The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Out in the Open” has thirty-three lines divided into three sections of uneven length. The poem takes place out in the open air, away from town and the town’s evil; the poet attempts to bring things normally hidden out in the open. Each of these readings is problematic, partially because of the poem’s fragmented nature.

The second and third sections are written in the first person, but the first section has only an implied first-person narrator. In all three sections, there is no distinction between the speaker and Tomas Tranströmer; one must assume that he, following the norms of the lyric poem, is the “I” in this poem.

The poem begins with a fragment, as if a stage direction were being given in a play: “Late autumn labyrinth.” The idea of a labyrinth is appropriate for this poem because of the mystery in it as a whole and because of the abrupt and sometimes baffling changes in direction that take place, especially between sections. This first section of the poem follows a thin narrative: Someone waits at the edge of the woods, then decides to enter the woods, and then leaves. While in the woods, he hears a few sounds, notices the mushrooms “have shriveled up,” and decides to get out and find his landmarks again before it gets dark. The scene is somewhat frightening, mainly because of the associations the reader might have with woods and darkness; the reader has no idea, however, why the person is in the woods or why exactly he needs to find his landmarks again. The section is evocative and startling in its metaphors, but it...

(The entire section is 641 words.)