“Nocturne” is a short poem in free verse, its sixteen lines divided into four stanzas. The title, suggesting a musical composition, establishes the mood of the poem. The night, in one of its traditional aspects, is a time for reverie, permitting the free play of thought and emotion expressed, for example, in the nocturnes of Frédéric Chopin. The poem is written in the first person. Sometimes poets use the first person to speak through a persona, whose outlook and experience may be quite different from their own. Here, however, no distinction is implied between Tomas Tranströmer the poet and the speaker of the poem. In the classic tradition of lyric poetry, the poet addresses the reader directly, with the authority of personal experience.
“Nocturne” takes as its point of departure an experience that will be familiar to most readers. When one is driving at night, objects that are caught in the beam of the headlights loom out of the darkness, almost as if they were moving forward. Instead of ignoring this trick of perception as one normally does, Tranströmer accepts it at face value. The scene is transformed, as in a folktale or dream. There is a childlike quality to this vision, too; the magically animate houses, which “step out/ into the headlights” as deer or cattle might, “want a drink.”
When the poet turns his attention to sleeping humanity, there is an important shift in perspective. In the second stanza, instead of...
(The entire section is 484 words.)