October 06, 2011


Tomas Tranströmer wins the Nobel Prize for literature. Bless him, Baltics is as good as modern poetry gets. The opening bit (mostly Robin Fulton's translation, but I can't leave well enough alone):

It was before the time of radio masts.

Grandfather was a new-made pilot. In the almanac he wrote down the vessels he piloted –
names, destinations, drafts.

Examples from 1884:

Steamer Tiger Capt. Rowan 16 ft Hull Gefle Furusund

Brigg Ocean Capt. Andersen 8 ft Sandöfjord Hernösand Furusund

Steamer St. Petersburg Capt. Libenberg 11 ft Stettin Libau Sandhamn

He took them out to the Baltic, through the marvelous labyrinth of islands and waters.

And those who met on board and were carried by the same hull for a few hours, or days,
how well did they get to know each another?
Conversations in misspelled English, understanding and misunderstand­ing but very little conscious lying.
How well did they get to know each another?

When it was thick fog: half speed, half blind ahead. At one single stride the cape emerged from the invisible and was right on them.
Every other minute a bellowing signal. His eyes read straight into the invisible.
(Did he have the labyrinth in his head?)
The minutes passed.
Shallows and skerries he memorized like psalm verses.
And that feeling of "we're right here" that must be kept, like carrying a full pail without spilling a drop.

A glance down in the engine room.
The compound machine long-lived as a human heart toiling with great supple movements, steel acrobatics, and the smells rising as if from a kitchen.

There is a good article on Tranströmer here, and Robert Hass wrote an excellent piece about him in Twentieth Century Pleasures.


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