The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems

Cover of "The Great Enigma: New Collected...
Cover of The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems

By Tomas Tranströmer; Translated by Robin Fulton; @ 2006 by New Directions Publishing Corporation, 257 pages.

Tomas Tranströmer was the recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize for literature “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”

Born April 15, 1931, in Stockholm, Sweden, Tomas Tranströmer has been translated into 50 languages. The Great Enigma is the complete collection of Tranströmer’s published poetry, a compilation of his 12 poetry books. Tranströmer’s subject matter often focuses on the Swedish natural landscape and on the poet’s observations from daily life. One gets a sense of the cold, salty sea air when reading his poems.

I came to Tranströmer’s poetry, having never visited Sweden and knowing very little about life there. I found his poems very difficult to penetrate. Often they seemed to be talking about one thing, only to stray completely from the topic at hand. Tomas Tranströmer has a lot to offer. His poems need to be read and digested slowly. They deserve many reads. There are many wonderful lyrical phrases, but taken as units, I found them hard to decipher.

Poems from this book that I plan to come back to are as follows:

  • Ostinato
  • Agitated Meditation
  • Elegy
  • Epilogue
  • Weather Picture
  • The Four Temperaments
  • Secrets on the Way
  • After an Attack
  • The Couple
  • The Tree and the Sky
  • Espresso
  • The Palace
  • The Half-Finished Heaven
  • A Winter Night
  • From an African Diary
  • Winter’s Formulae
  • Morning Birds
  • Alone
  • Downpour over the Interior
  • In the Open
  • By the River
  • Preludes
  • Sketch in October
  • Along the Radius
  • Baltics
  • Schubertiana
  • The Gallery
  • A Place in the Forest
  • Icelandic Hurricane
  • Dream Seminar
  • Early May Stanzas
  • Leaflet
  • The Indoors Is Endless
  • Madrigal
  • Golden Wasp
  • April and Silence

Lines I especially liked:

“Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams.”

“A dog’s barking is a hieroglyph painted in the air above the garden”

“I stood in a room that contained every moment—a butterfly museum.”

“There’s a tree walking around in the rain, it rushes past us in the pouring grey.”

“It helps perhaps with handshakes like a flight of migratory birds.”

“The lake is a window into the earth.”

“In the daylight a dot of beneficent black that quickly flows into a pale customer.”

I looked at the sky and at the earth and straight ahead

and since then I’ve been writing a long letter to the dead

on a typewriter with no ribbon just a horizon line

so the words knock in vain and nothing sticks.”

2 thoughts on “The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems”

    1. Thank you. I loved how he is able to capture a detailed image in just one line of text. I think I read through this collection too quickly. Maybe a focused second read will help.


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