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.

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“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.

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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

Tomas Tranströmer: En vinternatt/One Winter Night

2019-02-18 Pumpkin Four

Stormen sätter sin mun till huset
och blåser för att få ton.
Jag sover oroligt, vänder mig, läser
blundande stormens text.

The storm puts its lips to the house and blows to make a note. I sleep, fitful, tossing and turning, reading the storm’s text with my eyes closed.

Men barnets ögon är stora i mörkret
och stormen den gnyr för barnet.
Båda tycker om lampor som svänger,
Båda är halvvägs mot språket.

But the child’s eyes grow wide in the darkness and the storm, it roars for her. Both are fond of lamps when they sway and both are half-way to language.

Stormen har barnsliga händer och vingar.
Karavanen skenar mot Lappland.
Och huset känner sin stjärnbild av spikar
som håller väggarna samman.

The storm has the hands and wings of a child. The caravan takes off in the direction of Lappland. And the house feels its constellations of nails, which hold the walls fastened together.

Natten är stilla över vårt golv
(där alla förklingade steg
vilar som sjunkna löv i en damm)
men därute är natten vild!

The night is calm over our floor (where all footsteps rest like leaves sunk to the bottom of a pond when they fade away), but out there, the night runs wild!

Över världen går en mer allvarlig storm,
Den sätter sin mun till vår själ
och blåser för att få ton. Vi räds
att stormen blåser oss tomma.
A more critical storm passes over the world. It puts its lips to our soul and blows to make a note. We fear that blast will leave us completely hollowed out.