Translate This Poem

“For Tomas Transtromer” was written on January 14th, 2015. Through the intervention of Mr James Wine, a film-maker and friend of Tomas Tranströmer’s, the poem found its way to Transtromer himself less than two weeks later, and Mr Wine worked out an on-the-spot translation into Swedish while showing the work to the the poet.

As a way of celebrating a great poet whose work is widely translated, I’m inviting you to translate this poem into your own native tongue, and post the translation as a response to this page. I’ll also post it  on the main page, along with any thoughts you might have on the process of translating the poem, for the site’s readers.


For Tomas Tranströmer

The ice on the road sees us with our own eyes
and is no better than we are at helping ourselves

as direction changes. In a winter far south of here,
the edge of still water is guarded by cypress knees,

like a tired army that lay on their backs for a nap
and never found a reason to get up. Beyond them

I heard the bellow of a bull alligator claiming the world.
By a cold spring corn field a thousand miles

away, watching the storm’s wind sprint across
before it could be heard or felt, I know everything

can be claimed, like these memories—are the endless
chances to say hello merely a shout over the slumbering?

Is the wind with its violence finally hearing us with our ears?
I will sit here with you for awhile and see what comes.



Swedish translation by James Wine:

For Tomas Tranströmer

Isen på vägen ser oss med våra egna ögon
och det är inte bättre än vad vi är på att hjälpa oss själva
som riktningsändringar. På vinter långt söder om här,
vaktas den stilla vattnets kanten fortfarande av cypresser knän,
som en trött armé som låg på ryggen och tog en tupplur
utan att hitta en anledning för att stiga upp. Långt borta
hörde jag vrål av en tjur alligator som hävdar världen.
Genom en kall vår majsfält tusen mil
bort, stirrande på stormens vind springa förbi
innan den kunde höras eller kännas, jag vet att allt
kan begäras, som dessa minnen–är de oändliga
chanser att säga hej bara ett rop över slumrande?
Kan vindens våld äntligen höra oss med våra öron?
Jag kommer att sitta här med dig ett tag och se vad som kommer.


The unique circumstances of Mr Wine’s translation were that he was sitting with Tomas Transtromer and showing him the original English poem while spontaneously translating the poem line-by-line into Swedish. Talk about performing under pressure!

My great thanks and appreciation to James Wine, not only for bringing this poem to Mr Transtromer’s attention, but also for providing his translation for me to post here.

Please feel free to add your own  translation to this page!

6 thoughts on “Translate This Poem

  1. Pingback: For Tomas Tranströmer | Translations from the English

  2. Mary Tang

    Hello Jeff, I have translated the English into Chinese, I hope you approve. With your permission, I would like to publish your English version on my blog:







    (c) Mary Tang

  3. Pingback: New Translation of “For Tomas Transtromer” [Chinese] | Translations from the English

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