The Owls | The Sorrow Gondola by Tomas Transtromer

A Page from the Nightbook

Sorrow-gondola-cover By Tomas Tranströmer

One night in May I stepped ashore
through a cool moonlight
where the grass and flowers were gray
but smelled green.

I drifted the slope
in the colorblind night
while white stones
signaled to the moon.

In a period
a few minutes long
and fifty-eight years wide.

And behind me
beyond the lead-shimmering water
lay the other shore
and those who ruled.

People with a future
instead of faces.


Translator's Note:

In the days leading up to the announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, the literary world was abuzz after British odds-makers, Ladbrokes, published their Nobel predictions in The Guardian (UK). They originally placed the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer in pole position. For devotees of Tranströmer’s poetry (and there are many, as he’s the 20th century’s most translated poet behind Pablo Neruda), this was far from surprising news. I first encountered Tranströmer's work through Samuel Charters’ translation of the book-length poem Baltics (Oyez, 1975). For me, Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry is uncontainable, organic, apparitional, and wrought with simultaneities. His work is stripped down to an acute, essential lyricism that he finds in the natural world and the wilderness of the imagination. He has always been outside of academic circles and has never belonged to an aesthetic movement. His background is in psychology, the piano, and entomology. He writes with spiritual overtones yet avoids the trappings of religious poetry. He alludes to political peril and the great human failings of our recent history yet he does so without pandering to didacticism. His allegiances are to liminal spaces, hinterlands, intersections, border crossings, and the images that take us there.

–Michael McGriff


“A Page from The Nightbook,” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Michael McGriff and Mikaela Grassl, from The Sorrow Gondola, Green Integer Books, 2010. Click here for Green Integer's ordering information on this title. The Owls site is for digital writing and art projects. New projects on the site include Micrograffiti, edited by Stacey Swann, and Pima Road Notebook, by Keith Ekiss. Cross-posts appear here thanks to 3DQ. Updates from The Owls are available via email subscription on the main page. To add The Owls to your Facebook news stream, Like the site here.