“Eel and Well” by Lars Gustafsson

Lars Gustafsson (1936-2016) was a Swedish poet, novelist and scholar. His 1988 book, The Stillness of the World before Bach, included the following poem:

Eel and Well

In the province of Skane there was a custom:
into their deep black wells they put
small eels from the sea.
And these eels spend their lives
imprisoned in the wells’ deep blackness.
They keep the water crystal-clear and clean.
When sometimes the well-eel
is brought up in the bucket, white, frighteningly big,
blind, coiling in and out
of the riddles in its body, without knowledge,
everyone hurries to sink it back again.
Often I see myself
not just in the well-eel’s place
but as both eel and well.
Imprisoned in myself, and yet this self
is something else: I’m there.
I wash it with my wriggling,
muddy, white-bellied presence in the dark.

Nick Walker
Nick Walker

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