Chances are, unless you're a poet, you haven't heard of Tomas Transtromer. But suddenly, since he won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, you may see his poems everywhere.
He's Swedish, born in 1931, and acclaimed as one of the most important Scandinavian writers since the World War II.
His poems capture the long Swedish winters, not unlike ours, and the rhythm of the seasons.
All of his work seems to pause breathlessly at the beauty and mystery of ordinary life.
Transtromerhas been a psychologist at a center for juvenile offenders, all the while writing his poetry. In 1990, he had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak, although he's continued to write and publish poetry. He's also a piano player, something he's been able to continue after his stroke, with one hand.
This poem is called "Allegro," (brisk tempo), a good idea for a "black day." He's playing Haydn. He says the sound is "full of silence"! How can that be? We know how it can be. We've all felt, especially, maybe, at moments when we're utterly engaged with music, a stillness, even in the midst of the sound. And that stillness contains the freedom he talks about — a freedom that's aware of a calm, even though countries and politics are full of war and meanness. He raises his small flag of playing Haydn, with the conflicting message that we won't surrender (we won't surrender our playing, our beauty), but we want peace.
The last image of the poem is the most amazing: the house is made of glass. It's on a slope. Rocks are flying. He's made a perfect image of inner peace, that stillness that can hear and play music even in this world. That can recognize the awfulness, not ignore it, but not surrender to it. Frankly, to my mind, a poem doesn't get any better than this.
Fleda Brown is professor emerita, University of Delaware, and past poet laureate of Delaware. For more of her work, and to see her new website, go to www.fledabrown.com.