Vermeer beholds the world and answers the riddle in a painting. Tranströmer beholds Vermeer's work and answers the riddle in words. and Patty Crane manages a translation that gives Tranströmer's poem what it needs—galvanizing force.
i find myself upon reading this poem, this particular translation, overcome. weeping.
VERMEER by Tomas Tranströmer
No sheltered world...Right behind the wall the noise begins
the tavern begins
with laughter and complaint, rows of teeth, tears, clanging bells
and the deranged brother-in-law, the murderer that everyone trembles before.
The great explosion and the delayed trampling of rescuers,
boats swaggering at anchor, money creeping down into the pocket of the wrong man
demands heaped on demands
gaping red blossom-cups sweating premonitions of war.
And from there straight through the wall into the bright studio,
into the second that goes on living for centuries.
Paintings that call themselves "The Music Lesson"
or "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter"—
she's eight months along, two hearts kicking inside her.
On the wall behind her hangs a wrinkled map of Terra Incognita.
Breathe calmly...An unfamiliar blue material is nailed to the chairs.
The gold rivets flew in with extraordinary speed
and stopped dead
as if they had never been anything but stillness.
The ears ring from either depth or height.
It's the pressure from the other side of the wall.
It sets every fact afloat
and steadies the brush.
It hurts to go through walls, and makes you sick
but it's necessary.
The world is one. But walls...
And the wall is part of you—
whether you know it or not, it's the same for everyone,
except small children. For them, no wall.
The clear sky has leaned against the wall.
It's like a prayer to the emptiness.
And the emptiness turns its face to us
"I am not empty, I am open."