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The Couple by Tomas Transtromer

October 6, 2011

Two translations

The day he wins the Nobel Prize in Literature is a good one to post a poem.  Here are two translations of the same poem.  The first by the American poet Robert Bly.

The Couple

They turn the light off, and its white globe glows
an instant and then dissolves, like a tablet
in a glass of darkness. Then a rising.
The hotel walls shoot up into heaven’s darkness.

Their movements have grown softer, and they sleep,
but their most secret thoughts begin to meet
like two colors that meet and run together
on the wet paper in a schoolboy’s painting.

It is dark and silent. The city however has come nearer
tonight. With its windows turned off. Houses have come.
They stand packed and waiting very near,
a mob of people with blank faces.

The second translation is by Robin Fulton

The Couple

They switch off the light and its white shade
glimmers for a moment before dissolving
like a tablet in a glass of darkness. Then up.
The hotel walls rise into the black sky.

The movements of love have settled, and they sleep
but their most secret thoughts meet as when
two colours meet and flow into each other
on the wet paper of a schoolboy’s painting.

It is dark and silent. But the town has pulled closer
tonight. With quenched windows. The houses have approached.
They stand close up in a throng, waiting,
a crowd whose faces have no expressions.

I like comparing the two.  Do the differences reflect multiple meanings in Swedish? I like to think so.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2011 10:55 pm

    Here’s more from Transtomer. The House of Headache

    I woke up inside the headache. The headache is a room where I have to stay as I cannot afford to pay rent anywhere else. Every hair aches to the point of turning gray. There is an ache inside that Gordian knot, the brain, which wants to do so much in so many directions. The ache is also a half-moon hanging down in the light-blue sky; the color disappears from my face; my nose is pointing downward; the entire divining rod is turning down toward the subterranean current. I moved into a house built in the wrong place; there is a magnetic pole just under the bed, just under my pillow, and when the weather chops around above the bed I am charged. Time and again I try to imagine that a celestial bonesetter is pinching me through a miraculous grip on my cervical vertebrae, a grip that will put life right once and for all. But the house of headache is not ready to be written off just yet. First I have to live inside it for an hour, two hours, half a day. If at first I said it was a room, change that to a house. But the question now is this: Is it not an entire city? Traffic is unbearably slow. The breaking news is out. And somewhere a telephone is ringing.

    Translated, from the Swedish, by John Matthias and Lars-Hakan Svensson.


  1. Quora

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