Thursday, November 24, 2011


The older I get, the more I am thankful for art and poetry. Today, as the U.S. celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday, I offer a poem titled "Vermeer" by 2011 Nobel laureate for poetry Tomas Tranströmer.
The Music Lesson by Jan Vermeer

By Tomas Tranströmer

No protected world...Just behind the wall the noise begins,
the inn
with laughter and bickering, rows of teeth, tears, the din of bells
and the insane brother-in-law, the death-bringer we all must tremble for.

The big explosion and the tramp of rescue arriving late,
the boats preening themselves on the straits, the money creeping down
               in the wrong man's pocket
demands stacked on demands
gaping red flowerheads sweating premonitions of war.

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter by Jan Vermeer
And through the wall into the clear studio
into the second that's allowed to live for centuries.
Pictures that call themselves The Music Lesson
or Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
she's in her eighth month, two hearts kicking inside her.
On the wall behind is a wrinkled map of Terra Incognita.

Breathe calmly...An unknown blue material is nailed to the chairs.
The gold studs flew in with incredible speed
and stopped abruptly
as if they had never been other than stillness.

Ears sing, from depth or height.
It's the pressure from the other side of the wall.
It makes each fact float
and steadies the brush.

It hurts to go through walls, it makes you ill
but is necessary.
The world is one. But walls...
And the wall is part of yourself —
we know or we don't know but it's true for us all
except for small children. No walls for them.

The clear sky has leaned against the wall.
It's like a prayer to the emptiness.
And the emptiness turns its face to us and whispers,
"I am not empty. I am open."

"Vermeer" and many other Tranströmer poems can be found in  the great enigma, new collected poems (c) 1987 Thomas Tranströmer, published by New Directions Books. Kudos to translator by Robin Fulton.


  1. What a wonderful poem, profound and delightful. (That IS a rare pairing.) Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.


  2. I share your gratitude for art and poetry. This Transtömer poem beautifully encompasses both. Isn't it amazing how a Vermeer, even its tiny reproduction on my iPhone, shines such heart-shifting light out into the world?

    I'm grateful for your blog. My heart lifts when I see you've taken the time to share something new.

  3. I agree, Eugene, it is profound and delightful. I bought this collection a few days ago and have only read about a quarter of it, but it seems to be filled with many wonderful poems.

  4. Thank you so much, Katherine. I'm grateful we've gotten to know one another and really looking forward to your visit to NYC in 2012.

  5. I love this! I'm glad you included the paintings. I love how the poem dances around in the inside and the outside of things - letters, people, rooms, walls, transactions, love, conflict, art... I've read the poem twice. I keep finding new things.

  6. Thanks, J. I've read this poem eight or ten times now, and whenever I get to the part about the woman in blue, I notice something new in both the poem and the painting. Such a beautiful meditation.