Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Book That Leaped to My Hand

On a visit to the library, while I scanned the poetry titles, an old blue paperback (1975) leaped to my hand. Sometimes a book is insistent that way. It cries out for your immediate attention, for a human fingertip against its spine. We needed each other. The last time this book left the shelf was 2003.

Friends, You Drank Some Darkness is a collection of the poetry of three Swedish poets: Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelof, and Tomas Transtromer, chosen and translated by Robert Bly. Although I was unfamiliar with poetry by the first two, Transtromer is one of my favorite writers. The book was in bad repair, binding taped and pages stained, but the words were fresh, vivid and deep. I kept returning to Transtromer's poems most frequently, but the others were fascinating, too. I have renewed the book twice, flagging the best poems and lines with Post-Its. I managed to find a used copy online, which I ordered yesterday.

Here are some lines from Transtromer's "A Few Moments": "The dwarf pine on marsh ground holds its head up: a dark rag. / But what you see is nothing compared to the roots, / the widely groping, deathless or half- / deathless root system. // I you she he also put roots out. / Outside our common will. / Outside the city." Then, the powerful and mysterious ending: "It is as if my five senses were hooked up to some other creature / that moves with the same stubborn flow / as the runners in white circling the track as the night comes misting in." And how can you not savor the quivering jolt of the final stanza from "After a Death": "It is still beautiful to feel the heart beat / but often the shadow seems more real than the body. / The samurai looks insignificant / beside his armor of black dragon scales."

Each poet's work is introduced by Robert Bly, whose words are insightful and poetic themselves. I love the way he describes the magic of Transtromer's writing: "His poems are a sort of railway station where trains that have come enormous distances stand briefly in the same building. One train may have some Russian snow still lying on the undercarriage, and another may have Mediterranean flowers still fresh in the compartments, and Ruhr soot on the roofs."

Photo of root and moss: my front yard, 4/3/08.

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