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The Outpost by Tomas Tranströmer

The full version that turned into an unexpected labour of love.

From the great enigma: new collected poems

Translated by Robin Fulton




The Outpost by Tomas Tranströmer

I’m ordered out to a heap of stones
like a distinguished corpse from the Iron Age.
The others are back in the tent sleeping
stretched out like spokes in a wheel.

In the tent the stove rules: a big snake
that has swallowed a ball of fire and hisses.
But out in the spring night it is silent
among cold stones waiting for day.

Out in the cold I begin to fly
like a shaman, I fly to her body
with its white marks from her bikini –
we were out in the sun. The moss was warm.

I flit over warm moments
but can’t stop for long.
They’re whistling me back through space –
I crawl out from the stones. Here and now.

Mission: to be where I am.
Even in that ridiculous, deadly serious
role – I am the place
Where creation is working itself out.

Daybreak, the sparse tree trunks
are coloured now, the frostbitten
spring flowers form a silent search party
for someone who has vanished in the dark.

But to be where I am. And to wait.
I am anxious, stubborn, confused.
Coming events, they’re here already!
I know it. They’re outside:

a murmuring crowd outside the gate.
They can pass only one by one.
They want in. Why? They’re coming
one by one. I am the turnstile.

‘I am the place ~ where creation is working itself out’ from ‘The Outpost’ by Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer - Nobel Prize for Literature 2011

We are surrounded by the white noise of words these days.

As much as I hear, there is more to be heard.

As much as I read, there is more to be read.

So to stumble upon a poem that you can see, and feel, and offer an unconditional home in your soul is like finding an enduring, if challenging, friendship on life’s journey.

Stories, books, they leave only fading impressions as time passes; maybe the odd leitmotif lodges itself in your consciousness. You might re-read a book to remind yourself of the story, and of yourself.

But a poem that resonates is an instant passion. Like an arrow through your heart, or ‘an ever-fixed mark’, to quote Shakespeare. Here’s one such from the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer who many may never have heard of before yesterday (including me) when he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

A google around finds his work described as that which ‘barrels into the void’, a phrase I find profoundly reassuring. That his poetry has this quality doesn’t seem a surprise when you learn he was a psychologist working in prisons for much of his professional life.

Whatever, he’s got my attention alright.

This, from ’20 Poems’ by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly, Seventies Press (1970)

After A Death

Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to feel the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armour of black dragon scales.