The Poem

“Brief Pause in the Organ Recital” is a lyric poem that contains twelve carefully balanced, four-line stanzas of free verse. The immediacy of the experience recounted in the poem is emphasized by the fact that almost all the verbs in the poem are in the present tense.

The poet/speaker is attending an organ recital in a medieval cathedral. The sudden silence during a brief pause in the program breaks into his elevated mood and makes him aware of the traffic noises—“that greater organ”—outside the cathedral. He perceives that though it lacks the rigidly formal structure of the organ music to which he has been listening, the traffic noise has a freer rhythm of its own. Next, he becomes aware, as if it were part of the street noise, of the pulsing of his own blood, what he calls “the cascade that hides inside me.” The passing of a trailer-truck heavy enough to shake the six-hundred-year-old walls of the cathedral brings to mind an experience he had as a child of four: Seated on his mother’s lap, he listened to the distant voices of contending adults (“the winners and the losers”). Though he initially appears to reject the idea, he senses a similarity between the mother’s lap and the sheltering church. In effect, he is reinventing a metaphor that became a cliché in an earlier age of firm religious faith: the Church as the believer’s mother.

Gazing at the pillars that support the roof of the cathedral, he appears to rediscover a common Romantic symbol, that of nature (the forest) as a vital, protective force. The mental image that likens the interior of the cathedral to a forest serves as a transition to a remembered dream with an outdoor setting....

(The entire section is 692 words.)

Forms and Devices

One of the most striking features of this poem is its extremely regular formal structure. As he frequently does in his poems, Tomas Tranströmer carefully establishes a distinct rhythmic pattern in the first stanza that he repeats with little variation throughout the remainder of the poem. The first two sentences of this poem fall into a stanzaic pattern in which two long lines (the first and the third) alternate with much shorter lines (the second and the fourth). These expanding and contracting lines may be thought of as imitating the diastolic and systolic actions of the heart, a bodily rhythm that figures importantly in this poem. (Robin Fulton’s English translation of this piece achieves a similar effect by sharpening the rhythmic contrast between the long and the short lines.) One can only guess whether the rigid metrical order of this poem is meant to suggest that the universe too has a meaningful structure.

The speaker of this poem clearly longs for some proof that life has meaning and purpose, that there is some basis for religious belief. Though Tranströmer makes little mention of overt religious observances in his poetry, many conventional religious values seem to correspond not only to his own deepest personal needs, but also to his poetic intuitions. In an interview with Richard Jones in 1979, Tranströmer speaks of his “religious longing” and of the direction in his poetry toward “some sort of cosmic feeling” (Poetry East 16, 1980). In this poem, he expresses the “cosmic feeling” by adducing a...

(The entire section is 632 words.)