They Are Beautiful, Irresolute


Runmarö, Sweden. Photograph by Johan Fredriksson

From Lit Hub:

The island of Runmarö lies an hour east of Stockholm, ringed by skerries that rise out of the water. To journey there one must catch a ferry that gurgles through the chop at about 20 knots per hour.

It’s a rainy August afternoon, the sea green and mysterious—and not hard on a day like this to imagine why seafarers built their homes on Runmarö as opposed to on one of Stockholm’s 27,000 other islands.

When it looms into view, rocky, tipped by spruce and oak, it looks like a staunch man’s version of paradise.

In the late 19th century, Nobel Prize-winning poet Tomas Tranströmer’s maternal grandfather was one such man. A ship’s captain, he needed a place to reach landfall and found it here. The small blue clapboard house he constructed on Runmarö still stands, and it is where Tranströmer and his wife of more than 50 years, Monica, spend their summers.

Like a true descendent of sea captains, Tranströmer does not take arrivals by water lightly, even if the stroke that paralyzed him 25 years ago makes this gesture difficult.

I arrive to find him waiting in a wheelchair at the end of a long thin, twin-track gravel path, a blanket round his shoulders, Monica standing behind him.

A radio that dates to the mid 1950s rests in his lap, aerating the forest with Rachmaninoff’s symphony no. 2 in E major.

As Monica wheels her husband gently toward the house, up a ramp and into the front room, all the symbols of Tranströmer’s poetry whistle around us. The ground around the house is pleated by roots and moss. Wind murmurs in the trees. The air smells of sea salt and resin. No doubt a hawk or buzzard hovers above, peering down on us, observing the scene.

Right away Tranströmer begins pointing things out, in silent gestures: here, this is what I was trying to say.

“The Poet On His Island: A Final Conversation With Tomas Tranströmer”, Lit Hub