blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 10  No. 1
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A joint venture of the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University and New Virginia Review, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 by Blackbird and the individual writers and artists

ISSN 1540-3068


Virginia Commission for the Arts

Culture Works


Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)


We note with sadness the death of Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature. In v10n1, Blackbird published Patty Crane’s new translation of Tranströmer’s 1996 book Sorgegondolen (Sorrow Gondola). David Wojahn introduced the poems. Jean Valentine’s contribution to that issue, an epistolary essay addressed to Tranströmer, is excerpted below:

I remember when I first heard you read in New York, in the 70s, with Robert Bly reading his American translations, that I felt I understood the poems in Swedish as you read them. I mean that I was moved and somehow informed by hearing the sounds of your poems, in your voice. I’ve had the same experience hearing a couple of other poets without knowing their languages.

But I love your work best, Tomas—for your simplicity, held in a shared, universal complexity; for the naturalness of your voice: in these ways, and in your seeing into the natural world, I think you are kin to the beloved Elizabeth Bishop.

In your silences and intuitions I can’t compare you to anyone. Well, maybe to Basho. Like his, your work seems to be sort of slantwise spiritual, in an egoless way. Your poems are receptive, tuned in certainly to the political and historical life grinding and haunting around us, but without an agenda. Motherly and fatherly: “Come in, let’s listen together.”

. . .

Your silences are like silences in music, like negative space—time notation, notation of depth.


Blackbird invites you to revisit Tranströmer’s poems and join us in mourning his passing.

The Light Streams In

Outside the window is spring’s long animal,
the diaphanous dragon of sunshine
flowing past like an endless
commuter train—we never managed to see its head.

The seaside villas scuttle sideways
and are as proud as crabs.
The sun causes the statues to blink.

The raging conflagration out in space
is transforming into a caress.
The countdown has begun.  end

Patty Crane's translation of “Ljuset Strömmar In,” (The Light Streams In) from Sorgegondolen (Sorrow Gondoa) also appears in the original Swedish in Blackbird v10n1.

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