We knew he had suffered a stroke in 1990. We knew he was in poor health. Nevertheless, the loss of him inspires an ache in the chest, a melancholy cold wind in the mind. Tomas Tranströmer is gone. The poems, of course, continue, and because of their nature continue to carry us into spaces where definitions aren’t much use, where “thoughts … meet / like two colors that meet and run together / on the wet paper in a schoolboy’s painting.” I have to admit that this is the space I inhabit most often, day in and day out, so for me Tranströmer’s poems have always seemed radiant—like the hurricane lamp lifted by the figure standing on the back of what appears to be a reindeer on the cover of the book that first brought me into the Swedish poet’s presence, in Robert Bly’s marvelous translations:
“The Couple,” for example, from which the lines quoted earlier derive, is a masterful evocation of intimacy as an island of private feeling:
A similar image of The Collective as a threat to private pleasure, this time the pleasure of solitude, shines from Tranströmer’s “Under Pressure”:
I won’t press any detailed interpretations because these poems, like all of Tranströmer’s work, speak for themselves. Enough to say that there are depths that his surfaces will not allow us to ignore, so that each becomes a kind of palimpsest, a simultaneity—which is the sensation we all have in those moments when our lives become fully conscious, moments when the only proper response is gratitude.