POETRY: Elegy, by Tomas Tranströmer

At the outset. Like a fallen dragon
in some mist and vapor shrouded swamp,
our spruce-clad coastland lies. Far out there:
two steamers crying from a dream

in the fog. This is the lower world.
Motionless woods, motionless surface
and the orchid’s hand that reaches from the soil.
On the other side, beyond these straits

but hanging in the same reflection: the Ship,
like the cloud hanging weightless in its space.
And the water round its prow is motionless,
becalmed. And yet—a storm is up!

and the steamer smoke blows level—the sun
flickers there in its grip—and the gale
is hard against the face of him who boards.
To make one’s way up the port side of Death.

A sudden draft, the curtain flutters.
Silence ringing, an alarm clock.
A sudden draft, the curtain flutters.
Until a distant door is heard closing

far off in another year.


O field as grey as the buried bog-man’s cloak.
And island floating darkly in the fog.
It’s quiet, as when the radar turns
and turns its arc in hopelessness.

There’s a crossroads in a moment.
Music of the distances converges.
All grown together in a leafy tree.
Vanished cities glitter in its branches.

From everywhere and nowhere a song
like crickets in the August dark. Embedded
like a wood-beetle, he sleeps here in the night,
the peat-bog’s murdered traveler. The sap compels

his thoughts up to the stars. And deep
in the mountain: here’s the cave of bats.
Here hang the years, the deeds, densely.
Here they sleep with folded wings.

One day they’ll flutter out. A throng!
(From a distance, smoke from the cave mouth.)
But still their summer-winter sleep prevails.
A murmuring of distant waters. In the dark tree

a leaf that turns.


One summer morning a harrow catches
in dead bones and rags of clothing.—He
lay there after the peat-bog was drained
and now stands up and goes his way in light.

In every parish eddies golden seed
round ancient guilt. The armored skull
in the plowed field. A wanderer en route
and the mountain keeps an eye on him.

In every parish rifles crackle
at midnight when the wings unfold
and the past expands in its collapse
and darker than the heart’s meteorite.

An absence of spirit makes the writing greedy.
A flag begins to smack. The wings
unfold around the booty. This proud journey!
where the albatross ages to a cloud

in Time’s jaws. And culture is a whaling-
station where the stranger walks
among white gables, playing children, and
still with each breath he takes he feels

the murdered giant’s presence.


Soft black-cock crooning from the heavenly spheres.
The music, guiltless in our shadow, like
the fountain water rising among the wild beasts,
deftly petrified around the playing jets.

The bows disguised, a forest.
The bows like rigging in a torrent—
the cabin’s smashed beneath the torrent’s hooves—
within us, balanced like a gyroscope, is joy.

This evening the world’s calm is reflected
when the bows rest on strings without being moved.
Motionless in mist the forest trees
and the water-tundra mirroring itself.

Music’s voiceless half is here, like the scent
of resin round lightning-damaged spruce.
An underground summer for each of us.
There at the crossroads a shadow breaks free

and runs off to where the Bach trumpet points.
Sudden confidence, by grace. To leave behind
one’s self-disguise here on this shore
where the wave breaks and slides away, breaks

and slides away.

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