The Year of Living Deepy 2: Re-reading Tomas Tranströmer

Below Zero

We are at a party that doesn’t love us. At last the party lets its mask drop and shows itself for what it really is: a marshalling yard. Cold colossi stand on rails in the mist. A piece of chalk scribbled on the wagon doors.

It shouldn’t be said, but there is much suppressed violence here. That’s why the components are so heavy. And why it’s so hard to see something else that’s there too: a little reflection from a mirror, flitting on the house-walls and gliding through the unknowing forest of glimmering faces, a biblical text which was never written: ‘Come unto me, for I am full of contradictions like you.’

Tomorrow I am working in another town. I swish towards it through the morning hour which is like a big dark-blue cylinder. Orion hangs above the ground-frost. Children are standing in a silent cluster waiting for the school bus, children no one prays for. The light is growing as slowly as our hair.

Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton, from New Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books)
For no other reason than that I was bored, or tired, or a bit of both, with something else mixed in (did I want to go on with my novel that night? perhaps never? was it even a novel or that book I was given for my birthday?), I reached for my copy of Tranströmer’s poems, not really expecting to find anything in it, pretty sure that I knew it all already

but something about his prose poems caught my eye, sort of from behind my eye, almost to the side of it, something shy and preverbal as Frost would have it

that sense of saying something not quite allowed,      not quite in front of the grown-ups as we used to say in my family

and there it was, something very much about being in front of the grown-ups, yet    something   very much hidden from them as well

and I found that though I had read the poem (maybe watched it like a film is closer ?) -how many?  – a hundred?      -twenty –  three? – seventeen?- anyway what I thought of (  think)   as many, many times I hadn’t really


very much about it at all

the way the paragraphs (I still don’t know if you say stanzas) ( I  should really know that by now) each contain a different atmosphere of the same foreboding, one set in a party, one set in a ‘flitting’, mirror-like landscape, and one set in the morning rush


I had never spotted that reference to Orion before, nor the ground-frost, but it was those unprayed-for children waiting for their school bus that really took my breath away. The distance we travel between that party and those children seems to take

forever yet it happens in the blink of the

it was a poem I thought I knew     well

those children.            I could cry.


  1. A friend gave me Tomas Tranströmer’s poems a few years ago. I had never heard of him, but immediately loved his work – as cool, spare and light-filled as the scenes he describes. I too was pierced to the heart by those children.
    I live opposite a school. I must try to remember to pray for them, and all children, as well as my own extended family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lesley
      Well, you have a real treat in store. There are poems I have looked at on my blog: Alone, and The Half-Finished Heaven. Nocturne is a real favourite also. And Breathing Space July, which I have also featured. His Bloodaxe Collected is amazing.
      Happy reading!



  2. Do you know the prose poems of Franz Wright, Anthony? A touch of the Tranströmer in them:

    “I don’t know how long I’d been lying there and listening to the blizzard when I had the most vivid impression that it was a blizzard in Minneapolis in 1959. And I found this disturbing. I knew it would now have to turn on its lamp, get out of bed, and try to write about me.”

    From ‘Kindertotenwald’

    Liked by 1 person

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