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This article is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

Tomas Tranströmer: Schubert’s Ghost Gerry McGrath
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book

Raymond Carver’s last poetry collection, published the year after his death, is elegantly, tantalisingly structured. New Path to the Waterfall (1989) is divided into six sections; a few lines of poetry or prose by Jaroslav Seifert, Charles Wright and Anton Chekhov among others preface each one. Taken at a glance these pieces serve mainly to introduce what follows, namely Carver’s meditations on various themes and events in a life reaching its premature end. The second section starts with a short poem – it is most definitely a poem – by the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. The poem is brief, a mere fifteen lines long, and is about the driver of a car who gets sleepy and pulls off the road to rest. Waking up, he experiences real difficulty remembering his name. This causes a wild panic. Eventually the name comes down ‘the long staircase’ to consciousness and his identity is restored. The poem ends on a chastened note – he will never be able to forget the ‘fifteen-second battle’ by the motorway.

The poem has a twofold meaning. It describes a physical reality that is existential, generalised. It also accepts the existence of a secondary realm that is contextualised by psychological and emotional states. A random act represents the point at which these two worlds intersect. This is not new and apologies if the analysis sounds like an evening class on Henry James in the Weimar Republic. What Tomas Tranströmer offers and what is new is a clear ...

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