Traces from the 1960s and March 2019, sounding in a contemporary poem (Algeria)

Photo Thomas Lepori Onceafewmonths

Tomas Tranströmer








Tomas Tranströmer’s poem “Om Historien” (About History) from the poem collection “Klanger och spår” (Sounds and tracks) published 1966

En dag i mars går jag ner till sjön och lyssnar.
Isen är så blå som himlen. Den bryter upp under solen.
Solen som också viskar i en mikrofon under istäcket.
Det kluckar och jäser. Och någon tycks ruska ett lakan
långt ute.
Alltihop liknar Historien: vårt NU. Vi är nedsänkta,
vi lyssnar.

One day in March I walk down to the lake and listen.
The ice is as blue as the sky. It breaks up under the sun.
The sun that also whispers in a microphone under the ice cover.
It’s lapping and ferments. And someone seems to shake a sheet
far out.
Everything looks like the Story: our NOW. We are immersed,
we listen.


Konferenser som flygande öar så nära att störta…
Sedan: en lång darrande bro av kompromisser.
Där ska hela trafiken gå, under stjärnorna,
under de oföddas bleka ansikten,
utkastade i tomrummet, anonyma som risgryn.


Conferences like flying islands so close to overthrow …
Then: a long trembling bridge of compromises.
There will the whole traffic go, under the stars,
under the pale faces of the unborn,
thrown out into the void, anonymous as rice groats.


Goethe reste i Afrika 1926 förklädd till Gide och såg allt.
Några ansikten blir tydligare av allt de får se efter döden.
När dagsnyheterna från Algeriet lästes upp
framträdde ett stort hus där alla fönster var mörklagda,
alla utom ett. Och där såg man Dreyfus’ ansikte.


Goethe traveled in Africa 1926 disguised as Gide and saw it all.
Some faces becomes clearer of all they get to see after death.
When the daily news from Algeria was read up
a large house appeared where all windows were darkened,
all except one. And there one saw Dreyfus’ face.


Radikal och Reaktionär lever tillsammans som i ett
olyckligt äktenskap,
formade av varann, beroende av varann.
Men vi som är deras barn måste bryta oss loss.
Varje problem ropar på sitt eget språk.
Gå som en spårhund där sanningen trampade!


Radical and Reactionary live together like in a
unhappy marriage,
shaped by each other, depending by each other.
But we who are their children must break us loose.
Every problem calls out for its own language.
Go as a track dog where the truth trampled!


Ute i terrängen inte långt från bebyggelsen
ligger sedan månader en kvarglömd tidning, full av
Den åldras genom nätter och dagar i regn och sol,
på väg att bli en planta, ett kålhuvud, på väg att förenas
med marken.
Liksom ett minne långsamt förvandlas till dig själv.


Out in the terrain not far from the settlement
lies since months a magazine left behind, full of
It ages through nights and days in rain and sun,
on the way to become a plant, a cabbage head, on the way
to unites with the ground
Like a memory slowly turns into yourself.





The Swedish poet TomasTransstömer is said to be enigmatic. I don’t experience him like that. But in this poem, written in the 1960s it seems truly so. For me, it is especially verse number V that is difficult to fully grip.

What I’ve found out is: André Gide traveled in Africa in 1926 and wrote after coming back home to France, critical articles about the French colonialism in Africa. The “Dreyfus affair” was a major legal scandal in France in the early 1900s.

I don’t understand the connection between Goethe and Gide. But a key to understanding this verse (and the poem at whole) can be the Swedish common saying often used “Historien upprepar sig” translated word by word “The History goes again” meaning “The History repeats itself”.

During the 1960s when this poem was written, a rebellion and a bloody war took place in Algeria, where the colonial power of France showed horrific violence against the Algerian people. Common people in Algeria still remember this war and the murder and assault from France and the Algerians still hate the French without forgiveness. The wounds have never healed.

Right now, there is an uprising in Algeria triggered of the upcoming presidential election, that was supposed to be in April. (It’s now postponed indefinitelye.) Every Friday after the prayer gathering, large and determinded and peaceful demonstrations take place. Met by riot police, as one can imagine.


Last demonstrations in Algeria on Friday March 15, 2019


This entry was posted in copied lyrics, dreamers, living in the world, poem in English and Swedish, Poetry, politics, translations by vonnely, Tranströmer and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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