Tomas Transtromer was born in Stockholm in 1931 and is today one of Sweden's most translated poets. He has been called ‘the buzzard poet’ because he seems to soar above the everyday world, observing with detached yet sympathetic detail the landscape and the people in it; the paintings of Chagall often come to mind when reading him. With Transtromer we are in the same company as Rilke and Shelley, other poets of angels and ascension.
The dream-like experience of flying (as well as endless falling) recurs again and again in Transtromer's poetry. Prelude, opens with the line, ‘Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams', Transtromer's subjects often feel that they have awakened from the dream of life, and the constant inversion of dream-time and reality, of night and day, of the horizontal and vertical worlds, is an ever-present theme.
One evening in February I came near to dying here.
The car skidded sideways on the ice, out
on the wrong side of the road. The approaching cars---
their lights---closed in.
My name, my girls, my job
broke free and were left silently behind
further and further away. I was anonymous
like a boy in a playground surrounded by enemies.
The approaching traffic had huge lights.
They shone on me while I pulled at the wheel
in a transparent terror that floated like egg white.
The seconds grew---there was space in them---
they grew big as hospital buildings.
You could almost pause
and breathe out for a while
before being crushed.
Then a hold caught: a helping grain of sand
or a wonderful gust of wind. The car broke free
and scuttled smartly right over the road.
A post shot up and cracked---a sharp clang---it
flew away in the darkness.
Then---stillness. I sat back in my seat-belt
and saw someone coming through the whirling snow
to see what had become of me.
I have been walking for a long time
on the frozen Ostergotland fields.
I have not seen a single person.
In other parts of the world
there are people who are born, live and die
in a perpetual crowd.
To be always visible---to live
in a swarm of eyes---
a special expression must develop.
Face coated with clay.
The murmuring rises and falls
while they divide up among themselves
the sky, the shadows, the sand grains.
I must be alone
ten minutes in the morning
and ten minutes in the evening.
---Without a program.
Everyone is queuing for everyone else.
---Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robin Fulton