Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Things I've lived through here become visible on the walls"

Books of letters can sometimes make very good reading. This is the case with the two-poet volume I have on my Kindle right now.Airmail: the letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Transtromer. Just came out, also published in Swedish. Those letters of Virginia Woolf almost broke my heart, mostly about invitations for tea, or whatever, before I gave up. I found her diaries better reading. I am very interested in diaries and have a good many published ones, but they, too, are often hard going, This volume between Bly and Transtromer as they were discussing translations and becoming greater friends contains a lot of delightful stuff, including visits to the past that I also lived through, like the March on Washington. It is making me very happy. Here is something I found near the end. It is so lively and full of ideas! And the murals reminded me of the ones from Akrotiri that I saw in the Archeological museum in Athens. They, too, were so lively and fresh! I recently came across two letters from Sister Neal, who went to church with us when I was young. They were letters to my mother, thanking her for help, which Sister Neal (I found out from these letters that her name was Edith!) sent after we had moved to Ohio. Now that this sort of thing has become texts or email, the stamp, the handwriting, and the yearning across distances cannot be felt in the same way. The passage I quote below was written about the experience of moving. And the idea of our past becoming visible on the now blank walls is a poet's idea, from one of the best of them.

"The apartment where I lived over half my life has to be cleaned out. It is already empty of everything. The anchor has let go—despite the continuing weight of grief it is the lightest apartment in the whole city. Truth doesn't need any furniture. My life has just completed a big circle and come back to its starting place: a room blown out. Things I've lived through here become visible on the walls like Egyptian paintings, murals from the inside of the grave chamber. But the scenes are growing fainter, because the light is getting too strong. The windows have got larger. The empty apartment is a large telescope held up to the sky. It is silent as a Quaker service. All you can hear are the doves in the backyard, their cooing."

The third section of Preludes.
Tomas Transtromer from Night Vision, translated by Robert Bly.

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