Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530
"Nocturne" is a poem by Swedish writer Tomas Tranströmer. The poem is vivid in its description of a town during the nighttime hours. The narrator cannot sleep, so he drives through the village. He ponders the inhabitants of the peaceful village. The village itself is asleep, as if it is a person that the poet dares not to disturb. In the first stanza, the narrator makes a connection, although a subtle one, between slumber and death. In the darkness, before the narrator passes through them, the houses and inanimate objects on the street are dead.
However, when he illuminates them with his headlights, they come to life, as if they are people resurrecting from death to join the living in earthly affairs (i.e., drinking, companionship). The poet then imagines the people sleeping in the village, how some are peaceful in their slumber whilst others are fighting to stay awake, or sleep lightly and have are experiencing mental discomfort. This could be interpreted in two ways.
The first interpretation is that there are people who are at peace with what they've done in life and accept death, whilst there are others who have regrets in life and do not want to die. Perhaps the latter group are fearful of death more than the former group, because death—eternal unconsciousness—is the great unknown. They've trained their whole life to do one thing, and that is to simply live out their existence, and death breaks that lifelong rhythm.
some can sleep peacefully, others have drawn features
as if training hard for eternity.
They don't dare let go though their sleep is heavy.
They rest like lowered crossing barriers when the mystery draws past.
The other interpretation is that those who sleep peacefully are people with a clear conscience and are able to live harmoniously with the volatility of life by adapting to circumstances. When it comes to daily problems, they can simply "sleep it off." The ones who are troubled and have grimaced faces are people who have bad memories haunting them. They are living out their nightmares in real life, and in the dreamworld, these nightmares or past traumas are even more vivid.
The trees of the forest represent different people in the collective unconsciousness, or the dark ocean of the dream world, because the poet remarks how each leaf is unique, which is the same with people. The road disappears into this dark unknown and the poet drives straight into it. It is no surprise then that the next stanza illustrates how the poet is suddenly falling asleep. He is not home, in bed, but is still behind the wheel of his car. He is falling asleep whilst driving because he sees "signs scribbling themselves" behind his eyelids. These are the road signs ahead of him.
He is so sleepy at this point that his eyelids are barely open, resembling the slit of a letter box. He imagines an actual letter being forced through the letter slot—the slit between his eyelids—and this is perhaps a memory of someone he used to correspond to. These haunting memories are trying to keep him awake, and possibly keep him alive.