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At Funchal (Island of Madeira) -- Tomas Transtromer

Guest poem sent in by Jim Ellis
(Poem #1621) At Funchal (Island of Madeira)
     On the beach there's a seafood place, simple, a shack thrown up by
 survivors of the shipwreck.  Many turn back at the door, but not the sea
 winds.  A shadow stands inside his smoky hut frying two fish according to an
 old recipe from Atlantis, tiny garlic explosions, oil running over sliced
 tomatoes, every morsel says that the ocean wishes us well, a humming from
 the deep places.

     She and I look into each other.  It's like climbing the wild-flowered
 mountain slopes without feeling the least bit tired.  We've sided with the
 animals, they welcome us, we don't age.  But we have experienced so much
 together over the years, including those times when we weren't so good (as
 when we stood in line to give blood to the healthy giant - he said he wanted
 a transfusion), incidents which we've totally forgotten - though they
 haven't forgotten us!  They've turned to stones, dark and light, stones in a
 scattered mosaic.  And now it happens:  the pieces move towards each other,
 the mosaic appears and is whole.  It waits for us.  It glows down from the
 hotel-room wall, some figure violent and tender, perhaps a face, we can't
 take it all in as we pull off our clothes.

     After dusk we go out.  The dark powerful paw of the cape lies thrown out
 into the sea.  We walk in swirls of human beings, we are cuffed around
 kindly, among soft tyrannies, everyone chatters excitedly in the foreign
 tongue.  "No man is an island."  We gain strength from "them," but also from
 ourselves.  From what is inside that the other person can't see.  That which
 can only meet itself.  The innermost paradox, the underground garage
 flowers, the vent towards the good dark.  A drink that bubbles in empty
 glasses.  An amplifier that magnifies silence.  A path that grows over after
 every step.  A book that can only be read in the dark.
-- Tomas Transtromer
      (Sweden, b. 1930)

[Note: If anyone knows who the translator is, please write in and we'll add it
to the webpage - martin]

Your website is wonderful but surprisingly you don't have anything yet by my
favorite poet, Tomas Transtromer from Sweden.  "In Funchal" is about the
beauty and mystery of a long-term love.   The poet and his wife (I think)
are on vacation, invigorated by the sea - the sensory imagery in the first
paragraph is masterful.  They wind up in their hotel room, reflecting on
their history - the good and the bad.  Transtromer compares their memories
to "stones, dark and light, stones in a scattered mosaic."  Emotional, (it
feels like they've had a couple glasses of wine!), reconnected, they make
love - "the pieces move towards each other, the mosaic appears and is whole.
It waits for us.  It glows down from the hotel-room wall, some figure
violent and tender, perhaps a face, we can't take it all in as we pull off
our clothes."

Transtromer could have stopped there, and the poem would have been a
glorious achievement.  But as he and and his wife go for a walk among the
townspeople and tourists, taking in the atmosphere in a post-coital
mellowness, the poem also doesn't stop or fall to sleep.  This is typical of
Transtromer.  He goes beyond the beautiful gratitude for their love and
understanding that he has just celebrated to an almost hallucinative
meditation on the mystery of individual consciousness - the gratitude here
is that we somehow gain also gain strength from "what is inside that the
other person can't see."

Happy Valentine's Day, Minstrels - what the world needs now is love.

Jim Ellis Auburn, New York



48 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

Martin Julian DeMello [13/02/05 08:52 -0800]:
>Guest poem sent in by Jim Ellis
>'At Funchal (Island of Madeira)'

Read Patrick O'Brian's books - a whole lot of them have the characters
landing at Madeira for a while. The place doesnt seem to have changed much
from the early 1800s (when those books are set) to the 1930s when this poem
was written

nick blackburn said...

That, quite simply, is not a poem.

Nick Blackburn

Richard Taylor said...

Transtromer is a great poet - IS a poem. Richard.

branchdunlap said...

The translator is Robert Bly, and appears in a collection of love poems that he edited-translated (though I can't remember the title of the book, sorry)

Lois B said...

I can't tell you who the translator is, but it is not Robin Fulton who has
also translated this poem. Cheery, gosh_nz

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