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By Paul Anel November 11, 2011
In Espresso, a poem by Tomas Tranströmer, our morning coffee suddenly unveils unexpected depths. Food for thougths, and "drops for the soul"… Bonus: listen to the poem read by poet and pianist Evan Shinners!
If I had not personally chosen this title, I would have to complain. Indeed, it is very loosely true to the content of this article. First, coffee is not a medicine. It merely pushes back in time the frontline between day and night. Second, the man did not find anything, unless you call it "find" when some ordinary thing suddenly unveils an extraordinary meaning.
Well, one thing is true. The man did win the Nobel Prize. His name is Tomas Tranströmer, he is Swedish, born in '31, passionately in love with life, addicted to coffee (most likely) and to writing poetry; and on October 6, four minutes before the official announcement, he received a phone call from the Nobel Committee: "You got it", they said in substance. They proved more eloquent in the official statement, explaining that he had received the prize “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality."
Now back to our coffee, before it gets cold. Dreamers should maybe refrain from reading any further, for these verses offer no escape from our daily routine… There you are, "chairs and tables like gaudy insects," "gloomy kitchen," and here comes the "wan patron." The stage is set, and it ain't pretty. But in this bleak picture, the poet directs our gaze toward one small detail. "A precious sip," "a dot of wholesome black." Here you are, beloved morning coffee! One might cynically think: "What good is a two-second respite in a life of struggle?" But the poet is no physicist. He needs no clock or ruler to measure the size and weight of things. He uses his heart.
In that light, our morning cup suddenly unveils unexpected depths. It is "filled with the same strength as Yes and No". Small words indeed, but if you pay attention, they can enclose pretty big realities. Isn't it extraordinary that our lives' deepest and most lasting joys depend on such tiny words? And the poet goes on: "Like those black drops of profundity sometimes absorbed by the soul." Hmm, what about that? Well, how about that mother's face, deep down in the train late at night yesterday. Bent as she was by the weight of the day, she gazed so lovingly at her baby, and then faded away on Flatbush Avenue. Or again, how about that song I heard passing by an open window on the way back from work. I couldn't get the words, but the voice was charged with a nostalgia that moves something inside of me… Drops of profundity for my soul. Drops in a bucket, one might say. That is true. Yet who would deny that our souls thirst for such drops. They save us from spiritual sleepiness. They give us hope, and "the courage to open our eyes."
It is our deepest wish that each article of this blog may be such a drop.
Espresso, by Tomas Tranströmer (Translated from Swedish by May Swenson and Leif Sjöberg)
Black coffee at sidewalk cafes
With chairs and tables like gaudy insects.
It is a precious sip we intercept
Filled with the same strength as Yes and No.
It is fetched out of gloomy kitchens
And looks into the sun without blinking.
In daylight a dot of wholesome black
Quickly drained by the wan patron…
Like those black drops of profundity
Sometimes absorbed by the soul
That give us a healthy push: Go!
The courage to open our eyes.
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