Here’s a video of Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer playing the piano just a few years before he died, accompanied by an early recording of him reading his poem, “Allegro.”
I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.
The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
You’ll notice he’s only playing with his left hand: he suffered a stroke in 1990, at age 59, and lost the use of his right arm. (It also took out much of his ability to speak.) From his NYTimes obit:
Mr. Transtromer’s poetry production slowed after his stroke, but he took refuge in music, playing the piano with just his left hand. As a testament to his prominence in Sweden, several composers there wrote pieces for the left hand specifically for him.
There’s actually a whole subgenre of piano music composed or arranged for the left hand alone. Brahms arranged some Bach works for Clara Schumann after she suffered a hand injury. Paul Wittgenstein (older brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein) commissioned several works after his right arm was amputated in the First World War. Benjamin Britten, Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Strauss, and Maurice Ravel all wrote compositions for him. (Most famous being Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.”)
But back to Tranströmer: we’re Wintering in the North this season, so I brought along my copy of The Deleted World, which I bought several years ago (at the recommendation of Nicole) and never cracked until now. Here’s a beautiful verse:
In the middle of life, death comes
to take your measurements. The visit
is forgotten and life goes on. But the suit
is being sewn on the sly.
And here’s a beautiful verse from “Preludes,” quoted by Teju Cole at the beginning of his appreciation for the poet (although I prefer this May Swenson translation):
Two truths approach each other
One comes from within,
one comes from without — and where they meet you have the chance
to catch a look at yourself.