Tomas Transtromer: Tracks


Tomas Transtromer, one of Gert’s favourite poets, died on March 26 2015 at the age of 83.

Even after suffering a stroke in 1990 that severely affected his speech and movement Transtromer continued to write short, haiku-like poems and a prose memoir.

He’s reminiscent of Czeslaw Miloscz in the purity of his reactions to the natural world, but many of his poems spring from his work as a psychologist.

He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011.

One of my favourites, Tracks, begins

2 AM: moonlight. The train has stopped

out in the middle of the plain. Far away, points of light in a town,

flickering coldly at the edge of the horizon.


As when someone has fallen into a dream so deep

he’ll never remember having been there

when he comes back to his room.


You can continue reading Tracks here

and other poems here:

photo credit:

5 thoughts on “Tomas Transtromer: Tracks

  1. This is wonderful, Gert! We did a 10-week translation class for the MFA earlier this semester, and this poem was one that we worked with. We each will read three of our translations at the residency, and this is one that I will be doing. Very interesting to see the differences in translations. Thanks–

    1. Were you translating from Swedish? Is there no end to your talents? I love this haiku like sentence by Transtromer from his tiny memoir Memories look at me:

      The caterpillar feet were gone, the wings unfolded. One should never lose hope!

      1. The way that the class worked was that each week the instructor sent us a new poem or bit of prose in a foreign language, along with some commentary about grammar in that language and things to watch out for, and then a “glossary” — a translation for each word in the piece (and of course, some words could have two different meanings or shades of meaning). The glossary included gender, tense, and other grammatical elements. Then our job was to make a poem from it that read well in English, while maintaining the structure, maybe some of the rhyme or rhythm, and the grammar and “meaning.” After a first go-around, comments from the instructor, and a second version, he would post two – four translations from other poets, often famous ones. The Robin Fulton translation that you have here was one of the three for “Tracks” that he gave us.

        One of the interesting things about the translations of this poem was that although the Swedish in the second stanza is clearly feminine gender, and most of us translated it that way (the gender in the third stanza is masculine), all of the versions that the instructor provided have the gender the same in both stanzas. I guess they couldn’t handle the idea that Transtormer would be referring to two different people’s experiences in the poem, and rather than making both people female, made them both male.

        I loved the class — we did do three tanka; also Anna Akhmatova, Ingeborg Bachman, Pierre Reverdy (I translated his poem “Secret” both as a straightforward translation and then re-wrote it into three haiku — worked pretty well. It was so interesting to see how the languages worked, and how differently they came out. If I ever have extra time some day, I might try doing more of the translations.

        1. What a fantastic exercise, it’s almost like being bilingual in the understanding it gives of how a poem in another language works.

          Just read the Pierre Reverdy poem, Secret, and can see how it would lend itself to haiku. Amazing to think that was written in 1918.

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