Tomas Tranströmer: Along the river

Conversing with contemporaries I saw heard behind their faces a flood running, pulling the willing and unwilling into itself.

The creature with cemented eyes who wants to be hurled current-wise into the waterfall throws himself forward, without a shiver, in a furious hunger for simplicity.

There is a pull from the increasingly rough waters,

such as at the point where the river narrows and turns into a waterfall — the place where I rested from a journey through dry woods

one night in June: the transistor gives us the latest news from the emergency session: Kosygin, Eban.*
A few thoughts pierce in despair.
A few people are missing from the city.

Floods of water hurls out from under the suspension bridge

and past us. Here comes the timber! Some trees
steer like torpedoes straight forward. Others turn crosswise: stubbornly, helplessly revolving into nowhere,

and then there are some who run their noses against the riverbanks, steering towards the rocks and clusters of wood, and get stuck there to pile up as folded hands

immovable in the thunder.

These things I saw heard from the suspension bridge
with some boys in a cloud of mosquitoes. Their bikes were buried in greenery — only their horns peered out.

(From the collection Seeing in the Dark, Mörkerseende, 1970. Transl. Torgeir Fjeld.)

  • On June 20, 1967 Prime Minister of the then Soviet Union, Aleksei N. Kosygin, appeared at a United Nations emergency meeting on Middle East issues after the Arab-Israeli war of that year. Following Kosygin’s talk, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Abba Eban, spoke in defense of his country’s actions against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.


After the Prince was torn away in tragic circumstances
Our debt to him could only be settled by uncovering the cause

In a spectral apparition the Prince said:
“Find out the reason for the tragedy,
and you will know your true friends.”

Only by gathering evidence could we put him to rest
And the evidence was written on his body.

(Illustration: Patrycja Wrocławska, used by permission)

New poem in translation

Snow can cover things up, bury people and objects, draw a blanket over the dead, turn darkness into whiteness, alter the light. Here’s a translation of a historical poem on a situation that was contemporary to the poet, Göran Sonnevi, and that would lead to mass upheavals and significant shifts in how we thought about our relations. We are compelled to ask about the legacy of recent armed interventions and what the future holds. Read the poem here: Poetry


Photo courtesy of Poetry Foundation.

Ginsberg on Miłosz on Ginsberg

America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid, I’m not sorry.

Allen Ginsberg, America

Did I fulfill what I had to do, here, on earth?

Czesław Miłosz, One more contradiction

There’s a wonderful moment in Czesław Miłosz’ well-known tribute To Allen Ginsberg when the reader is given to wonder if all Miłosz retained from his engagement with Ginsberg’s poetry was a figure prone to psychiatry, illicit substances and rebel posturing.

It is not so.

What abscones Ginsberg is his refusal of the ironic gesture so prevalent in today’s conversation. It is the “demure smiles of ironists [that] are preserved in the museums, not as everlasting art.” We understand that Miłosz exempted Ginsberg from this fault: his was an art of belief.

Did Ginsberg comment on Miłosz? Read closely his most cherished poem America. In it you will find portrayals of events and movements that shaped the world of Miłosz, albeit from — as it were — the opposite direction. When Ginsberg gives voice to his sentimentality about members of the Industrial Workers of the World — the “Wobblies” — these were types that governed the land Miłosz had renounced.

Their perspective can be nothing but divergent: when Ginsberg find freedom in Carl Solomon’s Howl, Miłosz cannot but be reminded of the way psychiatry was a tool for political oppression in Eastern Europe. Where Miłosz longs for institutions that can buttress a tradition beyond the grasp of immediate political gains, Ginsberg seeks anarchy and spontaneity.

Where Miłosz’ conservatism becomes a call for civilization, Ginsberg prophesizes a freedom that can bear nothing old, nothing lasting.

There is nevertheless one thing they agree on: there is truth, and there is truth in art.