Thoughts provoked by the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer

The mutual penetration of poetry and music which unifies them in a single whole has been considered since ancient times as a specific and highly efficient way of communication between the creators and the rest of the world, as a medium for a subtle suggestion of ideas, messages, emotions. It is a well known fact that these two arts work even better together in combination with a third – the painting, forming thus an aesthetic palette of words, tones, colours and reaching the effect of synesthesia, i.e. of a mix of three different arts and types of creation, of a vibrating and magnetic unity, based on our natural skill to link sensitive receptivity with intellectual experience and to use them as a vehicle for shaping new conceptions and forms. The Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015) posseses the remarkable gift to transform the above mentioned three-laterality into a magical world, into a poetic universe energized by the art of music and metaphors. Tranströmer is not interested in linguistic or phonetic improvisations, he interweaves the musicality within the structure of his poetic compositions using it as a generator of abstract imagery and striking symbolism.

The subject of my research is just this organic unity of words, tones and colours in Tranströmer’s poetry characterizing it from his first book published in 1954 to the collection of short poems and haiku from 2004 when he seemingly reaches the last borders of the language as a transmitter of messages under the form of artistic expression and through the sonority of a particular inner radiophony “qui émet continûment en nous, jusque dans notre sommeil (peut-être est-ce pour cela qu’on  empêche les exercitants de s’endormir) à vider, a stupéfier, à assécher le bavardage incoercible de l’âme”1, according to the French literary theorist Roland Barthes (1915-1980). In his capacity as linguist and semiotician but also as philosopher and critic Barthes has explored and analyzed the traditional Japanese poems haiku, qualifying them as spiritual exercises aimed at suspending the language and converting it to a fragile and limpid essence in order to free the words from their expected obligation to describe thoughts, impressions, emotions and even themselves. Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry possesses the same specific simplicity and extreme concentration, the same rare balance between intellectual tension and relaxed ability to create images, the same virtuosity to identify the reality with complexes of metaphors that change its own appearance and transforms its nature in one huge simile “utan att ett ögonblick förlora sin tyngd, sin ohjälpliga närvaro i tid och rum. Dikterna blir alltmer avspända, det som en gång bröt fram i lysande formuleringar talar nu överallt, i hela texten. Sådant händer bara de största”, concludes the Swedish critic and poet Madeleine Gustafsson (b. 1937) in a review of Tranströmer’s eighth book The truth-barrier (Sanningsbarriären, 1978) 2.