Posted by: Tom Triumph | October 7, 2011

160. Schubertiana: Tomas Tranströmer

If you win the Nobel Prize for Literature while I’m writing this blog, you’ll merit a mention.

So here’s Tomas Tranströmer.


.
I like how scratchy this is, but the students won’t have a clue what he’s saying. So here’s an animated version that’s pretty cool, also read by the author.


.
This poem–“Schubertiana”–I like. It’s not in verse, which I find subversive (no pun intended). How do you read it? Is it even a poem? I can do that! (can you? No, it’s harder than it looks. But let’s try it, anyway!!!) These words stumble over each other and use words like “slumped”, which envision a hustle-bustle city, tired.

Of course, with any translation, it is not clear to me if I have it down right. The Robert Bly translation is a mass of text. Another translation by Kalle Raisanen starts a new line with each sentence. I like the blur, so I’ll go with Bly, but if I’m bastardizing the original please let me know

Note: t-sju did let me know (see comment below), so now I have included the Raisaen version below the Bly version. She makes a good point about line breaks, and I have always felt (with no evidence) that Bly, being a poet himself, gives himself license to a creative translation. With both available, this is a good time to talk about translations, and the importance of line breaks!

This is also a good poem to use when you speak of music. Ah, music. The kids love their music. Why? Well, perhaps “Schubertiana: can give that idea a voice.

Schubertiana
Tomas Tranströmer

I.

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 beg, a whirl of shoes that leave no trace behind. Fire escapes climbing up, elevator doors that silently close, behind triple locked doors a steady swell of voices. Slumped-over bodies doze in subway cars, catacombs in motion. I know also–statistics to the side–that at this instant in some room down there Schubert is being played, and for that person the notes are more real than all the rest.

II.

The human brain’s endless expanse crumpled into the size of a fist. 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 disappearing point in the land-mass. 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.

III.

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.

IV.

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 there. As when the lights turn off in the stair-well and the hand follows — with confidence — the blind handrail that finds its way in the dark.

V.

We crowd in front of the piano and play four-handed in F-minor, two coachmen on the same carriage, it looks slightly ridiculous. 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 up the depths.

 

Schubertiana
Tomas Transtromer (Trans. Kalle Raisanen)

I.
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 catacombs.
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.

II.
The human brain’s endless expanse crumpled into the size of a
fist.
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
the land-mass.
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.

III.
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.

IV.
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
there.
As when the lights turn off in the stair-well and the hand follows
— with confidence — the blind handrail that finds its way in
the dark.

V.
We crowd in front of the piano and play four-handed in F-minor,
two coachmen on the same carriage, it looks slightly ridiculous.
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
up the
depths

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Responses

  1. Raisanens line breaks adheres to the Swedish original. Personally I like that better as it slows down the tempo a bit, which allows you to pause and take in what you’ve just read.

    • Thanks for the guidance on line breaks. I found the Raisanens’ translation and put it below Bly’s, so readers can judge for themselves. I also found an interesting animated film of the author’s reading and embedded it.


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