The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“After Someone’s Death” is a poem of three stanzas of four lines each. As in many of Tomas Tranströmer’s poems, this one begins with the appearance of a story, but by the end, the series of disconnected images do not seem to add up to a coherent narrative. It is the speaker’s visual (rather than organic) ordering of things that holds the poem’s various images together. The title suggests the discontinuity between life and death; it is the time after someone’s death that the poem considers. The speaker is not identified as the one who specifically experiences the death of another person, and this general detachment may allow the speaker to talk of a more universal condition. It is not uncommon for people to experience the death of another person. The reference to “us” in the first stanza may therefore refer to all people.

In the following two stanzas, the speaker addresses more directly a “you” in the poem. The other person is depicted in familiar situations such as shuffling on skis on a winter’s day and feeling his or her “heart throbbing.” In these depictions, the speaker seems to be consoling the other person by reminding him or her of activities in which the living and breathing human body can still engage.

The speaker assumes some responsibility for the emotional well-being of the person who has possibly experienced someone’s death. Tranströmer establishes the mood of this situation in the first stanza when...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

At one time Tranströmer was a practicing psychologist, and his work enables him to employ many strategies to speak about the unspeakable. How else do humans come to understand what death means unless they first realize what psychological and emotional effects visit them after someone else dies?

The poem does not appear to be logically developed because the grief caused by death forces one to reconsider the outside world. After death, the world is transformed; it is irrational, since everything seems inexplicable. If the poem develops in discontinuous fashion, it is the poet’s attempt to correspond the reality of the experience to the unreality of death. The speaker of the poem acts as a kind of mediator between the fact of death and the emotional impact of the one who remains after the dead. The world is seen through the eyes of the other who is suffering, and the pain is interpreted through the components of the physical world. If objects are transposed in this presentation, this may be caused by the way in which personal affliction has filtered the images.

The poem begins with the effect of the “shock”; it takes the form of “a long pallid glimmering comet’s tail.” Already, the poem establishes the sense of lifelessness in the cosmic metaphor. Unfortunately, this lack of vitality is all-encompassing (“It contains us”) and alters even inconsequential things such as television sets. The movement from the personal (grief) to the...

(The entire section is 504 words.)