Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer: Schubertiana (English version)

by Tomas Tranströmer
translated by Robert Fulton

This poem includes an allusion to the Schubert Fantasia in f minor for two pianists: "We squeeze together at the piano and play with four hands in F minor, two coachmen on the same coach, it looks a little ridiculous." Under this wonderful poem you will find a link to Perahia and Lupu playing this piece.

This first video is Tranströmer reading his poem, in the original (and melodic) Swedish. The bluish grey-green tone of the colour fits the feel of Tranströmer, in particular this poem.



In the evening darkness in a place outside New York, a viewpoint point where
             one single glance will encompass the homes of eight million
The giant city over there is a long shimmering drift, a spiral galaxy seen
            from the side.
Within the galaxy coffee-cups are pushed across the counter, the shop
           windows beg from passers-by, a flurry of shoes leave no prints.
The climbing fire escapes, the lift doors glide shut, behind  police -
locked doors  a perpetual seethe of voices.
Slouched bodies doze in subway cars, the hurtling catacombs.
I know too – without statistics – that right now Schubert is being played
in some room over there and that for someone the notes are
more real than anything else.


The endless expanses of the human brain are crumpled to the size of a fist.
In April the swallow returns to last year’s nest under the guttering of this
             very barn in this very parish.
She flies from Transvaal, passes the equator, flies for six weeks over two
continents, makes for precisely this vanishing dot in the land-
And the man who catches the signals from a whole life in a few ordinary
            chords for five strings,
who makes a river flow through the eye of a needle,
is a stout young gentleman from Vienna known to his friends as `The
Mushroom," who slept with his glasses on
and stood at his writing desk punctually of a morning.
And then the wonderful centipedes of his manuscript were set in motion.


The string quintet is playing. I walk home through warm forests with the
             ground springy under me,
curl up like an embryo, fall asleep, roll weightless into the future, suddenly
            feel that the plants have thoughts.


So much we have to trust, simply to live through our daily day without
           Sinking through the earth!
Trust the piled snow clinging to the mountain slope above the village.
Trust the promises of silence and the smile of understanding, trust that
           the accident telegram isn’t for us and that the sudden axe-blow
           from within won’t come.
Trust the axles that carry us on the highway in the middle of the three
           hundred times life-size bee swarm of steel.
But none of that is really worth our confidence.
The five strings say we can trust something else. And they keep us  com-
           pany part of the way .
As when the time-switch clicks off in the stairwell and the fingers –
          trustingly – follow the blind handrail that finds its way in the


We squeeze together at the piano and play with four hands in F minor,
          two coachmen on the same coach, it looks a little ridiculous.
The hands seem to be moving resonant weights to and fro, as if we were
          tampering with the counterweights
in an effort to disturb the great scale arm’s terrible balance: joy and
         suffering weighing exactly the same.
Annie said, `This music is so heroic,’ and she’s right.
But those whose eyes enviously follow men of action, who secretly
          despise themselves for not being murderers,
don’t recognize themselves here,
and the many who buy and sell people and believe that everyone can be
            bought, don’t recognize themselves here.
Not their music. The long melody that remains itself in all its transfor-
             mations, sometimes glittering and pliant, sometimes rugged
             and strong, snail-track and steel wire.
The perpetual humming that follows us 
 now –
the depths.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rilke again: "I love the dark hours of my being" / "Ich liebe meines Wesens Dunkelstunden"

In line with the earlier excerpt from Rilke's Das Stundenbuch / The Book of Hours, there is a piece hinting at darkness and silence and depth that I would like to share with you.

I might actually be more fond of the first seven stanzas than the five that conclude this poem. More of that later.

I love the dark hours of my being

in which my senses drop into the deep.
I have found in them, as in old letters,
my private life, that is already lived through,
and become wide and powerful now, like legends.
Then I know that there is room in me
for a second huge and timeless life.

But sometimes I am like the tree that stands
over a grave, a leafy tree, fully grown,
who has lived out that particular dream, that the dead boy
(around whom its warm roots are pressing)
lost through his sad moods and his poems.


Ich liebe meines Wesens Dunkelstunden,
in welchen meine Sinne sich vertiefen;
in ihnen hab ich, wie in alten Briefen,
mein täglich Leben schon gelebt gefunden
und wie Legende weit und uberwunden.
Aus ihnen kommt mir Wissen, dass ich Raum
zu einem zweiten zeitlos breiten Leben habe.

Und manchmal bin ich wie der Baum,
der, reif und rauschend, über einem Grabe
den Traum erfüllt, den der vergangne Knabe
(um den sich seine warmen Wurzeln drängen)
verlor in Traurigkeiten und Gesängen.


Again I am seduced by the tangible singing blackness of Rilke's. My senses drop into the deep as I read his lines. I see that Bly, the translator, has made a choice in translating "vertiefen" into "drop into the deep". This is not a direct translation, which I don't think possible with this Germanic word (we have the same, "fortape", in Norwegian). However the interpretation Bly makes here I think gains the reading of the poem. "Drop into the deep" fits very well with the tone of the poem and where it comes from.

Through the dark hours of his being, Rilke has found endless room in himself, "for a second huge and timeless life". This I understand well. It is perhaps nothing I could explain very well, but this notion of a huge and timeless life, depersonalised, speaks its blackly glimmering language in my ears.

The ending I to some degree find a little pity-me, a kind of melancholy feeling sorry for himself. A hard judgment perhaps, but the concluding line "lost through his sad moods and his poems" doesn't ring well with me. On the other side, Rilke is pointing to something very human and understandable. He sometimes feels like he is in another depersonalised form, that of a a vast and upright tree looking down on the boy (himself) who got lost in his sad moods an poems/songs. Actually this is just another way of saying what he said in the first part of the poem. The tree-boy is purely that vital and timeless part of him that the moody and broody poetry writing boy doesn't get to experience.

With the seasonal darkness pressing in on the windows from around 4 pm everyday, the darkness is quite tangible here. Still I can conclude with the opening line: I love the dark hours of my being.