Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Schubertiana” is only one of Tranströmer’s many poems that, either directly or indirectly, refer to music and reveal his intense interest in music. Although Tranströmer is a psychologist by profession, he is also an accomplished pianist, and Schubert is one of his favorite composers. His other poems dealing with musical themes include “C Major,” “Allegro,” “Nocturne,” “Slow Music,” “Brief Pause in the Organ Recital,” and “Carillon.” The purpose of “Schubertiana” is not to imitate music or to attempt to re-create a musical experience in words, as many other poets have done; rather, Tranströmer explores the role of Schubert’s music, particularly in human existence, but at the same time explores the role of music more generally.

Tranströmer argues that music is not merely an embellishment or adornment of life. Schubert’s music is, on the contrary, something that lies at the foundation of human existence. It has to do with the ground of all being and the way in which human beings extend their understanding beyond empirical experience toward this ground that ultimately must remain unknown. It has often been pointed out that Tranströmer maintains a remarkable openness to the unknown. He does not allow his mind to be enclosed by systems, ideologies, or dogma. In the last lines of his poem “Vermeer,” for example, a prayer is addressed to cosmic emptiness, but the response that is whispered is “I am not empty, I am...

(The entire section is 454 words.)