I’ve put up a clip of Transtromer talking about this and also reading it, in English, on my facebook Yvonne Cullen’s Writing Train. Here’s the text.
by Tomas Transtromer. (Trans. Kalle Raisanen)
In the evening-dark of a place outside New York, a look-out point
where one glance can encompass eight million people’s homes.
The giant city over there is a long, ﬂickering snow-drift, a spiral
galaxy on its side.
Inside the galaxy, coﬀee cups are slid over the counter, store-fronts
beg with passers-by, a crowd of shoes that leave no traces.
The climbing ﬁre-escapes, the elevator doors gliding shut, behind
locked doors a constant swell of voices.
Sunken bodies half-sleep in the subway cars, the rushing cata-
I know, also — statistics aside — that right now Schubert is
being played in some room over there and that to someone
those sounds are more important than all those other things.
The human brain’s endless expanse crumpled into the size of a
In April, the swallow returns to its last-year’s-nest under the roof
of that very barn in that very parish.
She ﬂies from the Transvaal, passes the equator, ﬂies for six weeks
over two continents, steers toward this dissappearing point in
And the man who captures the signals of a whole life in some
fairly ordinary chords by ﬁve strings
the man who makes a river run through the eye of a needle
is a fat young man from Vienna, called “Little Mushroom” by his
friends, who slept with his glasses on
and got punctually behind his writing desk each morning.
At which the wonderful centipedes of music were set in motion.
“Schubertiana” Tomas Transtr¨omer. (Trans. Kalle R¨ais¨anen)
I I I.
The ﬁve strings play. I walk home through tepid forests with the
ground springing under me
crawl up like an unborn, 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 snow clinging to the mountain slope over the village.
Trust the promises of silence and smiles of understanding,
trust that the accident telegram isn’t for us and that the sudden
axe-blow from within won’t come.
Trust the wheel-axles that carry us on the highway in the middle
of the three-hundred-times magniﬁed bee swarm of steel.
But none of that is really worth our conﬁdence.
The ﬁve strings say we can trust something else.
Trust what? Something else, and they follow us part of the way
As when the lights turn oﬀ in the stair-well and the hand follows
— with conﬁdence — the blind handrail that ﬁnds its way in
We crowd in front of the piano and play four-handed in F-minor,
two coachmen on the same carriage, it looks slightly ridicu-
Our hands seem to move clanging weights back and forth, as if
we were touching the counter-weights
in attempt at disturbing the terrible balance of the great scales:
joy and suﬀering weigh exactly the same.
Annie said, “This music is so heroic,” and it’s true.
But those who glance enviously at the men of action, those who
secretely despise themselves for not being murderers
they don’t recognise themselves here.
And those many who buy and sell people and think that everyone
can be bought, they don’t recognise themselves here.
Not their music. The long melody that remains itself through all
changes, sometimes glittering and weak, sometimes rough and
strong, snail-trails and steel wire.
The insistant humming that follows us right now