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Tomas Transtromer. The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems.

Tomas Transtromer. The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems. Robin Fulton, tr. New York. New Directions. 2006. xxii + 262 pages. $16.95. ISBN 0-8112-1672-21

NOBODY LIKES to reiterate the obvious when writing about a poet whose international reputation hardly needs a boost. His or her own poems already do so. In the case of Tomas Transtromer, however, to say that he is one of the greatest living European poets is not as evident as one might expect. Although he has been present on the world literary stage for many decades now, including in English translations published in the United States, his output is rather slim, no doubt partly due to the fact that he had kept a day job as a psychologist for many years. Yet Transtromer, a poet par excellence, who was born in Stockholm in 1931, deserves our attention precisely because he occupies the elusive spot reserved for the privileged few whose importance and validity is judged by quality, not quantity.

In the present gathering of all of Transtromer's poems, Robin Fulton, a fine poet in his own right, reminds us that Transtromer is above all a metaphysical poet of vivid images and haunting sceneries that transcend the time and space of their localized, Scandinavian origin. Line after line, the poet writes of the mystery of our being, be it either the much-discussed-by-critics state of hovering between waking and dreaming, or the harshness and brutality of the bare, gray, and misty northern landscape, where existence equals the constant negotiating of physical and psychological barriers and frontiers. Indeed, the great mastery of Transtromer is his ability to present both the tangible and metaphysical North that is not devoid of light, a place where we, the readers, upon entering through the poet's door, rediscover ourselves in "the tent of calm."

In addition to translating all of Transtromer's books of verse and writing a valuable introduction, Fulton ends the collection with the poet's prose memoir, Memories Look at Me. To be sure, this has nothing to do with the current popularity of memoir, which is both aggrandizing and somewhat dubious. Quite contrary, the prose memoir is an integral and self-sustaining part of Transtromer's oeuvre. In a series of short recollections, we learn about the poet's upbringing in Sweden, mainly by taking a glimpse into domestic scenes that surrounded the future poet, his nature expeditions, schooling, and introduction to poetry. There is plenty to rummage through. In the section devoted to museums, which also includes recollections of insect hunting and collecting, Transtromer writes, "I moved in the great mystery [of the natural world]." Thanks to his poems, we do, too. A reader doesn't have to look far into this splendid collection to partake in the same sense of discovery of a realm that is as mysterious in its infinity as it is joyful and rewarding.

Piotr Florczyk

Wilmington, Delaware
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Author:Florczyk, Piotr
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2007
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