Firescribbling is the title, as translated by John F. Deane, of a poem by the great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. It's a very personal piece that Tranströmer wrote for his wife, Monica. It was published in his 1983 collection Det Vilda Torget ("The Wild Market Square"). Deane's translation, which was published in Robert Hass's collection Tomas Tranströmer, Selected Poems 1954-1986, The Ecco Press, 1987, is the most powerful of the several versions I've seen. Here it is:


During the dismal months, my life sparkled only when I made love with
As the firefly ignites and then goes out, ignites, goes out—one can follow
its flight by glimpses
in the dark night among the olive trees.

During the dismal months the soul sat shrunken and lifeless,
but the body took the straight path to you.
The night sky bellowed.
By stealth we milked the cosmos and survived.

In translating poetry, the translator must strike a balance between the need to be faithful to the original language and the desire to produce a translation that works as poetry. A literal translation generally won't work; the translator must take judicious liberties with language and interpretation. Deane's poem probably takes a bit more artistic license than the others below (I don't know Swedish so this is only a hunch), but the resulting poem is more powerful and captivating for it.

Here are two other translations, one by Robert Bly and one by Robin Fulton.

First, Bly's version:

Fire Script

During the heavy months my life caught fire only when
I made love with you.
The firefly too lights up and goes out, lights up and goes out
—by quick glimpses we follow its route
among the olive trees in the darkness of nght.

During the heavy months the soul sat
indolent and crushed,
but the body took the nearest way to you.
The night heavens gave off moos.
We stole milk from the cosmos and survived.

Just look at the last two lines of both poems and note the contrast. Bly's translation might be closer to the original Swedish, but much of it is downright clunky in English. “The night heavens gave off moos?” Yikes.

Bly's version can be found in his collection, The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer, Graywolf Press, 2001.

Now here's Robin Fulton's translation, from his collection Tomas Tranströmer: New Collected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 1997. This translation was first published in 1986 in the magazine FRANK.


Throughout the dismal months my life sparkled alive only when I made
love with you.
As the firefly ignites and fades out, ignites and fades out—in glimpses
we can trace its flight
in the dark among the olive trees

Throughout the dismal months the soul lay shrunken, lifeless,
but the body went straight to you.
The night sky bellowed.
Stealthily we milked the cosmos and survived.