Five Poems by Tomas Tranströmer
I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.
The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
The resonance green, lively and calm.
The music says freedom exists
and someone doesn’t pay the emperor tax.
I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking on the world calmly.
I hoist the Haydnflag – it signifies:
“We don’t give in. But want peace.’
The music is a glass-house on the slope
where the stones fly, the stones roll.
And the stones roll right through
but each pane stays whole.
The Half-Finished Heaven
Despondency breaks off its course.
Anguish breaks off its course.
The vulture breaks off its flight.
The eager light streams out,
even the ghosts take a draught.
And our paintings see daylight,
our red beasts of the ice-age studios.
Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in hundreds.
Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.
The endless ground under us.
The water is shining among the trees.
The lake is a window into the earth.
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.
Open and Closed Spaces
A man feels the world with his work like a glove.
He rests for a while at midday having laid aside the gloves on the shelf.
There they suddenly grow, spread
and black-out the whole house from inside.
The blacked-out house is away out among the winds of spring.
‘Amnesty,’ runs the whisper in the grass: ‘amnesty.’
A boy sprints with an invisible line slanting up in the sky
where his wild dream of the future flies like a kite bigger than the
Further north you can see from a summit the blue endless carpet of
where the cloud shadows
are standing still.
No, are flying.
The Nightingale in Badelunda
In the green midnight at the nightingale’s northern limit. Heavy leaves hang in trance, the deaf cars race towards the neon-line. The nightingale’s voice rises without wavering to the side, it is as penetrating as a cock-crow, but beautiful and free of vanity. I was in prison and it visited me. I was sick and it visited me. I didn’t notice it then, but I do now. Time streams down from the sun and the moon and into all the tick-tock-thankful clocks. But right here there is no time. Only the nightingale’s voice, the raw resonant notes that whet the night sky’s gleaming scythe.
All poems from Tomas Tranströmer, New Collected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton (Bloodaxe Books, 1997/2011)
Poem selected by the Nobel Library of the Swedish Academy.
Their work and discoveries range from the Earth’s climate and our sense of touch to efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.
See them all presented here.