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The poem 'Gogol' by Tomas Transtromer seems to be a work of warning. There are beautiful images of ice and fire but also a sense of foreboding and menace. The reference to St Petersburg is chilling and follows on from the beginning of the poem where the word marble is juxtaposed with depressing words such as 'shabby' and 'wolves' evoking a sense of luxury compared to poverty. Marble reminds us of the shiny luxury of palaces. The ring of letters suggests the burning of incriminating documents after a coup or rebellion and could be a reference to the mystical and eternal image of the ring represented in Time itself. Hearts usually represent love but the one Transtromer mentions evokes emptiness and neglect.
Fire is mentioned again as the poem's narrative moves forward like the fox in the sunset image. The fox picks up the theme of stealth and dispossession suggested at the beginning and also suggests a menacing threat as fire moves across the land, perhaps towards St Petersburg. The hooves and horns in the sky suggest the coming of an event of great portent such as The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. Horses also often symbolise disorder too as in the case of gypsies in Spanish poetry.
Then, after the sense of menace and the forward momentum of fire, the word annihilation is reached and it is in connection with the city of St Petersburg. The poet is very specific in his choice of language.He chooses the word 'latitude' which suggests a very deliberate and pre meditated trajectory on the part of the aggressor. The city is clearly in imminent danger but the tone changes to a deliberate casual question, similar to those that tourists often ask. This may echo the ambivalence or blissful ignorance of a frivolous population. In addition to fire and earth, the element of water is then used as the pauper is said to float around the frozen city like a jellyfish, unimportant, irrelevant, a creature from the start of Time itself.
The past is mentioned in celebratory tones reminding the reader of times of plenty but suggesting that those times have gone and some have escaped to safety to high ground above the tree line. This may represent an uncaring elite who had forewarning and the funds to escape a tragedy they started.
The beautiful poem ends with a call to action presented in classical terms and repeating the fire imagery. The poet suggests that the reader mount a chariot of fire to leave a country he seems to believe has no future and is finished. Themes of revolution, communism, imperialism,aristocracy and war may be worth examining in relation to this poem.
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