Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer, "Open and Closed Spaces"

Tomas Tranströmer, a favorite poet of mine for more than twenty years, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature earlier this month. This poem by him is one I have wanted to write about for a long time.
Open and Closed Spaces

A man feels the world with his work like a glove.
He rests for a while at midday having laid aside the gloves on the shelf.
There they suddenly grow, spread
and black-out the whole house from inside.

The blacked-out house is away out among the winds of spring.
'Amnesty,' runs the whisper in the grass: 'amnesty.'
A boy sprints with an invisible line slanting up in the sky
where his wild dream of the future flies like a kite bigger than the suburb.

Further north you can see from a summit the blue endless carpet of pine forest
where the cloud shadows
are standing still.
No, are flying.

(tr. Robin Fulton)
What I love here, among other things, is the way the poem revises itself. The gorgeous and dangerous way in which the terms that are introduced as a figure of speech in one line become substantive in the next. E.g., the way "...like a glove" (a simile) in line one leads on to the gloves (real gloves this time) being "laid aside" in line two, and then in line three they shift again from passively lying on the shelf to "suddenly grow[ing]" to dramatic proportions. A single word--in a mere simile, at that, that most garden-variety of figures of speech--has in three lines taken over and "black[ed] out the whole house"! This pattern continues, with "house" this time: the house is next seen from without, "away out among the winds." These winds will now (without ever being expressly mentioned again by name) shape what comes next: the whisper in the grass, the kite in the air, the clouds and their shadows. But the wind bloweth where it listeth. The poem refuses to be bound by its previous figures; at every step, the law previously laid down is amended. Thus the grass whispers "amnesty," (the law is not binding), but then the motion of the poem veers upwards from being so close to the ground: the boy sprints, a line slants up into the sky; a dream, "like a kite" but huge, introduces the first overtly temporal term ("the future") into a poem that has hitherto been dominated by the spatial; we are transported to a mountaintop; and in the last three lines, one sees the poem overtly correcting itself: what seemed to be steady is in fact in motion. And every closed space can open up. What the poem describes, it enacts.

If you can read Swedish, the original poem (and some others) may be found here. (There are English versions too.)

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