One of the nice things about the Nobel prize for literature is that it can introduce us to poets we may not have heard of. I myself didn’t know the work of Swedish poet Thomas Tranströmer, even though apparently he has a large following, but I am rapidly becoming a fan.
Here’s a poem I found at poets.org which accurately captures how it feels to lose someone you love. After my oldest son died, the world indeed appeared like television snow and I could feel cold drops condensing on my wires.
I particularly like the image of black dragon scales. Emotionally we harden over so that our exteriors come to seem more real than the broken heart within. In Beowulf, when the hero wrestles with grief (which is how I interpret Grendel’s Mother), the monster stabs at the warrior’s chest armor. Those who have met up with death must call up the courage to honor the beating heart, even though the shadow appears have the upper hand.
After a Death
By Thomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly
Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.
One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.
It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.
Go here to subscribe to the weekly newsletter summarizing the week’s posts. Your e-mail address will be kept confidential.