Tomas Tranströmer Critical Essays


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Tomas Tranströmer’s development as a poet has been marked by an extraordinary clarity of purpose. His first slim volume, 17 Dikter (seventeen poems), acknowledged in Sweden as the debut of a major talent, set the pattern for his career. By publishing a collection comprising a mere seventeen poems, none of which is long, Tranströmer made a contract with his readers, a contract that is still binding: He has continued to publish slim volumes in which each poem is invested with all the care and intensity he can bring to it. Few contemporary poets have demonstrated this unassuming but absolute confidence in themselves and in their medium. The sparsity of Tranströmer’s output might suggest that he is a hermetic poet, a creator of perfect verbal artifacts. Nothing could be further from the truth. For Tranströmer, the poem is an instrument of vision and a means of communication:

My poems are meeting-places. Their intent is to make a sudden connection between aspects of reality that conventional languages and outlooks ordinarily keep apart. Large and small details of the landscape meet, divided cultures and people flow together in a work of art, Nature meets Industry etc. What looks at first like a confrontation turns out to be a connection.

Tranströmer’s own definition of his aims cannot be bettered. His poems are indeed “meeting-places” for different levels of reality, brought together in the striking images which are the hallmark of his art.