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The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations

The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations

by Robert Bly

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The astonishing collection of the translations Robert Bly has been producing for more than fifty years, introducing foreign poets to American readers for the first time.

Robert Bly has always been amazingly prescient in his choice of poets to translate. The poetry he selected supplied qualities that seemed lacking from the literary culture of this country.


The astonishing collection of the translations Robert Bly has been producing for more than fifty years, introducing foreign poets to American readers for the first time.

Robert Bly has always been amazingly prescient in his choice of poets to translate. The poetry he selected supplied qualities that seemed lacking from the literary culture of this country. At a time when editors and readers knew only Eliot and Pound, Bly introduced Neruda, Vallejo, Trakl, Jiménez, Traströmer, and Rumi. His most recent translations include Rolf Jacobsen, Francis Ponge, and the nineteenth-century Indian poet Ghalib. Here, in The Winged Energy of Delight, the poems of twenty-two renowned and lesser-known poets from around the world are brought together. As Kenneth Rexroth has said, Robert Bly "is one of the leaders of a poetic revival that has returned American literature to the world community."

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Bly's translations of poems by writers as geographically and historically diverse as Basho, Rumi, Neruda, Lorca, Ponge, and Transtramer helped introduce American poets to a wealth of imagistic poetry that would manifest its influence in the Deep Image and neosurrealist styles of the 1960s and 1970s. Here, his selection of work by 20 poets "engaged in an explosive attention to metaphor" emphasizes the visual over the rhetorical, the evocative ("I am carried inside/ my own shadow like a violin/ in its black case"-Transtr mer) over the narrative. Though Bly's interests extend from classical (Horace) to ecstatic (Kabir) poetries, he seems most assured when channeling the dark lyricism of the Scandinavian poets. Rothenberg shares several of Bly's subjects (Neruda, Lorca), but what attracts him to translation is sound, rhythm, and the challenge of conveying the ritual of poetic experience-"what comes to us as a larger human meaning"-via unconventional "forms of languaging." An experimental poet, Rothenberg regards translation itself as "a form of composition" that offers opportunities for improvisation and extension. Selected from four decades of work, Writing Through ranges from translations of contemporary German poets, Dada poets, Picasso, and others, to Rothenberg's pioneering work with oral Native American and Hebrew traditions, to his aleatory projects with Lorca's Suites and Jewish numerology. Taken together, these volumes constitute a valuable document in the history of how multicultural influences have affected the course of American poetry. Recommended for most poetry collections.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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The Winged Energy of Delight
Selected Translations

Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer comes from a long line of ship pilots who worked in and around the Stockholm Archipelago. He is at home on islands. His face is thin and angular, and the swift, spare face reminds one of Hans Christian Andersen's or the younger Kierkegaard's. He has a strange genius for the image -- images come up almost effortlessly. The images flow upward like water rising in some lonely place, in the swamps, or deep fir woods.

Swedish poetry tends to be very rational, and therefore open to fads. Tranströmer, simply by publishing his books, leads a movement of poetry in the opposite direction, toward a poetry of silence and depths.

One of the most beautiful qualities in his poems is the space we feel in them. I think one reason for that is that the four or five main images that appear in each of his poems come from widely separated sources in the psyche. His poems are a sort of railway station where trains that have come enormous distances stand briefly in the same building. One train may have some Russian snow still lying on the undercarriage, and another may have Mediterranean flowers still fresh in the compartments, and Ruhr soot on the roofs.

The poems are mysterious because of the distance the images have come to get there. Mallarmé believed there should be mystery in poetry, and urged poets to get it by removing the links that tie the poem to its occasion in the real world. Tranströmer keeps the link to the worldly occasion, and yet the poems have a mystery and surprise that never fade, even on many readings.

Rilke taught that poets should be "bees of the invisible." Making honey for the invisible suggests that the poet remain close to earthly history, but move as well toward the spiritual and the invisible. Tranströmer suspects that as an artist he is merely a way for "the Memory" to get out into the world. Even at seventeen he was aware that the dead "wanted to have their portrait painted." Somehow that cannot be done without making peace with rhetoric. He wants to tell of spiritual matters, but he doesn't want to be a preacher. If rhetoric could kill Christianity in Sweden, maybe it could kill poetry as well. In "From an African Diary," he describes climbing on a canoe hollowed from a log:

The canoe is incredibly wobbly, even when you sit on your heels. A balancing act. If you have the heart on the left side you have to lean a bit to the right, nothing in the pockets, no big arm movements, please, all rhetoric has to be left behind. Precisely: rhetoric is impossible here. The canoe glides out over the water.

In "The Scattered Congregation," Tranströmer remarks:

Nicodemus the sleepwalker is on his way to the Address. Who's got the Address? Don't know. But that's where we're going.

Tomas Tranströmer was born in Stockholm on April 15, 1931. His father and mother divorced when he was three; he and his mother lived after that in an apartment in the working-class district of Stockholm. He describes the apartment in the poem called "The Bookcase."

The early fifties were a rather formal time, both here and in Sweden, and Tranströmer began by writing concentrated, highly formal poems, some in iambs and some in the Alcaic meter. His first book, 17 Poems, published in 1954, glowed with strange baroque elements, and contained only a few poems, but people noticed the power of the book immediately.

For several years, he worked as a psychologist in a boys' prison in Linkõping, and then in 1965, he moved with his wife, Monica, and his two daughters Paula and Emma to Västeras, a town about forty miles west of Stockholm. He continued to work as a psychologist, this time for a labor organization funded by the State. He helped juvenile delinquents to reenter society and persons with physical disabilities to choose a career, and he counseled parole offenders and those in drug rehabilitation.

Tomas Tranströmer's poems are so luminous that genuine poetry can travel to another language and thrive. His poems have been translated into dozens of European and Asian languages; at this moment, something like thirty-eight.

The praise for his poems has steadily grown both in Europe and in the United States. He has received most of the important poetry prizes in Europe, including the Petrarch Prize in Germany, the Bonnier Award for Poetry, the Pilot Prize in 1988, the Nordic Council Prize in 1990, the Swedish Academy's Nordic Prize in 1991, and the Horst Bieneck Prize in 1992.

The town of Västeras recently had a formal farewell celebration in the old castle for Tomas and Monica, who were moving to Stockholm. A choir sang to him, and presents were piled up five feet high around his chair.

Today, the couple live in an apartment in Stockholm overlooking the harbor, near the old neighborhood where Tomas lived as a boy.


2 A.M.: moonlight. The train has stopped
out in a field. Far-off sparks of light from a town,
flickering coldly on the horizon.

As when a man goes so deep into his dream
he will never remember that he was there
when he returns again to his room.

Or when a person goes so deep into a sickness
that his days all become some flickering sparks, a swarm,
feeble and cold on the horizon.

The train is entirely motionless.
2 o'clock: strong moonlight, few stars.

The Winged Energy of Delight
Selected Translations
. Copyright © by Robert Bly. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Robert Bly's books of poetry include The Night Abraham Called to the Stars and My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy. His awards include the National Book Award for poetry and two Guggenheims. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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