blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2010  Vol. 9  No. 2

Sorgegondolen (Sorrow Gondola)

spacer    Tomas Tranströmer
   translations by Patty Crane
      Sorrow Gondola Table of Contents

   David Wojahn
      Good Evening, Beautiful Deep
      on Tranströmer’s Sorrow Gondola

   Jean Valentine
      Letter to Tomas Tranströmer

   Lugubre Gondola No. 2  
   Álvaro Ordóñez YouTube Channel



Letter to Ferdinand Taborszky, 1885

First of all, dear friend, will you be so kind as to go to my house with Frau von Fabry? I stupidly forgot there—in the bedroom, not in the salon—the beautiful and revised copy of a composition for piano and violin or violoncello, together with the transcription of the same for pianoforte alone. The title is “La lugubre Gondola” (the funeral gondola). As though it were a presentiment, I wrote this élégie in Venice six weeks before Wagner’s death.

Now I should like it to be brought out by Fritzsch (Leipzig), Wagner’s publisher, as soon as I receive it from you in Weimar. Hearty greetings to your family.

Ever faithfully yours,


Patty Crane’s new translation of Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer’s 1996 book Sorgegondolen (Sorrow Gondola) offers a chance to revisit these poems, to note their resonance, and to explore the influence they exercise on other writers.

The longest poem in the book, “Sorrow Gondola No. 2,” (”Sorgegondolen nr 2”) and the work from which the volume title is taken, is inspired by Franz Liszt’s “Lugubre Gondola No. 2.” Liszt composed the funeral piece after he visited Venice, Italy in 1882 following a premonition that his son-in-law, Richard Wagner, was going to soon die.

“The gondola is heavy-laden with life, it is simple and black,” writes Tranströmer, a description that may also apply to his own poems.

In Patty Crane’s translation, Tranströmer’s poems become even more visceral, dark, and calculated.

Included here are Crane’s English translations, the poems in Swedish, a reading of three poems in Swedish by Filip Svensson, “Good Evening, Beautiful Deep,” an essay by David Wojahn, and “Letter to Tomas Tranströmer” by Jean Valentine.  end