Tomas Tranströmer: “Allegro”

Tung PIng Chau Cliff Face TWO 2016

It sometimes seems to me that the world is made up of two kinds of people: a majority in love with the “rule of law” and the exercise of absolute power (it’s nice to have someone strong do all the thinking, and most of your feeling, for you), and those who prefer to see the flawed human spirit shine, especially unexpectedly and when it appears that all else is lost.

“Allegro” is a poem for the shiners. It was included in Tranströmer’s 1962 collection Den halvfärdiga himlen, a title that translates as “the half-ready Heaven”. I take it that what Tranströmer means here is that it is up to us — the human beings — to finish it off. Clearly, too many of us have understood “to finish it off” in completely the wrong way.

(Incidentally, the image of “half-ness” reappears in the wonderful title poem which ends with the lines:

Var människa en halvöpen dörr
som leder till ett rum för alla.
Each and every human being: a half-open door leading to a room for all.)

Defiance is generally coupled with anger. A joyous musical defiance is a rare thing, but the poet manages to make it make sense. He sits down to play at the piano after a “black day”. This may refer to his work at the Roxtuna center for juvenile offenders, or it may have to do with the state of the world. As he writes in “Lamento”:

För mycket som varken kan skrivas eller förtigas!
Too much that can neither be written down nor kept quiet!

The music at once changes the temperature of his mood: using the wonderful compounding property of Swedish, he writes of “driving his hands deeper into his Haydnpockets” before hoisting the “Haydnflag”, an image that suggests that he has reached the most triumph section in the composer’s allegro movement. The only hint of violence in the poem — on the part of those resisting — is in the strokes of “the mild hammers”, musical hammers incapable of inflicting the lightest wound.

The tremendous final image of the intact glass panes echoes the closing words of “Lamento”:

Malarna sätter sig på rutan:
små blek telegram från världen.
Moths settle on his window-pane: / bleak little telegrams from the world.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

thomas_transtromerjpg_220x500

“Allegro”

Jag spelar Haydn efter en svart dag
och känner en enkel värme i händerna.

I play Haydn after a black day and feel a simple warmth in my hands.

Tangenterna vill. Milda hammare slår.
Klangen är grön, livlig och stilla.

The keys are willing. Mild hammers strike. The sound is green, lively, reposed.

Klangen säger att friheten finns
och att någon inte ger kejsaren skatt.

The sound insists that there is such a thing as freedom, and that there is someone who pays Caesar no tax.

Jag kör ner händerna i mina haydnfickor
och härmar en som ser lugnt på världen.

I drive my hands deeper into my Haydnpockets and play the part of a man who can look the world calmly in the face.

Jag hissar haydnflaggan — det betyder:
“Vi ger oss inte. Men vill fred.”

I hoist the Haydnflag — what this means is: “We won’t give in. But want peace.”

Musiken är ett glashus på sluttningen
där stenarna flyger, stenarna rullar.

The music is a glasshouse on that slope where the stones come rolling, come crashing down.

Och stenarna rullar tvärs igenom
men varje rutan förblir hel.

And the stones roll right through it, but leave every pane intact.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Perhaps for a second or two, by the end of this poem, we are lifted along with Tranströmer’s music to a point where we sense, briefly, what invincibility might feel like for a human being. The question is: What could we learn to live from there?

For Robin Fulton’s expert translation of “Allegro”, please visit the official Tomas Tranströmer website.

Photograph: 香港東平洲 Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong

Erik Satie (1866-1925)

Erik Satie_MAR 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

— Plus je connais les hommes, plus j’admire les chiens.

The slow progress of aimless cloud
Satie hears in his fingertips
as chords, levitating along bar lines
with shy discipline — melodies
crooked as a dog’s hind legs.
He borrows the rain pianos make
for his own nervous weather:
soft sound waves towards rare feelings
newsreels try to neglect in us
and to a doggedness that undoes
all show of self-esteem. Tender,
quizzical, his repertoire
of entirely minor force kennels art
unnoticed. Slantness
and sweetness join hands in that voice
blue as the mild forget-me-nots we so often
forget we forget we forget
till revived within Satie’s poise.