[lit-ideas] SUNDAY POEM

  • From: "Mike Geary" <atlas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 14 Jan 2007 13:39:48 -0600

The following poem is one of my all time favorites.  It's a longish one, but 
well worth it.  It's dedicated to Eric, a lover of great music and, of course, 
because there's a message in it.  : )


by Tomas Transtromer
trans. by Robert Bly


Outside New York, a high place where with one glance you take in the houses 
where eight million human beings live.
The giant city over there is a long flimmery drift, a spiral galaxy seen from 
the side.
Inside the galaxy, coffee cups are being pushed across the desk, department 
store windows hold out a begging cup, a whirlwind of shoes that leave no trace 
Firescapes climbing up, elevator doors that silently close, behind 
triple-locked doors a steady swell of voices.
Slumped over bodies doze in the subway cars, catacombs in motion.
I know also -- statistics to the side -- that at this instant down there 
Schubert is being played in some room, and for that person the notes are more 
real than all the rest.


The immense treeless plains of the human brain have gotten folded and refolded 
'til they are the size of a fist.
The swallow in April returns to its last year's nest under the eaves in 
precisely the right barn in precisely the right township.
She flies from the Transvaal, passes the equator, flies for six weeks over two 
continents, navigates toward precisely this one disappearing dot on the 
And the man who gathers up the signals from a whole lifetime into a few 
perfectly ordinary chords for five string musicians, the one who got a river to 
flow through the eye of a needle is a plump young man from Vienna, his friends 
called him "The Mushroom," who slept with his glasses on and every morning 
punctually stood at his high writing table.
When he did that, the strange hundred-footed notes started to move on the page.


The five bowers are bowing.  I go home through warm woods where the earth is 
springy under my feet, curl up like someone still unborn, sleep, roll on so 
weightlessly into the future, suddenly understand that plants are thinking.

How much we have to take on trust every minute we live in order not to drop 
through the earth!
Take on trust the snow masses clinging to the rocksides over the town.
Take on trust the unspoken promises, and the smile of agreement, and that the 
sudden ax blow from inside is not coming.
Trust the axles we ride on down the thruway among the swarm of steel bees 
magnified three hundred times.
But none of that stuff is really worth the trust we have.
The five string instruments say that we can take something else on trust, and 
they walk with us a bit on that road.
As when the light bulb goes out on the stair, and the hand follows -- trusting 
it -- the blind banister rail that finds its way in the dark.


We crowd up onto the piano stool and play four-handed in F-Minor, two drivers 
for the same carriage, it looks a little ridiculous.
It looks as if the hands are moving weights make of sound back and forth, as if 
we were moving lead weights in an attempt to alter the big scale's frightening 
balance, so that" happiness and suffering should weigh exactly the same.  
Annie said: "This music is so heroic," and she is right.
But those who glance enviously at men of action, people who despise themselves 
inside for not being murderers, do not find themselves in this music.
And the people who buy and sell others, and who believe that everyone can be 
bought, don't find themselves here.
Not their music.  The long melody line that remains itself among all its 
variations, sometimes shiny and gentle, sometimes rough and powerful, the 
snail's trace and steel wire.
The stubborn humming sound that this instant is with us upward into
The depths.


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