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Tomas Tranströmer: "The Music Says Freedom Exists"

03/30/2015 07:39 am ET | Updated May 30, 2015

We visited the Nobel Prize laureate Tomas Tranströmer in his home in Stockholm a few weeks before he passed away in March 2015. This video with Tranströmer playing the piano to an earlier reading of his poem "Allegro," became his last public appearance.

When we visited him, the poet offered to play a piece of music for the camera. In this video, we hear the voice of Tomas Tranströmer reading "Allegro," one of his most famous poems related to music. The poet played the piano ever since his adolescence, around the same time as he began writing poetry. Music plays an essential role in all his poetry.

Tranströmer received the Nobel Prize in 2011 "... because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality." Tranströmer's work is closely connected to nature, and this imagery runs through his poems like gaudy colors. His style is described as "original and sharply contoured metaphors, nature mysticism, musicality, strictness of form and natural diction."

The poem "Allegro" is from the collection Den halvfärdiga himlen (The Half-Finished Heaven), written in 1962:

I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.

The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
The resonance green, lively and calm.

The music says freedom exists
and someone doesn't pay the emperor tax.

I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking on the world calmly.

I hoist the Haydnflag -- it signifies:
"We don't give in. But want peace."

The music is a glass-house on the slope
where the stones fly, the stones roll.

(Translated by Robin Fulton, New Collected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 1997/2011)

Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015) is regarded as the leading Swedish poet of his generation even though his collected poems can be contained in one volume of only a couple of hundred pages. "17 dikter" 1954 ("17 Poems"), "Östersjöar," 1974 ("Baltics," 1980), "Mörkerseende," 1970 ("Night Vision," 1972), and "Sanningsbarriären," 1978 ("Truth Barriers," 1984) are among his most important collections of poetry. Tomas Tranströmer received the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 1990, the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize in 1991, the Griffin Lifetime Recognition Award (Canada) in 2007, and the Nobel Prize in 2011.

Learn more about Tomas Tranströmer here.

The recording of "Allegro" was done in the 1980s, and is available on a CD published in 2002 by Bonnier Audio in Stockholm.

The photo of the young Tranströmer in the video is taken by Lutfi Özkök, probably in the 1950s, when the poet published his first collection of poetry.

Christian Lund met Tomas Tranströmer at his home in Stockholm, Sweden in February 2015.

Camera: Kasper Kiertzner
Edited by: Kamilla Bruus
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-Fonden