Tomas Tranströmer

(15 April 1931 / Stockholm)

Balakirev's Dream - Poem by Tomas Tranströmer

Milij Balakirev
1837-1910, Russian Composer
The black grand piano, the gleaming spider
stood trembling in the midst of its music-net.

In the concert hall a land was emerging
where the stones were no heavier than dew.

But Balakirev fell asleep during the music
and dreamed a dream about the tsar's carriage.

It rolled along over the cobblestones
straight into the crow-cawing dark.

He sat alone in the cab and looked out
but at the same time ran alongside in the road.

He knew that the trip had been long
and his watch showed years, not hours.

There was a field where the plow lay
and the plow was a bird taking flight.

There was a bay where the ship lay
ice-bound, lights out, with people on deck.

The carriage glided across that ice and the wheels
spun and spun with a sound of silk.

A lesser battleship: Sevastopol.
He was aboard. The crew came forward.

'You won't have to die if you can play.'
They showed him a peculiar instrument.

It looked like a tuba, or a phonograph,
or a part to some obscure machine.

Scared-stiff and helpless he understood: this
is the instrument that drives the warship.

He turned to the sailor nearest him,
desperately signaled with his hands and begged:

'Make the sign of the cross like me, cross yourself!'
The sailor stared somberly like a blind man,

stretched his arms out, sunk his head down—
he hung as if nailed to the air.

The drums beat. The drums beat. Applause!
Balakirev woke up from his dream.

The applause-wings pattered around the hall.
He watched the man at the grand piano rise.

Outside the streets lay blacked-out by the strike.
The carriages rolled swiftly through the darkness.


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, May 21, 2016



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