BOOKS AND ARTS FEBRUARY 7, 2012
I write to correct some inaccuracies in Helen Vendler’s recent article about Tomas Tranströmer. Monica Tranströmer did indeed read out her husband’s poem “Från mars – 79” at the Nobel ceremony last December, but the English translation was not by Robin Fulton. Rather diplomatically, the translation that she read was not Fulton’s or Robert Bly’s, or Robin Robertson’s; instead, it was nearly—but not quite—that of John F. Deane. This is the English text she read:
Tired of all who come with words, words but no language
I went to the snow-covered island.
The wild does not have words.
The unwritten pages spread out on all sides!
I come upon the tracks of roe deer in the snow.
Language but no words.
Lines 4 and 5 differ very slightly from Deane’s translation, but it is more his than anyone else’s. Tomas and Monica Tranströmer have always been in favour of as many translations of his work as possible, and their eventual choice of which English text to read in Stockholm was clearly made with great care and sensitivity.
It may also be worth pointing out that the English-language versions printed in the Nobel program were chosen not by the Tranströmers but by the Swedish Academy.
Jonathan Galassi is president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.