Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tomas Transtromer

Pictures above:
TT being serenaded at his Nobel lecture; at the piano with one good hand.

Tomas Transtromer has always been my favorite Swedish poet, well maybe neck and neck wih Ekelov, so I was elated to hear he had won the Nobel prize this year. Some naysayers complained that the Swedish Academy, which chooses the Nobel winners, shouldn't have named one of their own country men. But Tomas Transtromer is a universal poet, and his works have been translated widely, into as many as 60 languages.
Music, and its inner meaning for him, is a theme that permeates his poetic output, and he is especially close to Schubert. Sadly, he suffered a stroke several years ago and lost the use of his right arm.He's been a good pianist and now is learning left handed repertory, and it was rumored that for his Nobel lecture he would simply play something of Schubert (a transcription I suppose), but as it turned out various poets read his poetry to him and did so in several languages.
But the moment that I won't forget (I watched this on the Nobel Prize web site) was of a string quintet playing the Schubert C major Quintet right in front of him, only a few feet away. If you know his poem "Schubertiana" you would know what this meant to him.

Here's the first stanza of his poem:

by Tomas Transtr¨omer. (Trans. Kalle R¨ais¨anen)
In the evening-dark of a place outside New York, a look-out point
where one glance can encompass eight million people’s homes.
The giant city over there is a long, flickering snow-drift, a spiral
galaxy on its side.
Inside the galaxy, coffee cups are slid over the counter, store-fronts
beg with passers-by, a crowd of shoes that leave no traces.
The climbing fire-escapes, the elevator doors gliding shut, behind
locked doors a constant swell of voices.
Sunken bodies half-sleep in the subway cars, the rushing catacombs.
I know, also — statistics aside — that right now Schubert is
being played in some room over there and that to someone
those sounds are more important than all those other things.