Tomas Tranströmer, “Kyrie”

Kyrie (from poetry 180 – translation Robert Bly)
Tomas Tranströmer

At times my life suddenly opens its eyes in the dark.
A feeling of masses of people pushing blindly
through the streets, excitedly, toward some miracle,
while I remain here and no one sees me.

It is like the child who falls asleep in terror
listening to the heavy thumps of his heart.
For a long, long time till morning puts his light in the locks
and the doors of darkness open.


What does it mean for one’s life to “suddenly” open its eyes in the dark? To open eyes in the dark does not suggest a true awakening of any sort. “Suddenly” keeps rationality away for the sake of surprise. But perhaps the biggest surprise is the separation of one from one’s life “at times.”

Maybe this is why we are moved to “a feeling of masses of people:” in what is less than comprehensible regarding the self, one may have to approach the many. So my life (meaning one separated from one’s life) “opens its eyes,” and that is the same thing as “a feeling.” That feeling is of others pushing blindly. “Through the streets:” their way has been given to them. “Excitedly:” darkness is no obstacle. “Toward some miracle:” for them, the supernatural ends all questions. Our speaker remains, if only because of a threefold division. Not only is his self divorced from his life, but the “masses” may not exist. They may have only been a “feeling,” stemming from the fact of reason being nothing more than opening one’s eyes in the dark. But while the foundation of the rational is a challenge, the superstitious behavior of the “masses” is no challenge at all. The deep reason they can’t see him is that his divisions are inner. What comprises the speaker is invisible to them. In the deepest sense, they do not exist. It is not clear they could ever see anything, recognize difference. His feeling, however, implies a specific, earthly vision. He has the possibility of vision, it seems.

None of this is to imply a simple faith/reason dichotomy where faith gets shoved aside for all-powerful reason. Reason here is born in darkness, and I think we know the “faith” described. Some time ago, an acquaintance told me his vision of the afterlife in vivid detail. It was here, but better! Isn’t that amazing? Death is going to be awesome! The issue of God being more just than merciful did not seem to phase him, for he was saved (if he thought that far). Nor the fact that atheists and skeptics have serious moral questions which any serious believer would recognize as not only deepening their own faith but making clear what is critical to revelation. Not silly fantasies about a perfect world here or hereafter, but that morality is difficult, dependent on wisdom, and one’s own piety or reason alone is not necessarily wisdom.

So I suspect our speaker sees no escape from his darkness, if the alternative is the blindest of faiths. But it is not clear he is terrified. His adult situation, reminiscent of Dante’s mid-life crisis, is “like” the child who fell asleep in terror. Is the first stanza the child’s dream? It certainly seems so: that would explain the lack of discussion about faith and reason. Childlike hopes and fears have to be answered on their own grounds; we return to them constantly throughout all of life. The movement now is from the thumps of the individual heart to the light of morning; darkness is doors that need to be opened. So our adult is right where he should be, with “questionable questions.” More importantly is where the child is – in a sense, accepting of terror, willing to accept the relief of the morning light. One’s natural position is isolated: the most terrifying thing is to know one needs self-knowledge.

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