4

The poem appears to consist of two parts that are very different from each other.

Here is the poem:

    I

One evening in February I came near to dying here.
The car skidded sideways on the ice, out
on the wrong side of the road. The approaching cars –
their lights – closed in.

My name, my girls, my job
broke free and were left silently behind
further and further away. I was anonymous
like a boy in a playground surrounded by enemies.

The approaching traffic had huge lights.
They shone on me while I pulled at the wheel
in a transparent terror that floated like egg white.
The seconds grew – there was space in them –
they grew as big as hospital buildings.

You could almost pause
and breathe out for a while
before being crushed.

Then something caught: a helping grain of sand
or a wonderful gust of wind. The car broke free
and scuttled smartly right over the road.
A post shot up and cracked – a sharp clang – it
flew away in the darkness.

Then – stillness. I sat back in my seat-belt
and saw someone coming through the whirling snow
to see what had become of me.

    II

I have been walking for a long time
on the frozen Östergötland fields.
I have not seen a single person.

In other parts of the world
there are people who are born, live and die
in a perpetual crowd.

To be always visible – to live
in a swarm of eyes –
a special expression must develop.
Face coated with clay.

The murmuring rises and falls
while they divide up among themselves
the sky, the shadows, the sand grains.

I must be alone
ten minutes in the morning
and ten minutes in the evening.
– Without a programme.

Everyone is queuing at everyone's door.

Many.

One.

  • Please clarify exactly what you want. "Meaning" can mean many different things. – jiaminglimjm Nov 28 '17 at 16:48
  • 1
    I hope it is more specific now. – Jacob Nie Nov 29 '17 at 2:28
  • I've voted to reopen this after your edit. – Rand al'Thor Nov 29 '17 at 12:15
  • I don't want to be a nag but I would advise against publishing entire copyrighted works on this site. The poem by Tranströmer is still under copyright for several decades (until 70 years in many countries), while contributions to this site are available under Creative Commons licence. You can't publish somebody else's copyrighted work under Creative Commons without their explicit consent. (This applies to the original poem.) The same applies to copyrighted translations, unless, perhaps, this is your own translation. – Christophe Strobbe Nov 30 '17 at 11:52
  • The 70 years in my previous comment meant "70 years after the author's death". – Christophe Strobbe Nov 30 '17 at 13:08
3

At first glance, these feel like two different poems. The first is an ethereal description of the terror of being involved in a car crash. The second reads like a plea for quiet and solitude in an overcrowded world. Where is the connection?

The key is in the second stanza of the first part:

My name, my girls, my job
broke free and were left silently behind
further and further away. I was anonymous
like a boy in a playground surrounded by enemies.

In this moment of supreme terror, the poet is alone and he fears his family and friends will be left equally alone by the event of his death. The final metaphor is instructive: we can be "alone" even when surrounded by people.

The second part is also about being alone:

I have been walking for a long time
on the frozen Östergötland fields.
I have not seen a single person.

...

I must be alone
ten minutes in the morning
and ten minutes in the evening.

But here it seems clear that being alone is something to be courted and treasured for the brief windows of peace it produces.

The whole poem, then, is a commentary on the human state of being alone. It is a paradox, a state that we fear (part 1) and desire (part 2) in equal measure, depending on circumstance. Because of this paradox, we can never be truly satisfied either in company or alone. As a complete work, it invites us to compare and contrast our experiences of being alone and to think about the complexities that result.

It is interesting that the second half of the poem seems angrier than the first. The loneliness of the car crash is accepted as an accident, while the crowding of modernity is resented as an deliberate intrusion.

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