Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Deleted World Poems Tomas Transtromer

The Deleted World
Tomas Transtromer
Farrar Strauss Giroux
New York, NY
Softbound, 41 pages, $13.00
Paperback ISBN 978-0-374-53353-3

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Once again we encounter the question of translations. On the cover of Tomas Transtromeer’s The Deleted World, for example,  the phrase “translations by” has been abandoned for “Versions by Robin Robertson.” Indeed in the introduction Robertson states: “In his introduction to Imitation (1962) Robert Lowell writes that ‘Boris Paternak has said that the usual reliable translator gets the literal meaning bus misses the town and that in poetry tone is of course everything.’”

Robertson goes on to state  , “In my relatively free versions of some of Transtromer’s poems, I have attempted the middle ground between Lowell’s rangy, risk-taking rewritings and the traditional, strictly literal approach. I have kept the shape of the poem, opened out its more clearly, and tried – as Lowell rightly insists one must try—to get the tone.”

Historian Bernard Lewis, who edited Music of a Distant Drum, Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems (Princeton University Press), in his introduction to the book cites Arthur Waley, known for his translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry as follows: “He would, he said, lay down only one firm rule for translators: never introduce an image which is not in the original. If you can use the original image in, well and good. If you can’t, leave it out, and don’t try to replace it by some equivalent. It won’t work.”

Concluding his introduction, Robertson lets us know that Transtromer “…could not have been warmer.” Meaning he approved of Robertson’s efforts.  And so do I. Perhaps because in other books by Transtromer the translations were often more difficult to find meaning.

With Robertson’s versions the poems are clear, delivering a message of humanity.He places living creatures and nature in juxtaposition to each other and their interaction. For example, the six line poem Ostinato:

Under the buzzard’s circling point of stillness
the ocean rolls thundering into the light; blindly chewing
its straps of seaweed, it snorts up foam across the beach

The earth is covered in darkness, traced by bats.
The buzzard stops and becomes a star. The ocean rolls
thundering on, blowing the foam away across the beach.

Many times I have seen such scenes, never quite like Transtromer; the ocean chewing on seaweed or snorting up foam, descriptions most individuals would not consider as they step over seaweed on a beach or see sand-stuffed foam.

These translations are of Nobel Laureate Transtromer’s shorter poems, which perhaps makes more pleasing in the reader’s ability to grasp meaning and images

Another of Transtromer’s poems deals with death:


The calendar is full but the future is blank.
The wires hum the folk-tune of some forgotten land.
Snow-fall on the lead-still sea. Shadows
            scrabble on the pier.


In the middle of life, death comes
to take your measurements. The visit
is forgotten and life goes on. But the suit
            is being sewn on the sly.

Simple words, yet the truth is out there for all to grasp.We can read this book time and again, and like a good movie in which you see something new every time you watch it, you will get something new from this book each time you read it.

Zvi A. Sesling is author of King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010), Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011) and the soon to be published Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva). He is Editor of Muddy River Poetry Review and Bagel Bards Anthology #7.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:36 PM

    thanks zvi. another wonderful poet, transtromer and you've done a good review or his poetry and the translations which can make or break a book.