur painting representing a ship with seventeen sails, rough sea and a wind which the gilded frame cannot subdue.

It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.

A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.


All prose poems from The Blue House, translated from the Swedish by Göran Malmqvist, published by Thunder City Press. Copyright © 1987 by Göran Malmqvist. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.