How Abstract “Sets” into Concrete


Abstractions are hard—to write about successfully. Especially when concretes have to do all the talking for them.

As Exhibit A, I give you the concept of “silence.” It’s basically a nothing that is something. But how do you describe it?

If you look at a long list of abstract nouns and pick one to write about, you’ll see what I mean. It’s a workout, one your doctor will approve of due to the cardiovascular benefits. You know, where you have trouble carrying on conversation with a work-out partner because you’re too busy breathing.

For inspiration, let’s look at the concrete images the late Tomas Tranströmer came up with for the word “silence.”

You might wonder, straight off, what the antecedent is for the pronoun “they” which appears in Stanza 1 and is repeated in Stanza 4. As for me, I will luxuriate in the final stanza and its image of silver shoals—no, table silver—just kidding, silver shoals, swimming the depths of the black Atlantic’s “silence.”

If it leaves you thinking about the different types of silences, all the better. That’s the thing with abstract words. They are protean in nature. Expansive. Malleable. Perfect, turns out, for a series of concrete images created by you and your rogue accomplice, the imagination.


by Tomas Tranströmer

Walk past, they are buried…
A cloud glides over the sun’s disk.

Starvation is a tall building
that moves about by night—

in the bedroom an elevator shaft opens,
a dark rod pointing toward the interior.

Flowers in the ditch. Fanfare and silence.
Walk past, they are buried…

The table silver survives in giant shoals
down deep where the Atlantic is black.

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