The Deleted World

Tomas Tranströmer, trans. from the Swedish by Robin Robertson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $13 trade paper (64p) ISBN 978-0-374-53353-3
For decades U.S. poets and those in the know have been talking about Tranströmer, the haunting Swedish poet who’s supposedly been on the Nobel shortlist for years. Now that he’s actually taken this year’s prize, he’s no longer a secret. Readers can choose from several selections of poems with different English translators—from New Directions, Ecco, Graywolf, and others—all of which are pretty good, though this little book rushed out by FSG may be the best introduction, if not the best value dollar per page. U.K. poetry star Robertson offers his lucid versions of 15 poems from throughout Tranströmer’s long career, which began in the ’50s. Tranströmer favors dark, wintry, portentous landscapes that show more than they tell: the chilling and typical “Midwinter” reads, in its entirety, “A blue light/ streams out of my clothes./ Midwinter./ Ringing tambourines of ice./ I close my eyes./ There is a silent world,/ there is a crack/ where the dead/ are smuggled over the border.” Fear and acceptance of death are everywhere in the background—“In the middle of life, death comes/ to take your measurements. The visit/ is forgotten and life goes on. But the suit/ is being sewn on the sly”—but it’s tempered by an observant communication with nature, which offers a kind of company if not solace: “The child’s eyes grow wide in the dark/ and the storm howls for him./ Both love the swinging lamps; both are halfway towards speech.” While readers will certainly be left wanting more pages, the fact that they will is a tribute to Robertson’s clear and deep sympathy with Tranströmer’s world. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/28/2011
Release date: 12/19/2011
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