Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer: Madrigal

This is also a very good poem by Tranströmer. Although the more usual set-up of the poem isn't there; or rather, that this looks like a piece of prose, the text rings like a poem to me. The imagery, the rhythm, the silences between the words and the sentences; and of course the weight of each word. If you hear this poem recited, you probably wouldn't think of it as a prose poem. However the form, Tranströmer seems to shine through.

* * *

Madrigal

I inherited a dark forest where I seldom walk. But a day is coming when the living and the dead trade places. Then the forest will be set in motion. We are not without hope. The most serious crimes will remain unsolved despite the efforts of many policemen. In the same way there is somewhere in our lives a great unsolved love. I inherited a dark forest, but today I am walking in the other forest, the light one. And the living things that sing, wiggle, wave and crawl! It's spring and the air is very strong. I have an examination at the University of Oblivion and am as emptyhanded as the shirt on the clothesline.

* * *


I have always loved the closing line:
I have an examination at the University of Oblivion and am as emptyhanded as the shirt on the clothesline.

How wonderfully simple yet recognisable that image is! The cheerfully waving shirt hanging out to dry on a clothesline. No worries, just existing right there and then, with the sun shining through its cotton white and blue stripes.

I also like that the air is very strong (stark is the Swedish word, the emphasis on the rolling 'r'). The air can be strong. When life holds meaning and your stride is full. When the time of year is spring as well, I get his meaning clearly.

The dark and light forests he speaks about is hardly difficult to recognise. At least not to me. Again I guess the Northern or even Scandinavian landscape I share with this poet informs my reading and makes me feel right at home in the world he paints. But beyond that, the forest isn't exactly an unknown image to mental landscapes. Yet powerful, I find, a valid illustration.

Here the balance between the light and dark is quite visible. You just don't have one without the other. 

Squeezed in is the line about unsolved love. This I find in a way very hopeful. That somewhere in our lives there is a great unsolved love. That puts some light and warmth into areas one might often think of as dark and mysterious, just because one doesn't see what is there, what it is within you that feels unsolved, unilluminated. Why shouldn't it be a great unsolved love rather than a deeply forgotten dark something?

What shines through the clearest, I think though, is that although you inherit a dark forest or wood, you dont have to live in it. You don't have to reproduce the worldview you grow up in, the fights of your fathers. Through the University of Oblivion you wash free of static worlds and come out light and emptyhanded, translucent with sunlight and full of life.


In Swedish:

* * *

Madrigal

Jag ärvde en mörk skog dit jag sällan går. Men det kommer en dag när de döda och levande byter plats. Då sätter sig skogen i rörelse. Vi är inte utan hopp. De svåraste brotten förblir ouppklarade trots insats av många poliser. På samma sätt finns någonstans i våra liv en stor uoppklarad kärlek. Jag ärvde en mörk skog men idag går jag i en annan skog, den ljusa. Allt levande som sjunger slingrar viftar og kryper! Det är vår och luften är mycket stark. Jag har examen från glömskans universitet och är lika tomhänt som skjortan på tvättstrecket.

* * *

From För levande och döda, 1989 (For the living and the dead).

4 comments:

Peter said...

Thekla, I see that you translate "Jag har examen från glömskans universitet" as 'I have an examination....". Robin Fulton, for example, translates is as 'I have graduated from..' I would be interested in your thoughts on the slightly different translation.

Thekla said...

Hello Peter,

a very timely comment.

In the present version of "Madrigal", I believe I looked for good translations and found this the best one. Sadly I didn't write who the translater is - perhaps because the site didn't mention who was behind it.

"Jag har examen från glömskans universitet" can be translated in both of the ways you cite. But actually I like Fulton's translation better, as it gives a sense of something longlasting, closer to the original words.
Also, "examination" can both mean to be examined by, say, a doctor; whereas "graduation" more points to what Tranströmer is saying here.

Both translations are possible, in other words, but Fulton better captures the sound and meaning of the Swedish original.

Feel free to write down Fulton's translation here! ;)

Peter said...

Thekla, Have you read "Independent People" by Halldór Laxness? It's a very good novel.

Thekla said...

I haven't, but thanks for the tip! My parents are heading out for Iceland tomorrow, perhaps I could ask them to look for this book in Icelandic. I love the language, even though I would need a dictionary and an Icelandic grammar to unlock the text. It is close to the sound of how Norwegian would have been today had we not been under Danish rule for 400 years.