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Östersjöar

  • Country in which the text is set
    Sweden
  • Featured locations
    Stockholm archipelago                 Stockholms skärgård
    Runmarö             Sandhamn         
    Gotland               Vänge   Liepaja Stockholm
  • Impact

    oestersjoearAfter a breakthrough with his very first collection in 1954, Tomas Tranströmer (b. Stockholm, 1931) was soon recognized as one of Sweden’s foremost living poets. In 1956 he graduated in psychology, a vocation which seems traceable in many of his extended metaphors, where genuinely everyday items light up recesses of the collective unconscious.  Östersjöar (Baltic seas) from 1974 is a long prose poem in six sections, or movements – the structure is clearly inspired by that of musical composition. A mere 36 pages, it was published as “Östersjöar. En dikt”.

    The poem was brought into being by the author’s growing desire to try a delivery, a phrasing, of greater scope than the sparse diction that had brought him fame. Tranströmer now wanted to expatiate, to be able to roam around guided by associative links. The theme that presented itself for him was the Baltic Sea. The sea-shaped lives of the poet’s maternal grandparents had surfaced in memory through the death of his mother a few years earlier, and his own close ties to the island of Runmarö near Stockholm strengthened the impulse. Perhaps the proper generic label for Östersjöar, which was published as a book in its own right, would be ‘a meditation’.

    Tranströmer has been translated into fifty languages. His influence has been particularly strong in the United States, not least through the mediation of his friend Robert Bly, poet and translator. In 1990 he received the ‘shadow Nobel’, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.  Shortly before Tranströmer was deprived of speech by a stroke in 1990 he gave a reading of Östersjöar (in Swedish), which is available on CD. It is accompanied by an authorial affidavit: “This poem is about geography, history, politics, and introspection. There is authentic subject matter in it. That which sounds documentary is documentary. What makes it all cohere is my way of phrasing it, the voice you hear.”

  • Balticness

    The gist of the poem is the plural of its title. Its begins, ostensibly, before the time of radio pylons, and it ends, we now know, before the Wall came down. The Baltic Sea has been differently experienced on the various shores of this common sea. The city of Malmö is no farther from Stockholm than is the city of Liepāja – identical to the city of Libau found at the beginning of the  poem – but this physical fact could not be sensed in the early seventies. In the early 1970s the Latvian city and the capital of Sweden were worlds apart. Tranströmer’s Baltics are not amenable to a summing-up, they are kept apart by different points in time and points of view.

    Clas Zilliacus

  • Bibliographic information
    Östersjöar, Stockholm 1974
  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    Danish 2011 Peter Nielsen
    English 1975 Robin Fulton
    Estonian 1989 Jaan Kaplinski
    Finnish 1998 Caj Westerberg
    German 1977 Hanns Grössel
    Latvian 1980 Vizma Belševica
    Latvian 2011 Juris Kronbergs & Guntars Godiņš
    Norwegian 1996 Jan Erik Vold
    Polish 1984 Zygmunt Lanowski
    Russian 2012 Alexandra Afinogenova
  • Year of first publication
    1974
  • Place of first publication
    Stockholm

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