Friday, February 09, 2007

How to Write Great Images

If you want to learn how to write memorable, surprising images that will make readers think, followed by a sharp intake of breath, read Tomas Transtromer. Here are four examples from The Deleted World collection, and then one from The Great Enigma.

A storm from the north. It is the time of rowanberries.
Awake in the night he hears – far above the horned tree –
the stars, stamping in their stalls.


The child’s eyes grow wide in the dark
and the storm howls for him.
Both love the swinging lamps;
both are halfway towards speech.


The house feels its own constellation of nails
holding the walls together.


The tugboat is freckled with rust. What is it doing so far inland?
It’s a heavy burnt-out lamp, tipped over in the cold.


In day's first hours consciousness can grasp the world
as the hand grips a sun-warmed stone.


Of course, seeing how it's done doesn't necessarily make it any easier to do by oneself...


Eloise said...


Unknown said...

I caught some more on Lowebrow's blog too. He has an amazing turn of phrase, and I am buying this!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for showing this. Why is there only one title by him for sale in N.America? Thank goodness for

Rob said...

pearl - you can get both Robin Fulton's translations and those by Robert Bly in N. America. I'd go for Fulton. His translations look pretty good to me from what I've read. The book is called The Great Enigma, and is a Collected Poems.

It looks as though The Deleted World hasn't yet been published in N. America. Hopefully it will be soon.

I've written a review of The Deleted World. If I find a zine to take it, I'll let you all know.

Dave said...

These are all great examples. But as someone who has been reading The Great Enigma for fifteeen minutes every morning ever since Christmas, as if it were the Bible, I'd like to add that you have to encounter these images in their original context, both as parts of poems and as parts of longer collections, if you really want the full effect. (I suppose that's obvious. Still, there are poets whose genius is for the fragment, whereas Tranströmer excels at writing whole and very satisfying works.)

Rob said...

Of course, you are right, Dave. I think Transtromer has an astonishing ability for both the parts and the whole. But the whole is what it's really all about.